Nation of Hypocrites?

NPR, showing a remarkably illiberal bent lately and having previously surprised me with its expose’ on accelerating disability rolls, has now done it again by revealing the core reason for the undocumented worker problem. The story comes from an anonymous building contractor in Texas who explains that there are two basic ways for him and his competitors to acquire and pay workers:

1. Hire them by the hour, often at union wages and with overtime when appropriate, and also pay workman’s comp taxes, payroll taxes, and unemployment taxes.
2. Hire them as subcontractors to complete specific work and pay no taxes, leaving that to whomever organizes the group.  Workers in such groups typically make less than $10 an hour.

workers

Credit: superstock.com

For the relatively-rare work that requires strict specifications and high quality, number 1. is used, but for most work, work that is routine and less-skilled like framing, sheetrock and taping, it’s number 2.  The contractor, who chose anonymity out of fear of notice by the IRS, says he’s sure that 90% of the workers are undocumented Hispanics, many of whom have been working for him for years. However, his conscience is clear, he said, because that’s the system he has and if he tried to do it properly, his competitors wouldn’t and his business would quickly founder.

That the problem would be so simple is just astounding. Clearly, one solution would seem to be to make subcontracting illegal, at least in the building trades, but that would have enormous ramifications. Sub-contracting is common business practice and managers and owners would likely rebel en masse. This is political hypocrisy but it is also reality. Just as big Ag has grown dependent on illegals for harvesting many crops, the building industry is also invested and I’m sure the chicken plants and other processing fields have as well.  (Makes me wonder, can nursing homes do this with cleaning companies and the like?)

family

Credit: na.fs.fed.us

When conservatives rail at the immigration problem they are turning a hypocritical blind eye to the real problem. They want the profits that dirt-cheap labor brings but they disdain that these people should share in our social safety net. It’s all about the money, and always has been.

The NPR article is at this link.  It is part two of a short two-part article and you may also be interested in part one.  Just follow that link or click on the one in the first sentence of the part two item.

 

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About Jim Wheeler

U. S. Naval Academy, BS, Engineering, 1959; Naval line officer and submariner, 1959 -1981, Commander, USN; The George Washington U., MSA, Management Eng.; Aerospace Engineer, 1981-1999; Resident Gadfly, 1999 - present. Political affiliation: Independent, tending progressive as the GOP recedes from its Eisenhower roots.
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20 Responses to Nation of Hypocrites?

  1. IzaakMak says:

    Jim, I submit that the rampant hypocrisy in our system is one of the biggest reasons behind the jump in position that mental illness has made in the infographic included in that previous NPR article. And, since stress-induced pain (primarily back pain) is a well documented chronic side-effect of depression, I further submit that the even greater positional change of those ailments is a result of this as well. Just sayin…

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    • Jim Wheeler says:

      Maybe I’m just dense today, Mak, but I’m not really following you here and I don’t see an “infographic” in the previous article. Help me out.

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      • IzaakMak says:

        Sorry it’s taken so long to respond, but I’ll try Jim. The easy part is the infographic, which is roughly one fifth of the way down the Unfit for Work: The startling rise of disability in America page you linked to at the top of your post. It’s under the heading “Share Of Newly Disabled Workers, By Diagnosis.”

        As for my linking the rampant hypocrisy in our system to the jump in position that mental illness has made in that infographic, that’s a little more complicated. Having been a mental health patient myself for almost 20 years, as well as having known and talked to many other patients along the way, I’ve been drawn to read my share of literature on the subject to add to the insights I already had. I won’t attempt a detailed explanation of what I’ve come up with here, but I do hope this greatly truncated version will suffice:

        Whether they choose to recognize it or not, or even acknowledge that they have one for that matter, almost every aspect of a person’s life is dictated by the philosophy he or she believes in. Failing to take the reigns of such a powerful force in one’s life is the psychological equivalent of intentionally taking a nap while behind the wheel of a speeding automobile. Attempting to help a patient “get past” the bad choices he’s made, while refusing to address (for political correctness?) the persistent philosophical issues that cause him to make those choices in the first place, is the most profound failing of modern psychology.

        The thing is, however, if one can trace an individual’s poor choices back to the flawed philosophy guiding him, what then can be deduced about the dominant philosophy guiding an entire system of such dysfunctional people? And more to the point, what effects can you then expect living under such a system to have on the more-or-less-functional remaining members of the society ruled by that system?

