America Indentured, Part I : What it Really Means to be MADE IN AMERICA

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Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular inactive for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

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  1. Avatar LeeEsq
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    Erik Loomis at LGM speaks about this issue a lot since it is in his bailiwick. Many people in the United States and elsewhere want to live affluently and they want to live it cheap. The only to combine these two contradictory forms of thought is through an extraordinarily cheap labor source. Since perfect automation is not possible, this means indentured labor or slave labor. As Loomis notes, one way to do this is to make sure these things occur out of sight. During the Gilded Age, many affluent Americans grew to point where they could no longer ignore the abuses occurring in factories and began to campaign against child labor or other sins of the system. Putting slave labor in a place like CNMI or using undocumented aliens, prisoners, and other undesirables as pseudo-slaves is a way to avoid this problem.

    Loomis’ proposed solution is to make labor as mobile as capital, or what others would call the borderless world, because he believes that this would allow for labor cooperation and coordination on a global level and eventually global labor standards. He also thinks that the United States and other developed nations should impose first world labor standards on developing nations. Both proposed solutions have serious problems. While the idea that countries should be nothing more than administrative units like counties is popular among some progressives and libertarians, most people do not really want a borderless world. To them nations still have cultural identities that are important to them and they also tend to be cynical about international government. The problem with the second solution is that nobody really wants to do this either and there is no real effective way to enforce standards except a simple bar on imports from countries whose labor laws don’t meet developed world standards.Report

  2. Avatar Saul Degraw
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    Lee already brought up the Loomis Out of Sight theory. Americans (and probably people all over the world) want to live well and cheaply. The way you do this is through making sure that human rights abuses occur out of sight. These islands are a perfect example. Extretmely remote with a plausible deniability that it is and is not U.S. soil. Rural prisons and out sourced factories are other examples.

    For the broader point, I’ve noticed that the right-wing in general uses Dred Scot as a code word for any Supreme Court decision that they dislike from Roe to SSM. In general, I’ve noticed that a good chunk of Americans are rather authoritarian and/or subserviant to authority despite constantly talking about how America is great because of freedom and freedom. You can see this whenever there is a story about police abusing their power. A good chunk of this country seems to think that the police can do no wrong.Report

  3. Avatar Kazzy
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    While consumer complicity is undoubtedly a factor, I struggle to accep that the bulk of the responsibility does not lie with the corporations or the lawmakers who empowered them. While @leeesq is right that the desire for affordable affluence exists, we also know that the cost of production does not dictate sale price. True Religion jeans don’t cost $200 because they cost $150 to make and sell. They cost $200 because that is what people are willing to pay for them. And TR will sell them flr that price whether the cost of production and sale is $15 or $150. Because if they can sell them for $200, they will. And if they can exploit the system to make them for $15, they will and will line the pockets of the higher ups and those they need to buy to make it happen.

    So, yes, consumers wanting cheap jeans or lettuce or iPhones who are willing to turn a blind eye to the problem contribute. But primary blame lies with those who creat and maintain the system and do so to grow their own personal wealth: company executives/directors and legislators. Especially when they go to great pains to keeping consumers blinded to the reality of what is going on.

    This isn’t meant to absolve anyone of responsibility and I agree that the “But contracts!” retort is disgusting. But we can shake our finger at a naive public without losing sight of who actually enslaved and abused these poor people.

    This is the shit that makes me think wage caps and/or price controls might not be such a bad idea.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Kazzy
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      says:

      Damn comment eating. Price Controls are not going to work. If you can only charge 50 dollars for a pair of jeans, all jeans are going to cost around 50 dollars. This will hurt the poor and middle class and benefit the rich. Likewise, maximum wage laws will only work if you find ways to gut the savings and investments of the rich and make sure people don’t hide their money and/or get paid in equity and perks. IIRC when Roy Cohn was in private practice, he was only paid a dollar a year by his firm but the firm also paid for his housing, food, and all other expenses.Report

    • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to Kazzy
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      kazzy,

      I don’t follow your last sentence. Wouldn’t wage caps make things worse for workers (because the employer would be forbidden to pay them more)?

      And how would price controls work? If they were, say, fixed at a certain rate over cost I suppose that might take away one incentive to treat workers harshly. But it would be really hard to enforce, and could encourage cartelizing industries. That’s partly what was attempted under the National Recovery Act during the New Deal, and it didn’t seem to work. (However, to be fair, the federal government’s commitment to the plan was pretty weak and it was introduced only as an “emergency”–which many interpreted as “temporary”–measure.)Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Kazzy
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      Business people are going to what is best for their bottom line for the most and there are always going to governments that allow them to do so for a variety of reasons ranging from true belief in capitalism to something more venal. In order to get a better situation, people need to advocate for change. Workers must organize and strike and middle class people have to join them rather than turn a blind eye.Report

    • Avatar Troublesome Frog in reply to Kazzy
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      I think more people need to be aware of the difference between costs of various pieces of production and market price. When people give us grave warnings for $15 heads of cabbage if we pay cabbage pickers more, I can only wonder how much of the cabbage’s price is the few seconds a human spends picking it up off the ground versus all of the other stuff in the pipeline.

      That $28 tee shirt isn’t $28 because we were just barely able to keep the lady in Saipan from demanding $29 to make it. It’s $28 because we paid the lady in Saipan a few cents, paid the cotton suppliers $X, paid the shipping people $Y, the retailers $Z, the shareholders $S, etc. I’d have to guess that paying the lowest paid sweat shop workers twice as much per hour simply wouldn’t affect retail prices very much for most goods.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Troublesome Frog
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        That’s my point. We here if we increase cost X, then prices will rise. But that assumes that other things can’t yield. They can. But the powers that be aren’t willing to let them and we wrongly accept that. You could double the lowest wage earners salary AND cut prices AND still profit. But they won’t because that money would have to come from someone and it sure as hell won’t be the CEOs pay.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Troublesome Frog
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        I remember when talk of living wages for fast food walkers led opponents to claim that a Big Mac would cost $15. Regardless of how you feel about living wages/minimum wages, there is simply no math in the world that supports that form of opposition.Report

        • Avatar Troublesome Frog in reply to Kazzy
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          Exactly. I don’t know what the breakdown of the costs of a Big Mac are, but I’d have to guess that rent on the building and equipment, licensing the McDonald’s name, and the purchase, shipping and storage of input ingredients make up most of it. The whole point of “fast food” is that labor touch time is minimized by clever engineering and simplification of the food preparation process.Report

          • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Troublesome Frog
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            I’m trying to remember some of the numbers people cited during the labor symposium a few years ago, and what types of businesses those numbers applied to, but I recall one number bandied about: that labor (which doesn’t include management’s salaries) constituted something like 6% of total costs. If that’s a baseline, then increasing labor compensation by 50% would increase total costs by about 3%. So the price of a $2.00 burger would have go up to $2.06 to make the same profit. Something like that. (Did I do that right?)Report

            • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Stillwater
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              For all sectors it’s *60* percent, not 6.

              http://www.bls.gov/lpc/faqs.htm#P04

              “In the US non farm business sector, labor cost represents more than sixty percent of output produced.”Report

            • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Stillwater
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              https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/magazine/whos-lovin-it/2011/08/12/gIQAoOVRuJ_story.html

              Who is the most spectacularly underpaid in the McD’sverse (aside, I suppose from the cows), are the franchise location managers if that article is any indication. Profiled is a man with complete responsibility for about a 100 people and 24/7 operations and seems damn good at his job, but is pulling down about 40k per year. Other companies have tried to lure him away offering more money, but he’s scared his nearly non existent written English ability will cause him to fail at another position (and he’s probably right)Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Kolohe
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                I found some numbers from Heritage which put labor and payroll-taxes at 26% of sales for a typical fast food restaurant, but it appears they’re lumping salaries in with hourly wages. I don’t know what the breakdown of for each would be, but obvs hourly labor would account for less than 26%. So, say 20%? (Probably upwards of that.) So a 50% raise in labor costs translates to a just under a 10% increase in price to retain profits all things being equal. $2.00 burger goes to $2.20-2.25.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater
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                Here’s the Heritage info.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kolohe
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                To be clear, my argument isn’t that increasing wages will have NO effect. My argument is that it won’t have the effect most opponents claim. More importantly, the reason it would have that effect is because of the misguided notion that existing profits must be maintained or increased. Why couldn’t McD’s* pay the increased wages and accept profit of $500M instead of $1B? Why would that be such an awful thing?

                * I know McD’s isn’t the best example because it is largely franchises but it is what we are working with. Still, the issue holds that the top will never feel the pain unless or until the company goes under, and even then they tend to protect themselves. I even see this in schools. “Enrollment is down. Fire the teachers or freeze their salaries. Oh, but admin won’t shrink and we’ll continue to take our raises.”Report

              • Avatar Dave in reply to Kazzy
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                says:

                @kazzy

                More importantly, the reason it would have that effect is because of the misguided notion that existing profits must be maintained or increased.

                Misguided? Not at all. Let’s look at this a few different ways:

                McDonald’s common stock: A share price is priced at a certain point based on a number of different factors including 1) projected future cash flows (profits) and 2) those cash flows being discounted at a risk-adjusted rate (the cost of equity capital).

                Using your example, on a purely mathematical basis, a 50% reduction in profits would lead to a 50% reduction in the share price unless the corresponding discount rate (cost of capital) lowered enough to offset the decrease in profits. That won’t happen. A reduction in the risk-adjusted rate of return implies a reduction in risk; however, if the company thinks it’s not such a big deal to absorb labor costs and show a complete disregard to shareholder interests, investor faith in the ability to make money will likely shrink making McDonald’s a more risky investment thereby INCREASING the discount rate. Perhaps the share price decreases by even more 50%.

                Investors that will have lost their asses on McDonald’s will sell out.

                McDonald’s bonds: This one is arguably worse because. I explained the risk perspective above, but there’s also a credit perspective. Allowing what you suggest to take place would significantly impact McDonald’s performance and operating metrics. If the change is significant enough, the ratings agencies are going to jump all over it and downgrade McDonald’s both as an issuer and any existing bonds outstanding. While the outstanding bonds may not be in a position where a default is imminent, any investor forced to sell them to maturity will take significant losses.

                A potentially bigger problem…

                Future capital needs: Given the company’s revised risk and credit profiles, in the event the company needs to access the capital markets (and it will at some point), with a lower credit rating, it’s cost of borrowing is now higher (higher interest costs reduce profits). On the equity side, you have a company that has a bad story, lower profits and weaker margins that competitors. If companies like YUM Brands or other publicly-traded fast food companies have better metrics, investors will rather invest in those unless they are compensated for taking on additional risk, compensation that is translated to more expensive equity and less capital raised through the equity markets.

                This is the shortest answer I can give. Although it’s not as good as I’d like it to be, the key takeaway here is that before anyone asks “can X company afford a hit to profits?”, look to the capital side of the equation before you answer. When you do, you’ll see why the notion you said was misguided isn’t misguided at all. It’s not just the people at the top. It’s the entire capital structure that’s in play.Report

        • Avatar notme in reply to Kazzy
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          The $15 minimum wage has cost Seattle 1300 jobs yet liberals are still pushing it.

          http://www.economicpolicyjournal.com/2015/08/seattle-has-lost-1300-restaurant-jobs.htmlReport

          • Avatar Stillwater in reply to notme
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            According to a linky in your linky:

            Seattle et al lost 2100 jobs from Jan-May (the min wage hike went into effect in Jan), then added 2100 jobs from Jun-Aug. Now it’s dipping again….Report

      • Avatar James K in reply to Troublesome Frog
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        @troublesome-frog

        You’ll find that labour is a large part of the cost of most goods. Certainly not all, but especially for commodity products like cabbage labour will be a lot of the cost.Report

        • Avatar Troublesome Frog in reply to James K
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          That’s labor in general though, not necessarily one specific component of labor. The tension with wages for produce, for example, always seems to be about getting enough temporary workers to handle just the harvest. “We’ll have to let the produce rot because we can’t find enough people to harvest it!” is the refrain.

          Given everything that goes into an entire growing season and the amount of time a picker spends on a single head of cabbage, that component seems like it’s unlikely to produce anything along the lines of $20 heads of cabbage. The quick bit of googling I could do gives $6 per ton of cabbage ($0.003 per pound) as the piece rate paid to harvest laborers.

          Likewise, I’m sure labor is a noticeable piece of that $28 tee shirt. The labor of the slave woman who sewed it, not so much.

          The problem with farmers (and a lot of these cheap commodity good producers) making ends meet seems to be less with the cost of any given input and more with the fact that they’re in a really competitive market, so wholesale margins are terribly thin and everybody has to do whatever they can to keep costs down. People confuse the impact of a wage increase on one employer in a competitive market with the impact of a wage increase that hits every employer equally.Report

  4. Avatar Gabriel Conroy
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    At the risk of getting into the semantics, I have a hard time calling the situation you describe anything other than slavery. For me, the important thing is there’s no meaningful option to quit.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to Gabriel Conroy
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      Do orphanages then count as slavery, if they come with a work-requirement?Report

      • Avatar Troublesome Frog in reply to Kim
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        Without knowing more, I’d say yes. Orphanage residents are children, and children don’t really have the legal right to dictate who they live with and under what terms. Adding a work requirement in “exchange” for something they didn’t choose sounds pretty sketchy. I suppose it depends on whether the work requirement is along the lines of, “clean the living space,” or, “make garments for us to sell and keep the profits.”

