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Why would I become a farm worker when I could just collect unemployment checks?

A proposal for reducing unemployment: anyone physically capable of doing farm work is not eligible for unemployment benefits. Obviously this is a non-starter with the current political leadership...

[edit: to be clear, this only applies until there are no further vacancies in farming jobs.]

Are you suggesting that there are an infinite number of jobs for farm workers?

The reason why farm workers have tiny wages and poor working conditions is that there is a massive global surplus of people who are looking for farm work.

And if you're unemployed it doesn't matter what you are unemployed at. You can declare yourself to be an unemployed auto worker, or an unemployed farm worker, or an unemployed ballerina for that matter. There is an infinite number of jobs that I'm not employed at.

You may ask, of course, why an unemployed software engineer collects more benefits than an unemployed day laborer. The answer is: Because unemployment insurance taxes are proportional to income. The engineer pays more taxes when employed, in order to collect higher benefits when unemployed.

The engineer pays more taxes when employed, in order to collect higher benefits when unemployed.

Only in theory. The reality makes far less sense.

Here in California, it's not the employee who pays the tax, but the employer, and it's only proportional to income up to $7000 per year (yes, year, not month) per employee. The payout is only proportional to earnings up to around $50k annually.

> it's not the employee who pays the tax, but the employer

What's the difference?

To the employer it's just added to the salary, they don't think about it any differently.

You could give it to the employee first, and then take it from them if you like. It's identical.

You could give it to the employee first, and then take it from them if you like. It's identical.

Not under current income tax treatment, it isn't. For mandated insurance, if the employer pays, then the benefits are taxable[1]. If the employee pays, the benefits are not taxable [2].

More importantly, since unemployment insurance premiums can be variable, depending on an employer's layoff history, the rate isn't influenced by the employee.

Arguably most importantly, an employee-side tax would be visible to everyone on every pay stub. The bizarre inconsistencies wouldn't be hidden away.

[1] Such as is the case with unemployment benefits. [2] Such as is the case with short-term disability.

It's a semantic difference, not an actual one. You could give it to the employee and allow him to deduct it from taxes.

But I'll acknowledge the part about "the rate isn't influenced by the employee".

That would mean that anyone who was out of a job in the city would either need to leave the city or prey on the people within the city who still have money.

Your proposal would lead to a huge de-population of the cities. It would also mean that if by some weird series of events you became unemployed for a while, and could not find a job, you would be forced out to work the fields.

It's much easier to start working the fields than to get back to society. When you need to work for minimum wage every day, you don't have time to find that programming job you're looking for.

Sub-minimum wage, I would imagine.

Income trap.

Taking a job, any job, should always increase a person's net income. Similarly, working more as opposed to working less should consistently do the same. Working several jobs should do the same as opposed to doing only one job or doing no job. This is not always the case, depending on taxation, subsidies, and other eases.

Basic income would be a good solution for such traps.

You would always make at least X money where X is large enough that it allows you to live but small enough to make most people not want to live like that. So, there would be no unemployment checks, just basic income. If you took the job as a farm worker, you would always get your earnings on top of the basic income.

The problem is that with the immigration situation, those jobs pay less than minimum wage, have horrible working conditions, and people often don't get paid. That's why the solution is a) A border fence, b) Much more strict employer enforcement, and c) Amnesty for those here, once a and b are accomplished. That way, the workforce stabilizes, and there is work for people in the U.S. who don't have a lot of skills. There probably aren't a lot of these people on HN, but many people just aren't going to be able to work a high-end job. We need something decent to do for those people. The problem is that right now, you can't have a first world existence on what a farmhand job pays.

The second step is probably drug legalization, because our drug laws have turned Mexico into a failed state, and it's impossible for Mexico to build a decent economy with the level of crime that they have.

This is something that actually has puzzled me for a while, so if someone can provide me with some economics insight I'd appreciate it.

