Work Americans Won’t Do

I keep hearing that the reason that we need workers from Mexico and Central America to pick our crops is because working in the fields is “work that Americans won’t do”. I say that that sentence is chopped off in midstream.

How do I know that’s only half a sentence? Because that was the first work I ever did. I worked summers all through high school. My first job was in 1961, when I was 13 years old and weighed about 120 pounds (55 kg) soaking wet.

I just looked it up, and at the time, the Federal minimum wage in current dollars was $8.12 per hour. The California minimum wage was $9.34 per hour. Interesting, not a lot different from today.

In current money, on my first job I made two dollars and forty-four cents an hour. I worked ten hours a day, bucking hay in the fields. It was totally illegal for me to be doing the work for several reasons. First, I was too young to be working at all. Then I wasn’t being paid overtime for over eight hours per day. Plus I wasn’t making minimum wage. I thought then, and still think, that those laws were asinine. I was overjoyed to have a job. I said screw the laws, and I took every penny I earned home and gave it to my single mother.

“Bucking hay” back in the day meant walking alongside the trailer all day in the boiling sun, picking bales of hay up from the ground and tossing them on to the trailer. Back breaking, exhausting work.

That was where I learned that the first rule of work, expressed in todays parlance, is “Suck it up, buttercup”. My mom cared when I complained to her about how hard the work was. The men I worked with were totally uninterested in my complaints, excuses, or any kind of whining about how tough life is. There was a job to do, we had to do it, I was helping support my mom and my brothers, and that was it. Suck it up, go to work.

The farmers’ fields of America don’t just produce vegetables. They also produce a work ethic second to none.

And that is why I said above that the sentence was chopped off in midstream.

I don’t agree that “There is work that Americans won’t do.”

I do think that “There is a lot of work that Americans won’t do for Mexican wages.”

I can guarantee that if you pay a commensurate wage, you’ll find lots of Americans willing to work at any job you can name. Flagpole-sitting? Sure, if you’ll pay enough. It’s why I endured the rigors of commercial fishing in the Bering Sea … the outrageous pay made the long hours, incessant danger, harsh conditions, bitter cold, lack of sleep, and back-breaking labor all worthwhile.

If you pay for it … they will come.

So let’s do a cost-benefit analysis of using Mexican workers to pick our vegetables.

The benefits are obvious—cheap beans, inexpensive tomatoes, low-priced carrots. That part’s easy.

Now let’s discuss the costs. As a first cut, let’s assume that the workers are Mexicans brought in seasonally and legally to work in the fields, as they were under the “bracero” program when I was a kid.

(Yes, I understand, not all of them were Mexican, but I’ll use the term for simplicity as representative of the overwhelming majority of the braceros. So please don’t bust me or make the laughable claim that I don’t like Mexicans. I have great Mexican relatives and in-laws. Mexicans are as good or bad as any other group … now, back to the question.)

Let’s first investigate the hidden costs of using legal foreign workers.

The first cost of legal foreign workers, of course, is the loss of jobs. If we have a million Mexican seasonal workers in the farmers’ fields, that’s a million Americans who have to find work elsewhere.

Not only that, but those jobs are the kind which are in increasingly short supply in the US—low or medium skilled rural jobs. These “entry-level” jobs are hugely important, because they allow young people to enter the job market and they provide work in rural areas where employment is short.

This job loss hits the hardest, sadly, at those people who worked in our farmers’ fields before we imported foreign workers, legal or illegal. Back in the day, black Americans were greatly over-represented in that group. Think about the vegetable fields and factories all across the South … so not only do foreign workers cost us jobs, they cost us jobs traditionally held by black people. This is a price that African-Americans can ill afford to pay.

work-americans-wont-do-iiThis giant loss of precious unskilled and medium-skilled rural jobs should be enough by itself to totally discredit the idea of even legal foreign workers. Why on earth would we want to lose those jobs to anyone, legal or otherwise? Why would we want to throw large numbers of black people out of work? It’s nuts.

It gets worse. If we pay Americans to pick our vegetables, those wages stay in the US. The dollars circulate in the towns and villages where the vegetables are picked, or they go back to other US cities or towns in the pockets of Americans working seasonally in the fields.

But when we pay Mexicans to do the same work, understandably and commendably they wire or carry much of that money back to their needy families in Mexico. I can’t fault them for that, it’s what I’d do in their place. It is a measure of their devotion to their families, and that is a good thing.

But the other side is, those remittance payments to Mexico are a constant, year-after-year draining away of our national wealth. Nor is it a trivial amount of money.

As a comparison, thanks to the horrible NAFTA deal, our obscene trade deficit with Mexico is terribly out of control at about sixty BILLION dollars per year. It’s a massive ongoing wealth drain, but one that the President has vowed to cut down.

To that huge annual loss, however, we have to add the remittance payments. Recorded remittances to Mexico were about twenty-six BILLION dollars in 2014, but to that we have to add undeclared money carried across the border. In total, remittances are on the order of thirty BILLION dollars that we’re losing every year, half the size of our trade deficit.

(As a side note, the proposed border wall is supposed to cost on the order of fifteen billion dollars. The wealth permanently lost to remittances is enough to build two border fences every single year for the foreseeable future … slap a 5% tax on Mexican remittances and you’ve paid for the Wall in a decade … but I digress.)

So using Mexican workers in our fields represents an ongoing cost of billions and billions of dollars of our national wealth leaving the country forever.

That is madness. Total madness. And very, very expensive madness.

The final cost of hiring legal Mexican seasonal laborers is that working in the fields is good for the American spirit. It builds that curious frame of mind known as the “work ethic”. At the end of a day working in the fields, I’d know that I’d earned my money. It left me feeling strong, and it gave me a sense of the value of honest toil. World War II was largely won by American farm boys accustomed to long hours and hard work … but today, we’ve mostly swapped them out for Mexicans, and lost greatly in the deal.

When I was 65, I needed to make a workshop for myself so I could start my next building project. The only place that was available was under our house, but there was nothing like headroom down there. So I decided to dig it out, excavate the ground and make a hobbit-shop for my next building project.