        I could provide you with a list of the books and articles that helped inform my opinions (hell, I actually compiled a list of bookmarks while thinking of how I would answer you), but the fact is that none of them have been as informative as the one I read back in the late 70s: The Psychology of Self-Esteem by Nathaniel Branden.

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        • Jim Wheeler says:

          Thanks for the clarification. Indeed, Mak, you personal experience is strong evidence of how difficult it is to make proper diagnoses of debilitating illnesses, and of the self-esteem and societal stigma issues that come with such. That is why this demographic trend so alarms me. I would not deny society’s help to those who are disabled, but I fear that too many will succumb to the temptation to take disability as a way of life. Your own struggle is evidence that seems to support my concerns.

          I wish you well – I know it’s been a long road for you and if you can elucidate the problem further, I hope you will. – Jim

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  2. PiedType says:

    Of course it’s about the money. It always is. The workers come here to earn money. Employers hire them because it’s profitable (makes money). Nobody reports them because it would cut into their own profits (money). The government doesn’t enforce existing laws because of the cost of enforcement (money) and influence (money) exerted by employers. Etc., ad nauseum.

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    • Jim Wheeler says:

      Right, PT. The money.

      I hear that the “gang of eight” in the Senate is nearing completion of a recommendation for immigration reform, and that it still includes heavy emphasis on “securing the border”, even though the flow is now a mere trickle. That is politically disingenuous, a diversion from the real problem as discussed in the NPR articles. What our economic policies and our tax laws have done in my opinion is to create a permanent underclass to do society’s dirty work while denying its members the right to its minimum social security (small esses intended). I submit that it is economic slavery.

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      • PiedType says:

        It’s a broken, corrupt system, but “slavery” is too strong a word. Those workers came here fully aware of the situation.

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        • Jim Wheeler says:

          Indeed, PT, they had to know the situation and they came anyway. But I guess the question then becomes whether it is moral to maintain a permanent underclass of human beings for economic advantage, an underclass that has no legal access to healthcare or educational programs. In considering the answer to this consider that these are people just like us, with aspirations for themselves and their children. Will their kids go to school with ours? Will those kids be second-tier there as well? There will always be enormous pressure for equality, regardless of how illegal the entry into the country. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs ensures it. I think it’s a formula for disaster. And few people want to kick out all 11 or 14 million of them. Who would do the dirty work? No, they are here and they’re going to stay, most of them. They are stuck, for better or worse and that’s why it seems to me like a form of “economic slavery”. Trapped.

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          • PiedType says:

            Certainly those employers who break the law by knowingly hiring illegal immigrants and making them “economic slaves” should by punished appropriately. Take those “slave masters” out of the loop and you free their “economic slaves” to make their way in our economy like anyone else. Yes, they are at a distinct disadvantage because they are here illegally, but (except for the so-called “dreamers”) that was their choice.

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  3. It speaks well of NPR.

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    • Jim Wheeler says:

      Couldn’t agree more, Bruce. The more NPR pod-casts I hear the more my respect for them grows. My favorites are “Planet Money” and “It’s All Politics”. “Stuff You Should Know” is also, surprisingly, thorough and of high-quality. The topics in the latter often sound simplistic, but the treatment is always interesting and educational.

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  4. ansonburlingame says:

    First, I “jump on” a quote above from Pied who wrote: “The government doesn’t enforce existing laws because of the cost of enforcement…..”

    I disagree. The government does not enforce such subcontracting issues because a subcontract is not illegal, nor should it be. As well, going after all those small subcontractors would hurt TWO key “demograhpics”. First it drives up the cost to Prime Contractors, GOP supporters for sure, but as well the overall cost of taxpayers that pay a lot of those contract costs, everyone, essentially.

    BUT as well, to enforce the law on every small contractor would be “politically incorrect”, going after the “little guys” and leaving the big guy alone. Man oh man would liberals scream over that move by government along with throwing a bunch of illegals into jail or deportation camps. If some legal “Mexican”, an entrepenhure, hires a bunch of illegal friends and neighbors and makes some money as a sub contractor for himself and his friends, there is not a liberal anywhere that would want to go after the “little guy” the small subcontractor and his “friends”. Nope they want to find a way to go after the rich Prime Contractor and leave ALL the “little guys” alone. But the law does not allow such “cherry picking” now does it?

    THAT is why DC is struggling with “new laws” in that whole arena trying to deal with both sides of the aisle. GOP is trying to protect those it traditionally protects, dems doing the same, and both sides trying to bring the “full force of the law” down on the “other side'” rich against poor, so to speak.

