Illegal Immigration, Farm Labor, and Economics: A Response

Mark Krikorian, whose arguments on illegal immigration and farm equipment I’d criticized here responded to my post a few days ago. Here’s what he said:

Sorry for the late reply – I’d seen your post but got sidetracked.

On its face your concern make sense, but it doesn’t work out that way. Exactly the same concerns were raised when, for instance, cotton-harvesting machinery was being developed decades ago and, frankly, when any kind of technological advance brings about the creative destruction inherent in capitalism. (I’m not calling anyone names, but this is what Luddism is about.) But just as with the cotton, where the sharecroppers and tenant farmers were leaving the land anyway for factory jobs up north, there’s an escape hatch for agriculture – removing the illegal aliens (or inducing them to deport themselves) reduces the supply of labor at the same time as we reduce the demand for that same labor through mechanization – in fact, the two processes feed off each other. The whole history of economic development is the story of technological innovations destroying old ways of doing things and putting people out of work. There’s sometimes a role for measures to ease the transition, but in this case, such measures just involve sending the workers whose jobs are being eliminated back to where they should have stayed in the first place.

In any case, thanks for your note. — MK

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Mark Krikorian
Executive Director
Center for Immigration Studies

I don’t think there’s a whole lot that needs answering there. Obviously, I’m not advocating Luddism, or abolishing all machines — just recognizing that replacing workers with machines isn’t the best way to improve working conditions, if that’s the real goal of these anti-immigration proposals. I’ll let readers compare our two points and come to their own conclusions. I do appreciate that he took the time to respond, though.

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