American Elephants

What Do You Know About Picking Blueberries? by The Elephant's Child

American ingenuity comes up with solutions.  I find new kinds of machinery fascinating. I don’t know anything about the business of commercial blueberries. I have picked only a very few blueberries, but I have picked lots of huckleberries which are smaller (and better). It takes a long time to fill a pail.  My mother remembered coming down with her sister from a huckleberry patch on the mountainside with pails full of berries, and an old prospector looked at their pails full of huckleberries and his jaw dropped, and he said  in awe “One by one, by God!”

Regulations come down from governments, federal and state.  You shall have such and such kind of housing for pickers, this is the minimum wage, you must withhold this amount for Social Security and provide the pickers with health care, and they are only allowed to work these hours, and on and on.  Most growers prefer to treat their workers well, and most regulations are made by bureaucrats who have no idea of what a blueberry field is like, but they mean well.

And often, at some point, the regulations coming from the well-meaning bureaucrats make it impossible for the grower to make a profit.  He has expenses, wages, insurance, equipment.  Profit is the only reason why someone stays in business.  If there is no profit, he finds something else to do with the land.  Leftists often think that there is something wrong with profit, but that is only ignorance speaking.

So, at some point, advanced machinery becomes a cost-effective solution.  Think of all the unintended consequences in this story.  Kindly bureaucrats want poor field workers to be well-treated,  The grower wants his crop harvested at a cost that allows him to make a profit so that he can afford to have a crop the following year. When a machine becomes more viable than pickers, many pickers are unemployed, but more skilled workers are employed in the factory that builds the machines, The kindly bureaucrats have no pickers to care for and see that their working conditions constantly improve, so they too become  redundant.

Because such machinery is expensive, only large operations can afford it, so it puts pressure on smaller farms where picking must take place in the old, highly regulated way.  Think of the flow of unintended consequences, and how many lives are affected. Do the smaller growers sell out, form a co-op with other small growers?  Do they start marketing their berries as organic, or hand-picked? Or do they establish a jam and jelly operation right there?  Or does he grow something else entirely?  Whatever it is will be regulated as well.

As I said, I don’t know anything about the blueberry business, but speculating about it makes you think about lessons that apply to other circumstances that we don’t know very much about either.  Interesting machinery isn’t it?

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