Trade Sequence Part 5 – The Rich Man’s Burden

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James K

James is a government policy analyst, and lives in Wellington, New Zealand. His interests including wargaming, computer gaming (especially RPGs and strategy games), Dungeons & Dragons and scepticism. No part of any of his posts or comments should be construed as the position of any part of the New Zealand government, or indeed any agency he may be associated with.

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  1. Avatar Michael Drew
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    says:

    But my firm conviction is that sweatshops per se are not exploitation for the following reasons:

    But then you don’t give a definition of exploitation so as to say why those true(?) things about sweatshops aren’t exploitation. You do, however, go on to treat the issue of whether we should will the abolishment of sweatshops. This leads me to wonder whether you may simply be using “exploitation” as a by-word for “something whose existence we should seek to summarily end.”

    I’m not sure if that;s so in your thinking, but if it is I’d like to advocate that you rescue the idea of exploitation form that conceptual fate. Isn’t it, after all, possible that sweatshop labor (or near-sweatshop working conditions or wages) is explotative, but that, on balance, we have to accept it in the world, or at least not seek its immediate disruptive abolishment, because it’s doing more to raise people out of poverty than would be being done if it did not exist? I’m willing to grant that that’s the case about sweatshop labor, both for argument, and with some caution, as a matter of actual fact, but I really don’t see why that means I have to concede that the pratice isn’t an instance of the exploitation of a people in acutely weak material circumstances for gain by people in a position to benefit from those people’s resulting lack of options and bargaining power. Someone can be both marginally helped by another person’s offer while having their position of relative weakness be exploited by that person. Indeed, isn;t that what we would generically understand exploitation to in many cases look like, to the extent of almost being a typical, pardigmatic way of thinking about exploitation. Not of course, exclusively, as you say – other ideas about the concept abound. It just seems like that is a fairly straightforward account of a situation in which a person is being exploited.

    It seems like we can readily concede that sweatshops shouldn’t be immediately and forcibly abolished while not having to consequently concede that therefore there is no exploitation in sweatshops (or other unpleasant, low-paying work environments). It could be the case that, from an economic perspective, it’s better to have some or even a fair amount of exploitation happening in the world, as long as there are still desperately poor people in large numbers all over the world than not to. They don’t call it the dismal science for nothing.Report

    • Avatar Pierre Corneille in reply to Michael Drew
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      says:

      “Isn’t it, after all, possible that sweatshop labor (or near-sweatshop working conditions or wages) is explotative, but that, on balance, we have to accept it in the world, or at least not seek its immediate disruptive abolishment, because it’s doing more to raise people out of poverty than would be being done if it did not exist?”

      I pretty much agree with this. My only caveat would be if James K. has a more precise definition of “exploitation” in mind.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Pierre Corneille
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        says:

        If he does, I think it’s odd not to have given it, since the first major question he addresses is whether these situations are exploitation – and not by saying it doesn’t really matter, but by clearly and substantively asserting that they in fact aren’t.Report

    • Avatar North in reply to Michael Drew
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      says:

      I think James’ point is that exploitation is a hard term to pin down. Mcdonalds pays a minimum wage to a worker here in the US to work long hours doing menial labor. There are some who would say that worker is being exploited.

      A sweatshop in China pays a miniscule wage to a worker to sew shirts in hazardous conditions. There are many who would say that worker is being exploited.

      The word is the same, but everything else is different. I’m sympathetic to James thrown up hands about the term exploitation. That said I’m down with the idea that sweatshop labor should be viewed as undesirable but unavoidable. So long as we can keep developing countries out of subsistance and sweatshop levels into more humane ones I’m okay with people saying whatever they want to say about the process. It’s when we start talking about cutting the rungs out of the development ladder that I start feeling twitchy personally. Who the hell do we think we are?Report

      • Avatar Pierre Corneille in reply to North
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        says:

        North,

        I pretty much agree. I know a Trotskyite (they’re still around, apparently) who uses the Marxian “exploitation is the expropriation of surplus value produced by the workers” definition. One problem, as your comment and James’s post suggest, is that exploitation is an emotionally laden term.

        For example, my Trotskyite friend uses the term in all its emotionally laden glory when he’s busy advocating for whatever Trotskyites advocate for, and yet when someone dares to point out instances in which workers seem to be doing better or at least seem to have more choices, he trots out his definition (“well, when I use ‘exploitation,’ I only mean expropriating the surplus value….”).Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Pierre Corneille
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          says:

          Yes the Trots are still around. Nobody seems to understand what they propose, though it’s perfectly obvious. Trotsky understood capitalism (and totalitarian Stalinism) well enough to say Exploitation was entirely beneficial: there would be plenty of butter for everyone’s bread, were it softened a bit and thus spreadable. Nobody has yet contradicted him.

          There’s always surplus value, else people wouldn’t do anything useful. If Exploitation has an evil connotation, Trotsky is also the most lied-about man in human history. He was a thoroughgoing democrat. If Trotsky was willing to apply the tools of violence to his cause, he borrowed those tools from those who had used them for centuries — and the justifications for their use from the same parties, may I add. Nothing is quite so offensive to us as what they find offensive in us. If Trotsky said the kulaks needed to be beaten to death, the Tsar’s Cossacks had been terrorising the serfs for years on their behalf.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to North
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        says:

        Who’s cutting out any rungs of the ladder? Sweatshops are horribly inefficient. The worst of them exist only because corrupt governments enforce their existence. Apple doesn’t own any factories in China. Hell, I don’t even own my own restaurant in Guatemala. It’s against the law, a Guatemalan has to own it. Thank goodness for my sister in law, eh?

        If the governments of these developing countries were serious about development, if they were anything but bloated ticks on the dog’s ass of progress, they’d allow foreign ownership. That way, we could have some Real Exploitation, where the workers and owners would be facing each other directly. The sweatshop would become irrelevant at that point, as it became irrelevant in the developed world.Report

        • Avatar North in reply to BlaiseP
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          says:

          I’m with you there BP… but when anti sweatshoppers usually get to their the policy portion of their agenda it typically involves us doing things to prevent sweatshop employment from happening, chiefly by restricting trade with the sweatshop permitting nation in question or by somehow forcing out labor standards on their labor force (which would be nice if it didn’t effectively mean that they’d then all be unemployed).Report

          • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to North
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            says:

            Doubtless, many Do Gooders are out there, proposing stupid solutions. How tiresomely I repeat myself. In the interests of efficiency, I think I will compose a little enumeration of links, thus saving me time and trouble — and you lot from having to read them yet again.

            While this artificial dichotomy between Us and Them — Us being the developed nations, with safety rules and other such protections for workers — Them being these Benighted Sweatshop Regimes, things will never improve. It seems, were some folks’ opinions taken seriously, we must never criticise them. Indeed, we must coddle them and reassure them with our investment capital in hopes they will improve and spread the Butter of Capitalism a bit farther about.

            It is all so much pernicious nonsense. It isn’t even good capitalism. It is the difference between paying an honest whore and paying her abusive pimp.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to North
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        says:

        It’s not entirely clear (to me, anyway) that many McDonald’s employees aren’t being exploited. That it might be true of them in addition to being true of workers in China doesn’t make it… not true. It may have more valence in discourse than we think a term applicable to both circumstances should have, but that’s sort of just tough nuts… kind of like the situations people vulnerable to exploitation themselves face.

        As to James throwing up his hands about the concept, if that’s what he’d done, saying just what I say above – that it can be true in all kinds of situations we don;t necessarily object to, so it’s not clear that saying it’s the case we are saying anything we should care that much about – that would have been fine. But that’s not what he did. Instead, he said that exploitation is tough to define, but then went on to explicitly assert that sweatshops are not (in any instance that currently exists?) instances of exploitation – without advancing his own understanding of the term. I guess I’d just prefer he do one or the other – either dismiss the significance of the question, or else address it substantively. And if you’re going to address and make a straight judgement about whether an X is a Y, it’s not enough to just note that what constitutes a Y is hard to define as the means of determining whether an X is one. If you want to say that an X is not a Y, you need to say what a Y is, at least for you. OTOH, if you just want to say that, for just about any reasonable definition of what Y is, it doesn’t really matter whether X is one and we shouldn’t really care whether it is or not, then you don’t have to say what you think a Y is and how to tell if something is one or not.Report

        • Avatar North in reply to Michael Drew
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          says:

          I think BP has hit the crux of the point. If it does meet the standards of being exploitation then it’s productive exploitation.

          Where James(I think, and I as well) get uncomfortable is that when we start throwing around words like exploitation that’s injecting a lot of moral judgments into what is in essence an economic development phase that pretty much every economy in the word has gone through. If we follow that too far the fear is that we’re approaching the point where we start talking about kicking those developing economies back down to subsistence levels in the interest of “protecting” their workers from exploitation.Report

          • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to North
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            says:

            I don’t think it’s worth walling off anything we can say relates to economic development from moral scrutiny and transparent use of language just to head off the possibility of discussions about policy options that aren’t the right choices. If what is best is that exploitation be allowed to slowly raise the living standards of the worlds poor, then we should (at least be able) to say that. We should be aware that that is the moral hypothesis on which we are proceeding, if it is. (If we want to dispute that the exploitation is happening that’s okay too, but to do that we have to say why there isn’t exploitation going on.) We shouldn’t just grant ourselves a pass from dealing with accurate descriptions of the arrangements that underlay our economic system just because those accurate descriptions have moral valence for people.Report

        • Avatar The Cardiff Kook in reply to Michael Drew
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          says:

          Michael,

          ” Someone can be both marginally helped by another person’s offer while having their position of relative weakness be exploited by that person. ”

          What definition are you using for “exploitation”, Michael? Reading into your comments, you seem to extend the term to voluntary, mutually beneficial interactions where one side gains unfairly (my word, not yours). Are you suggesting we discourage win/win interactions where one side wins too much? Who decides and using what criteria? What will the net effect be in terms of human welfare where we discourage “exploitative” mutually beneficial interactions?Report

          • Avatar Murali in reply to The Cardiff Kook
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            says:

            Kook, its not so simple. As Micheal says, we can say that this is exploitation, but that it still helps the poor and that we should not ban it.

            Also, one fairly intuitive definition of exploitation is that it occurs when there is a vast and underserved difference in bargaining power between the parties. When one of the parties is an inch from starvation, while the other is not, there is a ready commonsense notion of unfairness that we do have. As far as the poorer person is concerned, he is effectively at the richer person’s mercy and has to accept basically any terms offerred.

            Our unfairness intuitions are also triggerred when someone is in a position of advantage because he cheated or someone is in a disadvantaged position because he was cheated.

            We do have faairness intuitions about distributions. An arrangement can be win-win and still be unfair. Most of us in market societies will reject extremely low offers in ultimatum games even if we would benefit by accepting any amount and therefore do better by accepting higher amounts.Report

            • Avatar The Cardiff Kook in reply to Murali
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              says:

              Not sure why you assume I thought anything was simple. I asked some questions, which I encourage you to answer as well.

              How are you defining exploitation?
              Does it apply to mutually beneficial situations where one side wins too much?
              Who decides what is too much, and on what criteria?
              Should we discourage mutually beneficial interactions among others?
              Or are there perhaps some suggestions on reducing the relative gains in such ways that make the outcomes more fair which does not discourage the net gains of mutually beneficial interactions?Report

              • Avatar Murali in reply to The Cardiff Kook
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                says:

                How are you defining exploitation?
                Exploitation has occurred when there is an unfair agreement.

                Does it apply to mutually beneficial situations where one side wins too much?
                Mutually beneficial situations where one side wins much more than the other is not a criterion, but may be a symptom. Meaning that it is a sign that something else has gone wrong.

                Who decides what is too much, and on what criteria?
                This is a genuinely hard problem. In some ways, it is irrelevant because at least in this thread, no one has proposed banning or regulating an interaction just because it is exploitative. Why? because it is a good idea to let win-win interactions proceed. Of course there is still the problem of developing the analytic tools determine how unfair or exploitative a particular agreement may be. Since such ideas as fairness and exploitation as I am using are going to be fuzzy, we may at best just have a set of conventions where we say this bunch of things over here is unfair, that bunch over there isn’t and this bunch in the middle is difficult to tell.

                Should we discourage mutually beneficial interactions among others?

                No

                Or are there perhaps some suggestions on reducing the relative gains in such ways that make the outcomes more fair which does not discourage the net gains of mutually beneficial interactions?

                Sometimes, the best we can do is to ensure that the background institutions are just. There is no guarantee that a just basic structure will not permit exploitative interactions. Hopefully over time and provided sufficient opportunities, no one would be in such a horrible position.

                To try to get you to see what is exploitative about severely unequal bargaining power, try to imagine a situation where two people are trying to reach an agreement and it is win-win but it is still exploitative. Here is a classic scenario.

                A woman is shipwrecked in the middle of the sea and is in her lifeboat. Her life is in a precarious situation when a man in a yacht comes along. The man tells the woman that he will rescue her only if she agrees to have sex with him. Now, this is a win-win situation. In fact, we may not even want to stop people from doing this because that would mean that some people just do not get rescued. But it is still exploitative as hell. The problem is that of domination. When one person needs the agreement to take place much more than the other, the latter can set the terms of the agreement more or less unilaterally. This creates a situation where the two parties are not addressing each other as civic equals, but as spplicant and master.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Murali
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                says:

                Whenever the word “fair” comes up, I cringe.

                The French voyageurs meet the native peoples of the St Lawrence River. The natives haven’t even reached the Bronze Age. They cook by plopping hot stones into watertight baskets.

                They trade some paltry beaver furs, a tasty enough animal but nothing worth writing home about — for iron cookware, axes, fired crockery, glass beads, steel traps, woollen blankets — do you have any idea how much labour went into making beads by hand from bone and antlers?

                Both sides went back to their camps, laughing at the absurd exchange rates, thinking each other the most generous naifs, almost embarrassed by their exploitation of the other. The native peoples were instantly converted from hunter gatherers to trappers. The Frenchmen found the women beautiful and married them. They formed a new culture, the Métis, with an intricate web of trading posts the length of the Great Lakes, into the far north, into Montana and what is now Winnipeg — all the watershed of Hudson’s Bay.

                Exploitation is no evil thing, insofar as both sides are content with the deals they make with each other. It’s when one side gains enough power over the other to control the terms of the deal that the trouble starts.Report

              • Avatar zic in reply to BlaiseP
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                says:

                Blaise, this is beautiful. And a small piece of my family history.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to zic
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                says:

                Glad you liked it. So you’re Métis?Report

              • Avatar zic in reply to zic
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                says:

                Me? No. My Grandmother’s grandmother.Report

              • Avatar The Cardiff Kook in reply to Murali
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                says:

                Murali,

                Extremely thorough answers. Thanks. I have no pushback with anything you have said, though I wonder how Shaz and Stillwater and others that lean away from James post might respond to you, especially on the last question.

                The heart of that question, which you have answered, is how exactly can we reduce this type of “exploitation” without harming those that are being “exploited” even more? Brandon actually DID provide some viable solutions which wouldn’t make the lives of the poor worse.(open immigration, charity or large tax transfers).Report

            • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Murali
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              says:

              An arrangement can be win-win and still be unfair.

              Excellent Murali. That’s exactly right. Or I should say, that’s exactly where this dispute arises. One argument attempts to reduce “fairness” or “exploitation” to being only those actions which aren’t win-win. The opposing argument disputes that. Eg: lots of libertarians think that college football players are being exploited by Collegiate institutions even tho both parties are benefiting from the relationship.Report

              • Avatar The Cardiff Kook in reply to Stillwater
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                says:

                Note I was the one who introduced this point… that Michael seems to be concerned with mutually beneficial but unfair relationships. I introduced it specifically to get to the important follow up questions. Anyone care to weigh in?Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to The Cardiff Kook
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                says:

                Roger, Sorry if I did a misattribution there. It’s a good point, no matter who made it!

                What is the issue you want followups on, specifically? It seems to me that there isn’t much to follow up on, really: on one conception of things, voluntarily entered into mutually agreed upon transactions are by definition positive sum, and being positive sum entails that they can’t be exploitative or unfair.

                The other side thinks that’s not the case: that positive sum transactions can still be unfair. I threw in the college athletics example because that’s an example where quite a few libertarians argue that the positive sum mutually beneficial voluntary transactions entered into by athletes are exploitative.

                So each side has a conception of exploitation which applies even to positive sum transactions.Report

          • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to The Cardiff Kook
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            says:

            Roger (sorry, but that’s how I’m going to address you, it feels weird not to address you by your name now that I’ve done so for a while),

            Sorry for the delay. In my view to exploit a situation is to take advantage of it from a position of strength. If multiple parties are gaining from a voluntary, mutually beneficial situation or arrangement, then any who some to it from a position of great relative power, superior ability to take or leave it, and comfortable background options should it fall through are exploiting the circumstance of the others who don’t have that background situation. There could be threshold levels of such power where a situation becomes exploitative, meaning that in practice it will not necessarily be possible to say whether any given situation involves exploitation – but that doesn’t mean there aren’t such situations or that this definition is defective. Definitions frequently have such threshholds that imply that applying them to any and every real-world situation will not be cut and dried.

            I don’t think the concept hinges on fairness. There could be voluntary, mutually beneficial arrangements that are unfair but that don’t rise to the level of exploitation. Also, fairness is just a separate question about the world – the disparity of conditions across the world is manifestly unfair, and hence unfairness will underlay lots of economic interactions, but that’s a different question from whether some actor is actively moving to exploit great disparities in power he finds in the world.

            On the normative question, I am not looking to discourage anything. You’re hearing that in the word. As I say, I grant that exploitation might actually be something that we should will to continue as long as conditions persist as they are (though I’m not committing to that view here). I am simply looking to preserve and clarify a word and concept that has real meaning in the language.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to North
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        says:

        If everything has to be defined in absolute terms, then there are going to be a whole hell of a lot of things that we can’t explain at all.Report

        • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Chris
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          says:

          I nowhere said everything has to be defined in “absolute terms” (I don’t really know what that means in any case. All I’m saying is that if you want to give an answer to whether an X is a Y, at least where there’s some active controversy over whether it is (i.e. where it;s not absurd to suggest it is or isn’t), you need to be willing to take your cut at the question of what a Y is and how you can ID and X that might be one. It doesn’t have to be “absolute” or precise, but you need to take a stab. You at least need to say what aspect necessary for being Y X fails to have.Report

          • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew
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            says:

            (…I may have misapprehended whose argument your comment was intended to address, Chris. If so, my apologies.)Report

          • Avatar Chris in reply to Michael Drew
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            says:

            I was responding to this:

            The word is the same, but everything else is different.

            As well as the corresponding sentiment in the OP, but I did so too tersely, so it wasn’t clear and I could have meant many things. What I meant was, simply, that it’s possible for them to both be exploitation in a meaningful sense, even though a sweatshop is, in absolute terms, much worse than working at McDonald’s. I read that and was reminded of the “Americans aren’t poor, just look at the slums in India” argument.Report

      • Avatar James K in reply to North
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        says:

        Yes, I didn’t define exploitation because I can’t, the word is spongy. And yet, when I hear people complain about sweatshops, that’s the word I hear people use.Report

        • Avatar Stillwater in reply to James K
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          says:

          From Wiki:

          … economic exploitation; that is, the act of using another person’s labor without offering them an adequate compensation.

