Peonage, in which workers are bound to their jobs by debts to their employers, is a traditional curse of Latin American cultures. Perhaps inevitably, as the United States merges demographically with Mexico, Latin-style economic arrangements have been reemerging in the United States.
For example, over the past decade at the enormously lucrative port of Los Angeles/Long Beach, through which much of the country’s Chinese-made imports enter, a form of debt bondage has emerged among short-haul truckers that sounds like something from a 1940s Tennessee Ernie Ford song about how “I owe my soul to the company store.” It’s kind of like being an Uber driver if you bought your ride from Uber for six figures.
According to hundreds of country & western songs, truck driver used to be an all-American occupation, the red-state equivalent of taxi driver, like all those movies with Robert De Niro or Ernest Borgnine telling their fares what they think about politicians. But in recent years, truck driving, like cab driving before it, has increasingly become a job for foreigners. In California, 46 percent of truck drivers are immigrants. The “port truckers” who have gotten themselves into debt servitude tend to be uneducated immigrants who can barely speak English.
Obviously (although, oddly enough, controversially), increasing the supply of potential truck drivers through immigration bids down their pay. More subtly, Mexican and Central American workers tend to be relatively easy to fool and exploit through complex contracts, which helps explain their popularity with American elites.