"Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., took the Senate floor in
opposition to his Democratic colleague and, red-faced
and gesticulating toward [Sen. Byron] Dorgan, defended
guest worker program, yelling, `The idea that you
can have a secure border and close it completely is
something that has never happened before and will not
happen now`. … The Senate`s `liberal lion` continued to
howl at Dorgan, demanding, `I would like the
chicken pluckers to pay $10.15 — or $15 an hour.
They don`t do it, and they`re not going to do it. Who`s
the — who are you trying to kid?`"
Tapper and Z. Byron Wolf, May 22, 2007, via
"Let me stand up and say a word on behalf of chicken
pluckers. They`ll never get $15 an hour as long as we
bring in cheap labor through the back door to
While Sen. Dorgan might have
economic logic and simple logical coherence on his
side, Sen. Kennedy`s sputtering is characteristic of
elite opinion in the 21st Century. Even “liberal
lions” have internalized the reigning cheap labor
Iron Law of Wages that assumes that the American
economy requires an ever-expanding supply
of poorly-paid imported chicken pluckers.
In this mindset, America is always
about to run out of some badly paid but strangely
crucial set of workers unless we can get more
immigrants. Last year, for instance, it wasn`t chicken
pluckers the New York Times was worried we didn`t
have enough off, it was
Of course, nobody ever mentions the
Econ 101 alternative of raising pay until supply equals
Senator Kennedy is echoing, oddly
enough, the fatalistic conventional wisdom of Dickensian
England—the doctrinaire assumption that cheap labor is
essential, and that the inexorable grinding of the
dismal laws of economic science determine wages as
immutably as the
orbit of Mercury is fixed by Newton`s Law of
The main difference: while Sen.
Kennedy assumes the need for unskilled immigrant
workers, the early Victorians were convinced of the
necessity of uneducated child laborers.
We don`t think of the British as
being terribly ideological. But during the second
quarter of the 19th Century, their justifiable national
pride in developing economics for once overwhelmed the
vaunted British common sense. A dogma based on a crude
interpretation of the works of
Ricardo presumed that low wages were crucial to
profits, just like the
sophomoric economics of today`s open borders crowd.
Back then, the ruling class didn`t
fulminate over plucking chickens but over sweeping
Consider the fates of the
little boys, from age four on up, who were widely
employed by master chimney sweeps to clamber up inside
long flues and knock down the soot, at horrific cost to
their health. Paul Johnson writes in A History of the English People
(p.285), "often they were forced up by the use of
long pricks, and by applying wisps of flaming straw to
their feet. They suffered from
a variety of occupational diseases and many died
The ruling ideology of the age
assumed that, as regrettable as this might be, the
laws of economics required it.
After all, how else would chimneys
ever get swept?
Then, the greatest reformer of the
Victorian Era, Anthony Ashley Cooper, the
seventh Earl of Shaftesbury, began his almost
endless crusade to abolish child labor inside chimneys.
William Wilberforce, the victor over the slave
Shaftesbury was a Tory, an evangelical Anglican, and
a relentless parliamentarian.
In 1840, Shaftesbury carried a bill
to regulate child chimney sweeps over ”
that can only be called fanatical", in Johnson`s
It also was not enforced.
Three more of Shaftesbury`s bills
failed in Parliament in the 1850s. He succeeded in 1864,
but the legislation proved ineffective "due to a
general conspiracy of local authorities, magistrates,
police, judges, juries, and the public to frustrate the
law. Boys continued to die…" including a
seven-year-old who suffocated in a flue in 1873.
Shaftesbury finally succeeded in
passing effective legislation in 1875.
And, of course, that winter
everyone in Britain froze to death due to clogged
Oh, wait … sorry, that was in
Bizarro Britain, where the reigning interpretations
of economics actually applied. Rather like in
Senator Kennedy`s Abnormal America, where nobody
will be able to afford to eat chicken without the
Liberal Lion`s amnesty and guest worker programs.
And, equally, Americans will not
starve if they are deprived a
continuous influx of uneducated foreigners.
What we`ve learned since the early
Victorian Era is that the world works in ways more
responsive to intelligent effort than was imagined by
High wages can
often spur technological advances that more than
make up for their costs.
The key to economic prosperity
is not low wages but
high human capital.
In contrast to
Dickensian England, with its
Scrooge-like obsession with cheap labor, Americans
high wages because the country was underpopulated
relative to its natural resources. This inspired
American entrepreneurs to invest in
labor-saving innovations, which, in a virtuous
cycle, allowed even higher wages to be paid.
The most famous example: Henry Ford
doubling his workers` salaries in 1914 after
inventing the moving assembly line.
In the long run, the cheap labor
debilitated the English economy. After the brilliant
innovations of the early Industrial Revolution, the
English textile industry tended to stagnate. Paul
"Factories paid higher wages than domestic industries;
all the same, they were very low, chiefly because most
factory hands were women and children. Low wages
kept home consumer demand down; worse still, they
removed the chief incentive to replace primitive
machinery by the systematic adoption of new technology."
And then there was the long run
impact on Britain`s economic culture:
limitations of human exploitation came too late, and
were too ineffective, to make the quest for productivity
a virtue; the English did not discover it until the
twentieth century, by which time the trade union
movement had constructed
powerful defenses against it."
Victorian Scroogeonomics helped
engender its own nemesis. It drove the
British working class far to the left of the
American working class, leading to both the
nationalization of major industries in the 1940s and
productivity improvements among unions,
exemplified in the 1959 Peter Sellers` movie
I`m All Right, Jack. The effects on the U.K.
economy were disastrous. As late as the mid-1980s,
Margaret Thatcher had to fight a
fierce battle for
control of the economy against the
Stalinist boss of the large coal miner`s union,
It wasn`t surprising that the
decisive battle between Thatcherism and the left came in
the mines. In the U.S. a century ago,
miners` strikes featured extraordinary levels of
violence on both sides.
Going underground together
bonds miners like soldiers going into battle
together, providing their unions with more solidarity.
Mining was always radicalizing because working
conditions were so harsh, as Ali G (
Sacha Baron Cohen`s first character) realized during
a visit to
a Welsh coal mine:
Ali G: Check dis. I is now in a coal mine which is
where the Wales people used to live, underground.
Millions of years ago miners lived under here before
they became human beings.
Miner: They never lived here, they just worked here.
Ali G: They worked in `ere?
What a crap job.
In the U.S., however, miners became
less and less a force for radicalism as the success of
John L. Lewis,
boss of the United Mine Workers of America
winning higher pay lowered both their leftism and
Lewis acknowledged that he was
driving miners` wages up so high that his union would be
much smaller in the next generation. But if his members
were paid enough today, they could afford to educate
their kids to do something less miserable with their
lives by the time the bosses had figured out how to do
The often-brutal saga of
mining in America has thus had a happy ending that
would have astonished and frustrated
Joe Hill. Today, mining is a small, reasonably
well-paid profession. [VDARE.com
note: Of course, modern mine owners have started
Of course, technological
improvements tend to eliminate uncomplicated jobs. That
means that what a healthy economy really needs is not
unskilled immigrants but a work force with improving
human capital. Yet that`s exactly what we`re
not getting by importing so many of Sen. Kennedy`s
chicken pluckers to keep down the chicken plucking wage.
"But the immigrants have a mismatch of skills: They
are qualified for yesterday`s jobs, which are the kinds
of jobs that are going away."
Yesterday`s job`s, yesterday`s
workers, and yesterday`s dogmas. That`s the future Sen.
Kennedy is offering us.