A Penny a Pound

Sigh. Well meaning liberal do gooder type screams at business for being complete bastards and oppressing the workers. Not, as you might have noted, all that unusual an occurence in this day and age. Via Mark Thoma:

The migrant farm workers who harvest tomatoes in South Florida have one of the nation’s most backbreaking jobs. For 10 to 12 hours a day, they pick tomatoes by hand, earning a piece-rate of about 45 cents for every 32-pound bucket. During a typical day each migrant picks, carries and unloads two tons of tomatoes. For their efforts, this holiday season many of them are about to get a 40 percent pay cut.

See, the capitalist scum!

Telling Burger King to pay an extra penny for tomatoes and provide a decent wage to migrant workers would hardly bankrupt the company. Indeed, it would cost Burger King only $250,000 a year. At Goldman Sachs, that sort of money shouldn’t be too hard to find. In 2006, the bonuses of the top 12 Goldman Sachs executives exceeded $200 million — more than twice as much money as all of the roughly 10,000 tomato pickers in southern Florida earned that year. Now Mr. Blankfein should find a way to share some of his company’s good fortune with the workers at the bottom of the food chain.

Oppressing the workers, don\’t you agree?

Well, yes, in fact I do agree that there is oppression here. For what is the actual situation here? Some activist groups have successfully organised (we do believe in freedom of association, don\’t we?) to raise the prices paid by the companies that consume tomatoes. That money then raises the wages of those the activists thought were previously underpaid. Hurrah! trebles all round! The consuming companies are free to join in or not, according to their own evaluations of the pressure exerted upon them by their final consumers. Again, Hurrah! The consumer is King!

An excellent result all round in fact.

But who is the creature in this particular woodpile? Why is it all falling apart?

Now the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange has threatened a fine of $100,000 for any grower who accepts an extra penny per pound for migrant wages. …

Umm, who are they? Who is this group that has the power to fine people for honouring a contract freely entered into?

Florida Tomatoes.

Note under their logo "Federal Marketing Order no. 966". Whassat?

Agricultural Marketing Agreement Act of 1937


The federal Agricultural Marketing Agreement Act of 1937, an offspring of New Deal legislation, gives the secretary of agriculture considerable authority to regulate the nation\’s fruits and vegetables market through so-called market orders.

It\’s a monopoly enforced by the full power of the Federal Government. Guns, tanks, bullets and all.

So what we actually have is the result of the New Deal, of Franklin Delano Roosevelt\’s vision of the liberal utopia, giving the assembled growers the monopoly power to fine any one of their number who might actually sign up, voluntarily, to a contract which improved the incomes of their workers. One which their customers, at least some of them, seem quite happy to sign.

And according to Mr. Eric Schlosser, logician extraordinaire, this is in fact the fault of Goldman Sachs.

It\’s an interesting universe, the liberal one, isn\’t it?

3 thoughts on “A Penny a Pound”

  1. “It’s an interesting universe, the liberal one, isn’t it?”

    I really resent how the word “liberal” has been hijacked. Liberal has the same root as “liberty” and “libertarian”. The example given here isn’t “liberal”, it’s authoritarian.

    Tim adds: Agreed. When writing about the UK I do try and keep up the good fight. When writing about the US that battle is lost.

  2. Only to observe that, if these workers work a 10 hour day to pick 4000# of tomatoes (assume US tons) at 45¢ per 32#, then their pay rate is $5.62 per hour, or essentially the Federal minimum wage ($5.85 per hour).

    So what is the complaint here? That they make minimum wage and have to work hard for it? Cry me a river. Apparently, there are plenty of willing workers, or the prevailing wage would be higher.

    They’re illegals and thus vulnerable to exploitation? Well, there’s any easy cure for that, too – send them back.

    Eric Schlosser, incidentally, is the author of ‘Fast Food Nation’, an “expose” of the supposed horrors of the fast food industry – about which his main complaints appear to be that its products are too cheap and too nutritious. Only in America, perhaps, could a person find the idea of food that’s too cheap and too nutritious to be a bad thing.

    Can’t do economics, can’t do history – why would we listen for a moemnt to the vapourings of such a person?



  3. One interesting bit is his observation that ‘’perhaps 80 percent of the migrants in Florida are illegal immigrants and thus especially vulnerable to abuse.” No doubt true that they are vulnerable – illegal immigrants have good reasons to keep their mouths shut.

    However, I doubt these illegal immigrants are fools when it comes to acting in their best interests. And it seems they are voting with their feet – they would prefer to pick tomatoes at crap wages in America, without any rights than to live as a full citizen in the countries from which they arrived.

    If they came from a really terrible country like Sudan, or Congo, it is fully understandable. Doing anything in America would beat living there.

    But I suspect loads of these illegals are from Mexico and other Central and South American countries. WTF? Is there any reason these countries should be significantly poorer than Florida? Similar climate, resources etc?

    I sometimes wonder how the leaders of these countries have the balls to look GWB in the eye and demand any kind of respect. If I were GWB meeting President Calederon of Mexico, I would remind him what a complete shithole Mexico must be if people prefer living in America doing backbreaking work as virtual indentured serfs than as full citizens in Mexico. I would then reach down the back of El Presidente’s trousers, grab the back of his underpants and give him a giant wedgie, while laughing in his face.

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