    Anson

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    • PiedType says:

      Actually, I wasn’t thinking about or referring to small subcontractors; I know subcontracting is a legal and very common practice. I was thinking about big commercial agricultural and meat-packing operations and other such “big fish” who hire and exploit illegal immigrants in knowing violation of the law. ICE routinely goes in to bust those workers but they never do anything to the companies that hire them.

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      • Jim Wheeler says:

        “ICE routinely goes in to bust those workers but they never do anything to the companies that hire them.”

        Actually, PT, they do. This is from an article I found when I googled “ice fines illegal workers”:

        ICE now uses tools like I-9 audits, fines, and debarment to combat the hiring of illegal immigrants, which might account for more than 700,000 of the industry’s 12.8 million employees, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.

        Early this year, Chipotle fired 450 employees in various Minnesota locations stemming from an ICE audit. The Denver-based burrito chain later received Notices of Inspection for about 60 restaurants in Virginia and Washington, D.C., as well. The company is cooperating with ICE, “but we have not received any final determination,” says spokesman Chris Arnold.

        In 2010, ICE criminally charged a “record-breaking” 180 business owners, employers, and managers/supervisors—up from 135 in fiscal year 2008 and 114 in fiscal year 2009, says agency spokesman Ivan Ortiz-Delgado.

        The job that ICE does is a paperwork nightmare, but it does do the job. It is so difficult because the employment of illegals is absolutely massive.

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  5. ansonburlingame says:

    Pied,

    I THINK, but am not sure, that Jim’s concern in the posting was over the use of subcontractors to avoid issues of hiring “illegals” by the much larger Prime’s. That is the issue I was addressing.

    We had such a situation, of a sort, in our contracting to clear the wreckage from our destroyed HS during the tornado. The contract itself was let to what turned out to be a “fly by night” contractor previously with some history of malfeasance, or so it seems. The lawsuit is still pending I believe.

    For sure contract law is a very complex subject and all sorts of “stunts” are pulled by many different people, big and little guys to pad contracts or attempt to circumvent existing laws to make more money. It is not just the big guys doing so. Greedy “little ones” do it as well.

    When such things happen and everyone runs for cover under the law, well untangling who did what to who is not an easy task. Yes, greed underlys such stuff, but greed in not just a problem with “rich people” either, in my view.

    Anson

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    • PiedType says:

      The subcontracting is a huge problem here in Colorado, too, as you might imagine. It’s no wonder that adequate legislation and other solutions is so difficult.

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  6. Alan Scott says:

    I submit that if you actually closed the border you’d solve the whole problem. The problem is the over supply of cheap labor relative to the job market. Once that source is stopped, no competitor can undercut anyone else on labor costs. Businesses would have to bid up wages and benefits as they compete for a scarcer resource.

    Conservatives are not ‘the’ hypocrites.

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    • Jim Wheeler says:

      @ Alan,

      You said,

      “I submit that if you actually closed the border you’d solve the whole problem.”

      Well, thank goodness, we can all rest easy now that the solution is clear! All we have to do is construct a thousand-mile wall higher than any ladder, preferably with a land-mine zone, plus a thousand manned watch-towers every mile or so along the other thousand miles of Gulf coast, and the problem is solved.

      Or, we could just prosecute and actually send to jail a couple of the thousands of business owners who knowingly exploit dirt-cheap immigrant labor. That would do it too, Alan.

      Like

  7. ansonburlingame says:

    I disagree Alan,

    “Closing the border” sounds a lot like “police state tactics” in my view. We should ALL be demanding a free and open society, all living under the rule of law. Just tightening the laws is not always the solution. Liberals see Wall Street causing much of the GR and their reaction is to tighten the laws for bankers. Conservatives see too many illegals in the country and call for tightening THOSE laws.

    I am keeping a close watch as events unfold in Boston at this moment (one dead and one on the loose, as I write this). Many will cry for MORE laws in the aftermath. On the other hand some pretty tough folks in Boston are suggesting otherwise like the author Dennis Lehane who has written for years about the “toughness” of Boston and the people therein. His approach is to keep civil liberites at all costs and Boston citizens will do what is needed when some other “jerk” tries to step out of line again. I for one would be very cautious carrying a backpack in Boston anytime soon and it would be some Irish “thug” that I would worry about, not the cops!!

    Anson

    Like

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