America Indentured, Part II: Villains

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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194 Responses

  1. LeeEsq says:

    It is completely not surprising that Tenorio defended what happened or is happening on the CMNI proudly. A lot of people see these horrible labor conditions as just being the way things are or a necessary step in economic progress. If you do a search on this site on labor or libertarianism, you would see similar defenses of labor exploitation. During the Gilded Age, there were many similar defenses of the terrible conditions in sweatshops, factories, and mines. There are people whose entire worldview is based on the idea that the world is a naturally harsh place, that there is nothing humans could really do about this collectively, and that the only solution to this problem is that you try to put yourself on top.

    Consumer activism is not enough to end the horrible working conditions of CMNI or other labor abuses within the United States or the rest of the world. What can do is another burst of labor activism and trade unionism.Report

    • Will H. in reply to LeeEsq says:

      I can tell you, as a former trades journeyman, that unions have serious problems that they need to deal with before spreading unionization is properly discussed.
      Sadly, the best thing in the current system for dealing with such things is the Taft-Hartley Act.
      In Right-to-Work states, the corruption found in places like Illinois & New York just aren’t there, because they are forced into being more competitive; i.e., the needs and concerns of the rank-and-file gain more prominence in the conduct of union affairs.
      Far from a perfect answer.
      I agree entirely with your first paragraph, but there needs to be significant reform to the manner in which unions are permitted to conduct their business before the spread of labor unions can properly be discussed.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Will H. says:

        The alleged corruption in unions might not exist in right to work states but right to work states basically are designed to prevent or at least hinder all forms of private unionization. Let’s not kid ourselves hear. Competition does not necessarily seem to be something that works with labor unions because employers would pick the most compliant union to work with. You need one union for the entire workforce rather than multiple competing unions dividing workers.Report

        • Kim in reply to LeeEsq says:

          Is the Steelworkers union really compliant when it starts to unionize college professors?
          Do the colleges have a fucking choice? Would they rather go with the purple-wearing brotherhood (seiu)?Report

          • Will H. in reply to Kim says:

            The colleges do have a choice.
            I just did a story on a university that was organized by the AFT, and spoke with one of the primary organizers behind it. After the vote to unionize, there is a vote as to which union will represent the workers.
            Choosing to remain independent was a big part of what gave the CCPOA a lot of pull (as well as organizing puppet “advocacy groups” to act as PR when public positioning by the union was suspect).

            There are different types of unions, and they can be categorized in several different ways. One is by the way the union itself is organized. Where the IBEW will only organize electricians (because they are a “trade union”), the Steelworkers will organize practically anyone (because their founding documents permit it).

            I wasn’t referring to competition among unions though. That tends to be rather destructive for all involved.
            I did a research paper on the PMWA a few months ago. Nasty stuff there. Eventually, it was resolved mostly by power grabs at the regulatory agencies (i.e., John L. Lewis on the NLRB), and false charges (pre-McCarthy, but very McCarthy-like) to send the opposing leadership to prison.Report

        • Stillwater in reply to LeeEsq says:

          Competition does not necessarily seem to be something that works with labor unions because employers would pick the most compliant union to work with.

          I agree with Will H about some of the problems unions currently (not necessarily inherently) have, but I don’t think this is the right way to think about unions relationship with das capital. Business decision-making is (ideally) rational along a few considered metrics, but one of them will be a consideration of the total cost of a service (concrete work, say, or framing, whatever), which will include not only the bid price, but the quality of the work, the timeline in which it can be delivered, the likelihood that it is completed at the bid price, etc etc. So in the types of projects where union labor would even be a consideration (ie., BIG ones) the decider, who is usually the GC and not the contracting firm, will make an informed decision regarding hiring which will include bid-price as only one of many considerations. And hiring a union to do work will sometimes be the right call.