The question is: why does it make economic sense to refuse a cheap labor force? If suddenly some aliens came to the US and said "we have figured out a way to get free food. have all the food you need here", would there be complaints about the number of farmers that are losing their jobs or unfairly competing against free products?

Theoretically, it seems to me that the positive aggregate effect on consumers is larger than the negative (and very regrettable) effect on the farmers. For this reason, wouldn't it make more sense to have the consumers compensate the farmers by helping them pay for their education, etc, so that they can find new jobs? This seems to me as the efficient way to think about immigration.

Where I come from (Mexico, of all places), I hear people sometimes complain about how computers shouldn't be allowed on certain government offices, since they will leave thousands of people without a job. I'd say that, if they can find a different job, then we can all be better off by finding cheaper production factors.

This is the exact argument an economist uses to argue for unregulated immigration.

More conventionally, it is also used in support of free trade, even when a foreign country subsidizes their exports: it is functionally identical to productivity improvements in the importing nation.

> The question is: why does it make economic sense to refuse a cheap labor force?

Cheap to whom? Cheap to the employer does not mean cheap to society.

Note that we have "cheap" people, they're just in the wrong places.

And yes, I've done farm labor for a couple of seasons. My father worked seasons in different parts of the country.

"Cheap to employer does not mean cheap to society" Perhaps, but it's difficult to quantify the overall cost-benefit of a cheap labor force, so I'd stay away from arguing either way without presenting numbers. On the one hand, a cheap labor force leads to cheaper goods/food; on the other hand, a cheap labor force means tax payers have to pay for health benefits, education, etc. Are savings more than the costs? If anyone has numbers that'd be great to know.

I recent the comment. Mexico is not a failed state. Sure, we have many problems. We have a democracy; it is imperfect but still a democracy, we have a GDP per capita of $14,495 which is typical of a country with our level of development.

What we have is a very violent war between rival gangs. We have some of those gangs challenging the state. It is a very serious situation, but it is not that of a failed state. We are still working, traveling and going to school. If you run a red light, you will get fined. All of the government structures are working. Do not minimize the problem, it is very serious, and we are suffering. Yet don't make it seem as it everything is in chaos.

I just googled this index of failed states. I have not knowledge of the political bias of the publisher. http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2010/06/21/2010_failed...

"Failed state" in the past tense may be harsh, but "failing state" seems appropriate.

I'm finding it hard to distinguish Mexico 2010 from Iraq 2003. Gun battles in broad daylight, murdered political candidates, rampant corruption, beheadings...

It's nothing like that. Even the corruption isn't so bad and seems to be improving.

Quite true. And people often refer to Mexico as a poor country. False. The average Mexican is better off than the large majority of the world, with a per capita GNP of over $7,000.

Seriously? A border fence? I didn't think many people actually took that serious as a deterrent. Have you seen the Penn and Teller show where they pay (legally questionable) immigrants to build a length of fence using the same specs as the border fence - then pay them to go over, under, and through it? I just remember they were on the other side pretty quick.

Then there's the cost to build and maintain... it's just such a ridiculous idea to me.

Do you really believe that securing a border is impossible?

Or are you simply suggesting that the US military is less capable of securing a border than the Indian, Chinese, Israeli or South Korean military?

Well...South Korea is a narrow peninsula with a huge demilitarized zone between it and North Korea. Israel is also a small country and they have had some PR problems with their militaristic enforcement policies. India and China have a border dispute but are separated by the Himalayas, and also they both have nuclear weapons. India and Pakistan's dispute over Kashmir is the cause of frequent violence.

These are not good models for a ~2000 mile border with a basically friendly neighbor. Economic theory suggests that free trade works best if it includes labor markets.

There is a difference between "securing a border" and "building a 2,000 mile long fence". A fence by itself does pretty much nothing but slow people down slightly. I made no suggestions about the US military's capabilities - although the fact that this discussion exists seems to make some implications.

Many people make the argument that it's impossible to secure our border, I thought you were doing the same. My mistake, I misinterpreted your post.

