Posted by: vanhoff | April 17, 2008

The underground economy Part II

The second essay by Schlosser examines the employment of illegal immigrants in the California strawberry fields. Schlosser takes the reader on a vivid journey through California’s strawberry-harvesting industry, which is propelled principally by illegal immigrant labor, resulting in deplorable living conditions that are actively ignored. Schlosser states, “Once illegal immigrants enter a job market, wages fall for other workers.” This may explain why there is certain resentment for immigrants in some neighborhoods. Our society seems to create the needs for continued illegal immigration. We do not want to do the type of jobs that immigrants have risked their lives to come to this country to do. A good example of this is the strawberry fields in California. Whether they want it or not, farmers rely heavily on illegal hands to pick their fruits. Otherwise, they would not be able to afford the high labor cost by the local workers.  Rather than proposing that employers be held responsible for their hiring practices or that migrant workers be naturalized so that they may seek legal employment and all of the rights and benefits that come with it, Schlosser runs very briefly on an anti-capitalist tangent. “No deity that men have ever worshiped is more ruthless and more hollow than the free market unchecked,” writes Schlosser.

            Apart from pot, strawberries can generate more revenue per acre than virtually any crop in the United States. Growers who oversee this labor-intensive enterprise maintain their profit margins largely by hiring illegal immigrant workers and paying them impoverished wages. Suffice it to say, the government does not spend $4 billion per year working to uphold immigrant workers’ rights. In fact, a call to immigration authorities serves as an ever-present threat against those who would try to organize a union within the fields. “Yet the wage structure has discouraged American citizens from seeking such work,” Schlosser states. The illegal immigration problem considered by some as a “supply” (the illegal), rather than a “demand.” Schlosser’s brief history of agricultural workers in California proves this point. Using traditional guest-worker type solutions for this problem will only exacerbate it by allowing employers to use a class of lower-paid workers who get minimal or zero benefits, while placing the burden of meeting their health and educational needs in the hands of States.

            The third essay in “Reefer Madness, examines pornography and the empire of the obscene. Reuben Sturman, a self-made multimillionaire whose rise from staging Midwest stag nights to overseeing a global porn operation reads to be the dark side of the American dream. Schlosser writes, “To his defenders in the sex industry, Sturman was a marketing genius and a champion of free speech, an entrepreneur whose toughness, intelligence, and boundless self-confidence were responsible for his successes. But to anti-porn activists and Justice Department officials, Sturman was the head of a vast criminal organization whose companies enjoyed an unfair competitive advantage: protection and support from the highest levels of the mafia.” Pornography, including videos, the internet, live sex acts and cable TV generates around $10 billion a year in United States alone. Some including, Schlosser see the culture bigger than all other art and film combined. Forbes magazine estimates that the American porn industry grosses $4billion. Example of smut: www.penthouse.com

            One troubling aspect is that where pornography is used as a subject of art and/ or fiction, where men who seem to believe that they can represent what the women in the industry are feeling better than the women themselves often take up pornography. Many still see pornography as extreme forms of deviant acts. Yet our culture has become more sexually explicit; however, there is still a real difference between, say, the actresses on Sex and the City talking about anal sex in their relationships and the women on hardcore websites actually performing such acts. There is still a real divide between the Adult Channel and a storyline in Friends. However, references to pornography, its props and personnel, have certainly become mainstream. Allowing porn to become a source of inspiration whenever a little excitement of naughtiness is required thus capturing the attention of many business executives that have cashed in on such “inspiration.”

            Schlosser’s analysis of the state and federal criminal justice systems unwittingly support the underground economy. He investigates the cultural and social beliefs that stimulate these black markets, yet at the same time charges the public’s greed of the very commodities that they wish to remain illegal. The profits that result from the intrusion of narcotics into the lives of the social elites, the inflow of illegal migrant workers who help maintain cheap food prices, and the unstoppable expanse of pornographic material into mainstream video stores confirm that a hypocritical society vilify these threats. For the public good even as they tolerate and benefit from their presence, Schlosser uses Public Sociology to allow his readers to see the hypocrisy that runs deep in American soil.

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