          Does that defenition (vague tho it is) map onto the areas of dispute we Leaguers are are actually referring to.Report

          • Avatar The Cardiff Kook in reply to Stillwater
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            says:

            And again, we dance around the fairness issue. How and who should define adequate, in your opinion?Report

            • Avatar Stillwater in reply to The Cardiff Kook
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              says:

              Well, it’s slippery, yes? But it’s not a matter of who decides the meaning of “adequate”. Everyone all on their own decides. You have one view, I have another. We dispute the accuracy of each.

              But it also doesn’t matter because we’re only talking about moral judgments here, and I’m entitled to my judgment just as you are of yours.

              It only begins to matter when we talk about policy, but policy is different than moral judgment. Policy needs to be justified by certain moral concerns (negative rights, positive rights, utility-calculations, whatever) as well as pragmatics and practicality and possibility and other stuff.

              So, when it comes to making a moral judgment, I get to decide. When it comes to policy, I don’t get to decide. At least based solely on my moral judgment.Report

              • Avatar The Cardiff Kook in reply to Stillwater
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                says:

                I thought we were both instrumentalists!

                I don’t believe your definition of adequate or unfair is inaccurate. Nor do I believe all mutually beneficial interactions are perfectly fair. I asked questions of Michael probing on how he defined exploitation and what the ramifications/implications of his definitions were.

                Nobody wants to answer my questions, obviously. So I will go back to lurker status again….Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to The Cardiff Kook
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                says:

                Wait, don’t go! I offered a definition on this thread, one pilfered from Wiki. I’d say that the claim of inadequate compensation only makes sense if there is a power differential which gives rise to that inadequacy. I’m not sure I could provide a counter-example proof definition of those things, but using ceteris paribus conditions and examples, I think I could provide a working definition of it.

                In fact, I guess I just did: economic exploitation is unfair compensation for labor resulting from the exercise of disproportionate powerful differentials (ie., leverage).

                You might think that kicks things up a notch without any added clarification. I would disagree. There is such a thing as exploitation in this world. I think we all agree on that. I hope anyway. So the question is determining what constitutes it, right? For you, it means being coerced into a morally wrong state of affairs; for me, it means being leveraged into a morally wrong state of affairs (given the earlier conception of leverage).Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater
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                says:

                Or maybe this is better: you think it’s that coercion is a morally wrong state of affairs, I think that leverage is a morally wrong state of affairs.Report

              • Avatar The Cardiff Kook in reply to Stillwater
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                says:

                I am taking a sabbatical on commenting, but interrupted it because the word “exploitation” is one I am fascinated with.

                There are two issues that lead me to a different perspective. First, I am not sure what good comes from focusing on differences in leverage*. Are you suggesting we prohibit voluntary interactions between parties with large power differentials such as employees and consumers with large corporations and government agencies? Between poor and rich? Doesn’t it seem likely that the weaker party stands to gain as much or more than the stronger? The teen gets a job, the giant corporation fills a slot. Or are you suggesting third party interference to weigh in on the weaker parties behalf? Or are you just saying wouldn’t it be nice if everyone had the same leverage?

                The second issue I have with your leverage issue is that it misses where the real competition is. The competition is not between the peasant and Nike. It is between two peasants for the job. It isn’t between me and Apple, it is between Apple and Microsoft. The exception here is where there is a monopoly, but this leads us way off topic, and my guess is I am even more anti monopoly than you.

                * the exception would be in the case of duress, which can be established within courtsReport

              • Avatar 975 in reply to Stillwater
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                says:

                I think that leverage is a morally wrong state of affairs.

                So it’s morally wrong that Jodie Foster can get $10 million per movie?

                Leverage is what we have when we have some degree of positional advantage over some other person. Jodie Foster’s got it. And the only way to eliminate leverage is to fully equalize everyone.

                So surely you’re talking about some degree of leverage, or rather some ratio of one person’s degree of leverage vis a vis some other person’s. How do we know when we’re in that range of unacceptable leverage? (And please don’t give us Potter Stewart’s pornography definition.)Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater
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                says:

                And the only way to eliminate leverage is to fully equalize everyone.

                Not true, on two levels. The first is that I’m identifying a criterion by which we can determine what constitutes exploitation independently of whether we want to eliminate it or not.

                Second, if the outlined criterion holds, then it’s not the existence of power differentials that gives rise to exploitation, but using those power differentials to attain an unfair outcome. Presumably, its possible for people to hold disproportionate power and not use it to their unfair advantage. Isn’t that one perfectly reasonable conception of a win-win transaction?Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater
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                says:

                Roger, I’ve gotta run so it’ll be a few hours before I can give you an adequate response.Report

              • Avatar 975 in reply to Stillwater
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                says:

                Word salad. I know that’s uncharitable, but you’re spinning vagueries. How do you know when leverage is not being used? Is Jodi Foster being immoral in demanding $10 million per movie, when a lesser known actress might get only 1/100 as much?

                Isn’t your assumption about the immorality of leverage an a prior position?Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Stillwater
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                says:

                @ 975:

                Stillwater, Roger, and I have gone around this maypole before, and with some progress.

                I point you here and here, to start.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater
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                says:

                How do you know when leverage is not being used?

                Well, how do you know when coercion is being used? Usually, it’s when one participant in a transaction uses force or the threat of physical violence to attain their desired ends. Coercion is the limiting case of leverage, as I use the word, so it’s an instance of leverage.

                What distinguishes non-coercize leverage from coercive leverage? Well, physical force would be one distinction, for sure. But it doesn’t have to be. For example, I’d say that when a major firm has the power to litigate a smaller firm into bankruptcy, that power differential can lead to actions which are coercive even tho there is no threat of physical violence and even tho the larger firm is acting completely within the law and its rights. Merely appealing to the power differential can result in outcomes that would not have been realized but for the power imbalance.

                Another instance of leverage is the ability of large firms to take advantage of a desperate labor pool (I mean, they’re desperate right, even libertarians concede that, yes?) by realizing that those people effectively have a gun to their head. To be clear, the firm isn’t holding the gun to their head. But what they are doing – if the both the libertarian as well as liberal versions of this story are accurate – is giving them an offer: on one hand, those people have a choice between starving to death or prostituting themselves or rummaging thru garbage heaps to survive. On the other is an option that’s only marginally better. It’s only because sweatshop employees effectively have no options that a firm has any desire to enter into that labor market and offer something only marginally better than the status quo and expect laborers to agree to their terms.

                So … whether or not sweatshop employment constitute an improvement over the alternatives seems very much irrelevant to me if the issue is exploitation, since the motivation of the employer isn’t to improve people’s lives. It’s to find the cheapest labor source possible. And the way they do that in sweatshops is by leveraging the lack of other opportunities against a work environment that is known to be unsafe and unhealthy (and other nasty things).Report

  2. Avatar BlaiseP
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    says:

    Where are those promised bits about Infant Industries?

    As an old Buddhist monk once told me, a thing worth saying is worth repeating a thousand times. I have previously pointed out these problems, how the worst abuses arise at the hand of local officials, managers and cutout firms, supported by onerous tariffs and subsidised industries.

    Exploitation is not a dirty word. It’s a good, honest, upstanding term of art for every capitalist, the difference between the cost of labour and profits. In every society, be it ever so humble, exploitation is the driving force which puts food upon every table and roofs over our heads.

    It is Marx’s definition and for my money it is a universally-acceptable definition.

    A working definition of Sweatshop might be of service.

    A sweatshop is a subcontractor waypoint. Workers are paid by a unit of production: piecework pricing is the usual rate. A sweatshop faces outward to a first-tier vendor or contractor and inward to a cadre of independent and interchangeable subcontractors.

    A sweatshop is not an employer: this distinction is important. It does not pay wages or provide benefits. It serves only as a hub: invariably following a pattern of assembly and composition, the Factory Pattern

    The sweatshop does nothing but manage the creation process and deliver new instances using a consistent order form, if you will.

    Let us not make minging excuses for how such things are done or pose false dichotomies about prostitution. Those who would invoke a Factory class are purposely blind to the details of assembly, all the better for them, that they might be able to ask for a Red Widget or a Blue Widget, knowing they will get a consistently created Widget instance. If that process is inefficient or harmful to those who must actually create Widgets, the Factory class can be improved behind the scenes without the Factory doors closing.

    James, what are you trying to say? The economic model of the sweatshop is neither good nor bad. Exploitation is not a sin. If abusive working conditions hide in the implementations of Factories, the Factory is only a contract. The Factory is useful because it can reliably create things based on order forms.

    If order fulfilment implies the use of child labour or cuts down teak trees in forest preserves or floods river deltas with crude oil or puts melamine in the milk, the implementation thus created is consistently abusive and the consumer class becomes more than a mere accessory. He becomes complicit, wilfully blind to the details of how his order is fulfilled.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to BlaiseP
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      says:

      As an old Buddhist monk once told me, a thing worth saying is worth repeating a thousand times.

      How many times did he say it?Report

    • Avatar James K in reply to BlaiseP
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      says:

      Let us not make minging excuses for how such things are done or pose false dichotomies about prostitution. Those who would invoke a Factory class are purposely blind to the details of assembly, all the better for them, that they might be able to ask for a Red Widget or a Blue Widget, knowing they will get a consistently created Widget instance. If that process is inefficient or harmful to those who must actually create Widgets, the Factory class can be improved behind the scenes without the Factory doors closing.

      And you know this how? Productivity is low in these factories, even small costs might make them uneconomic.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to James K
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        says:

        Heh. And how do you know they don’t? For crissakes, what did I say about how the Factory Pattern works? It’s like you didn’t even read the comment, a fact which no longer surprises me around here.

        Factory hides construction. It might be great in there. It might be horrid in there. It might be economically viable. It might not be. I fill in my order form, I get what I asked for — supposedly.

        When you’re designing a restaurant, put a big open window into the kitchen so the customers can see the chefs at work. Tends to improve the dining experience, trust me.Report

        • Avatar James K in reply to BlaiseP
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          says:

          And how do you know they don’t?

          I don’t, but I’m not the one proposing action.Report

          • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to James K
            Ignored
            says:

            What have I proposed here? I use the Factory Pattern all the day long.

            I used a Factory Pattern for setting up a high end coffee auction system in Guatemala. If those cafetaleros want to sell their coffee, they can rely on the bid-ask system to expose the true market price. I’ve used a Factory Pattern for order taking for little cooperatives which conform to the Sweatshop Pattern. Someone has to be in charge, you know. All the little subcontractors get paid for their work.

            You know, I’ve put up definitions for both “Sweatshop” and “Exploitation”, neither of which reach any judgemental conclusions.

            From whence arises all this ignorant talk about Sweatshops as per-se evil? Or Exploitation as the exclusive province of the wicked old capitalist? All these begged questions about How Do I Know and pat conclusions about how productivity is low…

            So Boudreaux the Cajun’s wife sends him to work with a thermos full of hot coffee. Next day she sends him to work with the thermos full of cold iced tea. “Chau’ reste chau’ et froi’ reste froi’. Mais — c’mment sait-il?” == Hot stays hot and cold stays cold. But how do it know?Report

            • Avatar zic in reply to BlaiseP
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              says:

              I used a Factory Pattern for setting up a high end coffee auction system in Guatemala. If those cafetaleros want to sell their coffee, they can rely on the bid-ask system to expose the true market price.

              Are you doing the software for Cup of Excellence auctions?Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to James K
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        says:

        even small costs might make them uneconomic.

        James, let’s suppose that those firms are increasingly unprofitable and will have to systematically shut their doors, but all because their margins are just too thin (not because of supply shortages, say). If the total benefit derived from keeping those firms functioning as is outweighs their loss, do you think federal subsidies are justified to keep those firms running?

        And to be clear, the point of the question is to identify what specific value or values you believe these firms are contributing to social welfare, and if those values are worth inforcing a positive obligation on others to maintain them?Report

        • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater
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          says:

          {{Also, assume it’s fantastically easy for the US Federal Reserve to transfer funds to firms in India and China}}Report

        • Avatar Chris in reply to Stillwater
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          says:

          The might is doing all the work there. It’s an empirical question, and the data is messy, but it looks like small costs can be absorbed pretty easily by the market (because the factory owners don’t absorb them).Report

        • Avatar James K in reply to Stillwater
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          says:

          No, if they require subsides then they can’t be generating sufficient value to justify their continued existence.Report

          • Avatar Stillwater in reply to James K
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            says:

            Good. Thanks.Report

          • Avatar Stillwater in reply to James K
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            says:

            OK, Now I feel like I have to say where that line if inquiry was going.

            If the argument you made in the OP is sound, then sweatshop labor practices save lives, contribute to everyone’s social utility, and increase the wealth of domestic and non-domestic economies. Isn’t any one of those values sufficient to justify a subsidy? And if there isn’t one, then isn’t the entire argument you made justifying sweatshops irrelevant since the justification of that practice isn’t consequentialist? That it’s some other thing?Report

            • Avatar James K in reply to Stillwater
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              says:

              Any transfer of money to the sweatshops would make less sense than transferring the money to the workers directly.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to James K
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                says:

                Sure it would make more sense.

                But is it morally required id we’re to accept the argument you presented in the OP? You wrote

                A group of entitled, rich westerners rush in and destroy their livelihood and sabotage their country’s economy and call it justice. It’s the global 1% coming in to kick them in the teeth in order to feel better about themselves. From that perspective its not just wrong, it’s evil.

                That’s an argument against intervention altering the status quo. Bit if the status quo itself is the thing of value and if it were to be existentially destabilized (nice language, eh?), doesn’t the same logic apply? That is, that not preserving those institutions amounts to evil?Report

              • Avatar James K in reply to Stillwater
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                says:

                The ting is, the reason I can be sure these institutions are a net good is that they are A) not coerced and B) not subsidised. I have to rethink a lot of assumptions if they start failing for any reason other than the country is becoming too prosperous to support their business model. This makes it difficult to engage with your hypothetical.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to James K
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                says:

                But that misses the point I’m trying to make. If interference with the currently non-coerced and non-subsidized institution constitutes an evil, the presumably, it’s the institution that has value and not the mechanism that generates it. If so, then aren’t subsidies to preserve that institution justified? If not, then isn’t the action of intervention the harm, irrespective of the institution that’s being harmed?

                It seems to me you want it both ways. That governmental intervention is an evil and that these institutions are an unqualified good.Report

    • Avatar James K in reply to BlaiseP
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      says:

      Where are those promised bits about Infant Industries?

      Next part.Report

  3. Avatar Pierre Corneille
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    says:

    James K.,

    I’m largely sympathetic to what you write here. My primary concern is that industrialists might hide behind your reasoning to forbear doing things that might make things at least a little better for their workers, or that local governments or even us more privileged people might hide behind your reasoning in order to justify inaction.

    I have no idea what those “things that might make things at least a little better for their workers” would be. I’m just saying that although I agree with you, there may be possibilities for improvement that neither you nor I have heard of.

    There’s a certain danger of declaring here that “we live in the best of all possible worlds.” Again, that’s not what you’re saying (and Hayek himself said (I probably paraphrase slightly) that “liberalism is not a stationary creed.” But maybe there’s a danger here.Report

    • One other thing I’ll add is that James is right that most of those among us who criticize sweatshop practices are operating from the privileged position of people who can afford to be worried and indignant about such matters. We ought not to lose sight of that.

      But it also represents a privileged position to be able to tell people how much better off they are now that they work in sweatshops.

      Of course, in a very real sense, they know they are better off because they choose sweatshop labor over the alternatives (assuming it’s a free choice….I’m not always sure it is, especially when children are involved….it does seem at least problematic, though, if we were to enter a discussion of whether forced child labor is better if it’s done on a farm or in a sweatshop).

      But I urge a note of caution that we–the collective we as well as, I presume, you and I–don’t really know what it’s like to live their lives. There are probably truths that they live everyday that outnumber what is dreamt of in our philosophy. It’s probably better to adopt a principle of “first, do no harm”–and that’s what I read James as saying–but we o ought not to discount totally that our understanding might be imperfect.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Pierre Corneille
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        says:

        I say that this is bull. When the developed world was going through its sweatshop phase, there were plenty of people concerned with the conditions in the sweatshops. These included workers, middle class reformes, socialists and anarchists, conservatives concerned about revolution and a host of others. It is not a sign of privilege to be concerned about sweatshops because people have always been concerned.Report

        • Avatar DRS in reply to LeeEsq
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          says:

          +1

          And – speaking as a conservative – people also responded by setting up unions (or trying their best to) to defend their own interests and to strengthen their bargaining position vis-à-vis business owners. So they weren’t passive little droids shuffling onto the assembly line all day and then shuffling home to eat their stale crusts of bread.Report

          • Avatar North in reply to DRS
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            says:

            Of course they weren’t! If all the sweatshop workers did the same tomorrow I suspect James and I would both be delighted. Especially if the sweatshops and their supporting governments gave in and went along. Hell, that’d be spectacular news!

            Of course we’d probably be talking in a year about the sweatshops that had opened in Central Asia or the Middle East or where have you but that’s progress!Report

        • Avatar Pierre Corneille in reply to LeeEsq
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          says:

          LeeEsq:

          Please keep in mind that I agree with you, at least partially. I did say, in my “bull-worthy” comment, that James K. might be right, but we ought not discount totally that he/I might be mistaken. I also suggested it might be presumptuous for first-world people to tell sweatshop workers how much better off they are?

          When I say our understanding is imperfect, I mean that we, who are so much better off, ought to be careful before we reflexively impose solutions that may or may not work just because our moral sensitivities are outraged. I’m not saying we ought not be concerned. In fact, we ought to be concerned, but in being concerned, we need to take account of our own privilege. Nor am I saying that people have never been concerned.

          But remember that each of the consituencies you mention had their own agendas and their own interests at stake even as they expressed their concern, and they did not always do so in the best of ways, and sometimes they did so in ways that hurt the more marginalized peoples. The middle-class (a too vague term but I’ll use it) reformers who wanted the Oregon minimum wage for women in Muller v. Oregon might on the margin have prevented some women from gaining jobs. The post-New Deal labor-management system may have empowered workers, but it also set the groundwork for a very cumbersome takeover by union bureaucrats. As DRS points out, there were unions, and they probably overall were a good thing, but at least in the U.S. they were often (c. 1900) very racist. Some anarchists, not all, endorsed the “blow up a crowd and hope a couple of the dead belong to the oppressor class” tactics.

          Still, I don’t want to discount the good that reformers and other concerned peopled do and have done, that’s why I suggested that we don’t have all the answers. We should be careful to acknowledge the costs as well as the concern.

          (By the way, I know my tone is kind of sharp here, and perhaps I’m writing too hastily. But I have to get going to work in a few minutes and probably won’t have time to respond until tonight.)Report

          • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Pierre Corneille
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            says:

            To me, the argument that reforms might hurt some people is an insufficient reason for not passing the reforms. If the majority of people whose reforms are designed to help get that help than the reforms should be passed.

