Friday, January 16, 2009

Sweatshops Help Poor Workers

There are several different arguments offered for protectionism. "Right-wing" protectionists like Pat Buchanan believes it is good for the economy and/or that it "strengthens the bonds of the nation" if people can only trade freely within the country. Labor unions and business owners in sectors disproportionately competing with imports believes in it because they believe it will benefit them at the expense of the rest of society. Unions also often oppose it because of the increase in company bargaining power if companies have the option of moving production offshore.

The perhaps most curious and absurd defense of protectionism comes from certain leftists, who argues that imports of goods produced by low income workers shouldn't be stopped because it supposedly hurts us, but because it hurts the workers producing the goods, who are being "exploited" because of global capitalism. Some of those advancing that argument don't actually believe in it, and simply uses it because it sounds nobler than wanting to shield American workers from competition. Which is why they say they push for "fair labor and environmental standards", which in practice means that those who don't live up to those though standards should be prevented from exporting to America (or whatever country it is that implements these standards) But there are many leftists that actually believe in this.

Which is why this article by Nicholas Kristof is important. It points out that while sweatshops may not appear good for us, they are in fact a lot better than the alternative for those that work there. And it points out that if you want to improve conditions for workers in poor countries, you should buy more of their products, because that will increase demand for workers and so enable workers to demand better pay and/or working conditions. The rapid wage increases in China in recent years are a good example of this mechanism in practice.

9 Comments:

Anonymous popper said...

If sweatshops are good, then so is "AMS-åtgärder". Would you rather work at a sweatshop or be put in "AMS-åtgärder?"

5:23 PM  
Blogger stefankarlsson said...

You're really obsessed with the issue of "AMS-åtgärder".....
But actually no, since the governments in those countries are unlikely to be able to afford any better conditions, meaning that "AMS-åtgärder" there are likely to be even worse sweatshops than private factories.

5:41 PM  
Anonymous Ke said...

Thank you Stefan. I have been arguing this point with the left wing liberals here in the S.F. bay area for quit some time now. I've been to China many times and most of the sweatshop workers see their positions as an opportunity for betterment in their futures. If they didn't have those sweatshops, they'd be back in the small farmlands eating nothing but homegrown sweet potatoes over the winters.
These pompous anti-intellectual liberals get an ego trip from being vegan, "liberal" or atheist just because it's the cool thing to do nowadays. They're not the humanitarians or progressives they claim to be.

6:44 PM  
Blogger marc.van.den.bosch said...

I am really disappointed with this post. It represents a horrible abuse of people as something beneficial. That is plain wrong. Good and bad are obviously a continuum from white over grey to black, but civilisation allows us to draw a line up to where some practices are allowable or offensive. I cannot imagine you would be a proud owner of a sweatshop in a third world country, because then you either do not know what a sweatshop is exactly or you have to get your morals checked.

9:57 PM  
Blogger stefankarlsson said...

Marc, you better have your rationality checked. If sweatshops are better than the state of conditions without sweatshops (for an example of this, read the article by Nicholas Kristof that I linked to), how could it not be good? If you say you decide it is "offensive", then how much more offensive isn't your alternative of condemning these people to the even worse alternative?

10:27 PM  
Anonymous Ke said...

Marc, I would recommend taking a little time away from your sheltered and privileged life to visit some of these sweatshop factories and talk to the individuals there. What are you really doing on this blog? You are spouting the same rhetoric that I have been hearing from egotistical "humanitarian" liberals for years.

With 1.3 billion people in a poor GDP per capita country like China and an oversupply of manual labor, these sweatshops are good opportunities compared to what they had in the past. Both of my parents grew up in communist China making only a few pennies an hour for their labor and they were always hungry. The conditions in China have drastically improved since thanks to free trade and privatization. These "sweatshop" workers you speak of can now afford to eat full meals of meat everyday with their wages when my parents, the top 1% educated elite of the country a few decades ago, would be lucky to eat just one hard boiled egg a week.

1:54 AM  
Anonymous Per-Olof Samuelsson said...

Life itself is horrible. (Unless you´re a billionaire, of course.) So better let people die of starvation than offer them low-paid jobs.

9:03 AM  
Blogger marc.van.den.bosch said...

@ Ke
First I would recommend you make no assumptions about my background.
Second. What am I doing on this blog? I happen to think that always reading the same rhetoric advocated by the same people is not really that interesting. Also, I find that Stefan can make a good argument and supports it (most of the time) with evidence. It is a shame you seem to think he cannot defend himself against dissenting views.

@ Stefan
You are quite right that my reaction was more emotional than rational. I had read the linked article as it happens. It reminds me of the ancient greek who saw a guy in the street punching himself violently against the head. Wondering why he would do such a thing he stepped over to him and said: 'Sorry, but why do you keep punching yourself, that must hurt surely'. The man replied: 'Indeed it does, but it gives me so much relief when I stop...'.
Anyhow I notice you didn't reply to my question whether you would be proud to own a sweatshop.
I could of cours link articles that explain what conditions in sweatshops are really like, but I don't want to be a demagogue here, I'm sure you can find that out yourself easily enough.

11:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

> vegan, "liberal" or atheist just
>because it's the cool thing to do
>nowadays.

Heh, don't group all of us vegan atheists into the same bucket.

I, for one, am a hard-core austro-libertarian, and live my own life my own way for my own reasons, which is something any libertarian or otherwise free-market supporter ought to respect...

Many wealthy people living in the West clearly can't comprehend the conditions in some parts of Asia, and excessive do-goodism causes further harm to those downtrodden people.

Right here in the USA I see similar behavior from people who shout-down Wal-Mart. Well, I say better a job at Wal-Mart than being unemployed.

It's not like anyone is FORCED to work in these places, unless you proscribe to a really twisted definition of the word "force", meaning that anything other than utopia is cruel and oppressive instead of a manifestation of natural economic scarcity.

Sure, times are harder in some places than others. Wishing won't change that! Only entreprenuership and hard-work can improve their lot in the long run.

Besides, aren't these liberals the same ones who say that material excess doesn't cause happiness? I do happen to agree with that liberal sentiment.

5:58 PM  

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