business news in context, analysis with attitude

A comment about the new Amazon Go store from an MNB reader:

Once again “The evil Amazon” has revealed their true colors as the biggest job killer in America. Thank goodness for companies like Albertson’s, Big Y, etc. who apparently still value people and human interaction.

Unfortunately, while Jeff Bezos and his $1.68 million dollars in salary and BILLIONS in stock holdings continue to get richer, his intent to wipe-out millions of working class jobs is both alarming and disgusting!

Your suggestion to embrace the technology is shortsighted and should be stopped. Unfortunately, the “I’m too busy” joke of a generation doesn’t have the smarts of foresight to understand what the loss of working class jobs will do to America.

I am certainly no fan of Donald Trump, but would support a heavy tax on Amazon as the greatest job killer in America…For all you “Amazon genius” people I would ask you look beyond the 5 minutes you save by having to actually talk to people (I know how important you are...or not) and think beyond yourself (if that’s possible) and what the loss of jobs would do to the economy and America.

I just think you are wrong, especially when you refer to the "I’m too busy' joke of a generation." That level of condescension strikes me as misguided, to say the least.

And I certainly don't understand exactly what you mean when you write that "your suggestion to embrace the technology is shortsighted and should be stopped." Is it the embrace of my technology that should be stopped? Or my even suggesting it?

Another MNB reader had a different problem:

Fantastic idea.  Now, how am I going to come up with the money to sticker our product with expensive little stickers.  I’m sure Amazon won’t want to do this for free when I’m already being charged for EVERYTHING else real or imagined.  Once Amazon gets this working (and the rest of the world follows suit) we better find a way to make this part of the labeling process because this is a cost saving super-measure for retailers.

By the way, I really like the scan and go at Sam’s Club (no more waiting in long lines!) and my question is why hasn’t Costco thought of this?  Guys, come on!  But if the Amazon Go idea was instituted at these two retailers it would be a game changer.

On the same subject, but taking a different perspective, was MNB reader Bob McGehee:

When was the last time a) somebody (your teenage kids don’t count) pumped your gas, b) you went inside a bank to get cash, c) you saw a kid deliver a newspaper (oops, maybe a little too soon) or even sent a fax?  All things change.  If you think your business is immune, think again.

And MNB reader Joe Axford chimed in:

People fear what they don't understand, KC.

Yesterday, MNB took note of a Washington Post story suggesting that if President-elect Donald Trump is successful in cracking down on illegal immigration, it could result in deportations that could have "a particularly dramatic impact on agriculture."

Here's how the Post framed the story:

"Americans could see the cost of some fruits and vegetables soar. Undocumented workers account for 67 percent of people harvesting fruit, according to the Agriculture Department. They make up 61 percent of all employees on vegetable farms, and as many as half of all workers picking crops.

"Agricultural economists across the political spectrum say that there’s no way that workforce could be raptured up without reverberations throughout the food system — think farm bankruptcies, labor shortages and an eventual contraction of the broader economy. And even if you’re far from the agriculture industry, you could see $4 milk, low-quality oranges, and extortionately priced raspberries.

"The logic behind these dire predictions is pretty straightforward. If Trump were to begin deporting farmworkers or requiring that farms verify their work status, farmers would have three ways to fill in the labor gaps. They could hire legally authorized workers, who are vastly more expensive; switch away from crops that require human laborers to harvest them; or cut production, allowing fields to fallow and fruit to go unharvested."

Got a lot of email about this.

One MNB reader wrote:

The increase in food prices would be more than offset with the cost of welfare, food stamps, subsidized health care, and crowded public schools.

From another MNB reader:

I can't wait to see the discussion about this article.  So prices will be higher if people are paid a higher wage to pick produce, but increasing minimum wage does not effect prices?  IMHO, the right thing to do is to eliminate illegal workers from the process and pay a wage that is fair for the difficult work. If the market drives the process, then American workers will be incentivized to do the work for the pay and the prices of the product will adjust accordingly. We really can't have it both ways, right?  As you said, this won't do anything to make the US food industry great again, but neither does an artificial minimum wage.