My gorgeous ex-fiancée said we should just do what folks around here do when they need manual labor done, and what I’ve done many times myself in the past. She said I should hire what folks around here call an “illegal”, meaning a Mexican illegal alien, to do the pick and shovel work.

She laughed when I told her why I had elected myself to do the backbreaking work of digging, often crouched over in tight spaces, under the house.

What I said to her was, “Why should Mexicans have all the fun?”

And I proceeded to spend several months with my big pick and my small pick and my repeatedly sharpened shovel and my McCloud and my dirt sled, having fun playing badger and digging out tons of earth until I had room for my table saw and my workbench and tools …

I ascribe that joy in part to learning to work outside in the fields, with my hands and my back, in the sun and in the rain … and I wouldn’t trade that for all the cheap vegetables in the world.

So those are the costs of legal Mexican seasonal workers—millions of precious jobs lost, billions and billions of dollars lost overseas every year, and a nationwide loss of our work ethic.

I’m sorry, but cheap carrots don’t even begin to make up for those gigantic losses … and that is with legal workers.

When the workers are illegal, it only gets worse. We get all of those gigantic losses listed above, losses of jobs and money and work ethic, PLUS violence and coyotes preying on the migrants and drug cartels killing people and families ripped apart and people feasting on our generous welfare system and …

It is clear that bringing in foreign workers is a very bad idea, whether they are legal or illegal!. This includes the mostly Asian workers here on “H-1B” visas that the tech companies use to avoid paying decent wages to their employees. Oh, the tech giants like Apple and Google claim, just like the farmers, that “this is work that Americans won’t do”… but of course, just like with the farmers, that’s only half a sentence.

They mean that regarding H-1B workers, this is work that Americans won’t do for Pakistani or Indian or Chinese wages.

We need to attack this problem from both ends, the employers as well as the workers. On the workers end, build the Wall. Start the process of repatriating those people who are criminals as well as being illegal aliens. Ignore the whimpering of the ultra-rich tech elite and stop the H-1B visa program, it’s just making them richer and the American workers poorer. In short, stop the endless loss of jobs, money, and work ethic.

On the other end, that of the employers, crack down on those farms and businesses that hire illegal workers. Strengthen the eVerify system so that employers can easily check the work status of potential employees, and once that is in place, start systematically weeding out the employers who are breaking the law.

Here’s the key to understanding all of this. I close the windows and lock the doors of my house at night, not because I hate the people outside, but because I love the people inside.

By the same token, I advocate sending illegal foreign workers home, not because I hate the people outside the country, but because I want to support the people inside the country. It’s not xenophobia … it’s self-protection.

My best to everyone, legal or illegal, working or not working … even at its worst it is an astounding universe.


PS: Can we stop the endless whining about illegal alien families getting split up and the poor innocent children who suffer as a result?

When AMERICAN criminals are caught, their families are split up and innocent children suffer.

When ILLEGAL ALIEN criminals are caught, their families are split up and innocent children suffer.

I don’t like that happening to kids, nobody does, but cry me a river. That’s what happens to criminals of all stripes. While it is assuredly a human tragedy … so what? Do you advocate letting American rapists and gang members out of jail because they are split up and separated from their families?

And if not … why should we be concerned when the same thing happens to foreign criminals?

The ugly truth that many people don’t want to accept is that the criminal parents are the cause of their children’s pain. The cause is not me. Not you. Not our immigration laws or the justice system. The criminal parents are the reason their children are suffering, and while we should have compassion for the kids … it’s still the parents’ fault, not anyone else’s.

PPS: My usual request. If you comment please QUOTE THE EXACT WORDS YOU ARE DISCUSSING so we can all understand your subject.

85 thoughts on “Work Americans Won’t Do

  1. If we are paying someone welfare, they should work for their money. The job should be something that they are physically able to do (if needed, down to counting caterpillars by touch to steal from Heinlein :-), but we should not be paying people to do nothing at the same time that we have jobs that need to get done.

    in the case of parents with small kids, paying one parent to watch a passel of kids will let the other parents work, and if the responsibility of who watches the kids and who works is rotated through a group, it can be fair to all.

    The fun part of this is what happens if a welfare recipient opts to not show up for work.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. My first real job was a summer with the New Haven Water Co. (New Haven, CT). It was a job for HS students that allow us to break into the work force. Companies could afford this because they paid a student wage of $1.35/hr, less than minimum. I dug ditches, jack hammered roads, worked with hot pitch where I burned off all the hair on my arms the first time I got to light the pitch pot because I took to long to light it after turning on the gas (lesson learned), and a host of other “newbie” gofer jobs. I got to learn to show up on time, work hard, hang out at lunch with the regular guys telling stories about our exploits with women. Most were clearly exaggerated but real good guy talk. On Friday after work, the regular guys headed off to the bar and us students would head over to the Dairy Queen to be seen hanging out in our work clothes hoping to attract the attention of the girls who would cruise the parking lot looking for us boys. Then off to Misquamicut Rhode Island early Sat morning to spend the weekend at the beach, sleeping in cars, finding someone to buy us beer, meeting girls and having fun. The only thing missing was the “Big Kahuna” and his shack. Back to work on Monday and start the week all over again. It was a great time. No wonder I adopted the song by the EasyBeats, “I got Friday on my Mind”.


  3. Reblogged this on gottadobetterthanthis and commented:
    Willis makes good points. The difficulty is in balancing these points against freedom and liberty in general.

    I’m for liberty, but it cannot be blindly so, or too many will be taken advantage of. Still, we need less government, less regulation, less law. We can’t do with less law enforcement. We are a nation of laws. We must enforce our laws. Accordingly, let’s reduce our laws so our law enforcement has a more reasonable task. (Willis’s example from his youth is an excellent example of laws we need to pare back.)

    Again, the key is balance, and though Willis is smarter than you and me, he still doesn’t have a straightforward and effective plan. Even if he were to come up with one, we have no hope of achieving full consensus. That is life as we know it.

    Mostly, we need to all take what action we can to do good and promote what we hold as the highest ideals. We need to work for the good, not against the bad. The bad tends to shrivel and fade when the good is fully supported and succeeding.

    We are all in this together. No matter our skin tone, no matter our nationality, even the bad with the good, we are all in this together. Keep that in mind, and work for the good best you know how.