        If the purpose is to contribute to the household that takes care of you, that’s one thing. You’re arguably enjoying the profits of your labor. If the purpose is to make money for somebody else, that’s quite another.Report

      • Avatar dragonfrog in reply to Kim
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        I should think so. Child slavery, to boot.

        Can you show documentation of such institutions?Report

        • Avatar Kim in reply to dragonfrog
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          zic donates to an orphanage who does this.
          A friend of mine “inherited” an orphanage that does glasswork. I can provide you the links to the glasswork if you’d like to purchase some.

          These are South of the Border, where I understand things are considerably less strict about youth workers… So, yes, this may actually be quite legal.

          This is an article about actually problematic conditions:
          http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/mexicos-orphanages-black-holes-for-children/

          I’ll maintain that slavery’s hardly the worst thing one can do to a child. (though, quite frankly, it’s far from the best either.)Report

  5. Avatar Saul Degraw
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    Interestingly two anecdotes,

    I had brunch on Saturday with two people who work or worked at a big and famous consulting company. They both said that the employees who work the hardest in their big and famous consulting company are ones who are located in countries like Spain and Italy because those countries have relaxed working cultures and it is hard to get productivity. Employees in the U.S. and Northern Europe work hard but are less stressed.

    On Sunday, I was talking with an Italian woman who won the green card lottery. She likes it in the U.S. but was shocked by what employers could get away with in terms of how employees were treated.

    Make of this what you will.Report

    • Avatar krogerfoot in reply to Saul Degraw
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      They both said that the employees who work the hardest in their big and famous consulting company are ones who are located in countries like Spain and Italy because those countries have relaxed working cultures and it is hard to get productivity. Employees in the U.S. and Northern Europe work hard but are less stressed.

      Who works hardest and why, again? I’m having trouble making the parts of these two sentences line up.Report

  6. Avatar Damon
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    A couple of misc. points, mainly because I’m a bit pedantic.

    Schematics ARE important. Indentured servitude IS different from slavery, if only from a technical or legal perspective. That does not, however, change the situation if the end result is essentially the same, and I’d agree that the workers described on Saipan in this article are effectively living as slaves, particularly given the whole “work as a prostitute and we’ll abort your child if you get preggers” issue. Any of this remind anyone else of the whole “third world sweatshop” stuff the US has been dealing with the for past few decades?

    I’m going to agree with Kazzy on the allocation of responsibility, unless someone can demonstrate for me how I am specifically and directly responsible. (Yes, I like super nice stuff super cheap, but I’m not seeing how my desire for an Audi R8 for 30K, which isn’t even possible, is to blame.) No, it’s the corporations and the enabling politicians that have blood on their hands. As to the American public, in general, well, we currently don’t care that our military/gov’t is drone bombing civilians in the middle east, so why should they care about this, other than a minor amount of outrage after listening to NPR and maybe sending a letter to their congress critter? It’s all happening “over there” and doesn’t impact them, and the news cycle moves on to another outrage….

    I’m not really familiar with Saipan and this history so it comes as a bit of a surprise. I’m looking forward to you solutions in upcoming posts TodReport

  7. Avatar Roland Dodds
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    “…in favor of a Biblical-based criminal justice system that followed the mandate of Exodus 22:3. Under such a system, Mickelson pitched, those with enough money would be allowed to pay their way out of of trouble.”

    Ah, Christian values.

    Make America Great Again!Report

    • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Roland Dodds
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      Oddly enough, just down the page is Exodus 22:21

      Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt.

      Report

      • Avatar Roland Dodds in reply to Kolohe
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        Well, God couldn’t possibly have meant Mexicans as well.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Kolohe
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        Since this from Exodus, this is a Jewish value and not a Christian value. A Christian could say with a semi-straight face that “for you were strangers in the Egypt”, stranger is the preferred Jewish translation, clearly refers to the Jews because it referring to our experience as slavery in Egypt. Therefore, Christians do not have to obey because their ancestors did not go through the ordeal of Egyptian bondage.

        The Torah also explicitly states that denying laborers their wages is akin to theft and fraud among other things.Report

        • Avatar Kim in reply to LeeEsq
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          But the Torah was never against slavery.
          (although it did have that whole Jubilee year, which wrecked havoc on the economy).Report

          • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Kim
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            The Torah did allow for slavery but heavily regulated it as an institution, I realize that this isn’t a great defense, compared to other slavery systems at the time. Under Roman slavery, masters were allowed to do what they will with slaves and they slaves had no choice but to obey. The infamous seen in Spartacus about oysters and snails represented a big reality of Roman slavery. Slaves had to be sexually available to their masters no matter what. The Torah did not allow this.

            Modern people look back at all the ancient law codes like the Torah, Draco’s law code of Athens, or the Roman Twelve Tablets as unduly harsh. By modern standards they are but what people do not realize is that the ancient law codes simply put oral customary law into writing. Once something is in writing, you can study it and reflect upon, and talk about it and realize that it is unduly harsh. This leads to reform sometimes.Report

            • Avatar Kim in reply to LeeEsq
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              Desert codes tended to be overly harsh, in part because prison was nonsensical because they couldn’t afford it. (of course, cutting off a hand was nearly a death sentence).

              Slavery as an institution can be roughly rated in two directions:
              1) What happens to the children? Do they integrate into the tribe eventually? Is there a way out of slavery, or is it in perpetuity?
              2) How many slaves per slaveowner? It’s a lot harder to mistreat your only slave… and they’re more likely to be part of the family.Report

    • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Roland Dodds
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      What was that Catholic practice of buying out your sins?Report

  8. Avatar North
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    Horrifying my Tod.Report

  9. Avatar SaulDegraw
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    The NY times is running a big series on binding arbitration. Today’s article was on how binding arbitration allows people to impose biblical law on customers and employees.

    The big problem is that Christians don’t seem to know how Jewish law worked in practiceReport

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to SaulDegraw
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      That was my thought. Jews interpret the laws of the Torah through the lens of the Talmud and thousands of years of argument and debate. It is not given a literal meaning. My advice is that if an employee finds him or herself in such a situation, their best bet is to hire an Orthodox Jewish lawyer to represent them. That lawyer would have a lot of the necessary knowledge about the Torah or at least know where to turn to get the knowledge.Report

  10. Avatar Don Zeko
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    I know that digging into the logic of something this far into the fever swamp is a sanity-risking mistake, but I’m kind of fascinated by the internal logic of putting immigrants into indentured servitude. The chief arguments I hear against mass immigration is that it reduces the wages of US workers and that it degrades social cohesion in various ways (crime, language differences, etc.). But as far as I can tell, keeping immigrants here and forcing them to work for free will make these problems worse; they’ll still be in the country speaking spanish and potentially committing crimes, and they’ll be working for free instead of cheap. So what’s the motivation for this, then? Pure animus and spite? Is there some even vaguely defensible justification for this craziness that I’m missing?Report

  11. Avatar krogerfoot
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    Huh. I had not been informed of these things.

    This is NOT to bite at Tod’s ankles, but the description of Saipan as “a poplar luxury vacation destination for wealthy Japanese vacationers” pinged my antennae for a couple of reasons. Firstly, you hardly have to be affluent to go there on vacation from Japan, and indeed given its history, Japanese vacationers aren’t always sure whether Saipan counts as a foreign country. Secondly, poplar is a kind of tree.Report

    • Avatar Kolohe in reply to krogerfoot
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      Yeah, in the pedantic nitpick department, wealthy Japanese go to Hawaii, middle class Japanese, (and now, perhaps even more Chinese) go to Guam and Saipan.

      (and even more nitpicking, what is now CNMI ‘came under the control of the US’ only in the sense that the US was an administrator for a Trust Territory under de jure control of the UN. The interesting thing from a government corruption standpoint is that before becoming CNMI, it tried to merge with Guam as a political entity but Guam rejected it. Had that happened, the peculiar circumstances around CNMI economic regulations would be significantly different)Report

  12. Avatar Joe Sal
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    says:

    “(Or, perhaps more accurately, the dream of a certain type of libertarian.)”
    Who are we talkin’ about here?Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to Joe Sal
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      It is kind of interesting that the “a certain type of libertarian” comment is followed immediately by a paragraph on tariffs and protectionism.Report

      • Avatar Joe Sal in reply to Chris
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        If there is one thing I’ve learned about OT, is just because the dots are close doesn’t mean……Report

        • Avatar Joe Sal in reply to Joe Sal
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          Maybe just a hint wink at one of these libertarian types:
          1.pro-state
          2.pro-state & pro-corporate
          3.anti-state & pro-corporate
          4.anti-stateX & pro-stateY & pro-corporate

          The sketchy part is 2. 3. and 4.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Chris
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        @joe-sal @chris I understand where each of you is coming from, and I’m going to hold off answering too completely because a lot of what I would say is in next week’s installment. And even then, I suspect we will agree to disagree.

        That being said, for now I will simply say that in general, I think CNMI appeals to the kind of libertarian who would find a country with no import/export tariffs or taxes, open borders where immigrants and foreign workers are not tracked by the government, no real employment laws, and which had made a decision not to have its government have an office of Attorney General on the logic that if CNMI’s business interests were doing things that were so-called unethical, immoral, or illegal, it should be up to the market to punish them, not the government a good thing.

        And more specifically, the kind of libertarians that might write for Reason magazine, who were staunch supporters of CNMI’s system. (Although in fairness and full disclosure, I should note that it later turned out that one of those writers was paid by the lobbying firm Preston Gates to say that it CNMI awesome.)

        [Note/Update: The pay-off I noted in the last sentence of this comment was not for a Reason writer, it was for a CATO writer. My bad. CATO being CATO, though, my point still stands.] Report

        • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Tod Kelly
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          It’s seems to me that you’re pulling a bit of a swindle here. The problem wasn’t “deregulation” or “free trade,” but the fact that people were brought to the island through outright fraud. Fraud is put in the same category as force in most libertarian thought, and I guarantee you the writers at Reason did not then and do not now support or approve of a system in which laws against fraud are not vigorously enforced.

          If I invite someone to my house for dinner and then kill and cook him, that’s not an argument that our dinner party system is dangerously underregulated. Crime is a problem is all socioeconomic systems.Report

          • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Brandon Berg
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            And is that your only objection here?
            In other words, if we could show that the women did in fact understand the contracts, everything in CNMI would be cool?Report

            • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Chip Daniels
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              I joined the military. Pretty stiff terms on those contracts, and the living conditions can be harsh.Report

              • Avatar Damon in reply to Oscar Gordon
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                @oscar-gordon
                The military does not have a real contract system. It has an adhesion contract at best. No rational person would conclude that allowing one party to extend the service duration “for the foreseeable future” with no recourse. Since we’re in the mode to talking about involuntary servitude and slavery, I’d classify someone who’s service involuntary extended as equal to a slave.Report

              • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Damon
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                Damon: No rational person would conclude that allowing one party to extend the service duration “for the foreseeable future” with no recourse.

                Stop loss folks say ‘ORLY?’Report

              • Avatar Damon in reply to Kolohe
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                Like I said, or said poorly. A “contract” giving all the benefits to one party and imposing all the costs, like stop / loss, isn’t really a contract where two equal parties negotiate terms and come to an agreement. At best it’s an adhesion contract or slavery.

                Frankly, I’d call it slavery.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Damon
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                And yet it is a contract that is not only considered perfectly legal, signing it & adhering closely to it’s terms is considered an honorable thing.

                Which was my point. If the workers on CNMI were literate & understood clearly what the actual terms of the contract were, then yes, it should be enforceable.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Oscar Gordon
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                says:

                Why does privity of contract rank so highly in your moral universe?Report

              • Avatar Damon in reply to Oscar Gordon
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                says:

                “And yet it is a contract that is not only considered perfectly legal,”

                Yah, the organization that write the contracts is also responsible for interpreting it, enforcing it, and unilaterally changing the terms. I’m sure you 100% ok with the adhesion contracts that verizion and comcast, etc. have and that bind you, right?Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Damon
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                says:

                @damon

                We have some drift going on here. I was responding to Chip about his comment on the contract terms being understood.

                If the terms are understood & still agreed to, then the contract is valid, even if it offends us.

                What violates the contract is the fraud involved in selling the contract. What invalidates the system was a complete lack of any kind of impartial contract enforcement.

                As for Adhesion contracts, no, I’m not OK with those, but I recognize that they are legal, if offensive. I also avoid them as much as possible & agitate for changes toward their usage.Report

              • Avatar notme in reply to Damon
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                says:

                Slavery? Yet folks sign up all the time b/c the benefits are good. Sure, just like slavery.Report

              • Avatar Damon in reply to notme
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                says:

                So obviously all these foreign women who were imported to Saipan and especially the ones who became prostitutes when they lost their job, and we’re not allowed to leave the compound, that’s not slavery either right? You’re totally cool with that right?