MNB reader Gary Loehr wrote:

So where are all the supporters of a “living wage” when it comes to these workers?  Where is the public outrage? You know these workers are exploited.  No benefits, low wages, no breaks, no overtime and no disability coverage if they get hurt.  Why is Walmart evil when they pay the legal minimum wage, but farmers can employ undocumented workers and it’s okay.  Part of the reason is that most Americans won’t work under those conditions, so we are willing to look the other way.  Yes, the Waltons make more money than the average farmer, but I think there is a double standard here that isn’t right.  As Americans, we have a choice, pay a living wage and pay more for our goods and services or acknowledge that some jobs don’t need to pay a living wage and keep prices down.  Either way , it should apply to all workers in all industries.

MNB reader Mark Delaney wrote:

I was one of the ones that took you to task for embedding too much politics in MNB and we can agree to disagree on that but in this case I think you might have provided some broader context. Perhaps the headline is potentially higher prices but I would suggest some perspective.

Regardless of who is in the top office there is overwhelming sentiment for reining in illegal immigration. Most of our parents and nearly all of our grandparents immigrated "by the rules" and it's hard to understand why anyone bothers to do it legally anymore - though thankfully many do. You talk about costs - how about the cost to countless school districts that are forced to educate children of those undocumented - many districts' tax increases are a direct result of this hidden "cost". Talk about "cost" to someone involved in an auto accident with an undocumented worker - it's tough to put a price tag on that. Talk about hotels on eastern Long Island and throughout the country that are occupied completely by undocumented workers - paid for via our local and State taxes. Talk about the cost to college students who try to get into many colleges only to see that programs designed to allow undocumented children to attend our colleges are potentially taking seats that could have gone to children of those that played by the rules.

I don't know if the right people occupy any of our offices right now but if you're going to have a conversation about financial impacts to consumers let's have the complete conversation - $4 milk is a very small piece of the puzzle...

From another reader:

I think Trump will develop a worker program for agriculture workers to legally work in the US. The uncontrolled entry into the country contributes to the drug trade, crime, the birther issue, healthcare cost, human trafficking, etc. We as a country need to have secured borders. We should know who is coming in our country and the reason they want to come here and when they should leave. Maybe what needs to happen is the people who claim they cannot find work that receive assistance for too long need to fill these agricultural jobs. The sad thing is people come to the US to work seeking the American Dream. Then there are those Americans who think they are entitled and don’t work. Thing of it is they probably receive more assistances than agricultural workers earn. Maybe an exchange program needs to be developed.

MNB reader John Kopecky wrote:

If these percentages are correct, and most of them are increasingly hard to believe, the US has a much more serious problem with undocumented aliens than previously reported.  These circumstances should have never been allowed to occur and something needs to be done.  Everyone will adapt to the situation as we have for decades when something like this happens.  Personally, I think this article is deliberately written, as are many in the press, to intimidate the public into believing the problem is much more serious than it actually is.

I will specifically disagree with your last point - I've had a number of industry folks, none of them members of the media nor raving liberals - make similar points to me about the potential impact of Trump immigration policies.

On a broader level, I'm really getting tired of people on either side of the political aisle criticizing the media for bias on pretty much any story that the people happen to disagree with. Does the media make mistakes? Sure. get things wrong? Yup. Does bias sometimes creep in? Absolutely.

But the vast majority of reporters and writers that I know and read and watch and listen to are serious about their jobs, do their absolute best to get it right, work hard not to do biased journalism, and are, to my mind, American heroes. (Clinton supporters think the press was too hard on her. Trump supporters think the press was unfair to him. My experience as a daily newspaper reporter was that if I got criticized by both sides, it meant I was doing something right.)

I know that the press is suffering from appalling approval ratings these days. But I don't feel that way. I'm glad that I subscribe to one print newspaper, and more than a dozen online news sources.

I firmly believe that the responsibility of the press, in the words of Peter Finley Dunne, is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. It is a sacred mission to do things like report stories that bring down presidents (Richard Nixon) and cause cardinals (Bernard Francis Law) to go into exile when their misdeeds are exposed. And I wish that some of the people who express outrage about the behavior of the legitimate press would show a little bit more outrage about the fake news stories that deliberately pollute social media. Which is sort of where I started MNB this morning...
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