High Cost of Labor

You can see the changes in the news, in advertisements and in the behavior of people. Labor, even semi-skilled labor, has become more and more expensive. As a result, individuals and firms are quickly adapting, substituting machines for people or changing processes in order to avoid hand labor altogether.

The TV news a couple days ago featured an article about the quickly rising wages of “empregadas” or maids. Let me explain that household help in Brazil was not something only for the rich, as it tends to be in the U.S.   In Brazil, when labor was cheap, middle class people had maids, gardeners etc.  Anyway, I saw stories about this on the news and read about it in the papers. Some empregadas were happily reporting that they had five or six offers for their services and could decide among them, a good news story for empregadas, but maybe not sustainable. 

Brazilian houses tended not to have the labor saving devices found in American homes. For example, the USG has put me in a very nice home. It has a built in grill and many other luxury features (you can see in the picture up top). But it doesn’t have a dishwasher. Nobody invests in labor saving devices when labor doesn’t need to be saved. Or more to the point, there are two types of dishwashers; one is mechanical.

Things have changed.  There are lots of advertisements for dishwashers of the mechanical variety. On the farm show “Globo Rural” there are more and more stories about agricultural equipment, even on small holdings.  This morning featured a story about a small holder in a poor region of the Northeast who found it cheaper to rent a combine than to hire his usual team of farm workers.  

This is what happened in America generations ago. Brazil is following the pattern.

I had a pleasant Sunday w/o any labor. I went running down near the lake before the sun got high enough in the sky to burn my pale skin, came home and planted my garden and then spent the afternoon sitting in the yard in the shade and reading my “Veja” Magazine. I have a kind of history. When I was nineteen and knew nothing about the world, I was impressed by one of my co-workers at the cement plant who seemed to know lots of things. He said he just read “Time” every week. So I started to do that, sitting in my backyard in Milwaukee in the cool of the early mornings. Eventually, I learned enough to pass the Foreign Service exam.

You can see my reading spot in the second photo. If you have shade, Coke-zero and something to read, you are set. About the garden, you can see it behind the chair. I am not sure what to do. I planted my flower seeds, but who knows what the seasons do around here? There is no winter in the sense of getting cold and it is certainly warm enough for the seeds to grow, but we are in the dry season. I figure if I keep the dirt moist, I will get something.  Of course, how long will a normally annual plant keep on growing if there is no frost to kill it off?

Above is a tree in my yard. I don’t know enough about tropical trees to identify it. Before I moved in the yard was overgrown. The gardeners cut back all the bushes and trees, including this one. It looked like it was dead when I moved in a couple weeks ago. Now it is growing back from the stumps. The gardener says that it will be completely grown out again in a short time. It looks like it is starting. Things grow really fast around here.