                No. the US military contract is JUST like an adhesion contract. Once you sign up, the gov’t can move the goalposts if they choose. That’s not the definition of a contract. Whether people judge they won’t get hosed by stop/loss or gamble they won’t be sent to combat isn’t the point.Report

              • Avatar notme in reply to Damon
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                says:

                I’m responding to your silly view of the military contracts. In a national emergency the military can’t risk losing qualified folks, so I think the stop loss provision are justified.Report

              • Avatar Damon in reply to notme
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                says:

                Yes, we have had SO many national emergencies….

                You’re not really calling Iraq and Afghanistan national emergencies are you? They were / are wars of choice. I could see an argument in WW2.Report

              • Avatar Joe Sal in reply to notme
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                says:

                @notme
                Explain that just a little bit more.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to notme
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                says:

                On a case by case basis, if the person has truly unique skills, I can see the value in using stop loss in order to retain that person long enough for them to train up a new cohort.

                But using stop loss as a tool to offset drops in recruitment because the war in unpopular is:
                A) HORRIBLE for morale.*
                B) A sure fire way to make sure that your recruitment numbers drop even further as word gets out.

                The inability to recruit volunteers for the military is supposed to function as one of the signals to politicians that it’s time to execute that exit strategy. Like now!

                If you want a happy army, you make sure your troops have the 4 M’s: Meals, Mail, Money, Morale. Part of that Morale is knowing that at some known point in the future you get to say “60 days & a wake up”.Report

              • Avatar notme in reply to Oscar Gordon
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                says:

                Yes but sometimes you need troops and you don’t have time to recruit or train them. You don’t just waive a wand and create a infantryman.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to notme
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                says:

                I know, I was in the military, remember. But retention & recruitment numbers don’t just fall off a cliff. You see that trend happening from a ways off. The pentagon knew it was facing a crisis years before the crisis hit. It told POTUS & congress the crisis was coming years before it happened. That was the signal to POTUS & congress that it was time to pack up & come home, or to radically change the strategy such that troops weren’t burning out.

                Their response was Stop Loss & to keep on keeping on. Which helped retention numbers, but once word got out, caused those recruitment numbers to fall even faster.Report

              • Avatar notme in reply to Oscar Gordon
                Ignored
                says:

                The response was stop loss, increased bonuses and lowering the retention standards. It was a combination of things.Report

          • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Brandon Berg
            Ignored
            says:

            So, Libertarianism cannot fail, it can only be failed?

            Look, I get that not all (and honestly, most) libertarians would have been in favor of CNMI’s system back when it was running, and I certainly can’t think of any that would come out in favor of it now. But in politics, even politics on an on-paper and academic level, ya gots to own what da peoples do with your framework.

            Communists can argue all they want about how all the real-life communist countries weren’t “real” communists like they envisioned on paper, but in the end that’s a fairly meaningless objection to me. In the same vein, CNMI’s system was one that was pitched as a libertarian/free market ideal, was defended/encouraged by free-marketers/libertarians, and was allowed to continue long after it should have been shut down because of free-market/libertarian arguments.

            Do all of those people today admit it wasn’t so great, so free market, and so libertarian in an on-paper ideal kind of way? I assume so. But I am a firm believer that one’s ideology has to own its errors, or (if you will) the errors it happily let occur in its name. Otherwise, you’re no different from the crank I wrote about last year who argues that slavery could have worked if only people had done it the way they were supposed to, or the guys who write for the Communist Party USA’s newspapers.Report

            • Avatar Dave in reply to Tod Kelly
              Ignored
              says:

              @tod-kelly

              So, Libertarianism cannot fail, it can only be failed?

              Like CrossFit, and the dogmatic types in both are unbearably painful to deal with.Report

            • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Tod Kelly
              Ignored
              says:

              “The cures for the evils of the free market is more free market.”Report

            • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Tod Kelly
              Ignored
              says:

              I’m happy to own the failures of the ideology, but that wasn’t @brandon-berg point.

              His point was that there was a great deal of fraud going on, and most libertarian ideology recognizes the role in government for policing & enforcing laws against fraud.Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Oscar Gordon
                Ignored
                says:

                @oscar-gordon I’m happy to own the failures of the ideology, but… there was a great deal of fraud going on, and most libertarian ideology recognizes the role in government for policing & enforcing laws against fraud.

                Well, yeah. But that’s the rub, isn’t it? How you want everyone to behave under your political philosophy and how everyone actually behaves aren’t always the same thing. No one wrote in the legislation that set up CNMI’s system, “third parties will be allowed to go out and hire illiterate third worlders by misrepresenting what the contracts state.” It’s just what happened.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Tod Kelly
                Ignored
                says:

                And its not like the selective enforcement was random.

                It is no coincidence that the rules against fraud were ignored while rules against property theft were enforced.

                The rules, the system of gates and switches, were designed consciously to favor property owners over all other interests.

                This also brings to mind the comment that black people generally don’t favor socialism or libertarianism, the economics and mechanistic theories of government, because they have personal experience that the application of blind mechanisms never is blind.Report

              • Avatar Dave in reply to Tod Kelly
                Ignored
                says:

                @tod-kelly

                Well, yeah. But that’s the rub, isn’t it? How you want everyone to behave under your political philosophy and how everyone actually behaves aren’t always the same thing.

                The real difference is an ideological commitment to enforcing laws against fraud and the real-world fact that there are too many instances where regulation prohibiting certain kinds of fraudulent activity from ever taking place is a far better solution than believing that a fraud prosecution is a successful deterrent against bad behavior, especially in situations with significant private imbalances.

                An ideological commitment to using the government to prosecute fraud by itself is nice in theory but not worth the paper it’s printed on in the real world if successful fraud prosecutions for truly bad acts are difficult to get.

                Speaking as a libertarian, I think the standard fare libertarian response to fraud is bullshit. Truly. Fishing. Awful.Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to Dave
                Ignored
                says:

                Laws against fraud were really helpful with Ashley Madison, weren’t they?
                “Your adultery promoting website doesn’t actually have any girls on it!”
                “whatcha gonna do, tell the police?”Report

              • Avatar Dave in reply to Kim
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                says:

                Wasn’t a lawsuit just filed?Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to Dave
                Ignored
                says:

                Oh, probably. But they’re making money off that too, doncha know.

                You have scam artists, and then you have clever scam artists.

                The general business plan is “suckers don’t learn” — fold the scammy parts of the business (there is an actual real dating service for real people. one doesn’t have a treehouse in Manhattan simply for a scam), and start again using a new name — and all the old mailing lists.Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Dave
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                says:

                I largely agree with this, but I also think there’s something more fundamental at play.

                To continue to pick on Communism, proponents of that philosophy are 100% right that, on paper, the ideology is in no way a brutal and totalitarian idea. It’s just that, in practice, when you set up a system that temporarily gives people ultimate power and control, it shouldn’t be overly surprising when those in control continually decide that the time to cede the power hasn’t quite arrived yet.

                There is a similar dynamic that goes on with libertarianism, I think. If you have a political philosophy that has a premise that government oversight is a (sometimes necessary) road to Bad Things that should be distrusted and only used when absolutely necessary, it shouldn’t be too surprising when, in practice, the philosophy is used as a justification to spurn oversight that actually is necessary, even by libertarianism-on-paper’s standards. Not because FYIGM, or because libertarians are bad people. Because any system that is likely to want less government oversight over corporations is simply going to have more instances of corporations making immoral rather than amoral decisions over longer periods of time, when those decisions lead to more revenue or profit. I honestly don’t see why this belief is controversial.

                And even though libertarians here seem to be taking offense at this idea, know that this isn’t really a slam against libertarianism. All political philosophies have their weaknesses and blind spots, those preferred slivers of influence that allow, in practice, greater potential evil than other philosophies under X conditions, even when it says on paper that it won’t.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Tod Kelly
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                says:

                Communism, in practice, got exuberant with the idea of punishing people who defected in the iterated prisoner’s dilemma created by the system.

                Libertarianism, in practice, seems to have zero tools to deal with people who have enviable positions and use those enviable positions to bargain for the dignity of others (others who have nothing to bargain with but their dignity).

                There is an argument that there is a social contract and the person from the enviable position is somehow defecting by bargaining for another’s dignity does not necessarily make perfect sense because, after all, the person who has nothing to bargain with but dignity can take it or leave it. I’m not quite sure what to think about this argument.Report

              • Avatar Joe Sal in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                @ Jaybird
                Are you saying there is no means of deconstructing a enviable position?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Joe Sal
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                says:

                There are many enviable positions.

                Some of them are the result of chance, some are the result of hard work, some are the result of gaming the system, some are the result of cheating the system.

                And, more than that, it’s possible to say that someone only is able to work hard because of chance, someone gaming the system is really cheating it, someone cheating it is really doing his or her version of working hard, and so on and so forth.

                And people are usually going to argue some variant of “hey, I did what I did by working hard!” and “hey, that other person did what they did by being lucky enough to cheat the system and make it only look like they were just gaming it”.Report

              • Avatar Joe Sal in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                Do enviable positions involve voluntary or involuntary exchanges? I can see involuntary exchanges there could be no recourse to deconstruct the position, but voluntary exchanges there should be some degrees of freedom to deconstruct the power of the position.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Joe Sal
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                says:

                At this point I’m going to be stuck talking about Foucault.

                Like a jerk.

                Every exchange is likely to involve a difference in power. If we’re lucky, both people have enough power to make the difference in power negligible to the point that we’re arguing here.

                We’re probably not lucky, though. Which gets us to stuff like the ultimatum game, the dictator game, the public goods game… and a setting in which all of these games are iterated.Report

              • Avatar Dave in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                @jaybird

                Libertarianism, in practice, seems to have zero tools to deal with people who have enviable positions and use those enviable positions to bargain for the dignity of others (others who have nothing to bargain with but their dignity).

                Based on my recollections of the libertarian arguments of the causes of the 2008 crisis, they seem to have zero tools to allow them to accept the fact that the private sector, especially in finance, is a far greater threat to the global economy than any government could possibly be.

                The ignorance coming from libertarians and conservatives, especially those opposing TARP on ideological grounds and those pinning the whole thing on the government, was beyond anything I could stomach.

                I’ll leave it at that before this conversation becomes a blood bath. As a rule, I ignore these kinds of conversations, but some of this is getting under my skin today.Report

              • Avatar Dave in reply to Tod Kelly
                Ignored
                says:

                @tod-kelly

                Because any system that is likely to want less government oversight over corporations is simply going to have more instances of corporations making immoral rather than amoral decisions over longer periods of time, when those decisions lead to more revenue or profit. I honestly don’t see why this belief is controversial.

                I co-sign.

                Imagine a scenario where low-wage workers in dangerous occupations accept as a condition of employment caps on worker’s compensation in the event of injury. It may be voluntary, but we know how something like this is going to end. Those “immoral” acts are going to involve negligence and possibly illegal actions that directly threaten the safety of workers. Given that they’re low wage workers that agreed to a certain cap, the odds of them getting more are next to nothing. Also, given that they’re low wage workers without the resources to pursue successful tort claims against a company’s negligence, even if there is an actionable claim, the chance that those less fortunate can wage the fight to get just compensation for the harm caused by the company is next to nothing.

                I’m not saying that every private power imbalance requires a legislative solution, but it’s clear that some of them do, especially when that imbalance goes well beyond the negotiation of a contract. There’s the threat to worker safety as well and the belief that workers are powerless to do anything to stop companies from behaving as they damn well please. How does a crippled worker with no financial resources get what he/she deserves?

                Paying homage to government’s rule in enforcing the law against acts of force or fraud is a completely tone deaf response that doesn’t even begin to address the problem here.Report

              • Avatar Joe Sal in reply to Dave
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                says:

                I guess we would have to mention a little bit here about how/if government has the capacity to morally choose winners and losers as well? And whether it is consistently capable of fulfilling that requirement.Report

              • Avatar Dave in reply to Joe Sal
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                says:

                @joe-sal

                I fail to see how this is either an issue of morality or an issue of picking winners vs. losers. This is about addressing specific problems.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Dave
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                says:

                Dave: Also, given that they’re low wage workers without the resources to pursue successful tort claims against a company’s negligence, even if there is an actionable claim, the chance that those less fortunate can wage the fight to get just compensation for the harm caused by the company is next to nothing.

                John Oliver had a bit on the oil boom in the Dakotas and he touched on how companies are skirting worker safety. This is one area where, thanks to the human inability to properly parse risk, regulation is very useful.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Tod Kelly
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                says:

                And I’m saying libertarianism recognizes this as a reality & that it is a problematic point. Bad actors will act badly & government has to exist to act as a (hopefully) impartial arbiter of disputes. It sounds like CNMI was specifically set up to hamstring the ability of any government to fulfill its function in any real capacity.

                Which dovertails into @switters comment below. He’s right in that, in an ideal system, enforcing contracts would be doable on a case by case basis. But nothing is ideal, so less than ideal solutions have to be found, like regulations governing what can & can not be in contracts, etc. because the case by case is just not practical.

                Remember that libertarianism isn’t (despite what some shallow libertarian thinkers believe) about the anarchist or minarchist state, but about agitating for the minimum amount of government necessary to keep the system functional while maximizing liberty. So it can accept the need for contract regulation in order to make enforcement efficient while at the same time questioning if the current state of such regulation is becoming too granular & unwieldy.