  4. It may not be a matter of work Americans won’t do but cost of services. Traditionally, there have been secondary labor market jobs that are a means to some other end: student/Immigrant jobs.

    Since you live in Western Sonoma County, or did, you must be aware of the benefits of immigrant labor including illegals. The benefits, however, mostly go to the middle-class or upper middle-class who don’t compete with immigrants for jobs or whose wages are not suppressed by immigrant labor. For the middle-class, the cheaper labor means we have affordable services that raise our standard of living; lawns mowed, shirts ironed, homes cleaned, prepared foods (restaurant or takeout), homes painted, homes repaired, and so on. I am guessing I save at least $5,000 a year on services I receive from immigrants. If we kick out illegals if could lower my standard of living.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have no sympathy here as it’s not that difficult to learn to do most of the things you listed yourself (unless handicapped). Sounds like trying to live as an upper class type (a common American problem these days) instead of middle class. Lot’s of money is also saved with products made $1 a day labor overseas, but at what cost to the rest of Americans not working or working less than full time and then there’s the federal deficit as a result. Sounds like a little less laziness would resolve most of these problems. Now if working lot’s of overtime so there is not time to do these chores, then they should be affordable at regular rates anyway.

      Liked by 2 people

      • It is not a matter of sympathy, but I am not prepared to paint my own house or let my house deteriorate because I can’t afford to pay someone to maintain it.

        The argument is economic. Do immigrants and illegal aliens help or hurt the economy? That is not clear. Yes, illegal aliens probably harm some American workers and cost us to give them healthcare and educate their children. In my example, I save a lot more money because of their cheap labor than I pay in taxes. Many in the middle-class enjoy a higher standard of living because of immigrants. Most do not want to lower their standard of living, and do not have the stomach to deport illegal aliens who provide that higher standard of living.

        BTW there have been studies to show a correlation between higher immigrant population and a lower Black unemployment rate. Immigrants tend to go where the economy is good and there are more jobs.


        • “I save a lot more money because of their cheap labor”
          Sure, doesn’t matter if THEY live in poor conditions/become a tax burden for everyone else as long as the savings are there for “middle class” promotion. Well let’s continue down that road and go back to 1890’s criteria, child labor, long hours, poor safety conditions; i.e. plenty of cheap labor to promote that “middle class” attitude. Slippery slope……


          • the middle class is being eroded by the wage issues.

            low costs are nice, but they aren’t the be-all, end-all.

            It doesn’t help to have costs be low if you have no income.


  5. At 65 (I’m 73) I can verify that hard work is needed to just stay in good physical condition. If I lay around too much at my age I immediately notice the deterioration setting in and it isn’t so easy to recover as when I was much younger. Of course there is exercise (done if I run out of better stuff to do), but that to me is just a wasted expenditure of energy and maybe money if done at a fitness center. Better to do on a personal project where the benefits of condition and money savings both accrue.
    It’s also not only American job and wage loss but the losses from the other freebies that illegal’s obtain through the system give-aways that aren’t included in your analysis. As far as H1B’s, one suggestion to sort out the business complaint that there really aren’t enough American skilled workers (maybe difficult to factually quantify), is to require salary levels of H1B’s be equal to or greater than those that would be paid to Americans. Knowing the “trustworthiness” of corporate business. think that I already know what the outcome of that would be.


  6. In the early 70’s I needed work and started as a carpenter laborer for a small house builder. Minimum wage, by the way I tried putting fresh hay bales in a barn… for a day, I’ve done tougher things since but at the time, high school age, it was WORK. I didn’t go back for my pay because I didn’t want to face the guys.
    What I’m getting at, three years later I could buy a house in the outskirts of Seattle with the proceeds of framing. To do that a framing laborer would have to get thirty dollars an hour to start.
    Willis is right as rain, money talks, you could get young citizens to work if money was right, but its not, hasn’t been since the early 90’s.


  7. We have the same problem here in OZ, but we allow Tongans, Fijians etc to have work permits for a specified time to carry out work like fruit picking etc.
    But I don’t think many more young Aussies would ever work in sufficient numbers these days in the heat and dust and flies. Some do and some make very good money at contract picking, but I think new chums would quickly throw in the towel and go back on the dole. As they do every year I’m afraid.
    Of course they shouldn’t be able to do this but then again some farmers have had some bad experiences with lazy reluctant workers.
    But there will be heaps of ways for countries to spend or waste trillions of $ between now and 2100.
    According to Lomborg’s PR Paris COP 21 study the world will waste trillions $ between now and 2100 for no measurable change in temp at all. And yet we have pollies in every country telling the voters that we must do more to fight their CAGW. And some actually believe this garbage.
    Dr Hansen to his credit has called COP 21 just BS and fra-d and said that a belief in solar and wind energy is akin to believing in the Easter bunny and the Tooth fairy. IOW S&W energy is just another super expensive fairy story, providing sweet FA return on a very lousy investment. Here’s Lomborg’s COP 21 study, using very simple maths. But who’s listening?

    Liked by 2 people

  8. >> I just looked it up, and at the time, the Federal minimum wage in current dollars was $8.12 per hour. The California minimum wage was $9.34 per hour. Interesting, not a lot different from today. <<

    Below is what I come up with.

    Effective Date | 1938 Act | 1961 Amendments
    Sep 3, 1961 | $1.15 | $1.00

    htt ps ://w m


      • ” I made thirty cents per hour.”

        You got paid by the hour? _I_ had to take pay by the _bale_, and as the skinny new teen I was nowhere near as able to throw as many bales per hour as any of the older men (all men, yes. For some reason there weren’t females on the hay crew). (( I’m sure I sound like one of the Four Yorkshiremen)) ((( I take the previous parenthetical back. There was the rancher’s wife bringing out jugs of sweet tea, now and then. MiGahd ! that was welcome stuff. ))) Each of us was responsible for our own count but if the total of the crew’s count was less than the count on the flatbed trailer it was assumed the newbie was as bad at counting as he was as slinging hay. The work wasn’t all strength. There’s a rhythm or technique to swing or sling the weight along the pendulum of the arms, shift under the bale at the top of the swing, then boost it up the rest of the way. As the flatbed layers went up the boost was to another worker up top — and you had to match his rhythm or both of you fell behind.

