Audit Notes: Farm labor fight, government debt, dumb-question headlines

Americans sue to get farm jobs from Mexican guest workers

The New York Times is good to go page one with a story on a fascinating lawsuit in Georgia that alleges racial discrimination… in favor of Mexican guest workers.

But as Congress weighs immigration legislation expected to expand the guest worker program, another group is increasingly crying foul — Americans, mostly black, who live near the farms and say they want the field work but cannot get it because it is going to Mexicans. They contend that they are illegally discouraged from applying for work and treated shabbily by farmers who prefer the foreigners for their malleability.

“They like the Mexicans because they are scared and will do anything they tell them to,” said Sherry Tomason, who worked for seven years in the fields here, then quit. Last month she and other local residents filed a federal lawsuit against a large grower of onions, Stanley Farms, alleging that it mistreated them and paid them less than it paid the Mexicans.

Wait, but John McCain said Americans wouldn’t pick lettuce for $50 an hour!

This quote, from a manager at Southern Valley farm, is revealing about the power relationship between capital and labor:

“When Jose gets on the bus to come here from Mexico he is committed to the work,” he said. “It’s like going into the military. He leaves his family at home. The work is hard, but he’s ready. A domestic wants to know: What’s the pay? What are the conditions? In these communities, I am sorry to say, there are no fathers at home, no role models for hard work. They want rewards without input.”

That’s why employers like Southern Valley push for loose immigration laws: American workers, even from the underclass, have the gall to ask for a raise or for better working conditions. They’re too difficult and too expensive. It’s much easier to import obedient poverty-stricken foreign workers.

— How many times have we heard politicians, usually unchallenged by the press, trot out the false notion that government finances are like household finances.

Bloomberg View’s Josh Barro calls out Speaker John Boehner for trotting out this old chestnut on Bloomberg TV the other day. Boehner:

We have spent more than what we have brought into this government for 55 of the last 60 years. There’s no business in America that could survive like this. No household in America that could do this. And this government can’t do this.

Barro notes that “It’s hard to think of better evidence for the sustainability of budget deficits than the fact that we have run them for 55 of the last 60 years.”

Of course, budget deficits work because the government is different from a household. A government does not have a life cycle, does not ever expect to stop generating income to support itself, and, therefore, does not ever have to retire its debt. It must keep its debts at a manageable size relative to the economy, which the U.S. has done over that 60 year period. If the economy is growing over the long term, that means the government can run a deficit and grow the debt every year — sustainably.

Just like Walmart, as Barro points out. He shows how the retailer exponentially increased its debt levels over the past quarter century, from almost nothing to more than $46 billion. Thing is, its sales also grew exponentially, so it can afford the debt.

And Walmart can’t even print money.

The Wall Street Journal’s MarketWatch asks a really dumb question:

Are frequent-flier miles pointless?

Similar perks now doled out to frequent tweeters

Does MarketWatch troll for clicks with stupid-question headlines?

Seriously, the story is a good personal-finance piece tainted by a clickbait headline. But “Airline miles tougher to redeem”—what the story’s actually about— doesn’t tempt the mouse finger like “Are frequent-flier miles pointless?”

These short-term clicks come at the expense of long-term credibility.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum. Tags: , , , ,