                A system that sells labor contracts through fraud & prohibits any kind of redress seeking isn’t a libertarian ideal, it’s more of an corporatist/oligarchical ideal. It is clearly robbing people of liberty in multiple ways, against their will.Report

              • Avatar Dave in reply to Oscar Gordon
                Ignored
                says:

                @oscar-gordon

                A system that sells labor contracts through fraud & prohibits any kind of redress seeking isn’t a libertarian ideal, it’s more of an corporatist/oligarchical ideal. It is clearly robbing people of liberty in multiple ways, against their will.

                I agree, but if a libertarian like yourself believes that the appropriate response is to use the rule of law to punish the act of fraud, I would disagree. That requires people with far less power and resources to go after those with the power and resources through a costly process to get what they should be entitled to. Where’s the justice in that? More needs to be done.

                I know I’m putting myself at risk of sounding like one of the resident liberals (noooooooooooooooooooooooo) despite my more libertarian preferences, but even I have my limits.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Dave
                Ignored
                says:

                @dave

                Dave: That requires people with far less power and resources to go after those with the power and resources through a costly process to get what they should be entitled to. Where’s the justice in that?

                Which is why I signed onto Switters comment. The system is too large, the gaps too big, to trust to civil claims for every bad act. Even if the courts delivered perfect justice, the sheer volume of potential claims would swamp the system or force us to deploy extreme resources to meet the demand. Efficiency must be sought & one way to achieve that efficiency is through regulation. In this domain, (as I have said many times) my interest is not in minimizing regulation as a goal in itself, but in seeking optimal efficiency, largely by questioning the assumptions used to develop the regulation (questioning Chesterton’s Fence, as it were).Report

              • Avatar Dave in reply to Oscar Gordon
                Ignored
                says:

                @oscar-gordon

                Got it. We may have more in common than I thought. My apologies.Report

              • Avatar switters in reply to Oscar Gordon
                Ignored
                says:

                Some may recognize the role, but I think there is less agreement on the means the government should use to police and enforce laws against fraud. And because that lack of agreement, even leftist policies to police fraud are often lumped in with all the other nanny state BS

                Because the people signing these can’t read, the contracts could very well have all the horrors we now notice baked in. They could include pay rates of a 1$ a day. And exorbitant travel expenses with 20% interest rates that take years to pay back. And living conditions that many would consider hellish. And insurmountable requirements to qualify to get your passport back and go home. And on and on. So to stop that, you can either set some baseline conditions that must be met (i.e., employment laws) or you look on a case by case basis to determine if there was fraud. And that gets a lot harder than you think once you get down into the weeds. You can bet the contracts have an “entire agreement” clause that says all the terms being relied on are in the contract, and that there were no other promises made to induce execution. There is probably a clause that says you’ve been given an opportunity to consult a lawyer and that you understand all the terms in the contract. Probably a clause that you submit to the jurisdiction of Mariana Islands, and their corrupt court system. So even if one of them was promised a good wage and decent conditions prior to signing the contract, it wouldn’t matter. And some might say it shouldn’t. Wouldn’t most libertarians be on board with the general rule that understanding the terms in the contract is the duty of the party entering into it.

                So one of the points I am getting from Todd (perhaps indirectly or unintentionally), and one that I agree with, is that in the beginning, if some left leaning think tanker started pointing at all the ways this could go off the rails, and using those potentialities as reasons why there needs to be some baseline set of rules about employment conditions or contract interpretation and enforcement, he would be just as likely to hear all the nanny statist accusations a lot of regulation proponents hear today. But now, when it has gone off the rails, in large part due to failing to admit those potentialities, we hear from those same libertarians (again, not you) that well, its just a failing of government to provide one of its core functions, which is to police fraud.Report

              • Avatar Dave in reply to switters
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                says:

                @switters

                Wouldn’t most libertarians be on board with the general rule that understanding the terms in the contract is the duty of the party entering into it.

                It is completely reasonable to expect the government to have a role in creating reasonable rules to require that transactions are conducted in as transparent a fashion as possible and to prohibit one party from acting in a way to willfully and deliberately deceive someone in order to get someone to agree to a certain set of terms.

                Seems ok to me.Report

              • Avatar Troublesome Frog in reply to Dave
                Ignored
                says:

                That would be a big step. I can’t count how many times I’ve had a contract with an insane term put in front of me me and had the conversation go like this:

                Me: “It says here that you can stop paying me at any time and I have to work for another 10 years for free and that you can burn my house down with my family in it if I don’t.”
                Them: “Yeah, but that’s just boilerplate. They’d never actually do it. In fact, it’s probably not even enforceable in California.”
                Me: “Can we take that part out?”
                Them: “The legal department says that we can’t. But seriously, don’t worry. Look at all of the people working here who signed it. They’re fiiiine.”Report

              • Avatar Dave in reply to Troublesome Frog
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                says:

                @troublesome-frog

                For me, with anything, the challenge is finding the correct balance between making sure that the parties to a transaction are on some measure of equal ground even if there is a disparity in bargaining power (and there will be…) and not making the process to cumbersome such that one party or the other won’t transact at all (i.e. interest rate caps on payday loans).

                I don’t think I’m going to take your example and defend it on freedom of contract grounds anytime soon. 😉Report

              • Avatar Troublesome Frog in reply to Dave
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                says:

                My point was less about the ridiculousness of terms in certain contracts and more about the fact that those contracts inevitably come with verbal assurances that aren’t worth anything. I know better than to believe that the courts will side to me when the contract says X on paper and the guy handing me the contract says ~X with his mouth. But clearly a lot of people don’t.

                To me, the big problem is that it’s not just really sleazy actors that do this. Just about every employer I’ve ever dealt with has tried it, and I’m a well-treated white collar worker who doesn’t have to put up with nonsense. I shudder to think of what’s in employment contracts for people who have limited bargaining power.

                Some of this could be due to the fact that there’s no penalty for putting unenforceable nonsense in a contract. Ask for the sun, the moon, and the stars knowing that a judge will throw it out and eventually everybody gets used to the idea that most contract terms are meaningless. Pretty soon we’re all signing papers based on a wink and a handshake without any real understanding of how much of it is real. But that’s not all of it.

                There’s a cultural component to it that I don’t think can be solved easily by changing laws. The scary times are when the contract terms are enforceable and the person signing the contract believed the other guy when he said, “Yeah, it says I can kick you in the balls, but I’d never actually do it.” You could make saying that stuff illegal, but how would you enforce it?Report

              • Or (this was actually said to me when I asked if a non-compete could be crossed out) “How do you think all the people that signed it would feel if we made an exception for you?”Report

              • Avatar Troublesome Frog in reply to Mike Schilling
                Ignored
                says:

                What, are they going to tell them? Surely they don’t think that those arrangements are any less tippy-toppy-secret compartmentalized information than your salary.

                Non-competes are the best. I’ve always thought it would be fun to ask if they’d leave stop producing X for as long as I agreed to stay out of industry X. Maybe make shoes for a while. Or maybe the analogy is more along the lines of, “I won’t compete with you as long as you promise not to hire anybody to replace me.”Report

              • If you think it’s unfair competition for me to apply things I’ve leaned elsewhere, you must agree that it’s unfair for me to apply things I’ve learned previously here. So, why are you hiring me instead of a baby?Report

              • Avatar Troublesome Frog in reply to Mike Schilling
                Ignored
                says:

                I had pretty much that same argument with a VP at my last company when we were wrangling over the exit paperwork.

                Me: “I’m a biometrics subject matter expert and that plays a strong role in my career. The wording of this is pretty aggressive.”
                Him: “You can’t use anything you’ve learned here.”
                Me: “Nothing? So I wouldn’t be able to accept a senior engineering position at a biometrics company because I’ve spent 10 years here and I just have to subtract those off? I’m not talking about trade secrets here. Just broad principles.”
                Him: “Nothing at all. It’s all our IP.”
                Me: “So in the last job posting you requested 3+ years of biometrics experience. You weren’t stealing from their previous employer, right? So whatever it was that you were asking for in that posting is what I’m going to bring to the next operation. Is that fair?”

                [ Here’s where we get the, “It’s all just boilerplate and you should just sign it because we’d never use the extensive rights we’ve carved out for ourselves in this document,” speech. ]Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Troublesome Frog
                Ignored
                says:

                The big problem with non-competes is that they cost an employer nothing except the expense of developing the boilerplate language.

                Change the law such that a non-compete requires the employer to pay a hefty severance if a former employer is barred from working in the chosen field, and the language will get much more precise in a hurry.Report

        • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Tod Kelly
          Ignored
          says:

          That’s a pretty serious charge, (thinking of the context of the famous Ron Bailey disclosures). Which writer was paid by the lobbying firm?Report

        • Avatar Chris in reply to Tod Kelly
          Ignored
          says:

          I remember the legislative battles, dating to the mid-90s, and heating up periodically, as in the late 90s/early Aughts and mid-Aughts (when the Bush administration was populated by the very folks who’d created the policies). I remember libertarians being anti-anti-sweatshop, as almost all of them always are (including in every sweatshop conversation we’ve had on this site). I remember who took what side on the Stop Sweatshops Act and related legislation. I’m pretty sure, however, that between the BSDIism and connecting protectionism and libertarianism, the probability of near total thread derailment once folks actually read the piece (and therefore stop writing comments about work culture, say) approaches 1.Report

        • Avatar Dave in reply to Tod Kelly
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          says:

          @tod-kelly

          That being said, for now I will simply say that in general, I think CNMI appeals to the kind of libertarian who would find a country with no import/export tariffs or taxes, open borders where immigrants and foreign workers are not tracked by the government, no real employment laws, and which had made a decision not to have its government have an office of Attorney General on the logic that if CNMI’s business interests were doing things that were so-called unethical, immoral, or illegal, it should be up to the market to punish them, not the government a good thing.

          Am I the only libertarian to not get offended by this? I see where you’re going with it and it hardly requires the discussion that’s taken place. Silly me.Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Joe Sal
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      says:

      The cartoon ones, in the left-wing equivalent of Chick Tracts.Report

  13. Avatar LeeEsq
    Ignored
    says:

    We also still in the United States. Several weeks ago, the New York Times had an article about how a turkey processing company in Iowa has been using mentally disabled men, American citizens to a person, to process the turkey parts but paying them pennies and imprisoning them in horrifying conditions. Many of these men were doing this for decade. The family eventually got caught and lost big in a lawsuit but thanks to the wonders of the American legal system, were able to find to shield a lot of their money so the men they abused for decades are only getting around $25,000 each rather than hundreds of thousands of dollars.Report

    • Avatar Roland Dodds in reply to LeeEsq
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      says:

      Well, as you know, even having basic regulations of this glorious industry is akin to communism. If you don’t like it, you can giiiiiiiiiiiiittt out.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Roland Dodds
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        says:

        What the family doing was already against the law, its how they got into serious legal trouble once the got caught. Having the laws and regulations is not enough, they also have to be enforced even if they raise prices for the consumer or cause other problems.

        My personal life was recently indirectly effected in a negative fashion by a necessary but bothersome regulation. The organizers in one of the weekly dances in New York City decided to call it quits for at least the rest of 2015 if not longer. One of the contributing factors was the problems of finding a venue. You need a particular type of license to have dances in New York. In August 2014, the venue we usually had the dances in had a fire, luckily when we were not there. In the aftermath of the fire, it turns out the venue did not have the proper type of licenses for many of the events they were hosting and got in a lot of legal and financial trouble because of that. The event had to move once the venue reopened because of the lack license. This led to a lot of venue hoping in 2015 because finding a place with enough space and the right license that was cheap enough in Manhattan wasn’t easy. A lot of people stopped coming and it became no longer logical to continue the event.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to LeeEsq
      Ignored
      says:

      @leeesq Hey, no fair revealing future posts in the series!!!Report

  14. Avatar Chip Daniels
    Ignored
    says:

    An excellent if horrifying post.
    I think it illustrates yet again, how what is sold to us as “free trade” is nothing of the sort.
    Instead, it is an artificial construction of gates and switches intended to further the goals of the people who erect them.

    When it is in our interest to consider Saipan a part of America, it is; when it is in our interest to consider it a foreign nation, it is.
    When we want to treat the people there like Americans, they are; when we want to treat them like foreigners, they are.

    The standard defense for criticisms of the system of global regulations regarding trade is that “we are helpless to control other countries”.

    But of course in this instance, we have virtually dictatorial power and control over the Marianas. The outcome there is exactly, precisely the way the powers that be in America want them to be.

    I say “we” because while only a tiny few number of Americans actually have their hands on the levers of control over the Marianas, we all turn a blind eye to it, and regularly and actively vote for those who promise to do more of this, across the world and right here at home.

    We also have shown ourselves susceptible to the Lifeboat theory. Inevitably a defense is erected, that yes, things are terrible over there, but any effort to relieve it will result in our Taxes Going Up! or our Clothes Costing More!, or that this is the only possible system, otherwise Mass Unemployment!

    Which is always BS, but it allows us to pretend that we are helpless and that this is the best of all possible outcomes.Report

    • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Chip Daniels
      Ignored
      says:

      Chip Daniels: I say “we” because while only a tiny few number of Americans actually have their hands on the levers of control over the Marianas, we all turn a blind eye to it, and regularly and actively vote for those who promise to do more of this, across the world and right here at home.