If you were simply discussing the tactic of building a fence with no other guard measures, I agree with you; a fence is not sufficient.

Ok, so how many guard measures do we need to be sufficient? How many deployed forces, with what orders in regards to violence?

How much will it cost?

Are we suspending Habeus Corpus for this?

How about zero forces, and a negative budget, by fining employers who hire workers with fraudulent social security numbers? That would save money in the budget to build a giant fence on the Canadian border to keep the cold air out.

> Are we suspending Habeus Corpus for this?

Folks in Mexico are not entitled to US habeas corpus.

Border control is not like ordinary law enforcement.

If a soldier has one foot planted on US soil, then Habeus Corpus does in fact apply.

If a human being has both feet planted on US soil, the military have no right to detain them or do anything besides make polite suggestions, regardless of any suspicions about the person's nationality, probable cause or any of that.

This is one of the most fundamental constitutional issues in the US. I'd think about it a lot less lightly if you're going to claim to support things like "liberty" and "rights".

You'd think that, wouldn't you? But you'd be wrong. Don't feel bad - I was pretty surprised as I learned more about the subject too (IANAL but am planning on a law career, and already having an interest in this I figured I might as well learn it properly). The law and administration of immigration have been patched and reorganized so many times that the subject is an elective on most law school courses.

Unlike most other branches of law, the scope and administration of which are constitutionally limited, immigration is plenary law - an area in which the government has absolute power and its actions are not subject to judicial review unless otherwise stated (going back to the Supreme court's decision in the Chinese Exclusion Case in 1889, holding that where aliens are concerned, only property rights are constitutionally protected and others may be revoked as the government sees fit). So the ability of the courts to entertain petitions for Habeas Corpus in immigration cases is quite limited (and defined by statute), and other kinds of legal action (eg certification of class action suits) are off-limits altogether.

In cases where the jurisdiction of federal courts is at issue, the government often argues that the terms of a visa or similar document an agreement or bargain (but not a contract) between the US and the alien, formed outside the US for legal purposes. It is thus asserted to be a private matter between the government and the individual, outside the scope of judicial review. The Attorney General or the Director of Homeland Security has more or less absolute discretion in such cases.

This leads to some odd outcomes. For example, if someone sneaks across the border and is later arrested and tried, they have full constitutional rights. If at any point they are handed over to DHS, they have the right to a hearing in front of an immigration judge (part of the DoJ) to determine their legal status, and can appeal any decisions to either a special immigration appeals court in DC and/or the federal courts (depending on exactly what the situation is). The same is approximately true of someone who overstays or commits a crime violating the terms of their visa. On the other hand, some 30 million people visit the US every year without a visa as tourists. If a DHS officer determines such a person has violated their conditions of entry they can be arrested and deported or detained pretty much at will, with no opportunity for a hearing at all (unless they claim asylum, which of course happens all the time as a result). The government's current view is that such persons have no constitutionally protected liberty interest, putting them outside Habeas Corpus altogether.

According to both the last president and the current one, neither are American citizens, necessarily.

I remember a National Geographic article about Israel's "fence":


during the discussion, Jewish coworkers who had lived in Israel at the time recalled that it was far from perfect.

So build a better fence! Ever heard of the Berlin Wall?

OK, that was only through Berlin, but the East/West Germany border was apparently pretty successful.

One thing that's way better than a fence: two fences, half a mile apart, with a minefield in between.

The Great Wall of China would be a better example. It's even twice as long as the fence that would be needed to cover the US-Mexico border. As effective as your idea is for trying to kill or maim people who break the law in an attempt to provide better lives for themselves would be, I think it would run afoul of human rights issues.

people who break the law in an attempt to provide better lives for themselves

I'm not sure how the fact that they're attempting to provide a better life for themselves is supposed to be an excuse. Bank robbers are also attempting to provide a better life for themselves, too.

There is a difference between stealing money to fuel your greed and stealing a loaf of bread because you're starving. Or speeding for the thrill vs. speeding to get your pregnant wife to the hospital. His assertion is that illegal immigration often follows a similar pattern.

