Agricultural Automation and Immigration
May 29, 2008, 12:14 AM
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A reader recently forwarded this to me:
At 3 tons of olive yield per acre the cost for mechanical and hand picking is about the same. With higher yield per acre the cost of mechanical picking would seem to decrease. Although close, at all yields per acre hand harvesting gave higher revenues per acre than mechanical harvesting. As efficiency of mechanical harvesting increases and cost of hand harvesting increases, mechanical harvesting will become more attractive.
Now, there are a couple of other factors that need to be looked at here. According to George Borjas at Harvard, recent US immigration policies have lowered wages in those occupations and geographic areas most impacted by immigration. Thus we are looking at mechanical picking of olives being competitive after the market has been distorted by immigration policies. Furthermore, there are clear external costs to immigration. The NSF pegged those costs at $100,000 per illegal immigrant. My own analysis suggests that figure may be low-and that we also need to look at changes in the "value of citizenship" that are produced by various immigration policies and approaches.

Any new technology has a ramp up time. Adoption of new technologies often involves considerable risks and investment-particularly for the early adopters. For this reason, new technologies are often first adopted in politically stable, highly developed countries with a relatively high resource base relative to their population.

I grew up on a farm in Missouri during the "farm crisis". I`ve come to think that immigration policies played a major role in that farm crisis by shifting resources away from highly skilled farmers towards corporate neo-plantations dependent on corporate welfare.

These corporate neo-plantations were never truly economic if one does an honest accounting of all the costs. We also need to look carefully at the concentration of assets that has arisen during the post 60`s era of massive corporate fraud and theft.

The United States is in need of a significant economic and social restructuring. Not only has the future been stolen from an entire generation by corporate greed—but the benefits to the source countries of immigration may in fact be negative. Looking out our original example here: would Mexico and other Latin American countries be better off having a truly functioning technological economy in the US that would mean they would have inexpensive technologies available that could automate some of their most unpleasant and dangerous jobs or in the present situation where they get a few emigration opportunities that help protect the positions of an elite incapable of rapid adoption of new technologies?

Arguably, immigration has held back automation of olive picking and many other agricultural practices by three decades. Is this the future we or our Latin American neighbors really want?