The Phony Farmworker Shortage

by Mark Krikorian

As a follow-up to my tomato post, see CNBC’s John Carney’s recent posts on the lobbyist-generated missile-gap-style panic over the supposed lack of farm labor, which has been swallowed wholesale by gullible, innumerate journalists. He’s been all over this like white on rice, with posts just over the past month here, here, here, here, and here. From his Wednesday post:

If there really was a lack of available farm workers, we would expect wages to be rising rapidly. The higher wages would attract more workers into farming. Sure, there might be some time lag, but the problem would not persist. That’s the way markets work: prices adjust to restore an equilibrium between supply and demand.

Regelbrugge [one of the leading chicken-little open-borders lobbyists -- MK] and others want us to believe that farm labor is an exception to the usual rules of economics. We’re just supposed to accept the idea that higher wages will not work for farming the way they do for every other economic sector. No one has yet explained to me why labor markets would uniquely fail for farming.

All of the data we have are inconsistent with the idea of a farm labor shortage. What seems to be happening, instead, is that some farmers are finding that they cannot attract workers at the wages they are offering. But rather than raise wages to attract a larger supply of workers, they seek a public policy solution to allow them to hire more workers without raising wages.

And Carney points out this isn’t because farmers aren’t making money:

Regelbrugge points out that last year, farm income outside of corn, cattle, hogs and soybeans rose 6.15 percent. That’s a very respectable growth rate. What’s remarkable is how farmers managed to prevent very much of this growth from getting passed on to farm workers, who saw wages rise just 2 percent in 2011.

Adam Smith was, as usual, correct: “People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public.”