Yeah, people should put some land-mines in front of that safe-deposit box.

I don't see a human rights problem with a well marked minefield between two fences.

Anyone who wishes to avoid being blown up can pay attention to the "Warning: land mines" sign and not climb over the fence topped with barbed wire. Similarly, the zoo isn't violating your human rights if you ignore the "warning: bears" sign, swim through the moat, and then get eaten by the bears.

The difference is intent. Mines are placed with the intention of killing or maiming. Bears are not placed in zoos with the intent to kill trespassers. If animals were used for that intent it would still run afoul of human rights. You realize that it IS illegal to use deadly booby traps to protect your own personal property, right?

You realize that it IS illegal to use deadly booby traps to protect your own personal property, right?

Of course. Setting deadly booby traps is a privilege the goverment reserves for itself. And fair enough too -- the setting of deadly booby traps should be very well regulated to ensure that there's absolutely no way that anyone can wander into the trap without knowing (a) it's there and (b) it's very very deadly.

The purpose of this sort of trap is not to kill or maim anybody, it's to ensure that it never kills or maims anybody by being so obviously deadly that nobody would be stupid enough to ever attempt to cross it. Let's face it, life in Mexico isn't so bad that it's worth facing a 99.9% chance of death in order to escape it.

Yes, it's not so bad in Mexico. Nobody would ever attempt to run across a minefield to escape grinding poverty and bloody wars waged by rich and powerful drug cartels fueled by demand from the United States.

That's the stupidest thing I've ever seen anyone write on hacker news. Kudos.

I hovered over voting him down because it was such a terrible statement; but it certainly was not trollish. I think he honestly believes that a minefield is a legitimate answer. Whatever logical and moral failings he may personally have, we can still engage his argument on an intellectual level with reason and evidence.

I wholeheartedly agree with your sentiment. I'm not even sure how to approach such a misguided argument. So I haven't yet, because I didn't want to lower the level of conversation on hn.

I simply meant to encourage you to avoid snarky one-liners like one you've posted, and instead raise the level of discussion here.

Down voting doesn't have to be about trollishness. It can also be about values. It is useful for people to know what HN's values are.

Some things that I disagree with are great for intelligent discussion. Other things I'd discourage regardless of the intelligence or sincerity involved.

An adult should know what is wrong with setting landmines. See: http://www.globalissues.org/article/79/landmines We should say this firmly.

Do you believe the Berlin zoo is also guilty of violating human rights?


There's a minefield at the Berlin Zoo? I guess I take back my original post - it was the second stupidest thing I've ever seen posted here.

You can call me stupid all day, but it might be helpful if you explained why you believe one danger (land mines) is a human rights violation but another danger (bears) is not.

Would it not be a human rights violation if we used bears (or other animals better suited to the southwest) as a deterrent for border crossing rather than land mines?

Let me make it very simple for you.


  You  || * * mines * * ||  Delicious cake
Bear at the zoo:

  You  ||   GRAR bear   ||  
Note the lack of tempting opportunities on the other side of the bear pit.

Note also how bears tend to be large and rather obvious dangers (to most people, anyway), whereas mines tend to be buried under the ground, because their deterrent effect depends on uncertainty about their position.

In my original statement, I explicitly specified the presence of a "warning, land mines" sign on the barbed-wire topped fences to make certain no one unwittingly enters a minefield.

At the Berlin zoo, the possibility of playing with Knut the polar bear was actually a tempting opportunity inside the bear pit (note: the lady who got mauled wasn't even the first person to jump in).

specified the presence of a "warning, land mines" sign

True, though I couldn't suppress a giggle at the the thought of some radio ranter getting upset if it included a Spanish translation, since the fence would be on US territory.

What you're ignoring is the fundamental difference between a natural danger which we mitigate to increase the scope of people's freedom (observe dangerous animals from behind a fence, skydive after checking the parachute, hike with the aid of a map and compass) and an artificial danger which we impose to obstruct or limit people's freedom.