        Old times. Tough work. Thanks for the memories.


  9. Willis, one comment I would make about visa workers. I worked for over 20 years until retirement for a large multinational company. The people that I worked with and for that came in on visas were almost always very well educated and motivated. In other words they were the very top people from their countries in many cases. Their pay was the same as Americans at the same levels. So not all visa workers are brought in to replace Americans at lower wages.


    • Well yes. And bringing in foreigners like Francisco Felix and Diego Sanchez was an appalling idea. Come up with a way to restrict immigration to the Fermis and Einsteins, and we’re all with you.


        • While H1-B’s don’t pay minimum wage, they do reduce wages. I have for many years been involved in the hiring of high tech workers, and I find that companies hiring H1-B’s right out of school can generally staff for at least 20% lower pay than it would take to attract the same quality and quantity of non-H1-B’s. Don;t get me wrong, many H1-B’s are top notch, but if you are trying to hire more than a handful in a single geographical area then language issues (even from English as a universal second language countries) have an impact on results. And the H1-B program is not supposed to be about who is better anyway. It is supposed to be that you cannot find someone qualified without the H1-B’s and that is not the case in high tech. It really is about saving the 20% or more.


          • You are absolutely right – it is all about saving the 20%. Is it good or bad? Should the underlying principle be an efficiency (capitalism) or morality (religion, socialism, …). Probably some mix of both. Having survived socialism, I opt for a minimum of that ingredient.


          • this isn’t capitalism, at most it’s crony capitalism where companies use the power of government to block competition.

            the H1B program isn’t supposed to be trying to increase competition for jobs, it’s supposed to be filling jobs that they can’t find US workers for.


          • David, why can’t companies find US workers for engineering jobs? If you have brains, you won’t go into engineering. You would study law. Engineering, like other low-pay jobs, is best left to foreigners.


  10. Ah, yes,
    the kids in urban areas.
    => Not safe.
    Building will fall, gangs will shoot, muggings, drugs, cars hit, bullied, etc.
    Letting your kid do anything un”stuper”vised is verboten.


  11. First pay work for me was trimming new growth on young Scotch Pines so folks would have nicely shaped Christmas trees. Hot and messy. Then I graduated to baking pizza. Hot but less messy. Pay was $1/hour.
    In central Washington’s fruit growing region, many workers are now here year round. For some the SS# doesn’t match the name, and I wonder where those payments sent to the SS administration go.

    ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
    For general information: RE: McCloud
    A friend calls this tool “the big rakey thing.” The combination tool was created in 1905 by Malcolm McLeod, a US Forest Service ranger.
    This is a very useful tool but my favorite is a Pulaski. This is often credited to Ed Pulaski, but a similar tool was first introduced in 1876 by the Collins Tool Company. It is famous in the woods because Ed became famous during the 1910 Big Burn.


  12. I’ll have to take issue with the H-1B visa limits. My theory is that America works, in the sense that it is an economic powerhouse and an engine for an ever-improving standard of living, because its population is mostly self-selected from among the smartest, and what may be more important, the most ambitious from around the world. It takes some gumption to separate oneself from one’s homeland and family to move to a place where one is probably not even fluent in the language. America works in part because it poaches the bright and ambitious from all over the world. Keep em coming, though we might have some discussion on what exactly is the right number.

    To some extent, I think the drive that brings immigrants here can be passed down a generation or two or three. But the comforts of American life can erode that work ethic eventually. It needs an ongoing boost from new generations of migrants.

    My understanding is that Europeans marvel at how much Americans work. We get less vacation time than them, and don’t even take all of that. We work longer hours, even on straight salary. Where did this disparity come from, since biologically and culturally a lot of Americans are descended from Europeans? Could it be that a lot of Europe’s ambition migrated to America 100-300 years ago and even yet has not recovered? Or is America’s vitality maintained by a steady stream of new blood?


    • Svensk, the problem is that H-1B visas are temporary work visas for foreigners. Such a visa does NOT add them to the American population. Instead, it exposes them to all kinds of abuses under threat of being immediately sent home.

      It is not a way to select the best foreigners. It is a way to EXPLOIT the best foreigners, and then after they’ve served their stint in the technological coal mines, send them back home.

      This kind of temporary foreign worker is the cause of the same losses I pointed out above. They are taking jobs Americans can do. And they are remitting much of their salaries overseas. A double loser.

      Regards and thanks,



        • Curious George: Exactly. I’m not aware of any of the multitudes of foreign H1-B visa workers that I worked with over the years that ever went back to their home countries. I wonder if anyone has ever considered how that impacts their home countries. What good does it do them in the long run if we keep poaching the best and brightest foreigners to work for sub-standard salaries here?


      • That’s the official story for H1B still, but in practice, there are large numbers of programmers being hired as H1B employees who are paid less than natives doing the same job.

        In addition, there’s a substantial pool of “involuntarily retired” programmers who have earned substantially more, many of which would be willing to work at lower pay to get a foot in the door again, but are considered ‘overqualified’ and not looked at.


        • The problem trickles up as well. Companies hiring lots of H1-B’s generally pay less for their tech workers of all levels of experience. To avoid supposed “fairness” issues, the H1-Bs who are willing to start for less means as people get raises then they continue to make less than equally experienced US workers would. And when going to a different company, US workers don;t get t all back most of the time. Yes, occasionally someone lands a huge 30-50% increase changing jobs, but that is the rare exception because most hiring companies ask for prior income and base offers partly on that. On top of that, companies look at competitive averages when setting pay bands, so it depresses the pay across the industry. Granted, the pay is still good compared to other jobs, but it is still wrong and I believe bad for the country to misuse the H1-B program to depress pay rather than for what it was for which was to fill positions that could not otherwise be filled due to lack of people having those skills without the H1-Bs.