          On the flip side, a buddy of mine owns a bunch of fast food franchise licenses in various states and when he builds a new store in locations which are heavily unionized he’ll actively, and consciously, NOT hire them because the prices are so incommensurate with the delivered value. Obvs his projects are relatively small, but still. So there’s that, too.Report

        • Oscar Gordon in reply to LeeEsq says:

          Are there locations in RTW states where there are multiple Unions in play? My understanding was that it was usually one Union for a given class of workers & an employee was either a member or a “free-agent” as it were.Report

        • Will H. in reply to LeeEsq says:

          Granted, RTW can hinder organizing. But that does not make it impossible.
          I put in a lot of time into organizing in a RTW state as a salt. Nothing much happened while I was there, and I moved on to other things. About a year later, things started to break, and guys were crossing over to the union. Another year after that, there were enough complaints that an audit was run on the company, and I learned about by receiving a check in the mail for back wages. Another six months, and more guys crossed over to the union.
          That’s the way it goes.
          What happens is that, eventually, the company will lose more and more of its best-qualified and best-trained employees until they have to turn to the union for manpower.
          Either that, or financing. The unions have funds where they make loans to companies at below-market rates in order to offset the added cost of union labor.

          Unions can compete with a non-unionized workforce, but they have to add something in return.

          I have seen that in open shop situations where the company will bring in union labor on a critical job, then lay off immediately after.
          In my trade, huge fluctuations in demand were common. This typically led to a lot of travel, which is what I attribute much of my wage scale to. It is also why I decided to get out of it. I happen to like my own little hovel, and sleeping in my own bed at night grew to be of value greater than the wages.

          If you begin by saying, “Unions are bad for the employer,” then you’re going off track.
          The proper question to ask is, “How can unions be of value to the employer?”
          That is what RTW does, and that is why the corruption doesn’t exist in those states– because it can’t, and still do what needs to get done.Report

          • Michael Cain in reply to Will H. says:

            Indeed. My cousin is an organizer — among other things — for the Teamsters. He lives in a right-to-work state and seems to spend most of his time in other right-to-work states. His FB feed regularly includes successful efforts.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Will H. says:

        I think Lee was speaking more broadly about economics in general. I’ve known a lot of econ majors, MBA types, and various sundry libertarians who argue the sweatshops are good and necessary for economic wealth and development. This seems to be a big debate among the left and libertarians. Are sweatshops a necessary stop in the road for economic development or is it possible for developing countries to learn from the mistakes and history of the west and have a more humane version of economic development?

        You can see a similar argument in terms of environmentalism and economic development. Countries like China and India scream foul when asked to sign on to environmental protocols because they are still developing and want to Industrialize. They feel the environmental regulations will keep them as economic backwaters.

        There is a moral and ethical component here that we are struggling with. The way to increase wealth is by decreasing cost. Is there a moral/ethical cost to decreasing costs too much? There have been a lot of books in the past few years on the American desire to have a lot of things for little money and these include the moral, ethical, and environmental components. One book was called something like the High Cost of Cheap Fashion. Americans love places like H&M and Forever 21 because it means being able to replace an entire wardrobe every season or so. But the costs are obviously that doing so requires cheap labor. Other costs are environmental damage from overproduction and also the suppression of native industries because so much of our “old” clothing goes to developing nations and these nations don’t develop their own industries as a result of this charity.Report

        • Jaybird in reply to Saul Degraw says:

          If we look at global extreme poverty over the last… how many years do we want to look at?

          Let’s look at it since 1990 because that’s when we started tracking it, I guess?

          Check this out.

          The number of people living in extreme poverty is likely to fall for the first time below 10% of the world’s population in 2015, the World Bank said on Sunday as it revised its benchmark for measuring the problem.

          I don’t know how to look at that paragraph without looking at it through the lens of CNMI.

          I don’t know how to look at CNMI without looking at it through the lens of global extreme poverty.Report

          • Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird says:

            You don’t think its odd that a guy who cherishes liberty as a primary goal, is so willing to lay it aside and point to the rising level of material wealth produced by slavery?
            Has this rising tide of wealth actually made the world a better place, even for the poorest among us?