      I’ve made similar arguments in the past, that certain politicians who support damaging policies should still be supported because they also support good policies. I remember being roundly scolded that this is political horsetrading and the good they can do outweighs the bad.Report

    • Avatar Damon in reply to Chip Daniels
      Ignored
      says:

      “I think it illustrates yet again, how what is sold to us as “free trade” is nothing of the sort.”

      Bingo. And no rational person would look at this scenario and say that was real free trade.Report

    • Avatar North in reply to Chip Daniels
      Ignored
      says:

      Well as one of those people I’d say without hemming or hawing that what Tod describes is horrific and should not have been permitted to happen. Saipan is part of the US so we can impose whatever labor standards that the electorate desires on it and I’d support imposing humane ones.

      When we start talking about doing the same to nations which are not part of the US that’s when I get off the bus.Report

  15. Avatar Brandon Berg
    Ignored
    says:

    Yeah, but since there’s a contract and it’s only temporary, is it really slavery?

    Far be it from me to claim that a politician would never say anything stupid or reprehensible, but is it possible that this was said by people who didn’t have the full story as you’re presenting it here? I can see this being a reasonable question for someone in possession of some subset of the facts here, but “They signed contracts” isn’t really a plausible defense when the contracts were grossly misrepresented.Report

  16. Avatar Kolohe
    Ignored
    says:

    Ah, it’s good to see Saipan Sucks website is still active, even though they’ve lost some of their Geocities design elements.Report

  17. Avatar Jaybird
    Ignored
    says:

    Current suspicion: What we recognize as human rights are a by-product of massive wealth.

    Remove the wealth, we’ll see the accumulated rights be removed in “last in/first out” order.

    Remove enough wealth, we’d see a return to chattel slavery.

    And the slave owners will find ways to explain how their moral systems are superior to ours by judging ours according to theirs.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to Jaybird
      Ignored
      says:

      Of course this is obviously true.
      You’ve never had someone offer their seven year old girl-child’s hand in marriage to you.
      What ought to scare everyone is this made perfect sense to the parents, as they knew that the man could provide a far better life for their child than they could.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird
      Ignored
      says:

      Remove the wealth, we’ll see the accumulated rights be removed in “last in/first out” order.

      This part does sound obvious, since you don’t need to actually remove the wealth for rights to be curtailed. In lots of cases just need holders of wealth to perceive a threat to their holdings for that result to emerge. So in my mind, it sorta reduces to an instance of what is a pretty obvious claim: that when the shit hits the fan power concepts reign supreme.

      The first part – with the “by-product” phrasing – is less obviously true (if true). You’d have to elaborate on that a bit before there was something to agree or disagree with, tho, it seems to me.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Stillwater
        Ignored
        says:

        I’m not really talking about rights being curtailed, necessarily. I’m talking about them being emergent properties. Our massive wealth allows these emergent properties to present identically to teleology.

        As the wealth recedes, so too would the emergent properties of what we categorize as human rights. These rights would not then be curtailed. They wouldn’t even make sense.Report

        • Avatar greginak in reply to Jaybird
          Ignored
          says:

          If we look at older societies, at various different times before us and with different levels of wealth, we see all sorts of different beliefs, traditions and treatment of people. Certainly wealth changes things but not in any clear cut manner or that is easily predictable.Report

        • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird
          Ignored
          says:

          Still confused a bit, maybe because trying to make sense of this view given past conversations we’ve had on this topic.

          Are you saying that there are no natural rights that inhere in individuals? (If so, I agree!)Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Stillwater
            Ignored
            says:

            To what extent is an emergent property “natural”?Report

            • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird
              Ignored
              says:

              Doesn’t really matter once you’ve rejected that rights are fundamental, immutable properties of individuals. I mean, at that point we really are haggling over details. Especially as far as your initial proposal is concerned.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                “They aren’t fundamental, but they are emergent” seems to be a distinction with a difference from “they aren’t fundamental”.

                And the details are where god is. Or the devil. One of those.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                Didn’t you know that the devil is always hanging out with God, Jaybird? They’re tight.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                Thinking about this some more on the drive home, maybe it’s like evolution insofar as the traits most likely to be able to adapt to the environment are the ones that make it to the next generation and the ones that happen to hinder in the environment tend to not be so lucky (even if they would thrive in a completely different one).

                There isn’t devolution.

                But the traits that are helpful in the new environment will do a lot better than the ones that aren’t.Report

          • Avatar Patrick in reply to Stillwater
            Ignored
            says:

            Are you saying that there are no natural rights that inhere in individuals? (If so, I agree!)

            If I can put words in Jaybird’s mouth, here:

            He’s saying that *if* some rights are emergent properties, then the consequence would be that rolling back the wealth would result in those rights being no longer considered rights.

            What he’s not saying, but I believe he would add sotto voce, is “thus maybe the term ‘rights’ is not so appropriate to use in this case.”

            Which isn’t really so much debatable. It’s what all post-apocalyptic fiction is about, really. It’s what Locke was talking about when he was talking about the State of Nature.

            Now I’m engaging in rights talk again.Report

            • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Patrick
              Ignored
              says:

              Patrick,

              I agree with the Locke part (although my thinking tracked a more Hobbesian trajectory) but what I was asking Jaybird for clarification was something different and relating directly to the “obvious” portion of his views. The first is the claim I quoted above, which does seem obvious (to me anyway) since the absence of wealth will entail the absence of rights enforcement and reduce social interactions to a nasty game, red in tooth and claw.

              The other part – the part about emergent properties – strikes me as entirely unobvious, and in fact, I’ve spent a lot of time on this site arguing for a similar claim against people who thought my view was not only false, but obviously false. And the reason why my view was obviously false is that they viewed natural rights are obviously true. So I don’t think Jaybird’s claim is obvous at all, actually, and is in fact quite interesting. (It also seemed like a departure from his earlier position to some extent, which is why I asked for clarification).

              On a more philosophical level, tho, the claim the rights are emergent properties means that the underlying organizational stuff comprising social dynamics, necessarily including wealth (call it WS – wealthy society), is sufficient for rights to be instantiated. Personally speaking, I’m dubious that such a view is true (ie., that WS is sufficient for rights), especially along the lines Jaybird suggests, but if it is true, then it’s clearly not trivial and actually very interesting.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                the absence of wealth will entail the absence of rights enforcement

                There’s more to rights than rights enforcement, assuming that rights are fundamental, immutable properties. And even if we don’t, there’s more to them than whether they’re enforced.

                A recent example is the whole issue of transgendered teens having the right to use the showers of the other gender in high school.

                In 1915, for example, this right would have been seen differently than we see it today. In a poor country, for example, it might not make sense either.

                This is not to say that this right does not exist today because it did not exist in 1915, but that there are things that make even conceiving this right possible in the first place.

                If you go back to 1815 and argue this issue with the founders, they would probably boggle. It makes no sense without the context of… well, a whole lot of things. This context, once established, makes this right possible. The right emerges from the context.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                There’s more to rights than rights enforcement, assuming that rights are fundamental, immutable properties. And even if we don’t, there’s more to them than whether they’re enforced.

                We’ve talked about this before, but my view is that without a) enforcement derived from a b) legitimate claim (see what I’m doing here?), rights are only nominal, and issues regarding whether they exist or not makes no sense. To your specific example, I’d say that even in the case of a transgendered kid’s right (or “right”) to gender-appropriate locker rooms the issue resolves to whether or not allowing it, or preventing from preventing it, is enforced. If it’s not enforced or protected, then it’s not a right.

                It’s certainly true that as society becomes more complex we seem to discover lots of fresh, newly-minted rights which people argue about and squabble over and so on. And that process of creating rights (so to speak) is most definitely consistent with your view that rights are emergent properties which supervene on underlying social structures. I mean, is it a self-evident, immutable property of transgender people that they have the right to gender-appropriate bathrooms and locker rooms? (Seems to me the answer is a negative, but I say that about all the rights. 🙂Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                If a right is seated in the individual, it’s one thing. If it’s seated in whether or not the powerful will extend a privilege, it’s something else.

                This comes down to axioms.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                If it’s seated in whether or not the powerful will extend a privilege, it’s something else.

                Well, sure. The latter is a dispensation. Do you think a dispensation = an emergent property?Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Jaybird
      Ignored
      says:

      Well, that’s a recurring lesson of speculative fiction, isn’t it? “A society has only the ethics that it can afford.” Take away wealth and industrialization and security, and ethics will mold to fit the new economic norms, with a speed and facility that will seem frightening from the perspective of the original position. I see three grand possibilities resulting from that proposition, contingent upon an unknowable philosophic binary, and none of them are pleasant:

      1) If there’s no absolute good and bad, then all your deeply-held personal moral commitments are merely cultural preferences and even those are malleable; in other words, Nietzsche was right that morality is an illusion.

      2) Yes, there is such a thing as an objective right and wrong, and there are societies (and individuals) which fail to find ways to adhere to objective morality and survive and therefore must either deceive themselves about their own evil, or else elect to perish.

      3) Yes, there is such a thing as an objective right and wrong, but the objectively right thing to do in all cases ultimately consists of the single imperative of group survival and every other ethical or moral norm one might posit is inessential to that.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Burt Likko
        Ignored
        says:

        I can’t decide which is the best one.Report

        • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Jaybird
          Ignored
          says:

          If it helps, change the metric from “best” to “least bad.”Report

          • Avatar Patrick in reply to Burt Likko
            Ignored
            says:

            I see a fourth possibility.

            There is an objective right and wrong, but the level of clarity required to ascertain this in all cases is beyond human capability.

            Our intellectual tradition of moral philosophy has had an underlying (erroneous) assumption that a moral philosophy framework can be constructed which is complete, correct, and closed. The attempts of our greatest philosophers have all suffered from this assumption. Even Nietzsche was incorrect; he assumed that “all objective right and objective wrong cannot be encapsulated in a finite set of moral axioms and principles” was equivalent to “therefore objective right and objective wrong cannot exist”. Poor lad needed himself some more theology, perhaps.

            Our frameworks for guidance in moral philosophy will all be limited by their assumptions, and thus will occasionally give us false guidance in determining moral truth if we rely only upon one framework to give us the One True Path.Report

            • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Patrick
              Ignored
              says:

              That smacks deliciously of both transcendentalism and the nouminous. Kant, Thoreau, and Aquinas would all approve.

              My issue is, if it’s true that the real objective morality is both infinite and beyond human understanding, that doesn’t get us back to the question of how to tell right from wrong. It tells us “You can never know right from wrong for sure.”

              So philosophically, it’s a different ball of wax entirely, but in terms of governance and practical moral decision-making, transcendentalism winds up tasting basically the same.Report

              • Avatar Patrick in reply to Burt Likko
                Ignored
                says:

                My issue is, if it’s true that the real objective morality is both infinite and beyond human understanding, that doesn’t get us back to the question of how to tell right from wrong. It tells us “You can never know right from wrong for sure.”

                I would contend that there are degrees of certainty.

                Just about every moral framework constructed that has any interesting qualities to it at all shares some common outcomes.

                If you have an existing moral quandary and three different moral frameworks all would reject one course of action as abhorrent, it’s somewhat more likely that it is Abhorrent than if only one moral framework rejects it as abhorrent.

                If the different moral frameworks have different constructive principles, then you’re on even stronger ground.

                It’s when Kant says you should do X, Nietzsche says you should do Y, and St. Aquinas says you should do Z that you have a really sticky moral quandary.

                Hegel, of course, cheats, because everything is both this and that, so half the time Hegel says you should do both X (when this is this) and Y (when that is that) without giving you any meaningful way to know which this is.Report

            • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Patrick
              Ignored
              says:

              Even Nietzsche was incorrect; he assumed that “all objective right and objective wrong cannot be encapsulated in a finite set of moral axioms and principles” was equivalent to “therefore objective right and objective wrong cannot exist”. Poor lad needed himself some more theology, perhaps

              Or a bit of mathematical logic. Truth, decidability, and finite axiomatizatibility are not at all the same thing.Report

            • Avatar Joe Sal in reply to Patrick
              Ignored
              says:

              “Poor lad needed himself some more theology, perhaps”

              “You have your way. I have my way.”
              (he said to god)Report

              • Avatar Patrick in reply to Joe Sal
                Ignored
                says:

                I was thinking more of the lines of ineffability.

                Although I was never fond of “God doesn’t want us to know”, “some things are unknowable” was a thought theologians got through their collective heads a while before the Enlightenment. Then learned men forgot about it until Godel and Heisenberg shattered the idea that everything was knowable, formally.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Burt Likko
        Ignored
        says:

        Burt,
        I believe that there is an objective right and wrong, but it has relatively little to do with most people’s morality.
        To put it simply: Don’t exploit the system. If you do so, you run the risk of the entire universe being turned off. (and I think that’s objectively wrong for anything inside the system).Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Jaybird
      Ignored
      says:

      @jaybird “Current suspicion: What we recognize as human rights are a by-product of massive wealth.”

      I very much agree with this.

      And drilling down into slightly less broad historical spectrums, I would add that most of the political issues we care about the most today — the ones that really get our dander up, get us yelling at one another, the ones we convince ourselves are the Most Important Ever — are first and foremost proof of our relative prosperity and security.Report

  18. Avatar James K
    Ignored
    says:

    Let me begin with the obvious, what you are describing is appalling.