  13. Willis, I love the article and there are a lot of questions raised by others. You grew up here in the USA and had a great existing and supportive family ( and community around you) in place. We saw, in North America a huge influx of immigrants post WWII ( both intellectual ,scientists etc and people with nothing) that came with the largely the same attitude as those earlier immigrants had and became very successful.
    I was an immigrant to Canada in the early 70’s that still had that same attitude, assimilated and became a Canadian. What sadly I have seen that in the past twenty+ years many “white” immigrants from the EU are already walking in with their hands out. Compared to Legal ( and that is the word because they stood in line for their chance to come here) Asian immigrants that see nothing but opportunity and are doing great, I wish those Europeans would have stayed home, in my view many of them are liberals and expect the government to support them no matter what country they “land” in, the minute they get of the plane.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I grew up in Australia. I travelled because I had certain skills in the mining industry that others were willing to pay for. As a result, I have worked (completely legally) in my country, Canada, the USA, the Pacific Islands, Europe, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, and so on. I have always been a legal immigrant/resident, wherever I have resided. If I got sh_t from anyone I was always completely happy to leave; but that never happened. I worked until after I had passed the age of 70. I am now a month from 75.
      From the day I graduated as an engineer, I have worked (initially as a diamond driller’s off-sider, then as a miner), but I have never been someone who was unwelcome on the job-site.
      I am now retired, back in Australia, a place I happen to love. I had many opportunities to stay; in Canada, the USA, and, surprisingly, Saudi Arabia.
      One of my sons is much enamoured of the European experience (and stayed there for 6 years). He is now resident in the “shaky isles” of New Zealand (not my preference, but who can instruct an aggressive son). Chacun a son gout. (unfortunately I cannot insert the appropriate signs and so on for French. So I will translate: “Each to his taste”.).
      I do not like the use of welfare, but i accept that the unfortunate need some support when everything turns to “custard” (a polite form of the normal expression used in this case). But the use of welfare is so demeaning that I would prefer to avoid it.
      One of the problems we have here in Australia is the fact that welfare is one of the bits of “sugar” that we have left out on the table; and it is attracting too many lazy bastards into this country.
      A notable feature of the middle-east is that, on average, the place is a sh1t heap. You cannot blame people for trying to escape. But many try to make their preferred escape route just what they are trying to escape from.
      Maybe there are parallels to what you are experiencing in the US?

      Liked by 1 person

  14. I admit that I am certain of less now than I was when you first started discussing trade, Willis.
    Nevertheless, I think it worth pointing out that these remittances you mention are not actually ‘spent’ in Mexico. They’re American dollars, and while they might pass through a few intermediaries, they eventually end up being repatriated to the US to buy things. They are used to pay for American-produced products. To over-simplify my point, without these billions going abroad, your trade deficit would be worse.


    • Thanks, John. My point is that the value goes to Mexico. Any one of a number of things might happen to it there … but the underlying reality is the same.

      Mexico is richer. The US is poorer.

      Call me crazy, but I’m not interested in that deal. Nothing against the Mexicans, like I said, I have Mexican relatives and in-laws, as good people as you’ll find anywhere.

      I’m just not interested in impoverishing the US.




      • Likewise thanks, Willis.
        We share the same goals, but currently have different opinions on the correct way to achieve them.
        I think you’re mistaken about the idea these remittances do impoverish America.
        Here’s why I think that: These are American dollars. Their value in other countries is determined by the fact that eventually those dollars can purchase goods or services from Americans.
        Here’s how I see it working: Whether the family at home buys ‘Breaking Bad’ DVD’s or American Pharmaceuticals, the Amercian companies that do that business make their profits. What difference does it make to the Company that the things they sell go out of the country, rather than being consumed within Santa Monica?
        Legal employee A buys those products for his family in Santa Monica. Legal employee B remits that money to his family in Mexicali, and they buy those same products. The USA is financially the same, but its trade balance of payments situation is improved.

        As a separate matter, there’s another person uses the same Internet nickname that I did above. I abandoned it when Anthony Watts voiced his plea for openness on the internet, so I have no problem with him using ‘John in Oz’. WordPress resurrected that nickname and used it on my behalf; so be it, no confusion intended.
        I’m just making the point that he and I are two separate people, responsible for our own opinions, distinguishable by moderators by our separate email addresses and IP addresses. I am not attempting to attribute my views to him. However, I currently have good reason to use a nickname, so from here on in, I’ll use “John in Oz 2”


        • The problem with the reasoning that as long as the dollars come back it is fine is that it neglects the premise of the original posting. If there is a US citizen that would have done the job, then the lack of the job has a cost to the country as a whole both in social cost and in actual safety net cost. So while the companies selling their products may be just as well off no matter who spent the money, the US is still economically disadvantaged as long as the worker doing the work displaced an American who actually would have done the job. In fact, that is the gist of the point many in the political realm are now making. Companies can continue to enrish themselves and the cost is born by displaced American workers and taxpayers.


    • I idea that American dollars that go overseas come back to America isn’t necessarily true and when they do it’s also not necessarily going to be a good thing. The author that went by the pen name of Adam Smith, George Goodman, wrote a book back in the 70’s pointing out all the dollars that were being traded back and forth overseas and never coming back to the US. The dollar had become an international currency much as the pound sterling had been in another time. The writer speculated that if the confidence in the dollar eroded that money would come flooding back and not in a good way.

      Back then the Japanese were selling their cars and electronics to us but not buying our goods. They were buying our real-estate and businesses. Today it’s the Chinese. If those dollars were buying our goods it would be one thing but they’re not in large part. If they were we wouldn’t see such lopsided balance of trade.

      Oh and let’s not forget the other costs we are incurring from the the illegal aliens (I’m not going to use immigrant any more, though maybe I should call them undocumented aliens). Jan Brewer, the former Gov. of Arizona said that out of a budget of 8.3 billion she estimated 1.6 billion was due to undocumented aliens.


    • Carl, thanks. First off, those salaries all seem towards the low end for the tech and financial sectors. A construction manager graduating from Cal Poly makes about $75,000 per year in Silicon Valley with zero experience.

      Next, the usual way that they squeeze the H-1B workers is not in the nominal salary. It is in the hours, the working conditions, and the benefits … or the lack thereof.

      Finally, my main point is not the mistreatment of H-1B workers. It is the two large losses noted above, the loss of jobs and the loss of dollars in remittances. Whether the H-1B folks are treated well or poorly, they are still taking American jobs and sending much of the money overseas.