            Would anyone here point to a maid who is subject to rape and beatings in the home of her Kuwaiti employer, and assert that she is better off than when she lived in Indonesia?

            Because, really, that’s what the World Bank stuff is saying, in more polite terms.Report

            • LeeEsq in reply to Chip Daniels says:

              That’s what I really don’t get. I can concede that globally people are better off in material terms because of globalization but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are better off in other terms. Being free from being used as sex slave or any other type of slave is a rather big liberty interest. At least being allowed to quit your job and go home if you find the terms of employment or working conditions deplorable is another liberty interest. These workers can’t even do that.Report

            • LeeEsq in reply to Chip Daniels says:

              That’s what I really don’t get. I can concede that globally people are better off in material terms because of globalization but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are better off in other terms. Being free from being used as sex slave or any other type of slave is a rather big liberty interest. At least being allowed to quit your job and go home if you find the terms of employment or working conditions deplorable is another liberty interest. These workers can’t even do that.Report

              • Kim in reply to LeeEsq says:

                What makes you think they’d have better lives back home?
                There’s a reason these folks are fleeing.
                Never forget that rape makes a surprisingly good terroristic weapon (and has been employed against freedom fighters).Report

            • Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels says:

              Let’s assume that I am worse than Hitler and I enjoy watching the tears of the orphans who water my xeriscaped back yard.

              If we agree that we can start from “I am a Cis-Het White Male who has never, EEEEEVER, checked my privilege”, can I get you to rewrite your comment so it’s about something other than me?

              Because, I assure you, my xeriscaped back yard has never looked better.Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird says:

                If you took offense, it is your own doing.

                My comment is aimed at those who defend the structure of global laws, such as the laws that produce the slavery in CNMI, by pointing to the rising level of material wealth.

                As I mentioned before, the defenses usually fall into either the material wealth category, as yours did, or the Lifeboat Defense, where the misery of the slaves is seen as a necessary ingredient of prosperity.

                What is said about the slaves of CNMI could equally be said about the African slaves of the old South, that they lived in more wealth than they would have in West Africa.

                For that matter, I could assert correctly that Soviet citizens of the Kruschev era had much more wealth than citizens of the Czarist era, as evidence that Communism works. Or the same argument applied to pre- and post colonial Indians, as evidence that British imperialism was beneficial.

                You aren’t alone in your comment. I see this a lot, where the banner of FREEDOM is waved here, then WEALTH there, and always at the convenience of the ones waving it.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                Imagine, if you will, a response that said “the same people who argue that we can’t judge Muslim cultures for racism or sexism because we did the same thing suddenly freak out when other countries better themselves using a path similar to the one we walked”.

                Would you say that that had an actual point addressing anything or would you say that it was an attempt to derail the conversation to become something about what interlocutors believe rather than about what the post is ostensibly about?

                Because I’d be happy to discuss the issues without discussing how it’s funny that a guy who supposedly believes this particular thing might also believe something that contradicts this other particular thing in my strawman version of his belief system.Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird says:

                Was the crack about your love of liberty a cheap shot?
                OK, fair enough, lets leave it aside then.

                You were the one who brought up the rising tide of wealth, and found it difficult to think about this in light of slavery, and difficult to think of slavery in light of the rising tide of wealth.

                My point is that it isn’t “difficult” to think about at all. The attempts to make it difficult, complex, some sort of enigma wrapped in a riddle inside of a mystery are mostly attempts to search for a justification.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                Not just the rising tide of wealth. I’m talking about the slow eradication of extreme poverty. It’s under 10%. For the first time, like, ever.

                That’s one hell of a side effect.

                Keep in mind: I’m not talking about the 1% of the 1% here. I’m talking about the people who live on less than a pitiful amount a day being pulled out of that horrible squalor to some less horrible squalor.

