Jimmy don’t crack corn, and massa has a fit

More disinformation about Americans being too soft to pick crops, this time from the WaPo:

When I talked to him about the economic effects of immigration last month, Center for Global Development migration expert Michael Clemens mentioned that he was working on research on agricultural migrant workers. That research is finally out, in the form of a report released by CGD and the Partnership for a New American Economy, a pro-immigration reform group started by Michael Bloomberg and Rupert Murdoch.

Damned if I could have made that shit up. That, ladies and gentlemen, is the salient context of everything that follows. I’m embarrassed that I missed this paragraph on my first reading; it looked like boilerplate wonk blather, but it turns out to say everything that needs to be said about the motives of the twatwaffles that Dylan Matthews chose to defame me and my people as recalcitrant slaves. I’d like to see Hizzoner and Rupe go head-to-head in a cabbage patch against some tough old broad of a rancher on the Torrington range. They wouldn’t last an hour. Whoever the fuck this mandarin Michael Clemens is, I don’t imagine he’d do a lot better. The average Wyoming country octogenarian, assuming she’s still ambulatory, would leave all three of the bastards in the dust. The very sight of it might be enough to raise the scooterbound from their rest home on the range.

This article is emblematic of the stupid credentialism and authority worship that pervades Versailles-on-the-Potomac. Farther along in the article, Matthews presented a decent case that the pool of native-born applicants eager to take commercial farm jobs in North Carolina is quite small, but he had to preface his arguments with appeals to the authority of two of the most useless posh alive on this planet and the expertise of one of their policy-shop house boys. Make that worse than useless: Murdoch is a scaly old reptile who presides over a multimedia empire of cutthroat bottomfeeders, and Bloomberg is a condescending racist who gets his jollies by pitting the poor against the poor, disrupting their lives with gentrification schemes, and letting the police loose on racial minorities in a way that would make Bull Connor proud. At least Paris Hilton merely dabbles in trashy television and hangs out with goofy-ass lapdogs.

For the serene observer, the habits of Beltway scribes flattering overclass creeps in this fashion and their readers earnestly taking appeals to their “expertise” and “leadership” at face value is highly amusing. For the concerned observer, it’s alarming. These articles give the appearance that no one even knows how to critique public figures and their motives. The civic implications are dire.

The raw data that Matthews presented suggest that there indeed is a small pool of native-born farmworkers in North Carolina. In rough figures, hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians are out of work at a time, but only a few hundred of them solicit referrals to the North Carolina Growers Association for field jobs. NCGA, a huge farmworker placement organization, is not sought after for employment referrals. One would expect anyone who wants to work in the fields to jump at the chance for a referral to NCGA; it’s certainly a lot better hooked up with farmers who want help than I’ve ever been. So I don’t doubt that many of North Carolina’s unemployed consider farm jobs a bunch of bullshit.

The devil, however, is in the details. Matthews referred to exceptionally high no-show rates among recruits placed with NCGA. This is no mystery: he didn’t say it, but the no-shows only asked for referrals because they’d get into trouble with their unemployment caseworkers if they didn’t. He didn’t mention referral no-show rates for any other industries for comparison, so there’s no way for readers to really know that the no-show rate for NCGA referrals is anomalous.

What’s happening here is that the new “hires” are going along to get along. They’re engaged in a two-way runaround with the unemployment authorities in a state whose government is notoriously hostile to the poor. They’re slackers playing games with overly-coiffed latter-day slavedrivers. Them canebreak boys jest plain doesn’t like to work. They’re as much a part of the farm labor pool as I am a part of the NASA astronaut pool.

Matthews wrote nothing about how many of North Carolina’s unemployed were within commuting distance of farms that needed their help. The state’s fruit and vegetable farms are concentrated in the Tidewater, away from its major cities. No one’s commuting from Charlotte to Bumfuck-by-the-Sea to pick cucumbers. Dylan Matthews may not understand this, but that doesn’t make it any less true. I guess it wouldn’t be as impressive to use statistics adjusted to exclude beneficiaries living above the fall line, though.

It gets worse. Matthews cherry-picked his retention data for dramatic effect:

When native unemployed people are referred to NCGA, they’re almost without exception hired; between 1998 and 2011, 97 percent of referred applicants were hired. But they don’t tend to last. In 2011, 245 people were hired out of 268 referred, but only 163 (66.5 percent) of the hired applicants actually showed up to the first day of work. Worse, only seven lasted to the end of the growing season.

Damned if there weren’t much more successful retention rates in other years, relegated to the fine print: 10 out of 22 in 2006, 11 out of 58 in 2008 (retention data were missing for 2007), 6 out of 48 in 2009, 10 out of 30 in 2010, 10 out of 143 in 2012. In the course of complaining about a stratospheric washout rate, Matthews failed to mention that the full-season retention rate got as high as 45%. Frankly, his reporting was either sloppy or unethical.

He’s inevitably blind to the bigger labor market picture, too. Employers who really want to hire Americans don’t limit their advertising to state unemployment offices. Idled workers who really want to find work crawl all over Craigslist, Monster, and other private-sector job boards in search of openings; it’s a lot harder to find their government counterparts, even when the latter are better organized, because they’re so obscure. The people who end up using state job boards are public assistance beneficiaries, many of whom only apply for jobs because otherwise they’ll be stripped of their benefits. State referrals are a great way for employers to find recalcitrant slackers, just the sort of losers who will give them a perfect excuse to hire Mexicans. I don’t know for a fact that NCGA engaged in that kind of monkey business, but I’m aware of countless farmers on the West Coast who pull that shit as a matter of course.

How long would I last in the Tidewater cucumber fields? It depends on a number of variables, such as whether the crew bosses are decent guys or whip-wielders, and whether the piecerate is reasonable or insulting. I don’t expect much good from Tidewater planters and their crew bosses, in any event. I’d be a lot likelier to last the whole season if I were dating at least one local girl (construe as you like) who wasn’t totally crazy. This is a great opportunity for off-color cucumber jokes, but I can’t find any that fit in quite right, as she said. I like me some of that Southern spice, but not that Southern cuckoo atavistic nastiness with a side of social control. I won’t be able to woo the high-hat MBA crowd in Charlotte, but as hot as they are in their business suits, they’ve never even been prospective targets of my Danelaw Damn Yankee game. I know what’s best for me, and what’s best for me in Carolina is girls who are closer to the land, even if at this point I’m only going there in my mind.  But by giggity, I’ll get those honeys really close to the land, if you know what I mean.

Don’t believe everything I write. But do believe me when I say that I’ll outlast Bloomberg and his chums in the fields. I’m not the only honky who’s already done that dozens of times over.

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