      Look, I’m not believing that Google can’t find marketing managers and financial analysts without getting them from overseas. But according to your cited document, that’s what they’re doing.

      My best to you, thanks for the fascinating link.



      • Willis, U.S. based companies that aim at competing in international markets need to tailor their products and marketing approaches to those markets. They have a choice of hiring some people locally or, using H1-B visas, employing them in the U.S. The cost for the latter alternative is usually higher. The reasons that the companies select that route is that there are benefits that compensate for the higher cost, e.g. in terms of competitiveness. The result most likely is increased exports, more profits, expanded employment, etc.

        Personally, I think that the off-shoring of work done in the U.S. is a much larger problem than the H1-B program, which among other things helps spread the U.S. work ethic around the world.


      • Willis is right about the numbers being low. Look at the top couple entries. Those are pretty much starting salary levels at most for US workers in software, which the top couple rows mostly supply. But the table is average which runs the gamut of new to many-years of H1-B experience (I know H1-Bs who have been in the US on the program for 15+ years without a green card yet — the “temporary” nature is BS because they can be renewed over and over again). Take US software workers only and the averages would all be higher.


  15. There’s a lot to be said on this subject and it can get pretty contentious. Underlying it is control, but that seems to be either a new or distant consideration…severely disrupted by minority and suddenly very bitter activist groups. Here in UK I ask myself why…every day.

    If I look at the top end of the pecking order I see the same people (ex-leaders/lawmakers) who wrecked our societies over the last 20 years or so. They have pensioned themselves very well indeed and it is truly sickening! We are left to suffer their legacy ideals and actions….a huge mess.

    With Trump in front now we are likely to have a good chance of righting the “mess”. The danger here is the EU and fanatics within.

    It amazes me that many fools here are calling for the US to change/reverse the outcome of your recent election. Hope you can ignore it as I do, although I would dearly like to do something harsh to such fools. Concrete boots anyone?


  16. You may find this interesting …

    Why Silicon Valley Wouldn’t Work Without Immigrants

    Because it’s the New York Times they have to weave Trump into the article but here’s the nut:

    Last year, researchers at the National Foundation for American Policy, a nonpartisan think tank, studied the 87 privately held American start-ups that were then valued at $1 billion or more. They discovered something amazing: More than half of them were founded by one or more people from outside the United States. And 71 percent of them employed immigrants in crucial executive roles.

    Collectively, these companies, which include householdish names like Uber, Tesla and Palantir, had created thousands of jobs and added billions of dollars to the American economy. Their founders came from all over the world — India, Britain, Canada, Israel and China, among lots and lots of other points around the globe.

    In 2011, an immigration reform group, the Partnership for a New American Economy, found that more than 40 percent of companies in the Fortune 500 were founded by immigrants or the children of immigrants. For the newest members of the Fortune 500, many of them technology companies, the rate of immigrant founders was even higher, the organization said.

    Any sensible immigration policy has to recognize that there are both plusses and minuses to welcoming people from other countries. It is a tough problem.


    • In spite of what the press says, there are very few people are opposed to any immigrants.

      There are a lot of people opposed to illegal immigration, and a lot of people opposed to importing low-cost labor to undercut local workers (either at the very low end, or at the high end via the H1B program)

      those are very different things than opposing all immigration.


  17. In the mid-1950s–before I was old enough for school and before mechanical cotton pickers–my family–mom, dad, down to the babies–were in the cotton fields during cotton picking season from the time the dew burned off in the mornings until it settled in the evenings. We were paid by the pound. No hourly wage, so no minimum wage.

    Most of the pickers–this was Arizona–were Okies like us, some Texans, some Arkies, and some from other states. They out-numbered the Mexicans at least two or three to one, and there were sometimes a family or two of blacks.

    The thing about piece work is that the harder you worked, the more money you made. I know others think differently, but often, to me at least, this seems the most fair way for laborers to earn their money. I know my family appreciated it.


  18. I am trying to follow this debate from the UK, where we have our own problems. My question to you, or your commentators, is what will happen to Mexico? I have seen much discussion of the USA’s problems, less about those of Mexico.
    Will there just be a lowering of living standards when the dollar subsidies end, or a total collapse of Venezuelan proportions? Or will the fact that the more enterprising workers are now staying in country actually improve the economy and maybe the politics as well?


    • auralay, thanks for your interesting question, viz, what will happen to Mexico?

      The short answer is, while we need to have compassion, we also cannot afford to care. The problem is that in some sense it is a zero-sum game—if we reduce remittances to Mexico, we end up with more money … but Mexico ends up with less money.

      This is not a new issue. Here’s Philipp von Hörnigk writing in the year 1684 as I discussed in my post “True Wealth” (emphasis mine):

      Ninth, except for important considerations, no importation should be allowed under any circumstances of commodities of which there is a sufficient supply of suitable quality at home; and in this matter neither sympathy nor compassion should be shown foreigners, be they friends, kinfolk, allies or enemies. For all friendship ceases, when it involves my own weakness and ruin. And this holds good, even if the domestic commodities are of poorer quality, or even higher priced. For it would be better to pay for an article two dollars which remain in the country than only one which goes out, however strange this may seem to the uninformed.

      Note that he is talking about the balance of trade, which is this case is a huge trade deficit with Mexico, exacerbated by remittances. Together it’s just under a hundred billion dollars per year. It is a constant drain, think of it as a permanently bleeding wound that weakens us. Von Hörnigk was clear about the grave danger of this.

      I’m sorry, but we have to put our own house in order. Right now we are propping up Mexico, at a huge cost in American jobs and wealth.

      So while I care for Mexicans, and as I said, I have family who are Mexican, I’m simply not willing to give away to Mexicans the jobs and the wealth of American workers. The Mexicans need to create their own jobs and their own wealth, and at the end of the day, that’s all that will save them. We can’t save them, that’s a liberal dream. Keeping the money flow going is just enabling an addict—it allows the Mexicans to not have to fix their own economy.