                Which is a measurable thing that is happening.Report

              • Kim in reply to Jaybird says:

                but mostly in china. Sudan still sucks, as does most of everywhere else.Report

              • Don Zeko in reply to Jaybird says:

                Well sure, we have an economic system that has produced this very valuable result. But I think what Chip is trying to get at is that it does not follow from this fact that every aspect of this economic system is necessary for it to produce that effect. I, for one, need to see more evidence before I accept that there’s no way to do away with sex slavery in the Northern Marianas or factory collapses in Bangledesh without killing the goose that lays the golden egg.Report

              • North in reply to Don Zeko says:

                With regards to the Marianas the abuses there was a fiasco and a political scandal and they’ve been generally put a stop to. It bears noting, however, that putting a stop to them has also put a stop to low margin manufacturing in that territory. That is fine, the US is a wealthy country, aid can be provided and it was our decision to make.
                If the people of Bangledesh elect to do the same then it should be an occasion of celebration for them. What usually is noised about, however, is about people not of Bangledesh electing to do that for(or to) Bangledesh for them. When you start talking about doing it for(to) other developing world nations those empty furloughed factories assume a different cast.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to North says:

                If the people of Bangledesh elect to do the same then it should be an occasion of celebration for them.

                They did. The building that so horrifically collapsed there had had additional floors added into it, after the initial permit was added, in violation of Bangledeshi building codes.

                But corruption and crappy construction are what made this country great, and we shouldn’t deny either of those to the rest of the world.Report

              • North in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                Indeed, and are we so much more qualified to enforce Bangledesh building codes than the people in Bangledesh are? To police the Bangledesh government than it’s own people do?Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to North says:

                Not at all. We should celebrate negligence and corruption. It’s like when we read about Tammany Hall and think “Whatever happened to the real America?”Report

              • North in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                I certainly don’t view those things with a mood that even remotely approaches celebration (more like resignation); do you?Report

              • Don Zeko in reply to North says:

                I’d say this story is somewhat complicated by the fact that the people working in those factories in the Marianas were not citizens of the US or permanent residents of the Marianas, so they had no say in the political decision to allow those working conditions to continue or not.

                Beyond that, people make decisions about what working conditions to accept in the context of an international system where very powerful forces are pushing for the most exploitative arrangements possible. Deciding that you’d rather win a race to the bottom than lose one is a wee bit different, in my mind, than simply weighing a choice between grinding rural poverty and sweatshops. And again, while I’m willing to grant that wage increases might drive the factories to the next cheapest country, I am less persuaded that, say, forcing employees to enter a factory they fear will collapse on them is really saving costs in a meaningful way.Report

              • North in reply to Don Zeko says:

                I agree, so do workers in developing world countries and so did workers in low margin countries in our own past and in the past of our developed sibling countries. The magical thinking seems to be that we, from the outside, have the ability (or the right) to do it for(to) workers in developing countries for(to) them.Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to North says:

                The current structure of laws governing global trade, are designed precisely to stifle the voices of the people of those countries, while amplifying the voices of their corrupt rulers.

                The Bangladeshis did not choose this. Does anyone here want to assert that if they had, the outcome would look like this?Report

              • North in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                Eventually the Bangladeshis will choose to discard those business practices both in law and in practice. They are choosing to do so right now as we speak and are on the path that leads from in law to in practice.
                The only difference between us is that you believe outsiders can unilaterally accelerate or eliminate that transition period with no imposed costs on Bangladesh, and I am skeptical.Report

              • Don Zeko in reply to North says:

                At which point the textile factories will move somewhere else. This is a worldview that says it’s inevitable that conditions will not improve until there are no workers on earth more desperate than the current sweatshop workers. Can that be called a meaningful choice on the part of the Bangledeshis? Also, when we say the Bangledeshis, aren’t we fudging some distinctions? Are the factory workers the ones making decisions about how aggressively to enforce their own existing building codes and labor laws?Report

              • North in reply to Don Zeko says:

                At which point, historically, the Bangladeshis will have jobs that pay better and treat them more humanely and will be quite unperturbed that the low margin manufacturing jobs have emigrated. I would call that by far the most meaningful of choices they could make, both to enact the laws and hold their government and public officials feet to the fire to enforce them effectively. I’d further submit that it is a choice than non-Bangladesh people would have an enormous difficulty doing.