            I think its also important that the workers themselves were often at the forefront of pressing for reforms in sweat shops. In the aftermath of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, the young immigrant women from Italy and Eastern Europe employed in said sweat shops were the ones that strated protesting against them. These women should have been theoretically grateful for their sweatshop jobs for the reasons presented above but nearly all of them seemed to have wanted better working conditions, shorter hours, and more pay enough to protest. So I think the desirabiltiy of sweatshop labor is debatable.Report

            • Avatar Pierre Corneille in reply to LeeEsq
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              says:

              I have almost no quarrel with your second paragraph on the facts. I never said workers didn’t organize or that they didn’t make things better. They organized for better wages and working conditions. Good on them. Again, I never said they (or any worker) didn’t want better wages or working conditions. Also, I never said the desirability of sweatshop labor wasn’t debatable. The intention of my comment was to suggest that the desirability of sweatshop labor is debatable, even though sweatshop labor seems to have provided opportunities. My comment was a response to James K., who seemed to be saying that for whatever bad comes from sweatshops, it’s probably better than the alternative of no sweatshop. I was trying to say, “well, there are some things we don’t know, and we should be wary before we tell sweatshop workers how much better off they are than before there were sweatshops.” All of that seems very, very consistent with what you are saying in these comments. Maybe we’re talking past each other, then?

              Re your first paragraph: I agree that the fact that a reform will harm some is insufficient to invalidate it, but the harms must be taken into consideration. I will suggest also that simply proving a majority will be helped is also insufficient, depending on how much the people who are harmed are harmed. But again, I never said otherwise.Report

          • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Pierre Corneille
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            says:

            If the majority of people whose reforms are designed to help get that help than the reforms should be passed.

            That’s a clear, intuitive calculus that I think everyone can understand. The alternative – that harming a single person is unjustified – seems to me to run counter to our normal intuitions and practice. But also: why should a single harm hold veto power over any proposed legislation/reform measures? Policy simply cannot be that fine-grained in practice. Well, unless we’re anarchists or we’ve already attained libertopia.Report

            • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Stillwater
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              says:

              Its simply not practical to achieve perfection in anything. Therefore, “don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”Report

            • Avatar Pierre Corneille in reply to Stillwater
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              says:

              “But also: why should a single harm hold veto power over any proposed legislation/reform measures? ”

              I say it depends on the harm. We shouldn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good, but we shouldn’t let aphorisms blind us to the possibility that some harms are greater than others. Incidentally, that’s as true for the “let’s tolerate sweatshops until they can be changed” argument as it is for the “let’s abolish sweatshop labor now” argument, and for every position in between.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Pierre Corneille
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                says:

                I say it depends on the harm.

                Oh, absolutely. We don’t want a Utilitarian’s Nightmare realized where lynching the innocent man is justified. But in this case, the individual harm appealed to is the individuals who will lose their jobs because of any intervention. Of course, people lost their jobs in any event, and pro-sweatshop people aren’t crying about their harm.

                I think there’s an ambiguity in what it means to lose a job. It’s either Stan or Sarah that’s doing the losing, or nameless faceless worker-bees who play roles in markets. Job losses from “market activity” are nameless and faceless. Job losses from “government intervention” are Stan and Sarah. And only a heartless liberal would want to hurt either of those wonderful people!Report

              • Avatar Pierre Corneille in reply to Stillwater
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                says:

                Stillwater,

                I should have answered this sooner but much of what you say here is a good point. It recalls the old aphorism “if your neighbor is out of a job, it’s a recession, but if you’re out of a job, it’s a depression.”

                I think the following is an interesting point that you make (if I understand it):

                But in this case, the individual harm appealed to is the individuals who will lose their jobs because of any intervention. Of course, people lost their jobs in any event, and pro-sweatshop people aren’t crying about their harm.

                If I read you right, you’re suggesting that when, for example, a sweatshop sets up, err, shop in a given area, it has the potential for eliminating certain options or opportunities, perhaps by making agriculture less sustainable? If this is true, and I think it might be true at least sometimes, that’s a tweak against the argument that there’s only more choices and nothing else.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Pierre Corneille
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        says:

        Reading through again; I missed this comment the first time. This.

        In all of this, I constantly come back to one thing: I don’t freakin’ know how these folks feel about the institutions that have come to their shores and their interactions with them. Hell, I don’t know, just in an objective, descriptive sense, what those interactions consist of. I don’t know whose life has been improved or harmed in any of this, how or how much, how the balance between voluntarism and forced choices actually stands in the world that actually exists, or anything of that nature. This whole discussion seems based largely on a set of factual assumptions that seem entirely hypothetical to me, and often conveniently presented so as to support advocates’ views by turns on either side of the questions we raise (we who are at removes of thousands of miles and multiple degrees of personal relations from people whose experiences constitute the subject of our theoretical-ethical discussions). This will be advanced by some as a straightforward case to take a hands-off attitude toward the situation. But the fact is that our hands are not off of the situation. We (or at least I feel I) simply lack the information needed to asses what the right policy approach is. That doesn’t in itself recommend any particular approach over any other.Report

    • Avatar James K in reply to Pierre Corneille
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      says:

      You make a fair point. My advice would be to wait until the pressure for better conditions comes from inside the country. When the workers are complaining about their jobs, then you’re not asserting privilege, you’re just aiding the cause they chose for themselves.Report

      • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to James K
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        says:

        There’s always people who are agitating for better conditions and usually substantial pressure to do so regardless of the job situation. The question is whether or not the country’s political institutions are sufficiently developed to handle the inevitable violence and suppression of labor voices that arises from that situation. Moreover the tendency for many factories to employ marginalized peoples means that they can effectively separate them out from the general population to keep them quiet.

        What makes the use of producers located under these circumstances problematic, if not outright immoral is that the buyers (again the multinationals) then pressure the producers to lower production costs even more from a position of leverage, knowing full well that the end result will be labor and contract violations that no one in a halfway well governed country would deal with. This was easier to do when there was little scrutiny placed on sourcing practices, and in some cases this is being replaced by buyers applying pressure for other concerns other than unit cost, but let’s not pretend there’s some great moral worth to power assymetries born of poverty.Report

  4. Avatar Creon Critic
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    says:

    Is there any questionable circumstance or working condition that goes too far? Employers failing to disclose dangers? Factory explosions caused by aluminum dust? Respiratory ailments due to inadequate safety precautions? Employing children? Sexual exploitation of employees? Factory fires that kill dozens of workers because of locked exits? All this is necessary in service of the greater good of development?

    When you enter a workplace do you really leave your human rights at the door?

    Sweatshops may be conceived of as the first step in the path towards development, that is an argument you can make. But the path towards development admits other conceptualizations of first steps: civil and political rights, compulsory primary education, women’s rights. The choice is not reducible to sweatshops = development, no sweatshops = no development.Report

    • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to Creon Critic
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      says:

      This.

      Everyone agrees there is a stage of economic development in every country where crummy, comparatively low wage industrial/factory are a good thing in the long run for an economy, and for the vast majority of workers are a setp up in wealth/pay from an agrarian life or a better alternative than unemployment in a undeveloped nation.

      But those low paying jobs don’t have to be and shouldn’t be

      a.) So low paying. As low paying as they sometimes are these low paying jobs can be easily, without loss, made better paying in some cases. Conversely, some money can be siphoned off from owners of factories via taxes and siphoned back to the workers in form of benefits like health coverage, public facilities like better roads and water, a social safety net, etc. When international trade prevents this unnecessarily you have unjust exploitation. (The factory must be leading to development of capital and resources for the whole of society and not just a tiny group of owners collaborating with foreign capital.)

      b) Filled with human rights abuses, e.g. sexual exploitation of laborers, lack of worker safety, use of child labor. Many of these don’t create efficiency or help development of the economy. A low paying factory needn’t be an awful place.

      c.) Rife with environmental abuses. The externalities of certain kinds of industrial labor needs to be paid for.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to Shazbot5
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        says:

        Yes I think anyone can agree with these sentiments Shaz but we arrive very quickly at the “So then what?” part of the discussion.

        Your A,B and C items for instance are excellent -except- none of them are things that can be enforced externally. They’re things that one would expect a responsible and moral government concerned about the welfare of its’ citizens to be taking care of. The problem, of course, is that most sweatshops take place in countries with lousy corrupt indifferent governments. We don’t have the power to force those governments to do the ABC items you’ve listed. If we suggested C they’d flip us the bird, if we suggest B they’d probably deny any abuses happen or pay lip service to and if we suggested A they’d at best flip us the bird or at worst levy the taxes and then happily use them to feed their own corruption.

        I mean one of the points of tolerating sweatshops is that they’re a bridge to a more organized, affluent society. Societies with higher levels of affluence and organization almost invariably begin agitating for better government. Take South Korea for instance. It was run by a series of corrupt Juntas and Generals for decades after the division from North Korea. Economic development then occurred, and then student protests and democracy protests eventually led to the establishment of a more responsible humane government. The humane government didn’t just appear out of the ether and shoo the sweatshops away. The sweatshops fostered the economic development that eventually enabled the population to govern themselves better (and get rid of sweatshops).Report

        • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to North
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          says:

          If we suggested C they’d flip us the bird, if we suggest B they’d probably deny any abuses happen or pay lip service to and if we suggested A they’d at best flip us the bird or at worst levy the taxes and then happily use them to feed their own corruption.

          If North did so? Yeah, maybe.

          If the CEO of Walmart, Mike Duke, told them to clean their shit up and let us make sure you’ve cleaned up or we’ll go source elsewhere? Notsomuch.Report

          • Avatar North in reply to Nob Akimoto
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            says:

            Agreed 100%.
            Now we’d have to discuss incenting ol’ Mr. Duke to tell them such.Report

            • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to North
              Ignored
              says:

              The other thing is by the way, one of the reasons why conditions can often be so appalling is because MNCs used to demand: “Make sure the price of widget X is under Y per widget or we’ll go source elsewhere!”

              Also as for Duke, he’s been saying it for a while, actually:
              http://www3.cfo.com/article/2012/10/supply-chain_walmart-sustainability-china-supply-chain-mike-duke-gary-locke-sams-clubs

              It’s an interesting dynamic, because basically Walmart is playing the role of regulator in some parts of China in a way that the Chinese government can’t seem to.Report

            • Avatar Stillwater in reply to North
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              says:

              Now we’d have to discuss incenting ol’ Mr. Duke to tell them such.

              We have that discussion all the time. It goes like this:

              “We should think about ways to incent CEO’s to require better working conditions.”

              “I thought you liberals liked the poor. But apparently you hate them, don’t you? You and your moral imperialism, going around telling honest hard working sweatshop employees that they’re engaging in an immoral action. Who are you to say? They entered into that agreement voluntarily! You’d obviously rather those folks starved to death or were forced to prostitute themselves to make a living.” Etc etc (etc etc etc etc etc etc……..)Report

              • Avatar North in reply to Stillwater
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                says:

                Maybe the two sides are talking past each other? Because when vehement sweat shop critics say “We should think about ways to incent CEO’s to require better working conditions.” Sweat shop apologists worry that we’re talking about government policy which is problematic when you’re dealing with an issue that spans multiple nations.

                Meanwhile when sweat shop apologists say. “Sweatshops are bad but probably better than the alternative.” Sweat shop critics think that we’re saying that no action against sweatshops of any kind should be tolerated.

                Neither is necessarily the case. Is sweat shop critics are talking about consumer advocacy, NGO’s and the like then I dare say 99% of sweat shop apologists are not only fine with those things but downright enthusiastic about it.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to North
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                says:

                North, Oh i definitely think people talk past each other on this issue. In that sense, it’s no different than any other issue, unfortunately.

                But let me ask you this, a question I asked James: if third world sweatshops were going broke and shutting down for very marginal financial reasons (not supply issues), should the US subsidize those factories and practices? Presumably, at least the way I understand it, the social value of the sweatshop institution is so obvious and beneficial, would it be morally wrong to not subsidize the firms engaging in that practice if the alternative is what you all say it is?Report

          • Avatar Shazbot3 in reply to Nob Akimoto
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            says:

            What if we refused to open up freer trade with them (or set international rules to such effect with other large economies)until they met some minimal obligations to their workers.

            This would not stop low-paying work from being created, but would require that those low paying jobs were not brutally exploitative.

            That way you get the best of both worlds. Workers get low paying jobs that improve their previously poorer quality of life (leading to long term gain) and we minimize human suffering in the sort term.

            Also, there are lots of reasons to think that coercing the wealthy to not engage in the worst sweat shop practices and to pay a little more benefits the poorer country more in the long term (more paid workers increases buying power, more time at home for parents improves social stability, fewer employed children increases education).

            The claim that sweatshops are better than still low-paying but less exploitative and awful for the country in which they exist is wholly unsubstantiated.Report

            • Avatar North in reply to Shazbot3
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              says:

              Oddly enough, Shaz, poor countries don’t take kindly to us using trade imperialism against them. This is partially due to the fact that most poor countries have pretty poor and prickly governments, this is also due to the fact that this is effectively exactly what makes us look like utter douches to the working masses in poor countries. Rich westerners dictating labor terms onto a foreign population and putting poor people out of work (yes it’s sweatshop and low margin work but it’s still their work).
              Also we sell a lot of stuff to poor countries and when we start clamping down on trade at our end they tend to reciprocate. Then people on both sides lose, employment on both sides goes up and other unpleasant side effects start creeping in.Report

        • Avatar DRS in reply to North
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          says:

          The sweatshops fostered the economic development that eventually enabled the population to govern themselves better (and get rid of sweatshops).

          Yeah, I’m doubtful of this. Sweatshops as some kind of moral improvement program that lifts people out of the slough to a better life strikes me as a little too convenient for sweatshop owners.Report

          • Avatar North in reply to DRS
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            says:

            It’s nothing so benevolent DRS, not even remotely, please don’t think for a moment that’s what I’m talking about.

            The point is simply that high labor, low wage; factory economies are the step up from subsistence farming economies that fosters organizational skills, education levels, infrastructure and time surpluses in the general population that permits people to have the wherewithal to expect more from their government than “don’t kill me”. Also early industrial economies begin enabling aspiration and education more as well. You get universities, schools and the like. Parents begin to realistically hope their kids can achieve more than their parents have. The entire political environment becomes more hospitable to demands for responsible government.

            This is not remotely due to any form of benevolence from sweatshops or low wage factory owners. Not what so ever. Yeasts don’t produce alcohol for us out of some amiable microscopic affection for the human race. They do it as a byproduct of them doing what they want to do (eat sugar and make more yeasts). We dump yeasts into vats of sugar to make alcohol; we tolerate sweatshops and low margin manufacturing in undeveloped poorly governed nations in hopes of non-violently getting developed well governed nations.Report

            • Avatar Rod Engelsman in reply to North
              Ignored
              says:

              we tolerate sweatshops and low margin manufacturing in undeveloped poorly governed nations in hopes of non-violently getting developed well governed nations.

              Really? Are you sure it isn’t just to get cheap shit at our discount stores?Report

              • Avatar North in reply to Rod Engelsman
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                says:

                Inidividuall I would say it’s more the cheap shit than it is the hope of foreign development. Yeah. But on an economic and policy level I’m not certain that cheap shit at our stores outweighs the benefits of growing future trade partners or the peace dividend that trade provides.Report

              • Avatar DRS in reply to North
                Ignored
                says:

                North, I’ll buy that you don’t think sweatshops are good things but you’re pulling a moral imperative into the debate that I really don’t think belongs there. Sweatshops exist because authorities (not always synonymous with “government”) in a particular country allow them to exist there. Those authorities are not doing that because they think they might be contributing to their own overthrow sometime down the road.Report

              • Avatar North in reply to DRS
                Ignored
                says:

                Of course not, they’re doing it because they’re either keeping people employed (keeping them in power) or because they can tax the activity and get revenue (keep their government in the black/fill their own pockets) and because they probably get kickbacks from the local employers (fill their own pockets). Bad governments don’t typically have those kinds of horizons and even if they did it’s kind of a damned if you do damned if you don’t thing. If they keep the economy miserable they miss out on swag and likely get replaced by a different bad government. If they do have the economy develope they’re liable (in the long term) to have to liberalize.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to North
                Ignored
                says:

                I’m glad you put in that clarification, North, because the proposition that the US government and private for-profit firms support/tolerate/engage in sweatshop practices out of concern for the internal governance of those countries isn’t really credible. At least in my view. I mean, it might be logically entailed by some set of principles and historical determinism, but it’s not even on the radar as a proximal cause or consideration in determining their views.Report

              • Avatar North in reply to Stillwater
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                says:

                Still, believe me it was never my intent to suggest even a morsel of beneficence on the part of our government or our corporations in this process. Not even an iota.Report

          • Avatar Shazbot3 in reply to DRS
            Ignored
            says:

            I would say whether that improvement happens depends on a lot of things. Some of the worst sweatshop labor practices are not conducive to long term growth in economic potential and human well-being, especially child labor, local environmental devastation, destruction of family structure, etc.

            Low paying industrial jobs are good in many cases, but they are not intrinsically good. They can become neutral or very bad indeed.Report

            • Avatar Shazbot3 in reply to Shazbot3
              Ignored
              says:

              A big part of this is unions. If the low paid workers can baragin for slightly better pay and working conditions, then all is likely to be good.

              If local officials crack down on any labor organizing and negotiation between low paid workers and employers that only benefits employers, you’ll get economic stagnation and slave-like exploitation.Report

          • Avatar James K in reply to DRS
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            says:

            It worked in the West. It’s not that the bad conditions themselves make the economy better, its that bad conditions are part of being low productivity, and you have to go through low productivity in order to get high productivity.Report

    • Avatar zic in reply to Creon Critic
      Ignored
      says:

      Yes.

      Part of the problem here is that we don’t define sweatshop and we’re fuzzy about exploitation.

      Sweatshop exploitation would include some of the following:
      1) Unsafe working conditions that endanger the employees needlessly; locked doors, lack of safety equipment, exposure to known toxins;
      2) Coerced labor, withholding pay until a certain term of employment has been completed is a common offense here. Leave employment early and you don’t get paid;
      3) Environmental pollution that wouldn’t be accepted in the developed world. This is a big issue, for the workers and the community effectively subsidize cheap products with environmental damage;
      4) Child labor;
      5) Slave labor;
      6) Sexual exploitation;
      7) Physical abuse.

      Those issues are, to my mind, the base line of sweatshop; when we cross them for cheap product, we’re asking someone else to bear the ultimate cost of that product unfairly. There may be others; I don’t suggest this is an inclusive list.Report

      • Avatar Murali in reply to zic
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        says:

        I’m sure slave labour doesn’t count as sweatshop stuff. And children who don’t work in factories often endup in the fields or brothels.Report

        • Avatar Creon Critic in reply to Murali
          Ignored
          says:

          children who don’t work in factories often endup in the fields or brothels.

          So shouldn’t our aim be to expand the alternatives and make the most socially beneficial alternative the most attractive? Tuition free schools, free school meals, and free school supplies all come to mind. I don’t see why activists, international organizations, NGOs, and such should settle on sweatshops and say that’s an acceptable circumstance for a child.Report

          • Avatar Murali in reply to Creon Critic
            Ignored
            says:

            Tuition free schools, free school meals, and free school supplies all come to mind.

