“This Old, Uneducated Peasant”: Are Lower-Skilled Workers With Less Education Parasites?


While there are many illegal immigrants in our country who are good people, this doesn’t change the fact that most illegal immigrants are lower-skilled workers with less education who compete directly against vulnerable American workers, and that these illegal workers draw much more out from the system than they will ever pay in.
-Donald Trump, speaking in Phoenix, AZ

To understand the contributions of unskilled laborers in this country, one needs to look beyond the welfare rolls. Those are real costs, but they are costs that employers refuse to bear. If manual labor was fairly compensated…if the work was done in a safe and regulated environment — if only to meet the bare minimums required by law — the public’s burden would be less.

Moreover, the contributions of migrant workers to our society are impossible to calculate. The fruit of their labor is not a help or a hindrance to “Americans”; rather, it is part of the foundation of our whole social and economic system.

Fiction can say a great deal about the foundations of things. After all, it is sometimes frustrating to be a reader and writer of fiction. It would be preferable, in an emergency, to have only facts at one’s command. But fiction does have one incontestable advantage over fact: it endures. The truth at its core does not change.

In that spirit, I am publishing, today, my translation of the ending of The Man Who Planted Trees, a short story by the French writer Jean Giono. The text itself is quite short, and I have included it here as a PDF, since Giono intended the story to be free, unencumbered by copyright. It was incredibly popular in its time, but he received no royalties or other payment for it. I have also included a link to Frederick Bach’s animated version, which is both innovative and beautiful.

Keep in mind that right now, in the United States, much of the labor required for forestry is performed by migrant workers. Enjoy. -Kugelmass


I saw Elzéard Bouffier for the last time in June 1945. He was then eighty-seven years old. I had retraced my desert route, but now, in spite of the dilapidated state in which the war had left the country, there was a bus that provided service between the valley of Durance and the mountain. I attributed to this relatively rapid mode of transport the fact that I did not recognize more places from my last walks. It also seemed to me that the route took me by new places. I needed the name of the village to conclude that, on the contrary, I was well within that formerly ruined and desolate area. The bus let me off at Vergons.

In 1913, this hamlet of ten or twelve houses had three inhabitants. They were savages, detesting themselves, and living off hunting and trapping, almost in the physical and moral state of prehistoric man. Nettles devoured the abandoned houses around them. Their condition was without hope. For them it was only a question of waiting for death, a situation that hardly predisposes men to virtue.

All had changed, even the air itself. Instead of the dry and brutal gusts of wind which had accompanied me formerly, a supple breeze blew full of odors. A sound similar to that of water came from the heights: it was the wind in the forests. Next, a more astonishing thing, I heard the true sound of water running in a basin. I saw that a fountain had been built, that it flowed abundantly, and what touched me more, someone had planted close by it a lime tree which must already have grown fat in four years, an incontestable symbol of resurrection.

In the next paragraph, the narrator describes how the village has been rebuilt with new houses and gardens, and observes that hope has returned to the villagers. There are twenty-eight people living there, including four young couples. Their gardens contain both produce and decorative flowers, and, in short, Vergons has become a place where one wants to live.

He continues from the village on foot, and finds the land has not completely recovered from the war. Nonetheless, “Lazarus had risen from the tomb,” the mountains and valleys are green, and there are small cultivated fields of barley and rye.

The villages have been reconstructed little by little, and a spirit of youth, movement, and adventure has settled in the countryside. Proper farms have risen in place of the ruins, and with them, a happy and comfortable way of life. The narrator passes well-nourished men and women, and boys and girls who can laugh and once again go to country festivals. Considering the state of the population before reforestation, the narrator calculates that over ten thousand people owe their happiness to Elzéard Bouffier.

When I reflect that a solitary man, reduced to his simple physical and moral resources, was enough to make this land of Canaan emerge from a desert, I find that, despite everything, the human condition is admirable. Still, when I take into account all the constant greatness of soul and eager generosity that was necessary to obtain this result, I am filled with an immense respect for this old, uneducated peasant who knew enough to complete a work worthy of God.

Elzéard Bouffier died peacefully in 1947, in the hospital at Banon.


The full text of the story.