                As to if they have a meaningful choice? Yes, I think that people in Bangladesh have a capacity to evaluate their personal interests and make choices that is as concrete as our own. They are the ones agreeing to that form of employment despite the risks, they are the ones sighing and shrugging when their government lets the business corruption slide. They’re the ones getting angry and threatening to string up inspectors by their toes when a catastrophe happens. They’re the ones living with the decisions made in Bangladesh about Bangladesh.

                And if comfortable white people assert from half a world away that they, not people in Bangladesh, should be making those decisions for the Bangladeshi then I think they have a very high evidentiary bar to jump.Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird says:

                Why should we accept the framing that pits one against the other, that in order to do one good thing, we must accept the other bad thing, or the Lifeboat Problem as I have mentioned?

                Who here would accept a defense of Stalinism that he raised the level of wealth from 1920 to 1950? Those argument were in fact made, and embarrass the left still.

                Yet we see it being made today in defense of the regime of global trade.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                Because wants are infinite, needs are finite (but wants are easily confused with needs), and goods are finite.

                And, to complicate things, some goods are relational.

                And, from here, the issue is not that this good is pitted against the other, it’s that we’re in a “pick 2” situation.

                You want it fast.
                You want it cheap.
                You want it done right.

                If you want to add “you want it done morally”, we might be able to say “pick 3”.Report

              • Patrick in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                Why should we accept the framing that pits one against the other, that in order to do one good thing, we must accept the other bad thing, or the Lifeboat Problem as I have mentioned?

                We should accept a framing that shows the costs and benefits of all policy options, along with their attendant normative side effects that cannot be easily expressed in economic terms.

                If we’re not doing that, we’re probably putting our thumb on the scale to avoid talking about things we find distasteful.

                Who here would accept a defense of Stalinism that he raised the level of wealth from 1920 to 1950? Those argument were in fact made, and embarrass the left still.

                Hell, if “we must raise wealth!” is a normative principle, as opposed to a preferred outcome, then Stalinism is defensible.

                What we see very often on the Right now (amusingly) is “We must raise wealth!” as a normative principal as opposed to a preferred outcome. When you point out that it isn’t really a normative principle, because they wouldn’t support Stalinism, but instead a preferred outcome that needs to be weighed against normative principles, they accuse you of being a Stalinist, which squares an interesting circle.

                Yet we see it being made today in defense of the regime of global trade.

                It *is* a defense of global trade, on the grounds of increasing wealth, whether or not increasing wealth is a normative principle or a preferred outcome.

                Whether or not it is a *sufficient* defense of global trade is a different question.Report

            • James K in reply to Chip Daniels says:


              You don’t think its odd that a guy who cherishes liberty as a primary goal, is so willing to lay it aside and point to the rising level of material wealth produced by slavery?

              Is it slavery, or just labour conditions that are less favourable than you would like? If all that wealth is being generated by actual slavery, than I agree that’s a problem but if it is merely the product of labour conditions that are not appealing to middle-class Americans then that is not necessarily as big a problem.Report

            • You don’t think its odd that a guy who cherishes liberty as a primary goal, is so willing to lay it aside and point to the rising level of material wealth produced by slavery?

              Objection. Assumes facts not in evidence.

              Remember, the offer made to these workers consisted of a) a good wage, b) the opportunity to reunite with their family, and c) a fast track to U.S. citizenship, and what they actually got was 1) sufficient indebtedness to reduce their practical compensation to zero, 2) imprisonment in worker barracks with subsistence rations and living conditions, and 3) free abortions, whether they wanted them or not. I’m not prepared to call that “liberty.”

              I will withdraw the objection if the interrogatory were to be rephrased as follows:

              You don’t think its odd that a guy who claims to cherishes liberty as a primary goal…

              If intent is reasonably to be inferred from the logical and demonstrated result of a given set of actions, Tenorio’s statement demonstrates that the fundamental due process value he truly cherishes is property.