            They are harder to implement than initially thought, with many of such interventions having limited effect. Baiscally there are supply and demand problems. At the demand end of the problem, many parents do not believe that additional schooling would benefit their children even when it is the case that each additional year of schooling greatly expands future income. Often a lot of parents are not in a position to differ present consumption for increased future consumption. Even after free education and school meals, the kid is not bringing home money for the family to eat: money that he could have earned while working at a factory.

            There are supply issues as well. Often the curriculum is not useful for the students. Aid in education is often “elite” and part of the reason for limited efficacy is that information taught to them is not useful to them.

            The book I’d recommend is Poor EconomicsReport

          • Avatar James K in reply to Creon Critic
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            says:

            If that’s your approach to eliminating sweatshops, then go for it. I’m not sure it will work, but I’d be happy to be proved wrong.Report

            • Avatar Creon Critic in reply to James K
              Ignored
              says:

              Well that’s one part of an approach, the carrot anyway. There should be some sticks involved as well, especially directed at holding multinationals accountable for labor practices in their supply chains. I think Shazbot5 makes excellent points about the need for international cooperation in establishing, monitoring, and enforcing labor standards. Altogether I think the ILO and international human rights regime mechanisms are grossly under -resourced.Report

        • Avatar zic in reply to Murali
          Ignored
          says:

          Murali,

          This is a set problem. The set of people who have their labor exploited includes the set of children who work in factories and children who work in fields.

          I grew up on a family farm, I was a child laborer. It’s legal in the US.Report

  5. Avatar Dan Miller
    Ignored
    says:

    I don’t necessarily disagree with your argument here, but it lends itself to a certain fatalism that can be very useful to the unscrupulous. Consider, for instance, that this could have been deployed with equal force against the people campaigning to end child labor in the US in the early 20th century. And yet we mostly agree that banning child labor was a good thing, and that going to school is better for kids than working in a salt mine. So how do you know when to say “enough is enough”? And how do you avoid being a useful idiot for a factory owner who’s resisting justifiable reforms?Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Dan Miller
      Ignored
      says:

      This. Movements to reform or abolish sweatshop conditions appeared pretty much right after sweatshops. It took two or three generations to implement these reforms but they existed. This suggests that sweatshop jobs were not all that desired or at least that plenty of people, both workers and non-workers, found them morally problematic.

      The only place that I know of where there was active resistance to reforming sweatshops from the workers themselves were the mills in the American south and that’s because Of the use of race to prevent class-consciousness. The Southern miners in West Virginia and Kentucky were rather militant in their advocacy for worker’s rights and better conditions. These were Mother Jones people.Report

  6. Avatar Barry
    Ignored
    says:

    Dan: “And how do you avoid being a useful idiot for a factory owner who’s resisting justifiable reforms?”

    Why do you assume that ‘being a useful idiot’ isn’t the goal?Report

    • Avatar Dan Miller in reply to Barry
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      says:

      Because I tend to give James K–and most all of the writers here–the benefit of the doubt. There are plenty of people here I disagree with, but few if any who I would call unreasonable or malign.Report

  7. Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto
    Ignored
    says:

    I disagree with the broader thrust of your post, and I guess this brings me back to my last post on the subject:
    https://ordinary-times.com/blog/2013/02/third-world-factories-arent-all-sweatshops/

    For one, I think your definition of “sweatshop” is both overly broad and question begging.
    The reasons are:
    1. You don’t go into defining poor labor conditions or safety protocols, and by what standard.
    2. You seem to be using industrialized nation economies as a baseline for comparison.
    3. You seem to be assuming that multinationals are a direct employer rather than an actual consumer within the space.

    Second, I think you repeatedly undersell the degree to which multinationals have enormous market power in terms of dictating the conditions under which things are produced. From a brand value point of view, sweatshop labor and exploitative resource gathering schemes have increasingly become a liability. It’s not perfect, and there’s a plethora of half-assed certifications like UTZ out there, but on the whole people just feel icky when they’re shown the information that’s typically hidden from them about manufacturing conditions.

    As a result the sourcing companies (the multinationals) as near monopsony buyers have the ability to set terms that tend to dramatically influence the marginal productivity and marginal costs involved with manufacturing. Specifically if they’re able to structure contracts and enforcement mechanisms in such a way that safety violations or wage violations (such as withholding wages until they put in unpaid overtime) become substantial costs to the employer.

    The key question here is whether the “employer” is actually the multinationals or if the multinationals are a layer of consumer in a global consumption chain. I’m persuaded by everything I’ve read on this subject that it’s the latter, and I think we need to start thinking about sweatshops more in the way of how we have MNCs buy from them as representatives rather than them as managers or owners of those production methods.Report

    • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to Nob Akimoto
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      says:

      Feeling minorly ignored here. 🙁Report

    • Avatar zic in reply to Nob Akimoto
      Ignored
      says:

      Please don’t, Nob.

      Well expressed insights, on target, and nothing to argue with. In this case, the silence is golden.Report

      • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to zic
        Ignored
        says:

        Let me clarify.

        I think it’s more useful to engage in the points raised there than moderately useful conversations about slave labor vs. sweatshops.Report

        • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to Nob Akimoto
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          says:

          Nob,

          I agree with this and feel bad for starting the conversation below. I think may argument was correct, but your comment here is more on point and sharp in showing what is wrong with the (always smart, from James K) OP.

          My comment drew more heat, but yours provided me light, and should’ve gotten the attention.Report

    • Avatar James K in reply to Nob Akimoto
      Ignored
      says:

      I’ve been chewing over your comment Nob, but I’m still not sure how to respond to it.

      1. You don’t go into defining poor labor conditions or safety protocols, and by what standard.
      2. You seem to be using industrialized nation economies as a baseline for comparison.

      I am making a general point, more than a specific one. I hear people complain about the poor conditions and low pay in poor countries, but low pay and lack of safety are the norm in history because only really rich countries can afford what we consider fair pay and conditions. Beyond that, I’m really not sure what you want me to say.

      As a result the sourcing companies (the multinationals) as near monopsony buyers have the ability to set terms that tend to dramatically influence the marginal productivity and marginal costs involved with manufacturing.

      I don’t see that at all, there’s more than one multinational out there, so I would expect their power to be largely competed away.Report

      • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to James K
        Ignored
        says:

        I guess your general point bothers me because it neglects the fact that we’re talking about a global supply chain, not simply one that’s confined to the capital available within a specific set of borders. This massively changes the equation whether we’re talking about access to capital, mobility of labor or even simple things like how we’re going to compute cost surpluses and willingness to pay.

        As for your second point about multinationals competing away their power, I think you overestimate the degree of competition. Look at the value-added metrics from everything from consumer electronics to textiles. The value-added margins suggest that the sourcing companies enjoy a substantial oligopsony on pricing, based on the fact that they retain the vast majority of value-addition. If there was indeed competition in sourcing, you’d expect a situation where factories would not need to compete as ruthlessly as they do with eachother for lower marginal production costs, at the very least they’d be responsible for a substantially higher portion of the value-added to a product as MNCs compete with one another for suppliers.

        That is to say immiseration of workers would be less of an issue if the field were so competitive that the factories had multiple potential suitors for their goods.

        The fact that this trend doesn’t exist either argues that there’s not enough competition between MNCs on sourcing, or there’s some sort of hidden cartel behavior going on here. I prefer simpler explanations, and international cartels are a chancy thing to run. So I’d argue there’s insufficient buyers to the point where in fact sourcing MNCs have substantial market power in how they treat with factories.Report

        • Avatar zic in reply to Nob Akimoto
          Ignored
          says:

          That’s a nice anti-WalMart sort of argument, Nob.

          Thank you.Report

        • Avatar James K in reply to Nob Akimoto
          Ignored
          says:

          If there was indeed competition in sourcing, you’d expect a situation where factories would not need to compete as ruthlessly as they do with eachother for lower marginal production costs, at the very least they’d be responsible for a substantially higher portion of the value-added to a product as MNCs compete with one another for suppliers.

          Not true, each firm would be squeezed at the retail end, and would therefore need to squeeze their suppliers in turn.

          As for the high value-add, it’s probably a combination of the returns accruing to design (which is still primarily done in wealthy countries), and a risk premium.Report

          • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to James K
            Ignored
            says:

            I don’t see that at all, there’s more than one multinational out there, so I would expect their power to be largely competed away.

            And:

            Not true, each firm would be squeezed at the retail end, and would therefore need to squeeze their suppliers in turn.

            These are not compatible statements.

            If in fact they don’t have market power, then they would have no ability to actually squeeze their suppliers. The suppliers would say “fish you, we’ll sell to these other guys who want our stuff just as much.”

            The fact that they don’t suggests there’s some sort of power pricing mechanism that gives the sourcers substantial market power over their suppliers.Report

            • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to Nob Akimoto
              Ignored
              says:

              Again, there’s a substantial amount of literature that suggests that firms have market power to influence practices in factories because they are in fact people who are buying products from these producers, not because they’re somehow running the factories themselves.

              The track record of how successful these practice changes are in measurably improving things. Sometimes it just leads to subcontracting out. But the deflationary pressures that exist in things like textiles or electronics contracting and assembly tell me that 1. the buyers (ie the multinationals) have substantially more power in the arrangement than the sellers and 2. this situation isn’t measurably changing.Report

          • Avatar James K in reply to James K
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            says:

            Of course they’re compatible, my point is that the pressure on suppliers is caused by the effect of tight margins migrating up the supply chain, not monpsony power.

            And eve if it proves to be monpsony power, surely the solution would be to reduce barriers to entry i.e. more sweatshops rather than less.Report

            • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to James K
              Ignored
              says:

              If the problem is tight margins migrating up the supply chain, then it is in fact a representation of monopsony power because in essence we’re talking about a market (the stuff produced by the factories) that only has a small number of buyers, rather than an intra-firm supply chain issue of cost cutting. I hate to sound like a broken record, but the supply chain situation in most “sweatshop” industries is one where the producers and factory owners are in fact separate actors in different market situations.

              And how the heck would a monopsony situation be fixed by adding more suppliers? The reason there’s a tight supply on sweatshop jobs is that there’s only so many shoes or t-shirts that Nike or Walmart or Reebok will buy and the trend has increasingly been deflationary in these areas. Reducing barriers won’t change a damned thing unless we’re talking about allowing say prison labor to be used for production or hell slave labor to be used so that new producers can undercut the existing ones that pay people.Report

              • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to Nob Akimoto
                Ignored
                says:

                For example, you find private prison contractors in the US now creating “work programs” for prisoners where minimum wage laws don’t apply. This allows them to basically pay prisoners something in the order of a dollar to 5 dollars a day to do stuff like make office furniture or stamp out cheap IKEA style furniture. Since it’s also American soil they can stick a Made in the USA sign on it, and perhaps fool people into thinking it was produced by people being paid decent wages.Report

              • Avatar James K in reply to Nob Akimoto
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                says:

                And how the heck would a monopsony situation be fixed by adding more suppliers?

                Sorry, I skipped a step there. I meant that if you lowered the barrier to multinationals to outsourcing to poor countries, then their monopsony power would be eroded. This would also result in more active sweatshops existing.Report

  8. Avatar LeeEsq
    Ignored
    says:

    If sweatshop jobs are desirable than how come so many sweatshop workers attempted to organize fast?Report

    • Avatar North in reply to LeeEsq
      Ignored
      says:

      Probably because they’re arriving at the level where they’re capable of demanding a better deal and good for them. In an ideal world they’d unionize and better their lot. In our less than ideal world they clash with government oppression and people get hurt. Eventually when enough of them demand a better lot the government will get hurt, reform will happen, the sweatshops will reform or flee and we’ll all delight in the arrival of another developed economy to the world and turn our eyes to the next country that the sweatshops have alighted in.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to North
        Ignored
        says:

        Except the unionization and radicalization tend to follow very shortly after the appearance of sweet shops rather than waiting for several years. The immediacy of reform
        attempts suggest that sweatshop jobs are not that desired once they are achieved.Report

    • Avatar James K in reply to LeeEsq
      Ignored
      says:

      Everything I’ve heard says applications for jobs at these places massively outstrip the available positions. That doesn’t sound like dissatisfaction to me.Report

  9. Avatar clawback
    Ignored
    says:

    This piece fails to address the form opposition to sweatshops takes in the real world. All we get is handwaving about “entitled, rich westerners [who] rush in and destroy their livelihood and sabotage their country’s economy”, without any consideration of the mechanism by which this activism occurs. The activism takes place within normal market mechanisms. If what I want to buy is not an iPhone but rather an iPhone produced under conditions I consider non-exploitative, who are you to say my consumption preferences are somehow inferior? You don’t get to make that judgment.Report

    • Avatar Dan Miller in reply to clawback
      Ignored
      says:

      Actually, I think he’s well within his rights to judge your consumption choices, just as you’re free to judge the preferences of someone who buys a 7-mpg Canyonero with custom-made zebra-hide seat covers.Report

    • Avatar North in reply to clawback
      Ignored
      says:

      I don’t think Jamesk’s argument is aimed at internal market acting labor activists probably because he, like I, has absolutely zero problem with them. If you want to organize, inform and advocate for customer awareness to create a market for humanely produced manufactured goods that use zero sweatshop labor then I think he’d join me in saying “hurray for you, keep up the good work!”
      His argument, and certainly mine, is addressed at people who hate sweatshops and therefore wish to use governmental force to ban or eliminate them through externally imposed labor standards or trade barriers.Report

      • Avatar clawback in reply to North
        Ignored
        says:

        If so, his argument would be strengthened by citing some specific externally imposed labor standards or trade barriers, I’m not aware of any analysis showing such artificial barriers are a significant factor in international trade. If he has such an analysis I would certainly like to see it.Report

      • Avatar kenB in reply to North
        Ignored
        says:

        Well, James K can speak for himself, but I suspect that he wouldn’t exactly join you in that statement — as I read him, he’d say that if your goal is to help the workers in that sweatshop, then you should bear in mind that pressuring companies (via market pressure or political pressure) to not use sweatshop labor or to increase the labor costs at a sweatshop may result in the workers at those sweatshops losing their jobs and thus being worse off due to your decision.Report

    • Avatar James K in reply to clawback
      Ignored
      says:

      1) I don’t discuss policy options only in the context of when they have been introduced. Thinking about policy options that might be is important too.

      2) If I believe that someone’s actions will not achieve their stated objectives I might point this out to them. I’m not sure if that counts as judging their consumer preferences.Report

      • Avatar clawback in reply to James K
        Ignored
        says:

        If I believe that someone’s actions will not achieve their stated objectives I might point this out to them.

        But I don’t think you did in fact address this. I’d be interested in hearing how my expressing a preference for an item produced in a non-exploitative manner is different from any other preference expressed through normal market means.Report

        • Avatar James K in reply to clawback
          Ignored
          says:

          It’s not. But in the second half of my post, I point out that the likely result will simply be that this stuff isn’t made in poor countries any more and that means those people you din’t want exploited will be in even worse jobs (or starving to death).Report

          • Avatar clawback in reply to James K
            Ignored
            says:

            Why would it? If we posit that as a consumer I’m willing to pay the cost of manufacturing a product under conditions I consider non-exploitative, then nothing else has changed.Report

          • Avatar clawback in reply to James K
            Ignored
            says:

            Consider two factories sitting side by side. We’ll call them Triangle and, um, Square. They are identical in nearly every way, producing the exact same shirtwaists by the exact same process and drawing from the exact same pool of workers. The only difference is that Square has fire escapes and Triangle does not. Presumably the shirtwaists from Square cost slightly more than those from Triangle because of the additional plant cost. Please explain how if I choose to buy a Square shirtwaist someone will be in a worse job or starving to death. Indeed I cannot see how my preference for one over the other makes any difference at all for the workers involved, other than that those workers producing my shirtwaist did so slightly more safely.Report

            • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to clawback
              Ignored
              says:

              There are always fixed costs: the factory building, its machines, the land it sits on, installing infrastructure for electricity and communications, etc. I find the argument that adding fire exits to this makes the whole project uneconomic unpersuasive.Report

              • Avatar clawback in reply to Mike Schilling
                Ignored
                says:

                I agree the case for unsafe factories from economic necessity is implausible indeed, but my argument is different. I’m saying that as a consumer if I want to pay a little extra to buy products manufactured under non-exploitative conditions, this has little economic effect beyond improving those conditions. James K claims it would increase unemployment or underemployment. I’d like to hear an economic case for this.Report

  10. Avatar DRS
    Ignored
    says:

    You know, it’s not a given that sweatshops have to be in developing countries. All you need to set up a sweatshop is a sympathetic government authority, a large pool of potential labour who don’t have any other prospects that are attractive and a society that is willing to go along with it.

    What if you got in a time machine and fast-forwarded 50-60 years and found that the largest group of employers in many American states were….sweatshops owned by Pacific Rim Asian businesses? Would you look at sweatshops differently then? When it’s “us” and “here”, rather than “them” and “over there”?Report

    • Avatar Stillwater in reply to DRS
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      says:

      I think there’s something to this argument, myself. For example, it seems to me that sweatshop apologetics is motivated by an implicit understanding that Western firms and Western consumers have been the greatest beneficiaries of off-shore-sweat-shopping (TM!) practices.Report

      • Avatar DRS in reply to Stillwater
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        says:

        I’d say it was more like sweatshops are part of the process from subsistence-level agricultural peasant society to modern industrial economy, and hey, what are ya gonna do, it’s part of the inevitable march of progress, right? But what if sweatshops get set up in countries where economic decline is accelerating and social bonds are weak and getting weaker? I can totally see it happening in parts of America, the Rust Belt, former one-industry towns, semi-rural southern small towns.Report

        • Avatar Stillwater in reply to DRS
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          says:

          Here’s the hypothetical I was interested in: if the US and Westerners generally didn’t experience net benefits (or the perception thereof) from sweatshopping, would people still view the practice so favorably? Or in other words, and a bit too simplistically, to what extent is (the perception of…) economic self-interest driving the judgments pro-sweatshop people hold?

          I mean, I’m quite comfortable saying that sweatshops may be a necessary phase on the way to better domestic economy, but I’m also quite comfortable saying that the practice is exploitative. It’s leveraging starvation against wages in order to maximize profits (and indirectly reduce prices and etc etc).

          One thing I can’t get quite clear on is the appearance of the naturalistic fallacy in all this: the casual slide into accepting that profit seeking is a normative good. And the reason I can’t get clear on it is because the theory which justifies profit seeking as entailing social goods cannot view it as being as a normative good without spiralling into begged questions and vicious (vicious!) circularity.Report

          • Avatar North in reply to Stillwater
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            says:

            Well to be fair Stillwater a lot of first world people are royally torked about loosing manufacturing to developing countries. I don’t think this is something that the masses in the first world view with unalloyed satisfaction. Far from it.Report

            • Avatar Stillwater in reply to North
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              says:

              Sure. And that’s the divergence on this issue we'[re talking about, it seems to me. Some people feel like they’re economic net winners, others feel like they’re net losers.Report

              • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Stillwater
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                says:

                For what it’s worth, I’m in favor of unrestricted (aside from background checks) immigration of skilled workers, including those who would directly compete with me for jobs. I’m also in favor of lower taxes on people who make more money than I can ever reasonably expect to make.