  19. While I agree with your statement “There is a lot of work that Americans won’t do for Mexican wages.” I see that as only one part of a much more complex issue when it comes to the American worker. Shutting off or reducing the flow of immigrants and raising the wages, while necessary, without simultaneously addressing other factors will, in my opinion, cause a major disruption. So what are the other factors, there are many however there are two others I believe if addressed along with your proposition will go further to get us back on track. The two other factors I see are entitlements, and culture..
    If as you have pointed out raising the wages will mean the prices of stuff will go up, this means the cost of living will rise, and since a number of our entitlements are indexed to the COLA, the entitlements will rise to keep up. At the current level of entitlements there is a disincentive to work when you can make as much not working at an unskilled job as you get in benefits. So much of the workforce will still be on the sidelines even with wages going up.
    The culture you (and I) grew up with in the 60’s was one of family support. You worked and lived on a family ranch so you were part of a family enterprise. What I have seen with immigrant families is they operate as a family enterprise. Example while working in Orange County (CA) there is a large Vietnamese community in Garden Grove and Westminster. Most of the families came over as refugees from the Viet Nam war. In this community the family sends out the children to work in either the family business (restaurant, cleaners, convenience store, etc) they pool the money to send the oldest child to the University to study law, accounting, medicine, or some other high paying field. Once the oldest graduates they stay in the family unit and use their earnings to send the next child to the University and this goes on until all are through school in high paying jobs, then they support the parents. I also saw the family enterprise culture in the Mexican communities as well. While the work was geared more toward developing skilled vocations, they pooled their resources and lived in one house. The “typical” American child is independent goes through school on loans or strikes out on their own, and they are competing against these family enterprises that share the living costs and pool the family resources. Much like what I imagine the farm and ranch families did before the corporate farms took over.
    To address the entitlement issue will take political will, which sadly is in short supply, our President excluded. And the cultural issue is one that is even more complex and daunting.
    While we all want to find that silver bullet, I am afraid that if we just address one thing without addressing other factors the law of unintended consequences will come into play.
    In summary I do agree with your assessment and solution as long as the other contributing factors are addressed concurrently. I have mentioned two, this problem is much more complex and there are a number of other factors that need to be taken into account…


    • your logic assumes that “entitlements” are going to be able to continue to pay out at the current rates and cost of living increases. I don’t believe that this is going to be able to continue


      • davidelang
        February 21, 2017 at 8:42 am

        “your logic assumes that “entitlements” are going to be able to continue to pay out at the current rates and cost of living increases. I don’t believe that this is going to be able to continue”

        Unless the law is changed the entitlements are mandated to continue and that is one of the reasons our national has ballooned to $20trillion and climbing.. as I stated it will take political will to change that trajectory, and we don’t seem to have that in our Congress where laws are made..


    • Art, thanks for the comment. You say:

      While I agree with your statement “There is a lot of work that Americans won’t do for Mexican wages.” I see that as only one part of a much more complex issue when it comes to the American worker. Shutting off or reducing the flow of immigrants and raising the wages, while necessary, without simultaneously addressing other factors will, in my opinion, cause a major disruption. So what are the other factors, there are many however there are two others I believe if addressed along with your proposition will go further to get us back on track. The two other factors I see are entitlements, and culture..

      Let me start by saying those factors, entitlements and culture, are important. However, we can’t wait to fix the economy until they are solved. The economy is at the base. We need to fix our economy if we are to have any hope of digging ourself out of the immense debt hole we are in.

      In an act of incredible stupidly, we have moved much of our manufacturing sector overseas. Now, there are only three ways to generate wealth—grow it, extract it, or manufacture it. We cannot pay the national debt without having all three of those going strong.

      That is the #1 reason I voted for Trump. I disliked his public persona. However, he (and Bernie Sanders, curiously) saw that deadly danger of being deep in debt with one of our three ways to generate wealth being lost overseas. Not only that, but he said he would do all he could to reverse it.

      Most amazingly, given politicians generally abysmal record of implementing campaign promises, he has already made huge strides in that regards, ending TPP, convincing companies not to move overseas, reducing regulations, and he’s just getting started.

      And you’ll notice what has happened in response with both Wall Street and Main Street.

      So while I agree that we need to work on both entitlements and culture, we simply cannot postpone fixing the economy until that secondary stuff gets figured out. And fortunately the President sees the same urgency—look how many jobs he brought back or prevented from going overseas before he was even inaugurated.

      Do you really think the President should have said “Well, I won’t do anything to fix the economy now because there might be major disruptions … I’ll wait until we fix the entitlements and straighten out the culture, and then I’ll save some jobs”?

      My thanks for raising important issues,



      • “I disliked his public persona.”
        He is a little verbally off balance (though not as bad as Bush Jr. was) but I much prefer his attitude of “I will do what I say” (generally speaking) versus the lying promises usually made by the average slick mouthed politician.


      • Willis thanks for your repsonse
        “Do you really think the President should have said “Well, I won’t do anything to fix the economy now because there might be major disruptions … I’ll wait until we fix the entitlements and straighten out the culture, and then I’ll save some jobs”?”

        Totally agree that fixing the economy is job one.. and yes getting jobs back here is tops on that list, which means getting manufacturing back here.. I am totally on board with the three means you lay out to generate wealth; grow it, extract it, and/or manufacture it… where we might see different priorities after that is in the area of wages. While they need to go up and we need to use our internal labor force rather than importing it how that is done without disrupting the economy will require working on more than increased wages.. I believe Trump will need a path forward that addresses multiple issues simultaneously.. in other words we will have to walk and chew gum at the same time.

        He seems to be working on cutting the flow of immigrants and starting to weed out those who are not fitting in.. that is a start, as it will put pressure to hire from an able labor force that has been sitting on the sidelines either due to job/skill mismatch, benefits to not work are greater than the pay offered, or some other reason..

        Having worked with the incoming younger worker I can tell you there is a completely different work ethic and job expectation. Example when I started I saw my entry level as the first of many steps up the skill or job ladder.. so many today feel that entry level is the first step and the second step is to run the operation.. oh and work is second priority to whatever my avocation happens to be; family, travel, surfing, skiing, or I just need a time out.. a far cry from your days in the fields where the mantra was suck it up buttercup.. that is a part of the culture that will need to shift if we are to be competitive with the emerging economies who have the work ethic we grew up with..

