Raise the incomes of fast-food workers, and that 17 cent or 25 cent per dollar increase in the price of a fast food meal dips into the pocket of high-frequency trader and agricultural worker alike.

Here's Ralph Nader, on the continued state of life in the fields.
It is a perversely inverted society when the people who do the backbreaking work to harvest one of the necessities of life are underpaid, underinsured, under-protected and under-respected while the Chicago commodity brokers – where the white collar gamblers sit in air-conditioned spaces and speculate on futures in foodstuffs’ prices – are quite well off, to put it modestly.

It probably won’t surprise you that the grapes, peaches, watermelons, strawberries, apricots and lettuce that you’re eating this week are brought to you from the fields by the descendants of the early migrant workers. Their plight is not that much better, except for the very few working under a real union contract.
He continues with the expected call for consciousness-raising, union-organizing, and solidarity.

Before we get to the lettuce, cheese, pickles and onions, we have the all-beef patties.  The political economy of meat production figured prominently in Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation, and the ability of the Big Food companies to deliver relatively cheap food relies heavily on the ability of the packers to hire help cheaply.

Now for the puzzle: what happens if higher pay for field hands, packing house workers, and grill and counter help turns either into prices customers resist, or into additional mechanization of the fields, packing houses, and eateries?

1 comment:

William Bruce said...

I am always impressed by the ludicrously static nature of the economic analysis rendered in editorials discussing job and profession: It is as if all such authors are afflicted with a medieval essentialism of occupation, no doubt suggesting a man's surname as testament to his given purpose (Farmer, Baker, Miller, etc.). Or, perhaps even worse, we are simply in no position to judge any person's choice of occupation, and "we are the market."

God forbid that poor remuneration or unpleasant conditions might elicit a supply response on their own, with workers choosing -- as if lead by some invisible appendage -- alternative jobs, professions, educational opportunities, etc.