                I favor the policies I favor because they promote general prosperity, not because they’re narrowly tailored to my own interests.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Brandon Berg
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                says:

                Brandon, I certainly wasn’t trying to imply everyone’s views on these issue derive from a perception of they directly effect their personal self-interest. For example, I’d like to think that I also don’t do that.Report

          • Avatar 975 in reply to Stillwater
            Ignored
            says:

            One thing I can’t get quite clear on is the appearance of the naturalistic fallacy in all this: the casual slide into accepting that profit seeking is a normative good.

            You just might be reversing the proper direction of the slide.Report

    • Avatar Citizen in reply to DRS
      Ignored
      says:

      DRS,
      Things change in America if there is no minimum wage. I often try to invision the industrial landscape if that change was made.Report

      • Avatar DRS in reply to Citizen
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        says:

        It’s going to take more than just abolishing minimum wage; that’s why I gave it a 50-year time range. There’s also got to be a pool of workers with nowhere else to go or the unwillingness to even try going somewhere else for it to work. That’s why I’m thinking semi-rural towns with very strong local connections and a fear of the other parts of the country. Also something like the return of indentured servitude whereby workers would sign contracts for 7 to 10 years committing them to working in a factory regardless of conditions. And don’t think it couldn’t be sold as “guaranteed employment” in the 21st century.Report

        • Avatar Murali in reply to DRS
          Ignored
          says:

          Look, Singapore doesn’t have a minimum wage and very little freedom to organise. The worst off. And we are not exactly a dickensian nightmare. I’m fairly sure that the worst off in Singapore are miles ahead of the worst off in the US. At the very least we’ve got a 2% unemployment rate.Report

          • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to Murali
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            says:

            Singapore has a population of 5.7 million.

            For comparison’s sake:
            The New York City Metropolitan Statistical Area has 19 million people.
            LA’s MSA is 12 million
            Chicago 9 million

            And so on and so forth. Singapore provides zero useful context for any policy prescriptions on the national scale. At a municipal level, it might be a useful comparison, but otherwise, it’s pretty hard to generalize from a city-state with a small population.Report

  11. Avatar Mike Schilling
    Ignored
    says:

    A few points:

    1. Sweatshops are places where workers have no power, and thus are subject to physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. These can’t be explained away purely by the fact that the value of their labor is low.

    2. Worker safety does have a cost, but in many cases it’s a fixed cost, not a per-hour cost (e.g. having fire exits and extinguishers.) Thus failure to take these precautions doesn’t affect the bottom line directly, but it’s easily explained by the power differential: why would you spend a cent to safeguard someone for whim you have no regard?

    3. Disregard for worker safety is also explained by an externality: injuries of deaths caused by employer negligence either go uncompensated or compensated at far below any reasonable level (e.g. loss of lifetime earning power.)

    I do agree with your conclusion: in impoverished places, sweatshops are often the best alternative for workers. Since they don’t (in general) depend on slave labor, they wouldn’t exist otherwise. But let’s accept that the greed usually used to explain them is mixed in with a healthy dose of callousness and sadism.Report

    • Avatar Shazbot3 in reply to Mike Schilling
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      says:

      Following up, wouldn’t slave labor be cheaper than sweatshop labor?

      By the logic of the post, slave labor is justified.

      There is a problem with the logic.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Shazbot3
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        says:

        Hey, they get fed and a place to stay. That’s better than their life before slavery! (This was not an uncommon argument type once upon a time.)Report

      • Avatar clawback in reply to Shazbot3
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        says:

        Naw, you’re not getting the part where slavery was actually instituted by the government. This makes it different from sweatshops.

        Little known fact.Report

        • Avatar Stillwater in reply to clawback
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          says:

          That’s not true at all. Slave labor was codified by the government, but not instituted by it.Report

          • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Stillwater
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            says:

            This is largely correct. Slave labor in the New World was implemented by the Conquistadors as a way to control the Native Americans and to deal with labor shortages from the mass deaths that the Native Americans suffered because of the Conquistadors. The colonial governments codified the practices that existed without them.Report

            • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to LeeEsq
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              says:

              And of course slavery practiced in North America was gathered by chartered corporations such as the Royal African Company then handed over to again privately chartered companies like the various colonial companies. North American slavery was largely a for-profit enterprise conducted by private companies.Report

              • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Nob Akimoto
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                says:

                Slave trading was a big business and it was used to supprot some of the earliest mass luxury goods in early modern society, tobacco, sugar, and coffee. You could make a lot of money by provinding tobacco, sugar, and coffee to people. Slavery was especially important to sugar because very few people would willingly work on sugar plantation even for high wages since sugar production is really unpleseant work. Slavery and untouchability were the traditional ways societies dealt with necessary work that nobody wanted to do.

                The codification of slavery were usually attempts to mitigate the harshness of slavery. France’s Code Noir was an improvement over what existed beforehand. A badly implemented improvement but still an improvement.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to LeeEsq
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                says:

                The earliest luxury good in early modern society was honey. but that dates back to the Hanseatic league.Report

              • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Kimmi
                Ignored
                says:

                I don’t think honey fits into the mass luxury category, the same way that tobacco, sugar, and coffee do. First, the Middle Ages are not the Early Modern Period, which starts in the mid-1600s about the time period of the English Civil War or at earliest during James I reign. Honey was different because it wasn’t really a luxury good. It wasn’t exotic or that expensive compared to the other three goods at any time. It was also a lot easier to produce in Europe. Honey was always an everyday sort of good.

                Tobacco, sugar, coffee, and tea were mass luxury goods because they were exotic, started off very expensive and out of the reach of most people but became relatively affordable fast. They were produced in a somewhat industrial manner for agricultural goods if you see the plantation as a sort of agricultural factory. There weren’t any honey plantations, it was just grown with other crops on the farm.Report

      • Avatar James K in reply to Shazbot3
        Ignored
        says:

        Not true.

        Like most economists I use revealed preference as an initial measure of preferences. If a person chooses X over Y, I assume they prefer X to Y.

        So when I see a worker choosing the sweatshop over any of the other alternatives open to them, I assume they prefer the sweatshop to those alternative options. To do otherwise is to impose my own preferences onto them.

        You see how that doesn’t apply to slavery, right?Report

        • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to James K
          Ignored
          says:

          It can when you consider possibilities like indenture contracts and using personal freedom as a collateral for loan obligations. The latter in particular was the most common way of obtaining slaves in many societies, where you would agree to become a slave if you couldn’t meet your debt obligations. Given that under those circumstances becoming a slave or indentured servant are chosen statuses, I’m not certain you can use the “well slaves don’t choose to be slaves” type preference situation.Report

          • Avatar 975 in reply to Nob Akimoto
            Ignored
            says:

            Then maybe we need to distinguish between that kind of slavery and the type of slavery where you are physically coerced into it. Because if you can’t distinguish a difference between selling yourself into slavery and being captured and forced into slavery, you might not be suited to moral philosophy.Report

            • Avatar Stillwater in reply to 975
              Ignored
              says:

              Which reinforces the point that consequentialist considerations are not what justifies sweatshop labor practices, but rather something else. Presumably, that they’re voluntarily entered into. Which was exactly Shaz.s point, as far as the counter example with slavery goes.

              Or to put a fine point on Shaz’s point: if consequentialist considerations justify sweatshop labor, they justify slavery. So you’re essentially rejecting the consequentialist justification of sweathopping.Report

              • Avatar 975 in reply to Stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                I don’t follow the logic of that at all. And Shaz’s attempt at proving his point by simply replacing “sweatshop” with “slavery” had no logical validity. His substitution assumes sweatshops and slavery are similar enough to support the comparison, and so consequently it cannot prove their similarity. So the claim that if consequentialism justifies sweatshops it therefore justifies slavery remains unpersuasive. It’s been pointed out above that to persuade someone to work for you you must make their life better than otherwise. But true, or at least traditional slavery, depends on forcing people into slavery against their will, so it allows for actually making the person’s life much worse.

                If you or Shaz think those two consequences are really similar enough that a hustification of the first also justifies the latter, I am at a loss.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to 975
                Ignored
                says:

                It’s been pointed out above that to persuade someone to work for you you must make their life better than otherwise.

                That might be part of the disconnect here. I don’t think that has been pointed out. What’s been pointed out is that if a person chooses option B over A, then it’s reasonable to conclude that they prefer B over A. Revealed preference. It doesn’t follow from that their lives have been made better, only that they preferred one option over the other – presumably on the subjectively determined expectation that it would make their lives better.

                Another thing that ‘s been pointed out is that the causal conditions that people live in and the outcomes of various arrangements suggest that there’s an objective improvement in material conditions of people employed in sweatshops over the various alternatives they face. Insofar as the argument in the OP focuses on the causal conditions and objective outcomes of arrangements, then it justifies slavery as well as sweatshop labor. That means the argument is justifying too much, which in turn means that the argument isn’t narrow enough to justify only what it intends to justify.Report

              • Avatar 975 in reply to Stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                What’s been pointed out is that if a person chooses option B over A, then it’s reasonable to conclude that they prefer B over A. Revealed preference. It doesn’t follow from that their lives have been made better, only that they preferred one option over the other – presumably on the subjectively determined expectation that it would make their lives better.

                Uh huh, and this means what? Do you know of any better predictor of what will make a person’s life better than that person’s expectation? And if you’re looking for an actual demonstration of whether their expectations were right, you can just look at their subsequent decision–do they stick with that sweatshop job or do they quit to return to the status quo ante? If they stick, then the improvement is demonstrated. It’s really that straightforward.

                The post does not justify slavery. I don’t understand the argument you’re making here, nor am I sure you do. We know the sweatshop worker is better of because (if) she chooses and sticks with the job. But when a person is forced into slavery, we don’t have that kind of basis for judging that they are better off. In fact we can make a very good estimate that slavery doesn’t make the person better off or they wouldn’t have to be forced into it. So you have no basis for claiming the outcome argument for sweatshops also justifies slavery. You can only do so by refusing to recognize that difference in the outcomes.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to 975
                Ignored
                says:

                Huh. That didn’t end well.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to 975
                Ignored
                says:

                I mean, our conversing. You’re not.Report

              • Avatar 975 in reply to 975
                Ignored
                says:

                I’m not? Where exactly did I stop?Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to 975
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                says:

                I’m not sure I can explain to you why Shaz’s counter argument is sound. That you don’t see it as sound is a problem, of course, particularly because you keep conceding that his counter argument is sound but don’t realize it. I don’t know how to get out of this impasse.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to 975
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                says:

                “Sound”? Are you sure you don’t mean “valid”?Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to 975
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                says:

                Now, I meant sound. You might dispute the accuracy, of course.

                In fact, given that I’m a liberal, I’m sure you will.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to 975
                Ignored
                says:

                I’ve been thinking lately that libertarianism can be defined according to a version of Cleek’s Law: libertarianism in discussionscan be functionally defined as opposing whatever liberals believe, updated per discussion.

                Maybe I’ll write a post on it.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to 975
                Ignored
                says:

                Well, so long as we’ve established that not only is your logic good but your premises are true, what discussion is necessary?Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to 975
                Ignored
                says:

                There you go again, talking about things no one said.

                I said I think it’s sound, and that you – definitionally according to your ism-orientedness – wouldn’t.

                maybe you should read the thread before making claims about this stuff Jaybird. I’ve written plenty about Shaz’s argument. Every example given so far of why Shaz (and I, for agreeing with him!) is wrong confirms that he’s right, because those folks don’t know what a counter example is.

                But in the end, I don’t really care about pursuing it. I’ve done my best. That’s all anyone can do, yes?Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to 975
                Ignored
                says:

                I mean, it’s not like I’m trying to get anyone to act differently, you know?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to 975
                Ignored
                says:

                maybe you should read the thread before making claims about this stuff Jaybird

                If I did that, could I nitpick about the difference between how “it’s sound” and “I think it’s sound” come across to people who are being told that they aren’t really interested in discussion?Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to 975
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                says:

                Sure. It’d be a monologue.

                Have at it!Report

              • Avatar 975 in reply to 975
                Ignored
                says:

                So, this Stillwater tells me what I’m really saying, implies I am unable to understand, and yet accuses me of being the one who’s no longer discoursing.

                I’m speechless.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to 975
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                says:

                I’m right here 975. And I’ll answer whatever questions you have.Report

              • Avatar 975 in reply to 975
                Ignored
                says:

                First question is why you’re so insulting that you’ve twice accused me, in effect, of not being sincere in discussion.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to 975
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                says:

                Let’s let go of it then.Report

          • Avatar James K in reply to Nob Akimoto
            Ignored
            says:

            Even then, the freedom to quit makes a critical difference.

            If conditions get so bad the job isn’t worth it, you can quit. This means that at any point in time, we can conclude the job it most likely worth it to the worker. We can’t do that in an slavery situation.

            Furthermore, Shazbot made no effort to explain why slavery would be more efficient than hiring workers.Report

            • Avatar Stillwater in reply to James K
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              says:

              I’d say, speaking for Shaz here (since he’s on a siesta), that that’s exactly his point. The things you left out of the argument are the things the only things relevant to the distinction, and therefore, the only relevant things wrt justifying sweatshop labor.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                I’d say that “consent” is one of those things that changes the game. It changes “theft” to “gift” and it changes “slavery” to “a friggin’ job”. There’s probably another example I could use.

                If we don’t see “consent” as particularly relevant to the dynamic, well. I suppose we just don’t see consent as particularly relevant.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                If that’s right, then all the consequentialist, “they’d be starving-to-death, stealing, or selling blow jobs”, “who do you think you are?”, etc etc justifications are irrelevant. I’m down with that, actually. I also think that even if they chose it, it’s still a form of exploitation.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                Perhaps we should rephrase things. Just say “you didn’t build that” and leverage their excess labor for something more beneficial to everybody than starvation, stealing, or prostitution. We can even give them a little piece of the profits if they’re enthusiastic enough.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                No idea what that means.

                If it’s a sidewise slap at a concept of exploitation, then I think it’s in poor taste.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                If we’re willing to dismiss “consent”, I’m afraid that I’m rudderless when it comes to knowing what is and what is not in poor taste when it comes to exploitation.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                Dude, read the thread!Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                Hell, just do a control F “stillw” and readmy comments.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                I was going to say that I totally read the thread and saw that the libertarians were saying that there is a difference between sweatshops and slave labor and that the liberals were saying that, seriously, there aren’t but I must be drunk because, surely, the liberals wouldn’t be arguing that.

                Maybe I should come back to this particular discussion tomorrow when I have a clear head.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                Sure there’s a difference between sweatshop labor and slave labor. But here’s the interesting thing, Jaybird: the specific arguments James’ make in the OP didn’t attempt to justify sweatshop labor – as opposed to slave labor! – by that difference. He went another route. One which, it so happens, justifies slave labor.

                {{{Go read Shaz substitution post.}}} {{{waiting}}}

                So, to make things overly clear for a person who is actually intelligent enough to realize the distinction except for the fact that he’s ideologically blinded by his ismness and singularly concerned with changing how people act – slavery (as it’s usually understood) is actually distinct from sweatshop labor (as it’s usually understood). One is voluntary, the other isn’t. Even liberals – yes, I know that’s hard to believe! – realize this!

                So the complaint against James’ argument isn’t that he conflated the two things, Jaybird. {I mean really, aren’t liberals the crew who invented the word “conflation”? Surely we know what it means.} It’s that the justifications he as a matter of fact gave – not the only or total or conceivable or imaginable! justifications – for sweatshop labor also justified slave labor.

                So, you know, come up with some other ones.

                Oh, like the ones you’ve been bandying about.Report

              • Avatar James K in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                The problem with Shazbot’s substitution is that slavery isn’t necessary for economic development, since our actual world seems to function without it.

                But let’s say it was, let’s say that it really was impossible for a country to grow beyond grinding poverty without allowing slavery. Would I oppose slavery? How could I knowing the price? I would want to find some way of making that slavery period as short as possible, maybe even try to find an alternative, but development economics has a terrible track-record for success.

                Opposition to slavery is written into economics DNA, but that’s in our world where we can do without. In an alternative world where we couldn’t? It would be a much harder call.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                The problem with Shazbot’s substitution is that slavery isn’t necessary for economic development, since our actual world seems to function without it.

                I recall reading about a place where slavery was necessary for the economy, so much so that the entrepreneurs there fought a war to preserve it.Report

              • Avatar James K in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                Slavery wasn’t merely an economic matter in the US, if it was I doubt the Civil War would have happened. Thanks to the 3/5ths compromise, slaves added to a slave state’s congressional representation (and electoral college), but since the slaves couldn’t vote, that extra electoral power accrued to the free people living in that state.

                Slavery gave the southern states outsized political power over the federal government, no wonder they fought to keep it.Report

              • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                The outsized political power that…uh didn’t win them the presidency and therefore made them fear that they’d face an abolitionist Congress?

                The slavery issue really was primarily an economic one for the secessionists, it was a fundamental bedrock foundation of their economic model. They were convinced abolition would ruin them. And it’s easy to see why when you look at how much capital was tied into their most valued asset which were slaves. This isn’t even remotely controversial outside of lost causer dead enders.Report

              • Avatar James K in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                And their response to realising they had lost their political dominance was to secede. Understand, I’m not running a “Sate Rights” argument here, nor am I suggesting the South had a legitimate grievance. The Southern States didn’t want to be part of a USA they didn’t control.

                The economic distinction I’m trying to make here is between “A bunch of people have wealth tied up in slavery, so emancipation would make them poorer” and “slavery was a superior economic model”, someone always stands to lose when an economy changes, that doesn’t mean the old way was more efficient than the new.Report

              • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                Understood.

                In so far as creating high margin plantation labor, slavery probably was a superior economic model. That things like it and serfdom survived as long as they did into the 19th century suggests automation only really outstripped them past a certain point after industrialization began and started driving them into relative obsolescence.

                Today we’re starting to see higher levels of production automation starting to make up the gap between it and cheap unskilled labor. It’s not fully noticeable yet, because wage gaps still are substantial enough between countries that it doesn’t solve the problem, but combining increasing transportation costs with quality controls and other external costs associated with investment/supply reliance on developing countries (like political instability) sourcing domestically with automated factories might start making more sense, at least for the US.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                Slavery was very much an economic matter. The main thing the South needed from the federal government was not to interfere with slavery. Which is why one of the few restrictions on states’ rights in the Confederate constitution was that no state could outlaw slavery, and why the secessions came when someone was elected whose policy was, not to end slavery, but to confine it to the states where it was already present, i.e. keep Southern capital out of the territories.Report

              • Avatar clawback in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                Slavery was indeed an efficient system in the context of the South. From an economic point of view, one need only ask why it persisted otherwise. If one could produce cotton cheaper with free labor, why didn’t it happen? The historical fact is that most white opposition to slavery was economic; they objected to competition from slave labor. Abolitionists motivated by racial tolerance and humanitarian concerns were a very small minority.Report

              • Avatar James K in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                More profitable for slave owners is not the same as more efficient. Efficiency considers the wellbeing of everyone involved, including the slaves. Slaver was better for slave owners because they got a larger share of the returns, that’s not the same thing as being more efficient.Report

              • Avatar clawback in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                Which type of efficiency are you referring to here? I’m not aware of any that would apply.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                I’m curious about that too. I had a long answer to this but I’ll wait for James to weigh in before saying something ridiculous.Report

              • Avatar James K in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                Kaldor-Hicks efficiency. That’s what pretty much every economist means when they say “efficiency”.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                I wish to criminy economists would quit using the word Efficiency. The word they want is Effectiveness. Pinching terms from honest physics and mathematics and stirring them into their astrological gumbo, it would be funny if it wasn’t so dangerous.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                James, this is from the Wiki link:

                Using Kaldor–Hicks efficiency, an outcome is more efficient if those that are made better off could in theory compensate those that are made worse off, so that a Pareto improving outcome results. For example, a voluntary exchange that creates pollution would be a Kaldor–Hicks improvement if the buyers and sellers are still willing to carry out the transaction even if they have to fully compensate the victims of the pollution.