    I do have some issues with your framing though.

    1) This is more than just poor labour conditions. One of the things that makes me relatively sanguine about sweatshop conditions is that the workers are making the choice to do that work. They have a decent idea of what they are getting into, and they can quit if their information was wrong. That last part is particularly important as it makes it less vital that the workers be fully-informed before agreeing to take the job. By blocking rights of exit (not to mention violating their part of the agreement) these companies are moving from employer to slaver.

    2) I don’t see a lot here to indict libertarianism specifically. Sure, US politicians invoke capitalism in their rhetoric, just like they invoke Christianity, because those things are popular with the voters. Note that what regulations there are (including rules only the most anarchistic of libertarians would oppose, like contract enforcement) are improperly enforced – this is a failure of government, not markets. How does it make sense to give these same people more regulations to fail to enforce? Furthermore, the whole reason this system exists is to do an end-run around the US’s tariff system. Those workers would be much less vulnerable in their home countries as they would not be a despised minority separated from their support networks. But since you have to pay a tax to use workers in a foreign country (purportedly because labour stands in other countries are too lax), a system of even more severe exploitation has been set up in the good old US of A.

    I do agree though that the real problem here is that we’re talking about a group of people with no political power – neither directly (as they cannot vote) nor indirectly (as voters do not find them sufficiently sympathetic) which means the political system has no incentive to protect them.Report

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

      Sweatshops often blocks the right of exit, sometimes in ways that are immediately fatal

      I’m sorry, but I am simply not to going to listen to any nonsense about how death-trap working conditions are acceptable, because the fact that people without better options accept them means that they’re mutually agreed upon.Report

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

        @mike-schilling

        Oh by all means, refuse to buy the products of sweatshop labour, even ban the trade in them, if you can. It won’t do the slightest thing to help any of the people you believe you care about but you’ll feel better about yourself, and after all isn’t that important thing at the end of the day?Report

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

          No, fire exits do nothing to help people except keep them alive, and of what use is that? It’s the people unwilling to deny workers the freedom to be burned to death or crushed in building collapses that have truth and justice on their side. Though I suppose they might at least disapprove of those things intellectually if they could be persuaded to see them as negative externalities.Report

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

            @mike-schilling

            And how exactly do you expect your issuing demands from the other side of the Earth to actually make those fire exits clear for use? You can demand all the compliance requirements you like, but the local institutions aren’t capable of enforcing them, and foreign auditing only gets you so far. And by imposing trade restrictions all you will do is drive people out of the crappy choice they’ve been forced to make into an even crappier one they passed over the first time. You don’t make people better off by taking away choices, and by imposing restrictions on trade with less-developed countries you will be taking choices away from people who have precious few to begin with.

            If you want to help workers in poor countries then that’s great, but actually help them. Or if you can’t figure out how to help them then do nothing (and I could hardly blame you, a lot of very smart people have been banging their heads against this problem for decades with very little in the way of success). But what you don’t do is cut them off at the shins and congratulate yourself for it.

            As crappy as sweatshop labour is as a development strategy, it’s actually working. If you’re not familiar with the development literature then you have no idea how remarkable and precious that is. Things are actually heading in the right direction in so many poor countries and I don’t want to anyone messing it up.Report

            • Avatar Kim in reply to James K
              Ignored
              says:

              Unions have seemed to work. I support unions. Let the people there figure out what they can afford to ask for.

              I also support training children so they’re less likely to burn themselves making products for export.Report

            • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to James K
              Ignored
              says:

              This is exactly the defense of the regulatory structure I referenced.

              “We can’t control other countries!”
              Except we can and do. Trade regulations are literally rules set down saying “You must do this or not do that”.

              Then the Lifeboat Problem. “The alternative is worse! Someone has to suffer so the rest of us can live!”

              This is nonsense. The landscape of global trade- the costs, the wages, the working conditions and environmental effects- is not the result of immutable laws of nature, but of human design and engineering.

              Every person on earth could enjoy a decent standard of living, humane working conditions and freedom, if we wanted it to be so.Report

              • Avatar Dave in reply to Chip Daniels
                Ignored
                says:

                @chip-daniels

                This is nonsense. The landscape of global trade- the costs, the wages, the working conditions and environmental effects- is not the result of immutable laws of nature, but of human design and engineering.

                It may not be a result of immutable laws of nature, but that does not mean that the landscape of global trade is exclusively a function of things that can be controlled, as you seem to suggest with your human design and engineering. I don’t know if I’d go so far as to suggest that human behavior is an immutable law of nature, but I do know that human behavior will react to human design and engineering.

                At the risk of beating the payday lending horse to death (it’s a good example), as you may recall, under the CFPB, banks were subject to stricter standards with respect to payday-type loans. As you may also recall, the five banks that were in that business decided to exit that business rather than play by the CFPB’s rules (can’t say I blame them).

                Just because you think you can design the world you want to live in doesn’t mean everyone else is going to play ball.Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to Dave
                Ignored
                says:

                It’s the truth, you can’t design the world you want to live in.

                But the payday lenders aren’t exactly sitting on their hands and crying, you know… someone came along with a better business opportunity, and they were… somewhat forced to jump ship like some fleeing rats.

                If you can’t tell me where the payday lenders are working now, and why, then you definitely can’t tell me why the banks were the main force behind getting rid of the worst of the payday loans.Report

              • Avatar Dave in reply to Kim
                Ignored
                says:

                @kim

                But the payday lenders aren’t exactly sitting on their hands and crying, you know… someone came along with a better business opportunity, and they were… somewhat forced to jump ship like some fleeing rats.

                I’m not referring to the payday lenders but rather the banking institutions that offered products that competed with the payday lenders. They fall under the CFPB while I don’t think the non-bank payday lenders do.

                If you can’t tell me where the payday lenders are working now, and why, then you definitely can’t tell me why the banks were the main force behind getting rid of the worst of the payday loans.

                The payday lenders are operating in states without regulations that aim to limit their business practices, and as far as I know, the worst of the payday loans are still out there unless the business changed drastically since I wrote my post on the subject 2 1/2 years ago (I haven’t paid much attention).Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to Dave
                Ignored
                says:

                It has, actually. Lot of the states where payday lenders were operating passed laws (supported by the banks, big surprise?) about the usury involved.

                Now the payday lenders are doing worse things.Report

              • Avatar Dave in reply to Kim
                Ignored
                says:

                And the banks still aren’t getting that business.Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to Dave
                Ignored
                says:

                They’re getting the business alright, just a different business.
                More rural, more predatory, less risk.Report

              • Avatar Patrick in reply to Dave
                Ignored
                says:

                At the risk of beating the payday lending horse to death (it’s a good example), as you may recall, under the CFPB, banks were subject to stricter standards with respect to payday-type loans. As you may also recall, the five banks that were in that business decided to exit that business rather than play by the CFPB’s rules (can’t say I blame them).

                Just because you think you can design the world you want to live in doesn’t mean everyone else is going to play ball.

                “In order to have access to the Fed Window or sell mortgage properties to Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae, you will be required to offer this service, under these conditions”.

                One can argue, of course, that maybe we ought not to give access to the Fed Window to some financial institutions and not others, or the ability to sell loans to quasi-governmental agencies to some financial institutions and not others, but given that we have these things and that they represent a channel to all kinds of profitable activity, there’s no inherent reason why we can’t require banks to perform financial services at below market rates in order to get access to those additional profitable activities.

                Granted, just because you can design some things doesn’t mean everyone else is going to play ball, and just because you can design some things doesn’t mean that they will *stay* designed.Report

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

              The US can refuse to trade with places that violate basic safety standards. If the jobs shift from poor countries that don’t enforce that to poor countries that do, that’s a net benefit to the world and an incentive to the stranglers to get moving. It’s not as if having fire exits and keeping the doors unlocked make goods uncompetitive, or even raise the cost of producing them.Report

              • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Mike Schilling
                Ignored
                says:

                Bangladesh needs to start a nuclear wespons program. Then, people will be in favor of eliminating trade sanctions when Dhaka officials say they have abandoned it.Report

              • Avatar Dave in reply to Mike Schilling
                Ignored
                says:

                @mike-schilling

                The US can refuse to trade with places that violate basic safety standards.

                As you and I know, it’s not going to happen because U.S. business interests that operate or deal with offshore manufacturers would never go for that. U.S. businesses will pay lip service to the fact that they require that their providers operate within basic safety standards only to engage in plausible deniability when a blocked fire exit results in the death of 100 workers.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Dave
                Ignored
                says:

                Of course it won’t happen. But it’s not because the people who make it impossible are protecting developing economies from foolish sentimentalists.Report

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

                @mike-schilling

                How are you defining “basic safety standards”. Are you only going to include safety features that don’t cost anything to implement? Are you also going to ensure the compliance burden of demonstrating that the company is complying with these rules doesn’t fall on employers? Because if the answer to either question is no then your proposal amounts to saying “Your economy must be at least this developed to do business with us”.Report

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

                How are you defining “basic safety standards”. Are you only going to include safety features that don’t cost anything to implement?

                It’s a start, and it should (but won’t) stop the whining about how imposing any regulations at all on business kills jobs. I mean, yes, they have electricity and sewing machines, but they can’t afford doors? And how are they supposed to hold fire drills without controlled fusion? Taking that half-hour out of their production schedule every six months is the difference between success and ruin.

                Are you also going to ensure the compliance burden of demonstrating that the company is complying with these rules doesn’t fall on employers?

                No, that falls on the American CEOs that will be jailed if they can’t demonstrate it.Report

              • Avatar Dave in reply to Mike Schilling
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                says:

                It’s a start, and it should (but won’t) stop the whining about how imposing any regulations at all on business kills jobs.

                People still whine about that? I tuned that out years ago.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Mike Schilling
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                says:

                We can somehow enforce patent and contract standards, to the point where in TPP corporations can sue local municipalities for ordinances which affect their profits.

                Yet somehow global workplace standards are un-possible.Report

              • Avatar North in reply to Chip Daniels
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                says:

                You’d need global governance to impose global workplace standards, otherwise isn’t it just imperialism or colonialism?Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to North
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                says:

                Yawn. Global unions equal global strikes.
                We’ve already betaed this, and you point to where it’s freaking imperialism when the workers in Houston strike because their employees in India are striking…Report

              • Avatar North in reply to Kim
                Ignored
                says:

                In this subthread we’re talking about imposing certain working conditions on developing nations from the outside; not workers in developing nations obtaining certain working conditions for themselves which, frankly, absolutely no one is opposed to in any way.Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to North
                Ignored
                says:

                I’m in favor of shoveling our resources to the (preferably global) unions, rather than trying to go in through corporate interests or government.

                It’s still external, it’s just giving the people who work there the reins of power.Report

              • Avatar North in reply to Kim
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                says:

                I don’t think you’d find a neoliberal or libertarian here who’d have much to disagree with on that Kimmie, but I doubt you’d find a trade liberal or leftist who’d agree that was sufficient.Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to North
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                says:

                Betcha I could get Brandon to disagree about unions.
                Got no idea what he’d put up instead, of course.

                How leftist we talking? I mean, we could be talking bombs…
                Just blow up the factories! And the workers!
                (kill two birds with one stone! /ducks)Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to North
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                says:

                What are trade agreements if not a rudimentary form of global governance?Report

              • Avatar North in reply to Chip Daniels
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                says:

                I’d agree, but emphasize rudimentary and add nascent. I mean it bears repeating that most deplorable of the practices we’re denouncing are already illegal in the countries we’re trading with. Just because they’re illegal doesn’t make them vanish.

                And yes, Patents and contract standards are far more effectively enforced but there’re some rather obvious glaring differences between patents, contract standards and labor standards.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to North
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                says:

                Are you sure they are glaring and obvious?

                Why do we consider intellectual property rights to be rights, immutable, universal, and foundational, but worker dignity and safety are optional frills?

                My answer is that its because this is the worldview of those who write the trade agreements. If TPP and NAFTA were negotiated by farmworkers and garment workers, they would be very different, don’t you think?Report

              • Avatar North in reply to Chip Daniels
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                says:

                With regards to applying our worker safety standards to other nations not under the power of our government I’d say the differences are quite noticable. IP rights have at least 1 of the directly related parties very passionately interested in defending said rights whereas with workplace standards both of the directly related parties are working to bypass those rules.

                And yes, I agree if farm workers and garment workers negotiated trade frameworks they would be very different, in that they would not exist and I’d expect some raw form of protectionism to reign whereupon the world would be much poorer from it.Report

              • Avatar North in reply to Mike Schilling
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                says:

                No, that falls on the American CEOs that will be jailed if they can’t demonstrate it.
                So the American CEO’s contract with foreign companies to do the labor and other than adding an additional layer of red tape and some distortion the labor problems will, if anything, be worse? Doesn’t strike me as a good idea.Report

              • Avatar Joe Sal in reply to North
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                says:

                I’ll make an attempt to jump on the other side of the fence for a moment.

                a.)If corporations take on the banner of personhood, why wouldn’t we jail the upper management for operating outside the colors of compliance?

                b.)Whether it’s state, federal or global government why should it be allowed to function in a inconsistent application of power, as Chip is articulating? Is it just a lack of accountability backstops that are missing?Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Joe Sal
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                says:

                Joe Sal: Is it just a lack of accountability backstops that are missing?