              One who actually cherishes liberty does not defend the purported “right” to sell oneself into slavery, at least not when that transaction is predicated upon fraudulent misrepresentations of the compensation to be actually paid therefor.Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to Burt Likko says:

                My snark, she is not what she use to be.
                I was aiming at Jaybird’s libertarian cred.

                As for Tenorio, well, I’m submitting his name to the Obama secret FEMA camp list.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                And, again, I abandoned the whole “libertarian” thing when I got back from Qatar the first time.

                I’m spending a lot more time on fundamentals and exploring the whole “what makes libertarianism possible in the first place?” thing.

                Not that we should be talking about me rather than the topic at hand.Report

              • Will H. in reply to Jaybird says:

                I abandoned the whole “libertarian” thing when I got back from Qatar the first time.

                I was just about to tell you that I had finally become convinced of the full legalization policy for all drugs.
                I know you had tried to explain that position to me, on a number of occasions, as a matter of principle grounded in personal freedom.
                It was involvement in a reading group discussing Johann Hari’s Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs that really pushed me over the line toward full legalization.
                Actually, I enjoyed discussing the matter with you much more than reading the book, but Hari backed up his positions with objective data rather than arguing from principle.
                And now that I have undergone a true and heart-felt change in position on an incredibly important policy matter, you decide to give up on libertarianism.
                Congratulations, sort of.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Will H. says:

                I understand what prohibition is going for. I may even agree with what it’s going for. I may even support a social movement that does what it can to make sure that alcohol/drugs are not abused.

                I’ve merely moved from getting there from “it’s not my jurisdiction” to “if this is a goal worth achieving (and I think it is), and government will make things worse, what systems need to be in place that would actually help achieve this goal worth achieving?”

                And libertarianism doesn’t get you there.

                But it is very, very useful against the whole “government will make things worse” phenomenon.Report

              • Kim in reply to Jaybird says:

                Libertarianism, like many dickwaving contests, is about gaining/maintaining power and getting chicks.

                You can say the same about Feminism, and most other ideologies.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Kim says:

                While it’s probably true that there were some Babtists in the Babtists/Bootleggers coalition that were in it for the money/sex/power, you can’t wave away the true believers.

                We can argue over what percentage the true believers actually are but it makes more sense to assume that it’s on the higher side than the lower.Report

              • Kim in reply to Jaybird says:

                No movement runs without true believers, but they aren’t top dogs. Movements are founded by cynics and pushed forward by true believers. The founders get the chicks and the power.Report

            • James K in reply to Chip Daniels says:


              Would anyone here point to a maid who is subject to rape and beatings in the home of her Kuwaiti employer, and assert that she is better off than when she lived in Indonesia?

              Now that’s an interesting question. Instead of asserting anything lets think about how we would answer that. Income and a set of intangible goods I’ll aggregate under the heading of “dignity” for our purposes here are both very important and also very difficult to commensurate (it’s not like there’s some universal exchange rate of dignity for income). Adding to the difficulty of this problem is that we can’t just project our own preferences onto your hypothetical migrant worker. After all, everyone is different and as privileged Westerners we have much better trade-offs available to us that this maid would. This is the reason why economists are so keen on revealed preferences – people’s choices matter.

              So, the big question I would want an answer to is “how easily could the maid leave her employment?” If she can pretty easily leave then I’m likely to conclude that she prefers her current situation to the next best option, which makes me very reluctant to advocate taking that choice away from her. If, on the other hand, she is prevented from quitting no matter how objectionable she find her conditions of employment then we can no longer safely assume that her current situation is one she prefers to the other alternatives available to her. This is the point where I feel more comfortable in concluding the situation is exploitative.

              To take this from the hypothetical to the real world, I believe that in much of the Middle East migrant works are prevented form leaving the country without the permission of their employers. This is the sort of barrier to exit that immediately raises my suspicions. This is precisely what offends me about the CNMI situation, and what I believe makes it different to sweatshop labour in general.