                Could you clarify that passage. It’s incoherent, on my reading. One on measure, K-H efficiency only requires the theoretical possibility of compensating those made worse off. On the other, it requires actually doing so. {{Confuzzled.}}Report

              • Avatar James K in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                It merely requires that they could compensate the losers, not that they actually have to do so. It’s just a formal way of starting that the gains must exceed the losses, but without having to resort to unobservables like utility.

                This is why you generally don’t use efficiency as the sole criterion for good policy. Since it doesn’t address equality at all, those concerns have to be accounted for separately.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                Then a sweatshop is K-H efficient only if it would remain profitable if it compensated workers for the odd severed limb or their survivors for the occasional immolation (whether or not it actually does so being irrrelevant.) I see that, but it raises a question about why requiring it to do so (or equivalently, invest in safety features that make the payouts less likely) is a problem.

                Obviously, if country A required this expense but not country B, the sweatshops would move to B. We have to consider a blanket, international requirement. Is this ill-advised because:

                1. Sweatshops are K-H efficient, but to exist need the extra profitability of not so compensating their workers, (i.e. low wages are not a sufficient reason for their existence) or

                2. Sweatshops are not K-H efficient and would become unprofitable if worker safety were mandated.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                It merely requires that they could compensate the losers, not that they actually have to do so. It’s just a formal way of starting that the gains must exceed the losses, but without having to resort to unobservables like utility.

                I’m not sure that constitutes an improvement on Pareto efficiency, so you’ll have to educate me. 🙂

                PE relies on an objective measure of being made better or worse off. In the case of K-H E, not only are gains determined subjectively (by revealed preferences, choices that may in fact entail being made worse off by objective metrics), but efficiency seems to merely require that Pareto efficiency is theoretically possible. Of course, Pareto efficiency is always theoretically possible, even if we assume PE as our metric. So I’m not sure I see any utility in this except that it (seems to me!) to exclude objective data from being a relevant metric.

                But that can’t be correct, can it?Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                Mike, if I’m understanding you correctly, what you said strikes me as pretty much my worry as well, tho I think I come at it from a different angle. If sweatshops are K-H E, then either it’s because monetary metrics (and not revealed preferences!) establish that gains outweigh losses, but that in theory those losses could be supplemented but in fact aren’t.

                The fact that those losses aren’t supplemented is the interesting issue in this discussion. Not that they could be. I mean, we all know that they could be, right? So the question is why not do it?”Report

              • Avatar clawback in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                But slavery in the U.S. was in fact Kaldor–Hicks efficient, as revealed by the fact the slaveholders repeatedly and vociferously rejected any attempt to end it through buyouts.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                clawback, I see what you’re saying, but I don’t think that makes slavery in the US KH efficient. I think it’s that the losses suffered by slaves could have been offset by compensation offered by slaveholders or ancillary beneficiaries of that practice.

                So by the measure that the losses could have been offset, slavery is/was justified.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                Not mention that the benefits outweighed the costs…Report

              • Avatar James K in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                Ok, this is getting difficult to reply to now, so I’m taking this to the bottom of the thread.Report

        • Avatar NewDealer in reply to James K
          Ignored
          says:

          Just because someone prefers X over Y does not mean that X is any good. It does not mean a civilized society or world should allow X because it is the least bad of a whole range of bad options.

          “You see how that doesn’t apply to slavery, right?”

          “Become a slave or we will burn your entire family at the stake.” Becoming a slave becomes the X over Y in this case, doesn’t it?Report

  12. Avatar Shazbot3
    Ignored
    says:

    I changed “sweatshop labour” to “slave labour” and found that the premises don’t justify the conclusions.

    Whatever is wrong with the argument below about slavery will be wrong with the argument in the OP:

    —-

    Exploitation is a tricky word, and one with no universally-accepted definition. Because of this innate ambiguity, I can’t say as a definite fact that there is no exploitation in slave owning cotton farms, that up to your own conscience. But my firm conviction is that slavery per se is not exploitation for the following reasons:

    As much as we may recoil from slave labour, we do so from the privileged position of having better alternatives. Slave work is highly sought after in poor countries, because the alternatives – such as prostitution or picking through landfills for salvage (yes, even for children) are far less pleasant and pay far worse. It’s true that the popularity of slavery is driven by desperation. But you know what doesn’t help desperate people? Making them more desperate by taking their best option (slavery) away.

    The main reason we are in a privileged position economically is that we went through a period of growth that included slavery. There is a progression countries go through to get richer – agriculture, to slave labor, to wage-labour-intensive industry to capital-intensive industry to post-industrial. Slave labor work is no fun – productivity is low and therefore wages can’t be paid and only minimal living conditions are maintained, but slavery is a lot more fun than being stuck doing pre-industrial agriculture forever, where the work is just as brutal and one bad harvest can mean the death of your family.

    The low productivity of slave labour explains the lack of wages and minimal living conditions its workers receive. This means that slave owners aren’t going to pay their workers wages more because the value of the slave’s work isn’t high enough to justify paying wages. This applies to a lot of safety equipment, and in fact anything that increases the cost of deploying a slave in work, like paying them wages or giving them rights to negotiate for wages for better working conditions. Slave owners will not put more into a worker than they get out. That’s not a big deal in wealthy countries since the cost of routine safety equipment, paying wages, and allowing workers to negotiate is small relative to worker productivity. But in a poor country, it’s entirely possible to force a slaves net marginal productivity below 0, and if that happens, no one will enslave them.

    I know some people still oppose slavery on more of a deontological basis, arguing that no one should be treated that way, even if its an improvement over what came before and even if it leads to greater prosperity in the future. All I can say to that is:

    Just Price Theory makes no economic sense because value is inherently subjective, nothing is “really worth” anything, and that includes people’s right to be free. If a person considers themselves better off than without slavery, the burden of proof is on you to demonstrate otherwise.

    I firmly believe that forcing an end to slavery would result in millions of poor people, now and in the future, being trapped in abject poverty indefinitely. Consider what abolishing slavery would look like from the perspective of the people who are actually being affected. A group of entitled, rich westerners rush in and destroy their position in life and sabotage their country’s (the southern states) economy and call it justice. It’s the global 1% coming in to kick them in the teeth in order to feel better about themselves. From that perspective its not just wrong, it’s evil.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Shazbot3
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      says:

      Very clever, Shaz. You get special philosophical bonus points. +5 Kierkegaard’s!Report

    • Avatar North in reply to Shazbot3
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      says:

      Doesn’t work from any angle as I read it.

      Slave labor is pretty much the definition of exploitation. There is benefit on one side and absolutely no (in fact negative) benefit on the other. Sweatshop labor yields benefits to both parties (but the benefits to one may well be significantly larger than the benefit to the other).

      Slave labor requires forcible coercion. No one willingly volunteers to be forced to work with no compensation of any kind. Sweatshops on the other hand do not, as a rule, force their employees in the door. In general sweatshop jobs are sought after by the workers. I’d note this is one of the things that makes unionizing them so difficult. The employers can replace the labor quickly and easily.

      The historical switcheroo also collapses into nonsense. Not every country or economy in history has gone through a period where slavery was used for economic development. One could argue, I suppose, that goods produced by slavery were bought and sold everywhere on the planet but that’s pretty weak tea.

      Beyond that it just descents into garble. I don’t think the switch works at all, sorry.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to North
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        says:

        There is benefit on one side and absolutely no (in fact negative) benefit on the other.

        Three squares and a bed? Against the alternative – prostitution and garbage picking ….?Report

        • Avatar North in reply to Stillwater
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          says:

          My, you have a high opinion of slave owners Still. Why would the slaves not be sexually assaulted and fed garbage? Not to mentioned chained in boxes to help keep them in line when not working?Report

          • Avatar Stillwater in reply to North
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            says:

            Ahh, yes. That’s why I gave Shaz philosophy bonus points. He’s making a conceptual point, not an evidential one.Report

            • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater
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              says:

              Empirical. Whevs.Report

            • Avatar North in reply to Stillwater
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              says:

              I guess? But the conceptual point strikes me as entirely incoherent. If Shaz replaced Sweat shop with Jewish would this then mean he’s conclusively proven that sweat shops are antisemitic?Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to North
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                says:

                He’s demonstrating that slavery is justified by all the criteria employed in the OP argument. Insofar as we think slavery cannot be justified, his argument constitutes a reductio of one of the premises, and a counter-example to the argument. Those are decisive, generally speaking.

                Now, subtle shadings about what constitutes slavery practices aren’t really relevant, since Shaz is saying “here’s the concept of slavery, and if I plug it into this argument, it is justified.” That’s a problem. Not for Shaz, but for the OP.Report

              • Avatar North in reply to Stillwater
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                says:

                Subtle shadings? The concept of slavery doesn’t fit in at all into the OP, it doesn’t make sense when you switch the words. Slavery is coercive, sweatshops are not. Sweatshops leave both parties better off than they were before, Slavery does not. Every modern economy has passed through a period when they were dependent on sweatshop labor, not every modern economy has had a period when they were dependent on slave labor.

                Those are not a minor shading or a subtle distinctions as far as I can see. I just don’t get what I’m missing. Perhaps I need more philosophy to see how something that is directly forcefully coercive is the same as something that is not.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to North
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                says:

                Your subtle shadings were, “sexually assaulted and fed garbage”. That is a pretty good summary of what individuals employed in sweatshops experience even as we speak. Oh well.

                So, the distinction is that slaves were coerced and sweatshop employees weren’t. Let’s suppose that’s right. If so, then the entire argument James made is irrelevant. The consequentialist arguments justifying sweatshops, the practical arguments, efficiency arguments, etc etc, are all worthless and irrelevant. The only argument that justifies the practice – because it’s the only relevant difference! – is that the transaction was mutually agreed upon. But that wasn’t James argument in the OP. It was consequentialist.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater
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                says:

                Actually, I gave too much to the other side here. Even slavery could be mutually agreed upon. So I think it’s even worse than I initially imagined.Report

              • Avatar North in reply to Stillwater
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                says:

                To the first paragraph I’m gonna have to say citation needed. That sexual abuses happen in sweat shops is given but that it’s so wide spread that it can be considered inherent to the practice is one heck of a leap. To being fed garbage, AFAIK sweatshops don’t feed their employees at all, the employees provide their own food.

                The distinction is that not a single paragraph of Shaz’s replaced example makes a bit of sense. Every paragraph collapses when you do the word replacement; either as demonstrably false or as utterly incoherent. I ask again, if I do the word replacement and put in Jewish Labor have I philosophically demonstrated that sweatshop labor is antisemitic?

                I’d just like the record to show for when one of the libertarians shows up on this thread that at least one liberal thinks this is gibberish.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater
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                says:

                No, North. All it justifies is employing Jewish labor. Jews are a category of people. Slavery is a category of labor.Report

              • Avatar North in reply to Stillwater
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                says:

                I knew I should have gone with lobsters.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater
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                says:

                I knew I should have gone with lobsters.

                Oh I hear ya. I’m about to go out for a birthday celebration to our local seafood restaurant. I’m getting … lobster!Report

              • Avatar North in reply to Stillwater
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                says:

                Curse you. Foiled again!Report

              • Avatar Shazbot3 in reply to North
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                says:

                ” Every modern economy has passed through a period when they were dependent on sweatshop labor”

                FalseReport

              • Avatar North in reply to Shazbot3
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                says:

                Okay, which ones? If I had to pick a first world country out I’d say maybe Israel since it was founded pretty much post industrial revolution? Other than that I’m drawing a blank.Report

              • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to Shazbot3
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                says:

                Saskatchewan.Report

              • Avatar North in reply to Shazbot3
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                says:

                Bunk. You’re not even trying. Canada went through a sweatshop phase just like the rest of the West. In the cities you had high labor low margin sweatshop factories; in the countryside you had company towns and other rampant abuses.Report

              • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to Shazbot3
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                says:

                Where were the sweatshops in Sask?Report

              • Avatar North in reply to Shazbot3
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                says:

                If you’re asking where the sweatshops were in Canada they were in the cities.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Shazbot3
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                says:

                Shaz, I think it is true. Sweatshops always precede factories in the economic cycle: factories form when there’s enough stable demand to warrant building factories.

                Factories are about capital and logistics. There’s a balancing act, sorta like those Calder mobiles: you’ve got to have raw feedstock for the mills, you need electricity to power the motors, you need a stable, sufficiently educated workforce and the resources they need. You need a distribution network. You need stable government which won’t hit you up for bribes all the time, predictable taxation, convertible currency, banking systems, telephone and internet infrastructure.

                Sweatshops can only grow to a certain size before they must become factories. But they have to be able to grow: in the absence of any of the factors in the previous paragraph, all you get is more sweatshops. Sweatshops are inefficient, I’ve said this before. They demand too much of the worker. They can’t produce complex products which require assembly lines and large-scale capital investments. Sweatshops don’t work where you have to produce high quality goods and services: they’re only good for piece work because that’s how they pay out.

                Factories can be as abusive as sweatshops. But sweatshops don’t have to be abusive. I keep making this point and folks just will go on babbling about how Sweatshops Are Abusive. Cooperatives are just sweatshops under a different name.Report

      • Avatar Shazbot3 in reply to North
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        says:

        “Sweatshop labor yields benefits to both parties”

        Slave labor yields the exact same putative economic benefit as sweatshop labor: slightly improved living conditions and material wealth than that which would exist without the slave-enterprise, e.g. cotton plantations. (There may be a difference in degree.)

        Slave labor also yields similar moral and political costs: violation of rights, sexual abuses going unpunished, children being abused, instability in social arrangements, increased likelihood of civil unrest, etc. (Again, there may be a difference in degree.)

        “Slave labor requires forcible coercion. No one willingly volunteers to be forced to work with no compensation of any kind. Sweatshops on the other hand do not, as a rule, force their employees in the door.”

        This is sort of a half-truth (as you seem to recognize with “as a rule”) In many places people are sold into, sometimes willingly selling themselves into, slavery. They go to benefit themselves (their family can’t feed them) and their families (their family gets a fee). (This is how modern sex slavery often works, sadly.)

        Moreover, in many places, sweatshop labor is as forced as slavery, or nearly so. Children cannot consent to labor. Often women are violently coerced into work by family members. In some places, traditional farms have been destroyed or appropriated by vicious governments, all but forcing people into factory labor or starve. In many places, workers are kept in jobs via “factory store” style debt, where you always end up owing the company and can never pay your debts.

        —-

        Again, the mistake in the OP and in North’s defesne is thinking that sweatshop labor is just low paying work that workers willing agree to. If that were so, the workers should have the right to willingly enter into unions and bargain for work and their negotiating shouldn’t be a problem.

        No one has a problem with offering low paying jobs that people can willingly turn down. They have a problem with sweatshop labor’s practices that are analogous to the abuses of slavery: removal of rights to bargain (either aided by local undemocratic governments or enabled by government’s turning a blind eye), sexual abuse, the employment of children who cannot consent to work, etc.Report

        • Avatar North in reply to Shazbot3
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          says:

          This is some serious cherry picking going on here. You’re talking about the worst of the worst kinds of sweat shop labor and again certainly not the majority nor even close to the majority of it. The same goes for sexual abuse etc.

          Also slavery is generally instituted and enforced by the government. Sweatshops don’t employ the government to force people to work for them. Now I agree that families often force their kids and women to work in sweat shops. But then your issue should be with impoverished cultures not with sweatshops.

          Workers can try to unionize.. but if their societies are insufficiently developed, if labor is too replacable and if the government is too crooked and too unresponsive to popular will than the unionization will fail. I’m entirely in favor of workers unionizing andReport

          • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to North
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            says:

            The thing is that when you look empirically, most of what is called “sweatshop” labor is just that awful.

            The merely low-paying, nice type is the rarity.Report

            • Avatar North in reply to Shazbot5
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              says:

              So you are saying that the significant majority of sweatshop labor is sexually abusive, the significant majority of it takes place in toxic unsafe environments and that sweatshop labor is much more common that merely low wage labor in the developing world.
              I disagree with all of those assertions, could you cite where you’re getting your numbers from?Report

              • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to North
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                says:

                I’m saying the majority are abusive and the abuse can take a vairiety of forms.

                I conclude that you’re uncharitable interpretation that I think a majority are sexually abusive is sufficient evidence to conclude you are no longer arguing in good faith, but just not picking and throwing up a wall of distractions.

                Exeunt Shazbot.Report

              • Avatar Johanna in reply to Shazbot5
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                says:

                Are you seriously saying North is arguing in bad faith, at the point where you are the one making grand assertions without citations? Hope you get some sleep and wake up realizing that any claim of North arguing in bad faith is plain silly.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to North
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        says:

        “Slave labor is pretty much the definition of exploitation.”

        Obviously that depends on your definition of exploitation. It seems to me it’s more likely to be a rather special and extreme (and therefore most unmistakable) form of exploitation (though possibly under some definitions, it makes more sense to actually distinguish cases of outright threat, coercion, or extortion or physical enslavement from exploitation; I don’t think it’s clear whether those are instances of a large category of exploitation or are different from it), but if nothing short of outright coercive slavery amounts to exploitation under your definition of exploitation, then I guess that can be your definition of the term.

        Perhaps what you meant was that slave labor is a clear case of exploitation – that’s how it reads to me. But since the thing we were discussing was precisely the definition of exploitation, I wanted to point out that unless you really mean to say that enslavement is pretty much the minimum degree of exercise of power by people seeking to have human labor done for their purposes necessary for them to be exploiting someone, that since you said that slavery is “pretty much the definition” of exploitation, perhaps you don’t really mean to say that slave labor is actually the definition of exploitation. But maybe you do.Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Shazbot3
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      says:

      Voluntary labor has a very important safeguard that coerced labor lacks: The fact that it’s voluntary means that the employer must make the worker a better offer than the his next-best alternative. This essentially guarantees that the arrangement is mutually beneficial, not just relative to a baseline of zero, but relative to the next-best alternative for each party. Since the sum of two positive numbers is always positive, this necessarily increases total welfare.

      Slavery has no such safeguard. Since the slaveholder doesn’t need to convince the slave to work for him voluntarily, he can (and very likely does) make the slave worse off on net. Likely much worse off, such that the slave’s loss is much greater than the slaveholder’s gain, resulting in a net reduction of total welfare.

      Sure, I suppose free labor is kind of like slavery, if you hand-wave away the primary thing that differentiates them. I mean, they’re both kinds of work, right?

      If a pug were ten times as big, it would practically be a mastiff. That doesn’t mean it would make a good guard dog.Report

    • Avatar 975 in reply to Shazbot3
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      says:

      I changed “sweatshop labour” to “slave labour” and found that the premises don’t justify the conclusions.