                I’d argue that this is true for most of the American government.Report

              • Avatar Joe Sal in reply to Oscar Gordon
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                says:

                Are these guys dropping the ball then, http://www.gao.gov or have they been tasked incorrectly, or just lack the power to affect?Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Joe Sal
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                says:

                I’d say they lack the power to affect, or rather, their power to affect is highly dependant upon political winds.Report

              • Avatar Joe Sal in reply to Oscar Gordon
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                says:

                That’s the same conclusion I came to.Report

              • Avatar North in reply to Joe Sal
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                says:

                Joe,
                A) I’m none to delighted with corporate personhood but my core point remains. You make it so American corporations get jailed for noncompliance and American corporations will simply add a layer between themselves and the labor. The American management cannot be jailed, they’re not out of compliance, and you can’t jail the foreign management because they’re outside your jurisdiction.

                B) It seems to me that to morally enforce global labor standards without prancing merrily into imperialism one would need a global government with global legitimacy, global power and a global consensus on minimum labor standards. Currently we have a ghost of a bare bones global government with very little legitimacy, extremely little power and absolutely no consensus.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to North
                Ignored
                says:

                Again, this is just the “gates and switches” situation.

                When a contract or copyright needs to be enforced, sovereignty and borders fall away to nothingness and the world becomes flat.

                When worker safety is to be enforced, suddenly the borders rise to Himalayan heights.Report

              • Avatar North in reply to Chip Daniels
                Ignored
                says:

                Not at all. When contracts or copyrights are enforced at least one of the parties directly involved is very passionately advocating for their interests. When it comes to enforcing some base level of labor standards from afar the advocacy is coming from an only semirelated third party while the two parties directly related are both busy looking for ways to circumnvent the rules in question.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to North
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                says:

                adding an additional layer of red tape and some distortion

                Is that really how we’re describing the rule of law these days?Report

              • Avatar North in reply to Mike Schilling
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                says:

                Since we’re not talking about the rule of law but rather the imposition of our law against people who aren’t subject to our laws I’d probably think of a different less complimentary term.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to Mike Schilling
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        says:

        In the linked article it seems the laws of our trading partner Pakistan already forbade the practices we’re all deploring.Report

        • Avatar James K in reply to North
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          says:

          @north

          Which is part of the problem, there’s a lot more to stopping a practice than merely outlawing it.Report

        • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to North
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          says:

          Hold on: I thought the problem is that developing economies can’t afford such laws, not that they’re incompletely enforced. Make up your minds.Report

          • Avatar North in reply to Mike Schilling
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            says:

            They’re one and the same Mike.Report

            • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to North
              Ignored
              says:

              Not really. Laws are incompletely enforced everywhere. It’s true that there is more low-level corruption is less developed economies [1]. Are you saying that that’s because purely they can’t afford to enforce the law?

              1. I’d have a hard time defending the US corruption-free, but here bribes tend to be in the 6+ figure range, so that’s different.Report

              • Avatar North in reply to Mike Schilling
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                says:

                Well look we both know that it’s a complicated circle, two snakes eating each other’s tails so to speak. A country that obtains a relatively representative government that also tamps down on corruption can develop pretty quickly. Poor countries have a hard time demanding good governments. It looks like it often progresses in stages. You get a pretty unpleasant government that maybe keeps the trains running on time and there’s some development and money, then the government doesn’t really want to upset that applecart and things improve a bit which leads to more development, then people don’t want the government to screw things up and demand it behave better and development proceeds even more.

                But this is kind of beside the point because it’s a question of internals. If we’re talking about encouraging developing countries to have better governments through public shame or scolding I’m fine with that. If we’re talking about empowering people in developing countries to demand better accountability from their government with regards to enforcing labor standards or demanding better labor standards or unionizing I’m all for that. If we’re talking about spurring corporations to have more humane supply chains through publicity, boycotts or other private pressure I’m all for that.

                But if we’re talking about harnessing the power of our state to drive into someone else’s country and say “your standards and enforcement of labor conditions are unacceptable so we’re going to do it for you like it or not” that’s where I get off the bus. I don’t think it’ll work, I think it’d be colossally expensive, ineffective(at its stated goals) and destructive. I also don’t think we’d be greeted as liberators.Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to North
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                says:

                But surely there are other alternatives than taking over the country, yes and, really doing nothing?

                Because here’s the thing, which I will confess gets us into next week’s post a little early: If we are, as a society, going to say, “Hey, these highly immoral and ethical practices being practiced by this other society get us stuff for cheaper, then we will buy our stuff from them,” then what mechanism is it exactly that makes everything better in that other society — ever? What is going to make that other society say, “now that they are buying from us regularly, I can see how crappy I’ve been treating people, and I think I’m ready to stop making this much $.” Because more and more, I am of the belief that arguments that say “it’s good for them in the long run to be treated this way when we buy stuff from them” is a rationalization we tell ourselves so that we don’t have to ask ourselves how much we’re willing to allow to save a few bucks at the Gap. It’s like justifying your being caught with a homeless prostitute to your spouse by saying, “hey, if I weren’t buying sex from them their life would actually be harder,” ya know?

                It’s just getting harder and harder for me to buy the “we buy this discounted stuff because we want to help” line.

                And just to pour it on a wee bit thicker, here’s an imaginary conversation I play out in my head a lot these days:

                Garment worker: Dude, did you not see the forced sex, abortion, and slavery we are being put through?

                American: Yeah, we were just talking about that! Man, that stuff totally sucked. I feel for you. Like, when you were dealing with that, we were battling our own evils and crimes against humanity over here.

                Garment worker: Oh. Well, I guess that makes sense. Totally understand.

                [long pause]

                Garment worker: … Um, just out of curiosity, what evils have you been fighting all this time?

                American: Oh, lots of stuff! Questions about whether we should be able to burn flags, pizza parlors not catering to gays, whether it’s acceptable to have your employer opt out having birth control on your health plan. You know, that basic natural-rights that gets down the fundamentals of what gross injustices human beings should and shouldn’t have to have to endure.

                Garment worker: Awesome. Sooooo, I’m going to go shoot myself now. Good luck when the revolution comes!

                Report

              • Avatar North in reply to Tod Kelly
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                says:

                My Todd, I want to open this comment by observing that your example in the OP occurred within OUR jurisdiction, therefore all development and foreign sovereignty defenses are null. Anyone trying to use them with regards to US territories should be coated in tar, then coated in feathers, then mounted on a rail and run out of town. I just want that to be clear; we’re talking about stuff made in another country that we’re trading with, not stuff made within our own jurisdiction.

                Now to your actual question in this comment.
                The pithy answer runs something like this: China right now, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore a little while ago, all of the rest of us within the last century.

                Now the longer answer. Look, no one likes low margin manufacturing; it pays pretty crap wages, the labor involved is relatively low skill which means the laborers are very easily replaced. All these factors make it an industry that is utterly prime for horrific abuse. That is the ugly reality.
                Here’s another ugly reality: begging on the streets; prostitution; dump scavenging or squatting and subsistence farming? Those are even worse jobs and more emphatically in massively crowded undeveloped countries those jobs are the default. That’s why people line up around the block for low margin manufacturing: because if it’s a decent manufacturer then that job is a hundred times better than the default options and even if it’s an abusive manufacturer the job is probably still better. This is not to defend abusive employers; they’re scumbags or worse simply banally evil; it’s easier to block up the fire exits (for example) than it is to run a work floor where the employees aren’t sneaking out the exits. That is the shitty shitty reality.

                You very eloquently ask about Us, the developed world, in this equation. I disagree mildly with your analysis though, I’m considerably less generous to Us than you are. Let’s be frank, we don’t buy low margin manufactured goods from the developing world because we tell ourselves it’s good for them in the long run. We don’t honestly think that far at all. We buy it because it’s cheaper than manufacturing those goods with either capital or skilled labor intensive processes here. That is all; seriously. We buy it because it’s cheaper. We don’t buy this discounted stuff because we want to help. Let us be brutally truthful here; helping the developing world is likely one of the last things on our collective minds.

                Now you very pertinently ask how we can look at this set up and see any virtue in it. When, you ask, are we going to choose to start treating those workers in low margin manufacturing better? Again I want to be starkly truthful; we never have and we likely never will. I’m going to run the risk of waxing poetic like some market loving libertarian (full disclosure, I am a filthy neoliberal*, not a libertarian). The elegance of market economics is that our good intent is not required to produce positive outcomes. When a country gets set up with extensive low margin manufacturing some very interesting things begin to happen. The economies develop, those shitty low margin manufacturing jobs pay cash (a bit of it) and they pay it regularly. Some of those workers kids get sent to schools. The local government suddenly has some powerful interests who give not a crap about the peoples welfare but are -very- interested in keeping the harbor open, keeping the roads navigable, keeping the electricity on. They don’t do it for the people but those things are good for the people anyways. And then more manufacturers start popping up. The low margin workers who’re especially good at their jobs get poached by other workers. They’re lured away by slightly better pay. They’re lured by slightly better treatment. Then they get poached again. This is, again, not because anyone wants to help them; it’s because everyone is trying to make a buck and if your factory is full of motivated veteran manufacturers your output increases and that’s more yankee dollars in your wallet. In the long run the economy shifts upwards. People who have a bit of education have fewer kids, they start paying attention to things beyond feeding themselves week to week. Local governments get nudged towards behaving better. Better jobs crop up. At some point people start getting pissed at local corruption. People start unionizing and demanding better working conditions and when the government finally starts responding it actually has the know how and the capacity to enforce the standards their constituents are demanding. From that mire a developed country slowly emerges blinking into the light of the world. By this point every leftist here is rolling their eyes but this is the way it works. We have seen it happen before in my own short lifetime. We’re seeing it happen right now. As we speak the very shadiest and lowest margin manufacturers are beginning to weigh anchor in China. Why are they doing this? Because the wages in China are getting too high for their tastes and they’re having trouble retaining workers and also turning a profit.

                And this occurs without even a scintilla of good will from us in the developed world who are buying those goods. Remember, in general we don’t give a fish.

                Now I understand how ugly this is; it was ugly for us in the 1800’s and early 1900’s. It was ugly for our younger developed world brother countries in the 1960’s and 1970’s. It’s ugly right now in the countries that are trying to claw their way up that extensively traveled bone strewn road.

                When we talk, however, about putting a stop to it. About imposing; from the outside by the force of our powerful governments wielding our powerful economic clout; labor standards on our trading partners I get a lot of misgivings. I will grant that in theory there’s a golden compromise where we can ban inhumane working conditions and labor treatment but also keep wages low enough where those workers are globally competitive. I ain’t no economist but it has to be possible because we know that humane low margin employers exist and can do business. What I am deeply skeptical is that we can somehow create a government agency that can economically determine that level correctly; that would remain unswayed by the -powerful- protectionist and nativist currents that flow in our own polity; that would have the deep understanding of multiple foreign cultures and that could apply those standards effectively to those foreign countries. If we could create and sustain such an apparatus that would truly be a feat for the history books.
                And if we could create such an apparatus I am deeply skeptical that we would have the foreign savvy to somehow convince our developing world trading partners to submit to its authority. Free trade with the developed world is a valuable thing and we do not give it away freely. Developing nations give us quid for all that quos. They open their markets up to things where we have the competitive advantage, things like financial services, high margin manufacturing, advanced technologies. They give us security cooperation and their support in international bodies. They don’t do these things for free. If we have the foreign policy chops and the skill to convince our developing world trade partners to not respond to our attempting to impose our labor standards on them without igniting a trade war then that too would be a feat for the history books.

                I am not a principled believer in these things. My meager experience and my meager grasp of history suggests to me that the ugly halting progress we see in the real world is what actually works. If I honestly thought that such an alternative path were realistic and feasible I would switch sides promptly. I have no principled allegiance to market economics, I am not a libertarian; I am interested in what will work. But my skepticism burns high when we talk about forging a new way where there are no tradeoffs and everyone is simply better off and everyone will hold hands and walk into the bright future together. It smells like magical thinking to me. It sounds like reasoning we have heard before and it is not a family of proposals that has a very good historical track record.

                I understand your hypothetical conversation, I feel it. I have one of my own that I think of when we talk about these kinds of labor standards schemes.

                *An agent from the American Department of Global Labor Standards arrives at a squalid manufacturing plant that makes low cost running shoes.*
                I’m from the ADGLS and I’m here to help!
                I’m sorry, I don’t understand what you are saying?
                Umm… does anyone speak.. uh.. whatever language these people speak? *there is a delay*
                I’m from the ADGLS and I’m here to help!
                Gosh, you are? How are you going to help?
                Well my friend you know your long hours? A thing of the past. We’re enforcing a maximum shift time of ten hours!
                Gosh, more time to spend with my family!
                And that is not all! We have determined that the global minimum wage shall be four American dollars per hour.
                By the Gods! I am Rich! Thank you!
                You are welcome my friendly indigenous worker.
                Hey guys, you’re all fired, all thousand of you.
                What?
                Yep, ran the numbers. Apparently HQ can employ fifty well trained Mexicans with advanced machines that, coupled with the reduced shipping times, make these sneakers more economically than you guys can under these terms. Oh and all the other factories here are shutting down too.
                But what do I do now?
                Dude, I really don’t care and I never did, I am catching a flight out of here.
                I have no job, my family and I are going to starve! Can you help?
                That’s outside my scope and none of my business, my unofficial opinion is that you layabouts should probably look into getting a job.