              So if there were an international agreement on minimum labour standards I could get behind, it would focus on rules that prevent employers from erecting barriers to exit, for example a requirement that migrant workers be given the option to return to their home country whenever they wish. Limits on employee notice period length and withholding of back pay upon quitting would fall into the same category.Report

              • Don Zeko in reply to James K says:

                I’m not sure that there would be much practical difference between a system that actually enforced exit rights and a system that provided all manner of other asks to workers, including higher pay. After all, giving any kind of meaningful legal protection to workers requires that workers have access to some kind of legal system at a cost they can plausibly pay and with a reasonable likelihood of success.

                Workers who have that are probably also better treated in all of the other respects we’ve discussed in this thread, because they are workers with bargaining power and influence upon their country’s political system. They won’t just use that power in the ways that appeal to libertarians in developed countries (or in ways that appeal to Liberals or Conservatives in developed countries, for that matter).Report

              • James K in reply to Don Zeko says:


                It’s possible that you’re right, its also possible that you’re wrong, either result would be important. I certainly believe that there are moral implications to working conditions being a product of coercion vs being the product of free (if heavily constrained) choice.Report

              • Maribou in reply to James K says:

                @james-k I get where you are going with this, but your logic has a flaw. Any time someone is being subjected to rape and beatings there is a powerful barrier to exit, the fear that something even worse will happen to them at the hands of the abuser if they try to leave. I don’t have cites, I’m sorry, but I did a ton of research into this when I was trying to understand my own childhood situation (and that of my mother), and in this country, studies have borne out that that fear, of it being more dangerous for them if they try to leave their abuser’s control, is actually a rational one. The risk of death is significantly higher. So I find it implausible that someone being raped and beaten could ever have no significant barriers to leaving.Report

              • James K in reply to Maribou says:


                That’s a fair point and I have heard that about abuse victims, although I wonder if findings for relationships apply as well to employment situations.

                Although in the case of rape specifically its probably a moot point, as rape is actually illegal in these countries – the real issue is improper enforcement rather than lack of law.Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to James K says:

                Here’s where my attitude comes in.
                I propose we levy a 90% tax on wealth.
                It not coercive, you are free to leave the country, there are no barriers to exit at all!
                The fact that you continue to freely choose to live here means you have freely agreed to these terms and conditions.

                The flaw in your argument James is that the choice offered the maid consists of 2 options, both constructed outside of her will.
                You posit some sort of objective world in which the poor and rich enter equally, where the rules were constructed by some alien beings or something.
                The systems are designed by the rich to benefit themselves, to produce exactly the Sophie’s Choice of either enduring mistreatment here or enduring it there.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Chip Daniels says:


                I propose we levy a 90% tax on wealth.

                Assuming this condition comes to pass & the wealthy do not flee, how do you prevent many of the problems that such wealth already creates from simply moving to the government?

                I mean, we already have problems with government gleefully wasting money on all sorts of projects in exchange for influence & power. Infusing more money into that system will only make it worse if we haven’t dealt with the issue.Report

              • Damon in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                Aren’t you clever. There are no current barriers to leaving. But just leaving the country doesn’t change your status. The US taxes Americans on income they earn ANYWHERE. That’s why people renounce. So if you meant, people were free to renounce and leave the country, well, you got a few laws you need to pass first to make it that easy.Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to Damon says:

                It was meant to be a silly comment, in response to the silly “free to choose” logic applied to the poor.

                The structure of laws and regulations which constitute the system we live and work in, was designed without the input of the poor, and is applied in a biased way to favor those who enjoy power and influence.

                It is every bit as coercive as taxation, since the options are just as onerous as leaving the country.Report

              • James K in reply to Chip Daniels says:


                I’m not sure I understand your point. In the scenario you describe then of course people in the US would be forced to choose between fleeing and paying the tax. It would suck, but what other options would there be? I not saying that your hypothetical maid isn’t in a bad situation, I’m worried your proposed solutions will actually make her life worse.