      I changed a key term, and found that the logic no longer works. That’s not a strong form of argumentation.Report

      • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to 975
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        says:

        Reductio.Report

        • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Shazbot5
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          says:

          3 more Kierkegards.Report

        • Avatar Murali in reply to Shazbot5
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          says:

          A reductio of an argument is only successfully done if even after the substitution, the premises are still true but the conclusion is false. That is because the purpose of a reductio is to show the invalidity of the reasoning.

          As I indicate below, that the premises (after susbstitution) are not true is a legitimate and successful response to an attempted reductio.

          That we cannot non-question beggingly in this case show the conclusion (after substitution) to be false makes the reductio less than perfectly sound.

          That post substitution, the conclusion may actually be true further weakens the argument. All Shazbot gets from the attempted reductio is an intuition pump about utilitarianism.Report

    • Avatar Murali in reply to Shazbot3
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      says:

      Shaz, in such a world in which this argument were true, the argument would work. Slavery would be justified even if it was exploitative.

      But such a world is very far away from ours. It may seem counter-intuitive that the wrongness of slavery only rests on some accidental properties about how people benefit, but that is true of all moral properties.

      Suppose that sticking a knife between someone’s ribs actually cured cancer and allowed people to live long and active lives, then sticking a knife between someone’s ribs would not be wrong.

      The fact that slavery is not a phase that societies must go through in order to progress, that it in practice tends to be worse than many of the actual options out there etc etc are perhaps some the really bad makingg features of slavery.

      What if slavery did not have those features? If it could still be counted as slavery and still be among the best available options for many, lots of people will be signing up. If lots of people are signing up for slavery, do we really want to call it slavery? If we do, do we want to say that this kind of slavery is always a bad thing that should never be permitted?

      If we don’t want to call this thing that is better than all the other options slavery, and we want to use the word slavery only to apply that horrible thing over there, then the word susbstitution does not work as that would make the whole argument incoherent. Becuase then your argument would be of the following form:

      Because X-which-necessarily-lacks-property-P has property P, X is justified.Report

  13. Avatar Shazbot3
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    says:

    The problem is that given that we don’t have international standards for what constitutes exploitative labor practices, there is an economic incentive to engage in sweatshop labor in certain countries with a lot of inefficient agrarian labor. And there is no incentive not to stop the worst instances of sexual, environmental, and child abuse.

    I see very little evidence to suggest that the economic benefits always get transferred to the poor over time. This happens sometimes, but there are cases where the cost savings of the low pay and bad conditions get eaten up by a rentier class who hold the money out of the country or within rich enclaves of the country in question. The social problems that can result from that level of inequality are well documented.

    Again, no one is arguing that all low paying jobs in low-income countries are a bad thing. These jobs often constitute an improvement over poorer agrarian working conditions. But if the low wage laborers themselves aren’t treated well, if their rights to negotiate for slightly higher wages or better conditions are oppressed (often violently) the country does not become better off in the long run than it would have been had it developed its economy along an alternative, less exploitative path.

    The ideal solution is to pass international trade standards that allow international companies to pay low wages, but require an international body monitor that there is

    a.) no child labor (not much cost savings there anyway),

    b.) enough of a wage to provide minimal food and shelter in that place (pretty cheap) if an individual works 55 hours,

    c.) externality costs of environmental damage be priced into factory costs,

    c.) no sexual exploitation (no cost savings in raping people)

    d.) no violent oppression of worker organizations. (if the principle is that the individuals prefer the job to not having it, the union should be able to negotiate with the company out of self-interest to reach the best deal for all involved)

    I am somewhat sympathetic with not boycotting. Not because, as the OP suggests, that boycotts are counterproductive. Rather, I think boycotts are just ineffective in the absence of enforceable international standards (the abusing company will just rename itself and move to slip the boycott). Our political efforts should be on enforcing strong labor protections, which won’t hurt low-wage workers, which is entirely plausible.Report

    • Avatar North in reply to Shazbot3
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      says:

      I remain skeptical that it’d work. Set aside for a moment the towering fact that no government in the undeveloped world would ever sign onto such a program and that it would, in essence be an imposition by developed former colonial nations onto by and large their former ward and client state countries.

      Setting that aside the practical issues remain daunting. Any international scheme would be either so toothless as to be easily subverted and circumvented by both companies, eager workers and local governments or else it’d be so intrusive, expensive and costly that it’d likely become massively unpopular both in the developed and the undeveloped world. I’d note also that an effective nation labor standards program like this would become a massive target of corporate lobbying and there’s very little to no democratic accountability in international bodies to counter such influences.

      To be honest this reads like the prelude to a dystopia more than anything else.. or maybe a brief for founding some kind of world government.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to North
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        says:

        They’d sign on if the United States made it a condition for trading with us.

        The colonial/imperial critique is fine if it’s what you want to focus on. So we’d be imperially enforcing our will on other governments that they enforce some basic worker safety, prevention of abuse, maybe a very modest basic wage ($.25 an hour? less? – but I doubt we’d ever take on the wage question thru that kind of approach). Fine. It’s either a good idea or it isn’t, and the imperial echoes either bother you or they don’t. To the first, I’m not sure and to the second, if I become convinced of the affirmative on the first, no they wouldn’t. As Nob says, those echoes reverberate through all aspects of the world we’ve made. You can either roll with it or you can’t.Report

        • Avatar North in reply to Michael Drew
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          says:

          Maybe MD, or possibly they’d retaliate with protectionism against things the developed world exports to them. The third world maintains trade barriers against first world financial services and other such things at least partially as retaliation for the first world’s agricultural subsidies.

          Now maybe it’s me but I think that if the first world rolled into town and informed the developing world that we’d decided that they were required to outsource control of their national labor policies to an First World appointed UN agency that’d engender a lot of bad will (on top of likely not achieving the ends it seeks).Report

          • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to North
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            says:

            Perhaps they’d do both, and perhaps it would indeed be bad policy from an economic perspective (I’m well aware that’s the orthodox view). I wasn’t taking up that question. I was just saying that there is likely plenty of leverage in the rich world to make the imposition and acceptance of such standards at least within the realm of the plausible – it’s not just pure fantasy that such policies could ever even be put in place. (Indeed, conditions like this are often part of trade agreements in the world that exists.) And as Nob has said, if we’re going to make the straightforward appeal to the echoes of imperialism, then we ought not necessarily judge how those echoes are regarded as heard by the world’s present governments, but rather as heard by its people. But as I said, I don’t really care that much about that question anyway. If it wouldn’t help anyone or would hurt them, then it shouldn’t be done. That’s pretty much the entire question for me. The imperial ship has sailed. It’s all Empire now.Report

    • Avatar James K in reply to Shazbot3
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      says:

      Our political efforts should be on enforcing strong labor protections, which won’t hurt low-wage workers, which is entirely plausible.

      There’s our primary disagreement. I worry that trying to force too many protection too quickly will simply drive the multinationals back to Western countries. That could trap the workers you’re trying to save in abject poverty.Report

      • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to James K
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        says:

        You mean you don’t want to force undemocratic governments into stopping violating the rights ofindividuals to form unions. They already have that right, we’re not forcing anyone to have that right, and their governments, in collusion with the local wealthy and with multinationals, are violating that right in many places with sweatshops.

        Indeed, just like governments had to act to create the legal basis for slavery by removing the right to not do a certain kind of work, a lot of governments had to act to create the right to free association and the formation of collective bargaining. Slavery is worse, but only in degree. (Also, in rare cases force is used to keep sweatshop workers in place and it wasn’t always used in slavery. Sex slaves in some places “could” run away in theory, but they are still mistreated. The question of whether someone is willingly doing something when economic desperation is their reason is a vexed question, to say the least.)

        If individual workers have an incentive to keep their jobs they can give compromise when they have pushed too far on wages to make sure the company doesn’t leave, and they can bargain collectively, they can negotiate to get more of the profit for themselves and get their safety concerns met, while also not bankrupting their employer.

        —–

        That said, let’s forget the slavery analogy. The details of it are just resulting in a bunch of argumentative wild goose chases (IMO, this is not the analogy’s fault, but that doesn’t matter.)

        Let’s refocus.

        1. Do you think that all low-paying factory jobs in third world countries are sweatshops?

        2. Do you think that sexual abuse and child labor save factories money? And do you think that children can consent to work or that sexually abusive workplaces are consented to just because people stay in them for lack of a better alternative

        3. Do you think companies should always be forced to pay the cost of environmental externalities (which they can pass on to consumers or not) and shouldn’t be able to use the lack of international laws to pollute locally and globally without paying the cost of the pollution?

        4. Do you think that sweatshops are good in cases where the workers have freely chosen that work because their freedoms to do as they see fit should always be respected (including their freedom to associate and bargain collectively)?

        If you answered 1. No 2. No and God No! 3. Yes 4. Yes

        then we agree on principles.

        To meet those principles, I would like to pass laws that ban sexual abusive workplaces (like the sex trade is so abusive in many places), difficult child factory labor, fines for all companies that pollute locally and globally, and a refusal to enter freer trade with any company that doesn’t respect the universal right to a.) not be enslaved, b.) enter into free associations with other workers to bargain collectively,

        I and most anti-sweatshop people are not against free trade and low paying factory labor. We are against unnecessary sexual abuse, child abuse, environmental degradations, and are for requiring our trade partners to respect the universal right to worker organization.Report

  14. Avatar Shazbot3
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    says:

    Let me correct one of your claims to make it more accurate to reflect what we’re really talking about:

    “No undemocratic government in the undeveloped world would ever sign onto such a program and that it would, in essence be an imposition by developed former colonial nations onto wealthy government officials and wealthy owners in undemocratic countries who seek to prevent their workers from organizing for slightly better working conditions and wages.”

    I am okay with imposing on wealthy people in undemocratic countries the requirement that they don’t violently crack down on workers organizing if they want to be part of freer trade internationally. That is hardly a colonialist, freedom-killing imposition, especially if it is applied universally. I’m asking that countries engaging in international trade offer minimal rights to organize labor to allow laborers to collectively bargain with employers. NB: This doesn’t happen in the worst cases of sweatshop labor. Any democratically elected country would vote for such protections, and such protections don’t exist in places where they are wanted.

    Spare me the false outrage and bad analogy with colonialism. (If anything colonial exploitation of colonized labor and resources was a lot more like contemporary sweatshop labor than requiring certain labor laws to enter into freer trade deals).

    “I remain skeptical that it’d work.”

    You shouldn’t be, though we will have to start with small experiments and ramp up.

    I think international labor standards will work like minimum wage laws locally (which non-experts are similarly skeptical about, IMO.) A minimum wage can be a very good thing for economic growth in the short and long term if you don’t set it too high, e.g. 50 dollars an hour in the U.S. The same would be true with an international minimum wage (adjusted for costs of living) or an international minimum on workers bargaining rights and worker safety. As long as the minimums are weak enough to not push all the factories out of business entirely and as long as there is a mechanism for punishing free riders on the system, there will be a slow, gradual push to improved wealth in developing countries that will occur more quickly and reliably than in the absence of such minimal standards.Report

    • Avatar North in reply to Shazbot3
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      says:

      Shaz I’m not outraged or indignant, I just am puzzled that you don’t see how imperialist this proposal is. The point is that it is, once again, wealthy powerful countries dictating to poor less powerful countries what their policies are to be. If you don’t see a parallel to colonialism that’s fine but it seems pretty obvious to me.

      As to the rest of it, you’ve pretty much ignored the substantive criticisms so I don’t really have anything to argue with.Report

    • Avatar North in reply to Shazbot3
      Ignored
      says:

      To your correction, Shaz, I’d submit that you’re utterly incorrect. I don’t see any plausible reason why any of the third world democratic countries would sign control over their labor policies over willingly to an international bodies.

      As to the wealthy in developing nations, well that’s just economically incoherent. This policy would fall hardest on corporate multinationals and on poor workers in sweatshops and low margin manufacturing. The wealthy in third world make most of their dough off of corruption or especially off of primary resource extraction. If anything a policy driving low margin manufacturing out of third world countries would help the wealthy. It’d keep their countries poor, their people unemployed and desperate and their governments corrupt and pliable. Ideal conditions for maintaining control of the oil, diamonds, copper etc…Report

    • Avatar James K in reply to Shazbot3
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      says:

      A minimum wage can be a very good thing for economic growth in the short and long term if you don’t set it too high, e.g. 50 dollars an hour in the U.S.

      What are you basing that on?Report

        • Avatar James K in reply to Shazbot5
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          says:

          That has nothing to do with economic growth, and the article doesn’t consider that a guaranteed minimum income is better than even the combination of EITC and minimum wages.Report

          • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to James K
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            says:

            Seriously?

            Sorry to vent, but…

            The post I linked to and the posts and papers it links to suggest that in the current environment (and in many similar economic environments) raising the minimum wage (the question is how much to raise it) does not have much, if any, of a noticeable effect on unemployment.

            Now, it sort of goes without saying, that increasing the minimum wage will increase consumer spending, especially in the current environment and lots of others. Do you want to deny that, James?

            Of course, the paper doesn’t explicitly say “an increase in the minimum wage will increase GDP.” But if you can increase wage earnings and therefore also consumer spending, especially in a down economy that is depressed by low consumer spending, without effecting employment, it sort of goes without saying that it will be good for GDP growth, which is dependant on wage earnings and consumer spending levels. That should be pretty obvious. This is why Delong and other economists are for it. (If all they were saying is that it wasn’t that bad for employment, why would they favor it? If it only has a modestly negative effect on the economy and no positive effects, why be for it?)

            Crud I get mad at how nitpicky people get when they debate things here.

            I had to stop debating with Jaybird, North, and now I’m done with James K on this and similar issues for similar reasons.

            I will take a Hanley-style vacation from the League now.

            Peace.Report

            • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Shazbot5
              Ignored
              says:

              Please rethink that Shaz.Report

            • Avatar James K in reply to Shazbot5
              Ignored
              says:

              Now, it sort of goes without saying, that increasing the minimum wage will increase consumer spending, especially in the current environment and lots of others. Do you want to deny that, James?

              Of course I deny it, increasing wages doesn’t change the amount of spending, all it changes is who does the spending. And the whole reason for recessions under the New Keynesian Synthesis is nominal rigidities, i.e. that nominal prices can’t fall. Under this logic the worst possible action would be to make nominal prices even more rigid.

              If minimum wages aren’t having disemployment effects it means that they are too low to be a binding constraint i.e. market wages are mostly higher than the minimum wage anyway. In that environment minimum wages are basically useless, they certainly don’t promote economic growth.

              I know I come off as pedantic, but this is an area where you do need to be quite careful about what effects you expect a policy to have. I can see where they are coming from, but what they are arguing is that a combination of EITC and (low) minimum wages is a better sure for poverty than the status quo (and I actually agree with them, I just think we can do better still). This is wholly separate from improving economic performance writ large.

              I think you’re a valuable member of the community Shazbot, for all our disagreements, and I hope you return sooner rather than later.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to James K
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                says:

                I don’t follow. If we raise the minimum wage, more poor people will be spending money than if we raise a few executives’ pay. It will flow from the bottom up to the top, invigorating the entire economy.

                It does not follow that raising wages leads to dis-employment. As long as I can pass any cost through, I will. I do it with taxes. I can also do it with wages.

                Insofar as Mankiw still says lowering prices leads to less money leaving my bank account, giving me an effective raise, why can’t we turn it inside out, stating that rising wages and more money in more people’s bank accounts means they have more money to spend?

                I know I’m missing something here.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to BlaiseP
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                says:

                Eh, this seems to me to be another example of the whole confusion of money with wealth.

                Whether we raise the minimum wage or not, the problem with raising it could just as easily manifest in increased prices as lowered employment (and it probably would result in one or the other if not resulting in both), with making it tougher for small businesses at the same time as not making it tougher for large businesses, and not actually doing anything to actually *HELP* anybody.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                Other than, you know, the people who are getting paid more.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Mike Schilling
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                says:

                If prices go up sufficient to effectively cancel the hike, I don’t see how. If people are unemployed as the result of the hike, I think it’s fair to balance their negative against the positive of the people who are getting paid more on top of that.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Mike Schilling
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                says:

                If prices go up sufficient to effectively cancel the hike, I don’t see how.

                That’s a big assumption. You know what I think causes inflation? All those rich so-and-so’s spending what they got from the Bush tax cuts.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Mike Schilling
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                says:

                If we see tax cuts for any given individual’s paycheck as effectively identical to forcing wage increases on the part of a certain number of employers to a certain number of employees, I suppose that that would explain why we came to different conclusions than others might have.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                Even if we do confuse money with wealth, money is a perfectly reasonable value to base policy preferences on.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Stillwater
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                says:

                Oh, absolutely! That’s part of why I see “sweatshops” as less morally problematic than many here seem to. When one of the biggest complaints is that the sweatshop isn’t bigger and, thus, can’t hire more of the workers’ relatives, I tend to think that the money is sufficient reason for the workers to have made the personal policy decisions they did.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                Inflation can be controlled with the money supply. The rest presumes facts not in evidence. What really annoys me about all this, Jaybird, and in saying so, I specifically exclude you — the people who talk about the consequences of government policy to Small Businesses do not run small businesses.

                I pay people the best wages possible, in hopes of retaining them. When my ass is in a sling and I don’t know which way to turn, I instinctively retreat into an Increase Quality stance. That way I can increase my margins. I don’t come cheap. Nobody should come cheap. I’ll bet my truck you’ve already added enough value in your new position to entirely justify every dime you’ll be paid this year. And what’s more, you know I’m right.

                How much would it cost to have a consultant do what you’ve done, as quickly as you did it? Price it out. You know I’m right.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to BlaiseP
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                says:

                I’ll go back to my minimum wage days at the restaurant. I made 4.25 an hour plus a share of the tip jar next to the counter. I got a raise to 4.50, 4.75. I was told “congrats, you’re going to be bumped up to 5 bucks an hour” approximately two months before the minimum wage was bumped to 5.15.

                The counter folk who had not busted their humps to get to five bucks an hour also were raised to 5.15. They were more pleased with the minimum raise increase than I was.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP
                Ignored
                says:

                None of the people who’ve worked for me, even in Guatemala, in the old days, has made less than — chunkachunka — how much was the queztal / USD trading at… ?

                Seven dollars an hour. To wash dishes, bus tables and mop floors. In what for all practical purposes is the third world. Which I guess translates to about twenty dollars an hour here and now.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to BlaiseP
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                says:

                I know I’m missing something here.

                I feel ya. I’m like every time James throws down the econ speak.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                I have yet to meet an economist who could run a successful business. Not one. It’s the most unscientific discipline I’ve ever seen. Disputatious little swine all of them. What value any of them add to society I’ve yet to work out.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to BlaiseP
                Ignored
                says:

                On the flip side, I have yet to meet a businessman who understood a goddamn thing about macroeconomics (present company excluded); they all think monetary policy is like a budget.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP
                Ignored
                says:

                Huh? Aspects of macro appears all over in business, though you see more of it in expat and international business: forex and opportunity costs especially. Corporations exist in the context of taxation and regulation.