                *At this point the torches and pitchforks come out and the Bangladeshi equivalent of banjo chase music begins playing.*

                And I am now keenly missing Hanley or Blaise P or any of the other old timers who would make these points far better than I would in considerably fewer words. God(ess?) I am sorry!

                *And worse yet an instrumentalist neoliberal rather than a principled one so the filthiest of the filthy.Report

              • Avatar North in reply to North
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                says:

                Err conversation got all borked.. trying again:

                *An agent from the American Department of Global Labor Standards arrives at a squalid manufacturing plant that makes low cost running shoes.*
                *Agent-In English* I’m from the ADGLS and I’m here to help!
                *Worker* I’m sorry, I don’t understand what you are saying?
                *Agent-In English* Umm… does anyone speak.. uh.. whatever language these people speak? *there is a delay*
                *Agent-In Bengali via interpreter* I’m from the ADGLS and I’m here to help!
                *Worker* Gosh, you are? How are you going to help?
                *Agent * Well my friend you know your long hours? A thing of the past. We’re enforcing a maximum shift time of ten hours!
                *Worker* Gosh, more time to spend with my family!
                *Agent * And that is not all! We have determined that the global minimum wage shall be four American dollars per hour.
                *Worker* By the Gods! I am Rich! Thank you!
                *Agent * You are welcome my friendly indigenous worker.
                *Manufacturer* Hey guys, you’re all fired, all thousand of you.
                *Worker* What?
                *Manufacturer* Yep, ran the numbers. Apparently HQ can employ fifty well trained Mexicans with advanced machines that, coupled with the reduced shipping times, make these sneakers more economically than you guys can under these terms. Oh and all the other factories here are shutting down too.
                *Worker* But what do I do now?
                *Manufacturer* Dude, I really don’t care and I never did, I am catching a flight out of here.
                *Worker* I have no job, my family and I are going to starve! Can you help?
                *Agent * That’s outside my scope and none of my business, my unofficial opinion is that you layabouts should probably look into getting a job.

                *At this point the torches and pitchforks come out and the Bangladeshi equivalent of banjo chase music begins playing.*Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to North
                Ignored
                says:

                Slow clapReport

              • Avatar North in reply to Oscar Gordon
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                says:

                I… uh.. hope that’s a good clap.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to North
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                says:

                It is
                That was damn near a post on it’s own.Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to North
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                says:

                So, if all of this is true — and I fully cop that it might well be — then what I don’t understand is this:

                Why shouldn’t we allow indentured servitude in the US? Why shouldn’t we give a seal of approval to the type of practices described in the OP to foreign workers — not only on the Marianas, but on the continental US as well? Wouldn’t that be for the greater long-term good of these people?

                If not, why not? What makes the US so different/special/magical that it can’t be allowed to happen here, if it can be allowed to happen — nay, should be supported by US consumer dollars! — elsewhere so long as we’re still allowed to buy the discounted products that are the end result?

                Isn’t what you and Oscar are saying pretty close to what the far-right says all the time about US slavery? That rather than bemoan still being second class citizens, African Americans should get down on their knees and thank their ancestors’ slave masters for bringing them to what would have been a better life than had they been born in Africa?

                My disagreement with you here, North, is I suspect one of degrees. There are always things that other countries do where we say, “that’s too far. We will have nothing to do with this, and we will not move to profit from their system.” We do it all the time. We’re do it right now with North Korea, and until the treat with Iran goes through, we’re still doing it with them. If China began a Final Solution with some group of people we cared about, we’d make doing trade with Chinese companies so illegal that the fines and jail sentences would put offenders who transgressed trade embargo out of business.

                If these countries were doing these things to their LGBTs, we’d hold rallies. It they were doing these things to Jews, we’d be so outraged we’d be calling for sanctions. If it were Christians, we’d contemplate sending in the Marines. But they’re not people we care about. It’s just poor people. And there’s just something about the systematic dehumanization and criminal treatment of poor people that just can’t break its way onto our radar — especially if their subjugation allows us slightly better prices on goods and services.

                It’s not that there’s nothing we could do. It’s that we don’t give a s**t.Report

              • Avatar North in reply to Tod Kelly
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                says:

                Well, my Todd, I’d refer you to my first paragraph where I note that none of the arguments I was making have any applicability to domestic labor.

                To expand on that point: we, as a society in this country, progressed to the point both economically and socially where we collectively determined that we would no longer tolerate the manufacturing practices that we’re discussing in this point. We set labor laws for ourselves, we forced our government to enforce those laws, we forced our government to be sufficiently honest that those manufacturers could not simply bribe them not to enforce the laws. And when those manufacturers said “We can’t do business in this environment” we collectively said “We’re okay suffering the cost of that”. We did that as a society and a people. Some libertarians bemoan this historical fact- I do not. Maybe this has cost the poorest in our society? So some libertarians say but I am unconvinced. We’re wealthy enough that we can offer the poorest in our country a better option than abusive low margin manufacturing jobs and by and large we do (and in many cases we use non-market means to do it). I am not a libertarian and I celebrate that decision we made.

                Other developed nations have made a similar decision and have chosen to lump the costs of that decision for themselves. Most of them have as a matter of fact. I celebrate their decisions too.

                What you and I are talking about here is not that. I don’t believe it’s up for discussion. Nowhere in your OP did you muse “Hmm what happened in this US territory, maybe we should make it America wide?” Of course you didn’t because we as Americans have long ago decided we don’t want to have that kind of industry operating within America and we, arguably, as Americans have the right to make that decision for ourselves.

                What we are discussing, when talking about other developing world nations, is fundamentally robbing those nations of the right to do what we did. We’re talking about making the decision for them as to whether they will eliminate that kind of business in their countries. We’re talking about using our economic clout, as outsiders, to force them to adhere to standards we choose for them and then making them bear the cost of our choice. We are talking about telling the developed world “yes we know how we got to where we are today but we have decided that the route we took? You can’t use that route. You don’t just have to be as good as we were to join our developed world club; you have to be better than us.”

                We’re sitting in the Developed World Treehouse talking about pulling the bloody rope ladder we used to climb here up behind us.
                “Sure,” the advocates say, “we can make a new ladder made of moonbeams and good intentions that the developing world can use to climb up to join us without getting their hands filthy like we did”.

                I am sorry my Todd but I haven’t seen anyone climb up a ladder made of moonbeams and good intentions before and if we’re proposing pulling the old one up out of the reach of the developing world then it seems reasonable for cynical people like me to ask that the dreamers demonstrate the efficacy of their moonbeam and good intentions ladder first before we do so.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to North
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                says:

                if we’re proposing pulling the old one up out of the reach of the developing world

                Someone needs to explain how having sufficient and unlocked fire exits makes manufacturing unaffordable. Or why not being able to send workers back into a building that’s going to collapse that same day is a cost.Report

              • Avatar North in reply to Mike Schilling
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                says:

                No one needs to, Mike, because you and I both agree that it doesn’t. What we disagree over is whether we- the developed world, from the outside, have the right or the ability on a governmental level to force our trade partners to enforce those rules (and many others) effectively in their own territories.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to North
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                says:

                I hear that, and I also hear that putting pressure on them to stop killing people out of sheer negligence and assholery will put them out of business. The second one is BS.Report

              • Avatar North in reply to Mike Schilling
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                says:

                It depends entirely on who’s pressuring them and how Mike. Can it be done? Of course it can be done, we know it can be done, we’ve done it ourselves and seen others do it for themselves. But the emphasis and the rub is the word ourselves/themselves. Have we ever seen someone impose this kind of thing from outside? I do not think that we have.
                I am dubious that we have the right.
                I am dubious that we have the capability
                And I’m deeply dubious that if we do have the capability that we can do it in such a way that the costs (primarily to them) are worth it.Report

              • Avatar Joe Sal in reply to North
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                says:

                I know we often consider these things near absolutely defined as North has framed them. It is what it is, but should it be this way?

                What is a market for?
                How is it being used?

                If it is to make every nation a Developed World Treehouse, is that a worthy destination? Is it even sustainable?

                Are there driving elements of markets that will be there without the damage machines that arise from mass production/mass trade?Report

              • Avatar North in reply to Joe Sal
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                says:

                All of those are deeply worthy questions Joe. They are, I’d submit, so deeply fundament as to not be directly germaine to the subject at hand. Frankly they’d need an entire post or family of posts of their own to explore and I would very much encourage you to write one.Report

              • Avatar Joe Sal in reply to North
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                says:

                I would make a poor writer. I have not the smooth flow of context like Rufus, or the ability to paint with the broad brush of language as I admire in CK.

                I use the thinnest brush and cut the bristles by half. To few words trying to cover to much area.Report

              • Avatar North in reply to Joe Sal
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                says:

                Then you are my antithesis and have my deepest admiration as I can not avoid using five words where one will suffice.Report

              • Avatar Don Zeko in reply to North
                Ignored
                says:

                If we’re talking about the subject of this post, then it’s not at all an example of forcing a poorer country to adopt labor standards that we have selected for them. It is, instead, a story of the creation of a weird grey area in which no government was willing or able to regulate labor practices at all.

                After all, it’s not like those textile factories were built on a remote Pacific island because it had a comparative advantage based upon locally available resources or population. Rather, those factories were built there for the same reason that companies are legally incorporated in tiny Caribbean islands: out of a desire by the owners of capital to use political and legal loopholes to avoid any interference by any government.Report

              • Avatar North in reply to Don Zeko
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                says:

                You are absolutely correct Don and I agree with you entirely. If you will zip back up this comment thread to my 9:44 comment you’ll note that I pretty much say the same thing. The OP was about something that happened within American jurisdiction and there is no defense of it.

                In this subthread of the comments the conversation turned to trade agreements in general which is the context most of my walls of text were going on about.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Tod Kelly
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                says:

                Why shouldn’t we allow indentured servitude in the US? Why shouldn’t we give a seal of approval to the type of practices described in the OP to foreign workers — not only on the Marianas, but on the continental US as well? Wouldn’t that be for the greater long-term good of these people?

                We do. We call them “undocumented”.We brag about how they’re only coming here to build a better life for their families.

                In the meantime, we enjoy cheaper food, cheaper hotel stays, cheaper landscaping, cheaper construction… Everybody benefits!

                Well, everybody *I* know.Report

              • Avatar North in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                Jay, I’m not touching on that subject- primarily because I’ve been kindof holding it in reserve. If we can’t fully and completely maintain labor standards here in our own back yard what the fish makes us think we can do the same in a foreign environment?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to North
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                says:

                I’m deeply sympathetic with the whole “we shouldn’t be doing this, we shouldn’t be supporting it” attitude.

                What can I say? We shouldn’t be.

                You’d think we’d have learned by now that the best way to change things is to change cultures instead of passing laws, though.

                Maybe if we import enough cheap labor, we can start manufacturing such things in our country again where we have restroom breaks.Report

  19. Avatar Dave
    Ignored
    says:

    @patrick

    “In order to have access to the Fed Window or sell mortgage properties to Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae, you will be required to offer this service, under these conditions”.

    One can argue, of course, that maybe we ought not to give access to the Fed Window to some financial institutions and not others, or the ability to sell loans to quasi-governmental agencies to some financial institutions and not others, but given that we have these things and that they represent a channel to all kinds of profitable activity, there’s no inherent reason why we can’t require banks to perform financial services at below market rates in order to get access to those additional profitable activities.

    My apologies. I was out of town and didn’t get to this until today.

    I don’t think the GSEs are the best examples here. As quasi-governmental agencies, they exist as both profit-maximizing entities as well as governmental entities seeking to fulfill a purpose. Since the GSEs are out to make money through the sale of mortgage-backed securities, they have to control costs and ensure that the loans sold to them are of a sufficient quality. Yes, I think the banks will make a profit on loan sales to the GSE’s, as they should, but will they make high enough risk adjusted returns so that the government can require banks to use its capital to earn a below-market rate of return?

    There’s also the problem of the public goal of the GSEs – improving liquidity in the mortgage markets. Let’s say the government requires banks to offer below-market rate student loans in exchange for access to Fannie and Freddie. Let’s also say that the risk management departments at all the major banks say that the risk is too high given the reward and say no thank you.

    Fannie and Freddie don’t originate loans themselves so they can’t function if they aren’t able to purchase loans. Also, assuming we’re talking about conservative depository institutions that hold loans on their balance sheets, I’d give it a good chance that there are loans that would have qualified under GSE programs that banks themselves would not put on their balance sheet for whatever reason (banks may require higher credit scores as an example). Bank interest rates may be slightly higher than the interest rates under the GSE programs (not much but enough). The net effect is less lending and higher loan costs for borrowers. Is it worth the downside scenario?

    What needs to happen is that the government needs to use its bargaining position to secure the best deal it possibly can for itself. Being in the commercial real estate industry, I’ve seen more than my share of GSA leases, and while landlords may love having the full faith and credit of the United States government behind a portion of its cash flow, landlords are basically taking below-market deals from them. My guess is that Fannie and Freddie have done something similar with the terms and conditions under which they purchase loans (I think I may have written about that earlier this year).Report

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