Tuesday, June 21, 2005

"Victory" for migrant farm workers?

A friend and I recently had a discussion about a boycott of Taco Bell restaurants that was staged by several workers' rights groups in protest of the plight of migrant farm workers...specifically, farm workers who pick tomatoes for a number of growers in southern Florida. The boycott was over the wages the workers were paid and the conditions under which they worked. The workers' rights groups believed that refusing to patronize Taco Bell would force the company to pay higher wages and improve the conditions of "virtual slavery" on the farms.

This article from the NPR website, reports that the boycott has done just that. An agreement has been reached with Yum Brands, Inc. (Taco Bell's parent company) that stipulates higher wages and better working conditions for migrant workers. Many who read the article will indeed consider it a great victory for the workers, but how many will consider the effects beyond the immediate and obvious? Is this agreement an all-around good thing? I, for one don't believe so...simply because the money to pay the higher wages has to come from somewhere.

Under the agreement, Taco Bell can buy tomatoes "only from growers who pay farm workers almost double the current going wages...without raising prices at its restaurants." This presents a number of problems to Yum Brands, Inc.

First, paying more for tomatoes without raising prices at the restaurants means less profit. The typical response to this is probably something along the lines of, "So what? They could stand to make less profit. They make enough already!" In fact, the article sites an increase in profits at Taco Bell restaurants, apparently in an effort to enforce this line of thought. The problem is that less profit means lower stock prices, which means less money invested in the company, which puts us right back where we started. The "extra profit" has just been eaten up by reduced investment. Still, there are several other ways the higher tomato prices could be compensated for.

Maybe they could just put fewer tomatoes on the food, thereby reducing the amount of tomatoes needed and bringing the overall costs back to where they were previously. It might work, but there is yet another unseen effect to this plan as well. Fewer tomatoes needed means fewer tomatoes purchased from the very growers who are overpaying their workers. As a result, the grower must lay off workers or cut benefits to maintain a profit margin.
Perhaps some of the "corporate fat cats" that run the company could just take a pay cut. But why should they? They're being paid what the company has agreed to pay them in return for their services. Furthermore, their salaries are determined largely by market forces and the success of the company (as reflected by profit/loss, and therefore stock prices), much as the workers' wages were.

Another option would be for Yum Brands to increase prices at other restaurants it owns in order to make up the difference for Taco Bell's overpriced tomatoes. In this case, consumers bear the cost of the workers' increased wages. Unless, of course, consumers decide to eat elsewhere as a result of the higher prices...putting us back at square one.

Labor, like any resource used in any industry, is part of the cost of production. It is subject to the laws of supply and demand just like any material good or consumer product. Forcing an employer to pay more for labor than the market will bear invariably increases costs for everyone, often costing jobs as well.

As for the abuse of workers the article speaks of, there is a question that needs to be answered...Did the workers agree voluntarily to work under those conditions? Since the word "migrant" is used instead of "immigrant", one must assume that the workers are illegals, and so there is probably no binding employment contract between the workers and the growers. In my own opinion, there should be no such thing as "illegal aliens". Our borders should be open to anyone who seeks gainful employment and a better way of life. I therefore feel that there should always been a written employment contract executed by both parties, thus removing any ambiguity about the nature of employment or any claims made by either party. The growers are able to get away without it because the workers are not American citizens.

I also don't believe that any company should be required to provide worker's compensation in the event of an on-the-job injury, unless it is a term of the employment contract between employer and employee. Risk should be assumed voluntarily, along with the responsibility for the consequences of such risk.

In What is Seen, and What is Not Seen Frederic Bastiat writes of the consequences of failing to look beyond the immediate visible effects of any action and examine the unseen damage that action may cause. This agreement may bring about slightly better conditions for the workers in the short run, but others within the organization, consumers, and quite probably the workers themselves will bear the cost.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Self-Defense is a Basic Right

This article, from The Cape Times, in South Africa, describes a device that can be worn by women as a deterrent to rape. The device is inserted into the vagina and attaches to the assailant's penis with microscopic hooks. It can then only be removed with medical assistance. This may help identify rapists so they can be prosecuted (unless, of course, the attacker is willing to emasculate himself in order to avoid prosecution). It also contains any ejaculate, thereby protecting the victim from pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases that may result from rape. Seems like a perfectly reasonable, effective method to help reduce one of the most heinous, intrusive acts that can be committed by a human being upon another.