                When I took Macro, I learned how any one business is just a ship sailing the seas. Governments create the tides and the weather. So Greg Mankiw says wages are sticky and agents operate on stale information — gosh! Such insight! Scintillating jewels of wisdom gleaming in the display cases of the economists! Anyone who runs a business knows all this.

                So China’s booming along with no oil in the crankcase and Europe’s in the doldrums. My school and restaurant in Xela gets more Chinese students now — and fewer Europeans and Japanese. Maybe the Spanish language schools of Guatemala should compose a world economy index driven by the nationalities of our students: the sample size might be a bit small but it would be revelatory. And guess which currency we use to denominate our transactions. A little hint: it isn’t the Guatemalan quetzal. Now there’s some monetary theory in action.Report

              • Avatar 975 in reply to BlaiseP
                Ignored
                says:

                follow. If we raise the minimum wage, more poor people will be spending money than if we raise a few executives’ pay

                The number of people spending doesn’t matter. $10,000 is $10,000 whether spent by 1 person or 1,000.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to 975
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                says:

                Sure. Here’s where that argument begins to confuse me.

                Are there differences between how different categories of people use money? How that money gets recirculated in an economy? If so, then $10,000 isn’t just 10,000, is it? Especially of our metric is GDP?Report

              • Avatar 975 in reply to Stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                Money always goes back into the economy, unless someone sticks it under their mattress. Do you have a bank account? Do you really think they have your money sitting in a vault? It’s mostly been lanes to people. What do they do with it? Mostly they buy stuff.

                So if the executive has the money, what does he do with it? He doesn’t put it under his mattress. He might spend it. He might put it into savings, which means someone else can borrow it to spend. He can buy Euros, which means a Euro holder is buying dollars, which means they want to buy something. Maybe he buys stocks, from someone who is selling, and maybe they’re buying stocks, too, but somewhere down the line somebody’s selling stocks to take the cash to buy something.

                I don’t care who has the money and does the spending. Matters not to me whether the CEO or the janitor has the cash. But to argue that money going to the eye doesn’t go into spending, you need to track that money past the first step of what the exec does with it. Where the analysis too often fails is people not going past that first step.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater
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                says:

                975, you seem more interested in telling me how you think about things than actually having a discussion. That’s fine, of course. But I don’t know why I’ve generated so much animosity from you that you can’t even appreciate the questions I’m asking.

                That’s fine. I’m a Liberal!! to you. You and Jaybird should compare notes. It’d be informative for you, I’m sure. Tactically speaking.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Stillwater
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                says:

                My thoughts would be about what happens to the various ten thousand dollarses in the different examples, as far as the GDP is concerned. Does $10k spent at (KULAK ESTABLISHMENT!) have different multipliers than 100 $100ses spent at (PROLETARIAT ESTABLISHMENTS!)? Is this measurable?

                Does the money get spread around differently after it’s spent?

                I think, as far as GDP is concerned, if we stop counting after day one purchases, 10k is 10k is 10k. Is that not the case?

                If it is the case (and I’m assuming it is), we just need to hammer out if there are different multipliers on day 2, day 3, and so on and whether there are bigger cuts taken in this part of town vs. that one, what day we can stop counting the various multipliers, and so on.

                It’s not obvious to me that one is better to the other. It’s not even obvious to me that the 10K wouldn’t do better in the bank to be given out to 80 people as $1000 loans (given 8-to-1 leverage rules).

                Are there obvious answers for these questions? I know that I have intuitions but I’ve also been drinking and the grape tends to color intuitions something awful. I’d rather discuss the established answers.

                Of course, if there aren’t any, maybe we could spend some time talking about what we think.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                Maybe if you keep drinking the grape you’ll shake off your rigid, predetermined thinking and see things in a fresh, and accurate, light. We might even agree! So … keep drinking.Report

              • Avatar 975 in reply to Stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                It’s odd, Stillwater. I was going to ask why I seemed to have generated so much animosity from you. Apparently this Jaybird stokes your animosity as well? Is that a long standing thing?

                Anyway, I am trying to have a discussion, and twice now you’ve accused me of not. That’s a bit insulting. I was trying to answer your question about how money flows into the economy; that whatever category it starts with it’s going to turn into spending. You asked me a question, I answered as straightforwardly as I could, so I’m puzzled that my answer seems to upset you.

                If I haven’t understood your question, I apologize. It’s certainly not intentional. But upon re-reading, it still looks to me like my answer fits the question.

                I’m not sure what the issue about being a liberal is. I made no such statement.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                975, maybe all this is a confusion, of course. Maybe we’re just two people unsuccessfully trying to engage. I’m not, as you might think, trying to get you to agree with my pov on these issues. What I am trying to do is get you to see that my pov isn’t fucking batshit insane, OK? I’d consider that a victory.

                So:

                Given your comment above, I was sure you were familiar with the concept of velocity of money. People dispute these things! That’s why I presumed that your argument – stated with a certainty that implied knowledge of these matters – would have considered those types of considerations.

                On the other thread, I’ve tried my best to explain why Shazbot’s slavery counterexample is actually devastatingly sound against the argument presented in the OP. It’s not a devastating argument that slavery and sweatshop labor are exactly the same thing. If you read Shaz’s comments you’d realize that. So, I don’t know how to help you about that distinction unless you actually want to know.Report

              • Avatar 975 in reply to Stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                Stillwater,

                My point was about the velocity of money, if indirectly. My point was that wherever you direct the money initially it’s going to go around the economy. Perhaps some starting points produce a faster velocity than others. Is that your point? If so, can you demonstrate it or provide some evidence? It’s not that I think your position is insane–and I made no such implication–but that you have made no demonstration in support of it.

                As to Shazbot’s argument, it’s not devastating. Just because you can stick another term in an argument and make it look bad doesn’t mean that term was a justifiable substitution. It’s because there are important differences between sweatshops and slavery that it doesn’t work. I get your point that the author of the post didn’t specify those differences, but it seems that you take from that the idea that those differences don’t matter to his argument. But you never asked him about that, that I’ve noticed. And somewhere in these threads he’s pretty explicit that the consent business is pretty important, so while you and Shazbot are apparently claiming the author’s argument rests solely in a consequentialist position, it’s not clear the author thinks so. So it seems to me your entire approach is premised on misinterpreting the author.

                At least that’s how it seems to me. At best it seems you’re hammering really hard on a very small point that perhaps nobody’s disagreeing with: “consequences aren’t enough.” Well, folks are talking a lot about consent, too, so I’m not sure you’re not flogging a strawman, unless there’s a lot more to your argument that you’re not making clear (at least not clear to me).Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                Just because you can stick another term in an argument and make it look bad doesn’t mean that term was a justifiable substitution.,/i>

                Well, unfortunately you’re wrong there. And I didn’t make the rules! If the argument is about categories of labor, the substituting one in for the other is perfectly justifiable. It’s called a “counter example”. And I don’t mean that in a way that suggests “appeal to authority”. Look it up in Wiki. I’m sure it’ll say everything I’ve been saying on this thread.

                I get your point that the author of the post didn’t specify those differences, but it seems that you take from that the idea that those differences don’t matter to his argument.

                Well, they don’t! His argument was … his argument. That he might have made a different argument is sorta beside the point, no? He didn’t. That’s not necessarily a knock on James. He presented a good argument, one that seemed very compelling. Then Shaz provided a counterexample. So now both James and Shaz and I and maybe you know that sweatshops cannot be justified on the grounds that James initially outlined. It’s progress!Report

              • Avatar 975 in reply to Stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                No, it’s not a counterexample. The counterexample has to come from the same category, not a different one, even if it’s related, because the difference between the two may be exactly why the example doesn’t work as a rebuttal.

                Specifically, if the substituted word is something that requires a higher level of justification, you can’t make a claim about the original term based on the use of that substitution. E.g, an argument that some person’s actions don’t justify execution does not imply that they don’t justify incarceration. An argument that country X’s actions don’t justify nuking them does not prove that the actions don’t justify going to war with them.

                In the same way, showing that outcome X doesn’t justify slavery says nothing about whether it justifies sweat shops, unless you think the standard of justification for each of those is the same. For my part, I think that however hard sweatshops are to justify, slavery is yet even harder to justify.

                Additionally, you haven’t demonstrated, as far as I can see, that the author was only using consequentialist arguments and didn’t have some non-consequentialist assumptions he just didn’t bother to spell out. So I’m not sure where the progress is–we all agree in a point that may never have been in serious question in the first place? Well, I guess that’s worth a drink (but then, what isn’t?)Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                The counterexample has to come from the same category,

                It did. I don’t really know more of what to say. I mean, you can keep railing against me and Shaz about how this works, but that’s really not going to get you anywhere.

                You disagree. That’s fine. Let it go.Report

              • Avatar 975 in reply to Stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                So slavery and sweatshops are the same category, and no higher standard of justification for the former is required than the latter? I can’t see that.

                And I’m puzzled by your apparent anger that I’m presenting a critical view here. Why do you get to critique the author so freely, yet get so touchy if someone critiques you? You know your “keep railing” line cuts both ways. You were railing against the author, and now you’re railing against me. And quite evidently it’s not getting you anywhere, either. So perhaps you’re right that we should drop it. But I will say that I’m not impressed by your willingness to critique and simultaneous unwillingness to be critiqued. Double standards aren’t my cup of tea.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater
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                says:

                975, I’m alright with being critiqued. You, for example, think I’m making bad arguments about this issue. And I’ve explained why I think your critique isn’t right. Or tried to explain it anyway.

                Apparently, we just disagree.Report

              • Avatar zic in reply to 975
                Ignored
                says:

                This doesn’t pass the straight-face test.

                100 people out spending $100 each at a variety of places does a lot more to spur economic growth then one person spending $10,000 at a jewelers.Report

              • Avatar 975 in reply to zic
                Ignored
                says:

                How do you know that?

                But if this cherry picking examples is approach we want to take, which does more to spur the economy? One person spending $10,000 on home renovations or 100 people spending $100 each at Goodwill and on lottery tickets?Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to zic
                Ignored
                says:

                How do you know that?

                Powerful rejoinder, 975. Decisive!!Report

              • Avatar 975 in reply to zic
                Ignored
                says:

                Stillwater, I think you miss the point. Zic did not actually explain a flaw in the logic of my statement. She just cherry picked an example that sounds good for her side And I showed that other examples could be cherry picked, too, that soinded better for other sides. That you found my cherry picked example unimpressive is the point–cherry picked examples are of no value, whether mine or zic’s.

                So asking how she actually knows her claim is true, given the claim is unsupported by anything other than an example cherry picked to sound good, is fair. I’m asking if there is a real basis for the claim.

                I regret that my cryptic statement did not make that clearer to you. Based on our two conversations here, I gain the impression that you are spoiling for a fight with someone. I am not, so I will leave the floor of the arena to you. Perhaps this is not a welcoming place for those whose views do not align with yours?Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to zic
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                says:

                Generally speaking, people that spend money on low-level consumer goods will be increasing the delta of capital more than people who spend money on higher-level capital goods. I would think that most economists will agree that small amounts of money spread out over large groups of people will do more to increase short-term liquidity than larger sums of money spread out in much smaller groups of people. Generally.

                Although, it’s not going to do you much good to have everybody buying peanuts but nobody buying threshing machines.

                Liquidity is a funny thing.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to James K
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                says:

                Never go in against an economist when minimum wages are on the line!Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to James K
                Ignored
                says:

                Of course I deny it, increasing wages doesn’t change the amount of spending, all it changes is who does the spending.

                It does if it transfers money that would have been saved to money that will be spent.

                If minimum wages aren’t having disemployment effects it means that they are too low to be a binding constraint i.e. market wages are mostly higher than the minimum wage anyway.

                That would be true if labor markets were perfectly efficient, with everyone being paid the marginal value of their labor (as if often asserted.) Since in the real world they are not, and employers, with their superior market power and control of information, get the benefit of that, minimum wages can have the effect of turning consumer surplus into producer surplus without causing disemployment. That is, someone is doing a job for you that’s worth $15.00 an hour. You pay him $10.00, because there’s a recession and there would be a line of people around the block willing to do it for $10.00. If the minimum wage goes up to $11, do you fire and refuse to replace him?Report

              • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to James K
                Ignored
                says:

                Thanks James,

                It’s not you. Sorry to have said it was. You’re always fair and smart, even if you are always wrong. 🙂

                I just can’t take arguing on the internet for a a fortnight or so. It’s me.Report

  15. Avatar Brandon Berg
    Ignored
    says:

    I can’t help noticing that the vast majority of ideas from the left side of the aisle here involve making the employment of workers in third-world countries more expensive. If your goal is to help poor workers, then this is inefficient; a broad-based tax to supplement the incomes of the third-world poor would achieve the same benefits with less deadweight loss.

    I suspect that every one of you, if pushed hard enough, would acknowledge that factory owners don’t make poor countries poor. Most, I would hope, would acknowledge that they actually make poor countries richer, which is more than most people are doing.

    So why this fixation on making them pay?Report

    • Avatar greginak in reply to Brandon Berg
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      says:

      Factory owners certainly don’t make poor countries poor. They want to , like all employers, want to pay their workers as little as they can get away with and spend as little as they can on things like enviro protection, worker safety, etc. So factory owners make countries richer, but they aim to leave as little of the profit with the workers as possible and if they harm the environment or skimp on worker safety then so be it. I’m not offering any solution. It would be better for people in poor countries if they got more of the profit, were protected more and , where applicable, didn’t’ have to trash their environment.Report

      • Avatar James K in reply to greginak
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        says:

        It would be better for people in poor countries if they got more of the profit, were protected more and , where applicable, didn’t have to trash their environment.

        Indeed it would. The tricky part is finding a way to do it without breaking the whole system.Report

    • Avatar Creon Critic in reply to Brandon Berg
      Ignored
      says:

      So why this fixation on making them pay?

      Complicity. A multinational corporation can be tied to the producers of its products and (oftentimes in the offending industries) has the power to demand better labor standards and audits of suppliers to ensure enforcement of those standards. I don’t think I’d frame cessation of abuses as “making them pay”, rather I’d call it vindicating the rights of workers.

      Also, I don’t think the left of the aisle would raise objections to your suggesting low deadweight loss mechanisms for alleviating poverty. Politically speaking, at the moment it is easier to pressure corporations to have a care for workers whose circumstances are so dire they’re willing to endure some serious abuses. Also in the course of negotiating trade agreements, flagging labor and environmental standards as concerns is a way to get the parties concerned to pay attention to the lot of the vulnerable.

      But were we to put your tax and direct transfer idea to a vote, I don’t see why I’d oppose it.Report

  16. Avatar LWA
    Ignored
    says:

    Lets clarify a few things here-
    What is a “sweatshop” and why is it considered “bad”? What is the difference between a “really hard job” and a sweatshop?
    The answer of course is it is a matter of degrees, and comparisons. Compared to low wage work in 1st world countries, sewing clothes in a Chinese factory seems obviously like seatshop labor; but as has been pointed out,compared to eking out a barely starvation diet in the rural countryside it is a significant improvement.

    So far, I agree with James’ comments. But this his paragraph about the elimination of the sweatshops caught my eye, with its use of “evil” and the implicit assumption that there are only two choices here, status quo, or casting all the workers into the streets.

    Are we sure that’s the case? There is no alternative, other than marching in and padlocking the doors?
    Of course not! Slightly higher taxes, slightly higher/lower tariffs, political arrangements to increase the bargaining power of workers; There are literally dozens of mechanisms which can, and often, have offered improvement to the status quo, without an evil outcome of closing the factories.

    Sweatshop labor occurs when there is a massive power imbalance between the owners of the factory and the workers.

    How did this imbalance come about? Did wealthy factory owners and impoverished workers just suddenly appear one day, out of thin air?
    Are the current factory owners rightfully own their factories? Should their property rights be respected?

    If the workers were to rise up and seize the factories, should we care, so long as we get our $1 tee shirts? Would libertarians accept them as the rightful property owners?

    What this is all leading up to, is what is the moral vision that undergirds this discussion? I don’t see one.

    Simply saying “Liberty” or “Non-coercion” is facile, and inadequate. As we can see, the factories themselves are stolen property, and the currrent imbalance of power is the result of various wars, revolutions, pogroms, and brutal coercion.

    Do the factory owners and workers have any sort of essential dignity, some personal set of rights that should never be trampled on, and if they are violated, should be rectified?Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to LWA
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      says:

      If the workers were to rise up and seize the factories, should we care, so long as we get our $1 tee shirts? Would libertarians accept them as the rightful property owners?

      What has happened in the countries where the workers have done this? Did it turn out better for most everybody involved? Surely there are a couple of examples where this turned out to be the bomb diggity. I can’t think of any off the top of my head but… maybe, right? Can we do a compare/contrast with other countries where this didn’t happen?

      Oh, and maybe we could hammer out “what are we measuring when we look at these examples?”, that’d probably be best for everybody involved too… maybe we could compare to factories in Michigan, factories in Tennessee, factories in Europe, factories in Egypt, factories in China… you know. The more data the better!Report

      • Avatar LWA in reply to Jaybird
        Ignored
        says:

        “What has happened in the countries where the workers have done this?”

        Well, in China, it turned out like this- the former property owners were impoverished, and the Communist Party cadres who seized the factories now own them, and are plutocrats whose property rights are zealously defended by libertarians.

        Worked out pretty well for them.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater in reply to LWA
      Ignored
      says:

      If the workers were to rise up and seize the factories, should we care, so long as we get our $1 tee shirts? Would libertarians accept them as the rightful property owners?

      No. Of course not. But not because they oppose government.Report

  17. Avatar James K
    Ignored
    says:

    OK, this carries on from further up the page because we ran out of threading.

    Mike Schilling:

    Then a sweatshop is K-H efficient only if it would remain profitable if it compensated workers for the odd severed limb or their survivors for the occasional immolation (whether or not it actually does so being irrrelevant.) I see that, but it raises a question about why requiring it to do so (or equivalently, invest in safety features that make the payouts less likely) is a problem.

    No, sweatshops are KH efficient if the total gains to the sweatshop, its contracting multinational, the workers, and the rest of humanity is higher than the aggregated costs. It s not necessarily true that a KH efficient operation can absorb an arbitrary transfer from one of the parties to another.

    Stillwater:

    PE relies on an objective measure of being made better or worse off. In the case of K-H E, not only are gains determined subjectively (by revealed preferences, choices that may in fact entail being made worse off by objective metrics), but efficiency seems to merely require that Pareto efficiency is theoretically possible.

    First off, both PE and KH are subjective because all value is subjective. Second, the problem with PE is that it have to leave no on worse off, which is an impossible standard in the real world. Figuring out exactly how much to compensate everyone for their losses requires knowing the contents of the minds of everyone involved. KH is a looser standard, but is actually useful in practice.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater in reply to James K
      Ignored
      says:

      Still not getting it.

      i>Second, the problem with PE is that it have to leave no on worse off, which is an impossible standard in the real world. Figuring out exactly how much to compensate everyone for their losses requires knowing the contents of the minds of everyone involved. KH is a looser standard, but is actually useful in practice.

      This seems like a perfect counterexample to the claim that compensation for losses could in theory be made. If it’s impossible to know the contents of people’s minds in practice, then by how is it possible to know the contents of people’s minds in theory?Report

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