        Long winded answer to say we want the same thing.. We may differ on the order of things once we get past the fundamental job of bringing work and opportunity back here…

        All the best to you for a wonderful evening and hopefully you send us some of your moisture..


  20. Free or less expensive stuff always has a demand, free stuff usually shows the demand greater than the supply. Just so with wages. Interns who work for no wages are in high demand (used to be, now largely eliminated by law). High demand for cheap programmers, sys analysts, etc., how to get them? H1B visas – that’s the ticket!

    We need new blood, but we also need a way to make sure that people who want to come here understand that the US is a meritocracy, that we don’t allow slavery, nor honor killings, nor executions for homosexuality, nor torture for un-think. If you come here, assimilate, learn the language as best you can, and work. We ask nothing more. It’s not coincidence that Sunnis and Shiites live generally without conflict in the US, while elsewhere… well we all see it everyday in the news.

    We need a sensible immigration policy, and at the same time, we need to promote the ideas that have enabled us to have the bounty we have in this country. It started with the idea that each person was their own property and had the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Translating that into other languages and distributing it to other countries might make their citizens ask why they don’t get those benefits there. Ideas are dangerous, look at what collectivism has done to the world.


  21. …The final cost of hiring legal Mexican seasonal laborers is that working in the fields is good for the American spirit. It builds that curious frame of mind known as the “work ethic”. At the end of a day working in the fields, I’d know that I’d earned my money. It left me feeling strong, and it gave me a sense of the value of honest toil. World War II was largely won by American farm boys accustomed to long hours and hard work…

    I suspect that the Russians would want to argue the toss with you on that last sentence – but maybe you were just speaking about the us…. the point about hard work is well made, for either side….

    And, of course, there comes the rub. Because this is not a new problem. The Romans hit it around 100AD. When you have built up a successful civilisation, achieved a high point in technology and subsistence, pretty much eradicated the threat of your own destruction from external enemies (but you keep your military practiced by fighting wars against tribes with inferior technology on the frontiers)… that was when the Romans began their steady decline and eventual fall. And they were always complaining during that period about how the Romans had gone to the dogs, were lazy – didn’t work hard and expected foreigners to do it all.

    Sounds as if it’s pretty much built into the system….


    • Dodgy Geezer February 21, 2017 at 10:29 am

      … World War II was largely won by American farm boys accustomed to long hours and hard work…

      I suspect that the Russians would want to argue the toss with you on that last sentence – but maybe you were just speaking about the us

      Indeed I was speaking of the US, no disrespect to the Russians. From memory they lost thirty million lives and the US lost under a million lives, something like that … no contest there.

      Now, I suppose for saying that, I’ll be accused of being soft on Putin …



  22. I started looking into NAFTA not too long ago, and what I found was appalling.

    At the start of NAFTA, the Peso was equivalent to about 35 cents. Now it’s around a nickle. The Mexican government, and the oligarchs who run the country, have systematically devalued the Peso against the dollars as a means of keeping Mexican wages low enough to continue attracting foreign companies such as Ford, Volkswagen, etc. As a result, Mexico’s GDP has gone up by around a factor of 6 (a huge number) since NAFTA but poverty in Mexico has remained exactly the same – around 54%.

    There is no provision in NAFTA to punish Mexico for devaluing their currency. This means that the average Mexican worker’s purchasing power has dropped significantly since the inception of NAFTA. And worse, it means that the cost of anything manufactured in the U.S is too expensive for them too purchase. This is the real source of our trade deficit with Mexico. Is there any wonder why so many have headed North? They are going broke in Mexico just trying to earn a living.

    Devaluating the currency, as a monetary policy, is nothing more than a race to the bottom. It’s just as bad as the hyper inflation that lead to the collapse of the Peso in early 1990’s – just prior to the enactment of NAFTA. The Mexican government hasn’t learned a thing, and doesn’t care too. The imposed poverty on the Mexican workers is fully acceptable to the oligarchs who run the country. They want them to head north, get health care and send remittances back to Mexico. Remittances exceeded the exports of Mexican oil this years.

    I’m a proponent of laissez faire free market capitalism – but NAFTA represents the worst for of crony capitalism imaginable.

    Here’s a link to a good article in the Boston Globe.


  23. I wonder if promoting American grown vegetables would be enough to offset the fact that imported vegetables would cost about a fifth* as much? I’d like to think so, I detest the notion of import duties.

    I’d pay 5x as much to get a good tomato. Buying for one allows a little extravagance).
    Just saying, I don’t see that happening till gene editing gets better. Which makes me ask, how do you feel about “gene altered food” There is a big crowd that has issues.


    • My understanding of the NAFTA issue is that, due to the devaluation of the Peso, U.S. agricultural businesses cried “foul” and got huge tax-payer funded subsidies that allowed them to be able to “afford” to export food to Mexico (corn and wheat primarily). This resulted in putting out of work many Mexican farmers in southern Mexico – and started the first wave of illegal immigration into the U.S.

      Any form of Central Planning will result in un-intended consequences. Just like any plan to geoengineer the climate to promote an “ideal” global temperature.

      Trump want to abandon all multilateral trade deals (TPP, NAFTA) in favor of bilateral trade deals. This is a step in the right direction.


    • The resistance to GMO is baffling to me. These types of food are not poison for goodness sake. You eat the food, digest(keep the good, pass on the bad), then eliminate!


  24. Pingback: Work Americans Won’t Do | Skating Under The Ice | Cranky Old Crow

  25. @ G Myers

    …The resistance to GMO is baffling to me. These types of food are not poison for goodness sake. …

    It’s SCIENCE. Science is against nature. Science is bad…

    (Unless it’s cosmetics or weight loss. Then Science is Good…)


  26. Ummm. A thought experiment. What if there were no government programs? How would they eat? I am old enough to recall that in the ’30s a job was golden. People were willing to travel hundreds of miles to get one. (The husband of my aunt Grace traveled from New York to Alabama just to get an interview.) But people back then expected you to support yourself and your dependents if you were not disabled.


  27. Pingback: Ending Poverty In America | Skating Under The Ice

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