Still, there are those who may condemn its use, as evidenced by this passage:

Lisa Vetten, of the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR)
says: "It is like we are going back to the days where women were forced to wear
chastity belts. It is a terrifying thought that women are being made to adapt to
rape by wearing these devices. We should rather focus our energy on changing
men's mindsets and behaviour towards women."

I agree...It is terrifying that women must go to such measures to protect themselves from rape. The fact remains, however, that merely focusing energy on "changing men's mindsets...towards women" is a losing proposition. Yes, progress can be made toward changing attitudes about gender, race, religion, whatever, but human nature is in many ways unchangeable. There will always be a violent element in any society, and relying on a change of attitude to quell the violent side of human nature is naive.

Changing behavior, on the other hand, is much more straightforward. Without doubt, the most effective deterrent to any undesirable act has and will always be to increase the negative consequences of such an act. The risk of having one's penis bitten of by an anti-rape device would probably be high on any rapist's list of reasons to NOT indulge his vice. Especially since it would be impossible to tell if the potential victim is wearing the thing.

By way of example, in October, 1966, Orlando police began a program to train women in the use of firearms. As a result, the number of rapes dropped from 34 incidents per 100,000 inhabitants in 1966, to 4 incidents per 100,000 inhabitants in 1967, with no drop in rape incidents at all in surrounding areas[1]. Clearly, allowing individuals to defend themselves makes would-be assailants think twice before attacking an individual who may be packing a gun...or in this case, a potentially emasculating penis-biter. Should it matter that the rapist's reasons for not committing rape were purely born out of self-preservation? In my opinion, it definitely does not matter.

Oh, and Lisa Vetten is either an idiot or is grossly misinformed. Chastity belts were primarily used by husbands to prevent their wives from cheating on them while they were away on some crusade. They were extremely uncomfortable, and would probably never be worn voluntarily by any woman...unless she was into that sort of thing.

1. Healing Our World, by Dr. Mary Ruwart. Ch. 16. Text can be found here.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Shocker! U.S. Auto Makers in Trouble!!!

Hiroshi Okuda, chairman of Toyota Corp. is considering hiking prices on vehicles sold in the U.S. in an effort to help out Ford and GM.

Here's the article from MSNBC.com.

My favorite quote: "General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. are symbols of U.S. industry, and if they were to crumble it could fan nationalistic sentiment."

"Symbols of U.S. industry" indeed. I'm ashamed that our symbols of industry are incompetent, inefficient behemoths that couldn't build an efficient, reliable, affordable vehicle if their lives depended on it, have been propped up time and again by taxpayers because they're incapable of forming an efficient business model, and use the power of government intervention in the market to maintain their incumbency. They all should have gone down in flames years ago, and we should all be driving Tuckers and Hondas. Yet another perfect example of how consumers, taxpayers, and laborers take it up the 'chute as a result of government involvement in the economy.

Labor unions create their own issues by using government to force businesses to pay higher wages or provide more benefits than what the market would otherwise bear. This drives up production costs, thereby driving up prices and causing a decrease in overall sales. The cycle ends with plants closing and the very laborers who fought for higher wages in the first place out on the streets.

Artificially low interest rates and the profligate availability of credit have helped create a market for overpriced, extra large, gas-guzzling SUVs. That market is slowing down as gas prices and interest rates rise, and GM and Ford will be hard pressed to recover the billions they've invested in it.

Their failure (or in this case, the lack thereof) now stands to increase prices for vehicles from foreign manufacturers, leaving consumers with a choice between cheap, unreliable domestic cars and expensive, reliable foreign cars. Interesting how it's come full circle.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Honk if you hate stupid people...

Ran across this nicely written article on MensNewsDaily.com.

Socialism...The Price of Idiot Proofing America

Never visited the site before, but this article (and the ad on the left, featuring some very nice cleavage) have piqued my interest...so to speak.