Playing with a bear is only tempting to small children or someone who's functionally retarded. A small percentage of people are suicidal or stupid enough to kill or injure themselves by ignoring or circumventing protective measures but we don't consider their rights violated as a result; the ratio of zoo deaths:zoo visitors (or whatever) is so low that the social benefit far exceeds the cost. If people in Mexico felt no particular motivation to enter the US other than for tourism, then we would expect to see at most 21 deaths annually on the Mexican side (~7m border area population/~0.003% suicide rate). Interestingly, we could expect up to 75 on the US side (also ~7m border population/0.012% s.r.).

I'm not sure what we do with the bodies in this hypothetical minefield; perhaps leave them there as a warning, because we don't want expensive border patrol agents to die removing them for burial. sure, they could be issued with maps or the mines could be turned off remotely, but as hackers we can all see the potential security pitfalls in such safety procedures. Given past administrative lapses with things as important as nuclear weapons, it's clear that we can't trust anyone - especially not government employees - to maintain the security of our minefield, so it would be better to shred all our maps as soon as we've deployed the things. I gather this is often what happens in a military context. It's true that this might result in avoidable future inconvenience if we ever develop a more comfortable relationship with Mexico, since removing the landmines would be dangerous and expensive. It would probably be better to turn the fence into a tourist attraction - people could buy a ticket to climb into guard towers and machine-gun cardboard targets of border jumpers, say. This would eventually set off (most of) the landmines, and tap into the unexploited commercial potential of historical killing zones.

Returning to the possibility of people crossing minefields, economic opportunity is enormously tempting to people notwithstanding the possibility of danger: it is a fundamental driver of history. We have gone to the moon and the ocean depths, fought wars, and died in vast numbers in order to gain economic advantages. About 3% of the world population is estimated have migrated from one country to another for economic reasons, and of course people often migrate within countries - either freely, as in the US, or illegally, as in places like China where choice of residence is considered a privilege rather than a right.

The interior German border mentioned above was regarded as one of the most secure ever; it actually had minefields, as well as guard towers with machine guns and so forth, and only consumed about 0.4% of the DDR's annual GDP by the time the country collapsed. Despite this outstanding achievement, people still insisted on sneaking across it, to the tune of about 120 a year. The East German government had a plan to reduce this by adding more security, but postponed it for lack of ready cash. It's unknown how many people died; most estimates are in the low thousands. Not all went across the border on foot; some traveled in hot air balloons, some swam or used inflatables to travel by sea, and some were smuggled inside commercial vehicles.

Of course, a key difference is that the DDR was more concerned with keeping people inside while you are more concerned with keeping them out. Whether this will have much influence at the individual level is hard to say. Notions about all men having inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness have been responsible for large-scale subversive behavior in the past, and if anything, the popularity of such ideas seems to have spread since then. Clearly, these concepts of fundamental equality and inalienable rights need to be curtailed and decisions about their availability placed in the hands of qualified administrators, who can then issue them in projectile form.

If anyone visits Berlin I highly recommend the Checkpoint Charlie Museum. http://www.mauermuseum.de/english/frame-index-mauer.html They have exhibits of those hot-air balloons, boats, modified vehicles, etc. It's really a testament to human ingenuity and courage.

Seriously, you should do some reading on minefields. They're one of the most awful things a war can leave behind.

The thought of us doing this to our own territory is ridiculous.

Unmarked minefields, or air-scattered mines of infinite duration, are the bad kind.

A well-marked, time-limited or centrally controlled minefield is generally much less dangerous, on par with a razor-wire fence. Functionally, it's a sentry system which can be turned off electronically (or by waiting past a certain date), or at worst, which is marked on maps well enough that individual mines can be removed safely by engineers.

Unexploded ordnance (i.e. bombs which you fire and which then fail to explode) are a bigger threat after a modern battle than US-style minefields.

