Marijuana, pornography and illegal labour have created a hidden market in the United States which now accounts for as much as 10% of the American economy, according to a study. As a cash crop, marijuana is believed to have outstripped maize, and hardcore porn revenue is equal to Hollywood's domestic box office takings. [...]
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While the nation's largest legal cash crop, maize, produces about $19bn in revenue, "plausible" estimates for the value of marijuana crops reach $25bn. Steve White, a former coordinator for the US drug enforcement administration's cannabis eradication programme, estimates that the drug is now the country's largest cash crop. [...] Some estimates suggest 3 million Americans grow marijuana, although mostly for their own or their friends' use, but between 100,000 and 200,000 are believed to do so for a living. [...]
The annual number of hardcore video rentals in the US has risen from 79m in 1985 to 759m in 2001. Hardcore pornography in the shape of videos, the internet, live sex acts and cable television is now estimated to generate around $10bn, roughly the same amount as Hollywood's US box office receipts. [...]
More than a million illegal farmworkers are estimated to be employed in the US, with the average worker being a 29-year-old from Mexico. The total number of illegal immigrants is estimated at about 8 million and many are being paid cash in a shadow economy. Many live in primitive conditions: a survey in Soledad, in the heart of California's agricultural territory, found that 1,500 of them, one-eighth of the town's official population, were living in garages. There are mutual economic benefits.
"Migrant work in California has long absorbed Mexican surplus labour, while Mexico has in effect paid for the education, health care and retirement of California's farmworkers," writes Schlosser. "Maintaining the current level of poverty among migrant farmworkers saves the average American household around $50 a year."
The advantages to the employer are clear, most notably in LA county, where an estimated 28% of workers are paid in cash.
With pot and porn outstripping corn, America's black economy is flying high
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