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Gristmill: Hard Up Down South

Wed, 03/13/2024 - 17:24
A vintage postcard celebrating the Delmarva Peninsula’s annual Chicken Festival and giant frying pan for cooking the birds en masse.

“Want to meet Jesus? Keep texting while driving.” It was an intriguing proposal, but the only reading I was doing while bombing down the Delmarva Peninsula was off billboards like that one. There was certainly no shortage of them.

All things considered, I’d rather be upstate. But as I surveyed the not-quite greenery, the sere fields, the scraggly pines, the disconcerting number of abandoned houses, our high-whining four-cylinder Subaru passed a rig teeteringly stacked with wire cages, each one crammed with chickens, heads hung in defeat. The confines did not look comfortable for a sentient being. They looked like something that would drive you to vegetarianism.

And then out of the emptiness rose their final destination. A giant Tyson Foods plant, clearly the area’s big employer. And guess what, they’re crying for help. “No experience required!” touted a sizable sign sunk in the grass roadside. “$20.65/hour to start!”

No education required, either. You can fog a mirror? You’re in.

So, immigration is such a problem that both major parties and a majority of citizens say we need to seal the border and stanch the flow of people desperate to improve their lot. But who’s going to do all the work? Sad to say, we all know the native born will not be staffing the Tyson plant to the point where the place can churn out enough foodstuffs to meet the bottomless American appetite.

We drove on. A pit stop for a few deep knee bends to pump blood to the lower extremities, a visit to some visitor center plumbing, and a vending machine Diet Pepsi’s enlivening snap of artificial sweetener, and we were back at it, before long sailing past, that’s right, a huge Perdue Farms processing facility, almost as vast and nearly as gleaming as Tyson’s.

There, the acute employee shortage prompted them to station out front a flashing, generator-powered, highway-road-work-ahead type of eyeball-grabbing contraption on wheels, even more prominent than Tyson’s, asking, please, let us hire you.

There must be small businesses picking up some of the economic slack, one might wonder. But the only healthy one we passed on that long and compromised stretch was a Hispanic eatery, freshly, brightly, colorfully painted, with a series of artistically made signs set up in an enterprising effort to draw in customers, who had obligingly circled the establishment with their cars as they sat inside and shoveled it in, among the intake perhaps bits of local Perdue chicken, jerked and seasoned.  

No one wants a free-for-all. Of course there needs to be some semblance of order for those entering. But how can an economy as large and multifarious, as dynamic and resilient as this one function without the people to power it?

You’ve probably noticed that antiquity is all the rage. I’ve noticed one of its lessons: Closed societies fail; open societies thrive.

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