A minefield is probably much less likely to be deployed for this than automated sentry towers, however.

Oh, for christ's sake.

We should impose a must-be-marked-at-all-times lethal health hazard on our own territory for the hell of it? We're not at war here.

We do this in limited areas already -- there's razor wire and other "obviously dangerous" stuff protecting power substations, subways, power plants, etc. DoE-mandated security contractors will use lethal force at nuclear sites, probably with limited target identification.

I agree doing this over a 2000 mile border is a bad idea. For that, we should try to develop 0-50mi deep monitoring zone (depending on the area), with seismic sensors, UAV overflights, etc., and then whenever anyone is detected, send CBP/ICE agents to intercept. If they're innocent hikers, no harm done; if they're drug/people/etc. smugglers, detain and process them.

That's largely what we do now. The main issue is insufficient CBP agents, and no real consequences for illegally crossing the border ("catch and release"). I think punishment should be much harsher for anyone involved commercially in running the border, and somewhat harsher for people who do it repeatedly.

Ultimately the best solution is to make Mexico a less shitty place to be.

Well, that's all pretty reasonable, including the harsher penalties for people who run the border for a business, but still, seismic sensors and UAV overflights? That's just too close to home for me, I don't want a militarized border if it can at all be avoided. Aside from the monetary cost, I think it's detrimental to society -- is immigration such a bad problem that it requires that drastic a step?

For the record, I'm not advocating it as good policy. I'm just disputing the idea that a completely avoidable hazard is a human rights violation.

It's friday afternoon, this is new york. I'm here to call you stupid. Don't you have some high frequency trading to do over there in Jersey City?

I can see that you have never been to Berlin.

They have an entire museum dedicated to show the different ways people would get over, under and frequently through the wall. It will absolutely blow your mind.

I assume you're talking about the Checkpoint Charlie museum? They also show you how dangerous and complicated these escape plans were, and talk about how few people pulled them off.

Been there, seen it, had my mind blown (assume much?). I'm not saying there's such a thing as an impenetrable border fence, I'm just saying that you could do a lot better than is currently being done.

If there were ten thousand illegal immigrants in the US instead of ten million, it wouldn't have the deleterious effects on agricultural wages (and consequently job prospects for low-skilled US workers) that it has.

> If there were ten thousand illegal immigrants in the US instead of ten million, it wouldn't have the deleterious effects on agricultural wages

They took your job? Seriously? :-)

For the future, don't worry ... agriculture is exactly the kind of work that will be done by robots.

If it is not already, that's just because your unions are out of control, which made countries like Japan take the leadership in the robotics industry.

From my experience (read on), jobs illegal immigrants have get paid at least minimum wage (Not that this is livable).

Most illegal immigrants get a social security number through underground document-makers. They give that number to the employer (who knows it's fake, but acts otherwise).

I've befriended many Mexican immigrants, illegal and legal, and have even gone to a house that makes these documents. (It was surprisingly low-cost. )

Now this doesn't speak to your other point, about whether a farmhand job is livable for anybody. But my main point is: it's probably a legit job that withholds taxes and everything.

There is a large set of jobs that has a high-turnover rate for everybody who works in them. Overnight cleaning crews in offices, table bussers, farmhands... This turnover rate is high for everybody, legal and illegal, who works there. My guess is that the employers assume anybody who works there will leave soon, and it's not worth thoroughly vetting whether the ss# belongs to a dead guy.

As for my opinion on all this... I'm still working it out. I'm also biased, have lots of Mexican family on this of the border, and am admittedly sentimental about it. Ideally we can first focus on making any job livable, and THEN worry about who gets to have it.

Do you think farmers can afford to hire workers at higher rates?

I would say the first step is immigration reform: remove the incentive to come here illegally, they'll just do it legally, and the problem goes away.

I think your analysis is a bit harsh but hits on a good point. If we give people benefits forever it doesn't make sense to work. Ie if you lost a higher paying job. You will make more taking unemployment than getting a lower paying job.

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