                Let me extend your scenario a little: Imagine that Canada closed off its borders so as to avoid being overrun with people fleeing the high tax in the US. This leads to an industry of people smugglers who sneak people into Canada, but charge very high rates to do so. The Canadian government declares this to be an exploitation of poor innocent Americans and works tirelessly to shut the people-smuggling operations down. Do you believe this anti people-smuggling activity will make life better or worse for the people being exploited?

                Regardless of how desperate a persons’s situation is you are unlikely to make them better of by taking options away from them.Report

        • LeeEsq in reply to Saul Degraw says:

          What I mainly meant was that the group who can really bring the corporations in line and force them to pay decent wages with decent working conditions are labor unions and the government. Consumer advocacy is limited because as consumers, people are basically into their bottom line rather than the conditions were the goods they like were made. Consumer advocacy could help the situation but we aren’t going to have a groundswell of consumers demanding that the prices of goods be raised to create decent wages and better working conditions anytime soon.

          Culture wars really don’t help. The current shape of politics allows the exploiters to rally the troops to their sides by invoking the right tropes. During the earlier Progressive Era, the art of the culture war was less developed but it did exist somewhat. Southern politicians were adapt at depicting Progressive reformers as busy bodies that wanted to tell White southern workers what to do. This wasn’t really possible outside the South because the working class in the North, Midwest, and West tended to be more militant and left leaning in their politics and allied themselves with middle class Reformers or were even more radical.Report

          • Will H. in reply to LeeEsq says:

            The history of Jim Crow illuminates quite a bit in there.
            The Klan in its original incarnation wasn’t about hating blacks. It was about hating carpetbaggers, overrunning the elected offices. A few blacks here and there got thrown into the mix (I believe the violence in those days was roughly 50% against white Northerners), but it was really a campaign against Southern disenfranchisement. Sure enough, the original Klan died out in the early 1880’s, just as Southern whites whose voting rights were not restricted were coming of voting age.
            And by that time, Jim Crow was firmly established– vagrancy laws, de facto slave labor through the criminal justice system, etc.

            The populist movement failed when they formed a coalition with the freedmen, and never recovered. The first wave of progressivism (William James to John Dewey) was more of an elitist movement of scientists than the grassroots uprising of the populists. The early safety regulations and work regulations which the early progressives pushed were not about protecting human dignity or relieving suffering. It was all about developing human capital, preserving skill sets which had developed into artisanship. That’s why their stance on child labor left a lot to be desired– those children had yet to develop into human capital.

            But the blacks in the South were still drawn to protecting labor. Gompers was not particularly racist, as I remember it, but he wasn’t much for desegregated labor either. Debs, OTOH, was. A. Philip Randolph was undoubtedly one of the most influential of the early black union men, and even had a hand in the famous march across the mall in Washington where MLK’s “I have a dream” speech was given.
            The second wave, the current incarnation, of the Klan came about in the early 1920’s, when the split between Debs and Gompers was dividing labor.
            MLK himself was in Memphis organizing black workers at the time he was taken from us.

            The history of civil rights benefits a great deal when the material is amalgamated with the history of labor, and vice versa.
            The two really are inseparable.

            I do see a more active role for government as needed but I believe serious reform, whether from within or without, is prudent before the spread of unionism s seriously considered.Report

        • Troublesome Frog in reply to Saul Degraw says:

          Are sweatshops a necessary stop in the road for economic development or is it possible for developing countries to learn from the mistakes and history of the west and have a more humane version of economic development?

          I think they could, assuming that other competing countries also did the same thing. Either that, or if wealthy countries only agreed to do business with countries that treated workers humanely. But those are both tough things to make happen.

          As it stands, I think Tod’s conclusion is right. As long as that market is as competitive as it is, firms will cut their costs wherever they can, and the profit margins for the people who most directly inflict the harm won’t even be high enough to make all the human suffering appear worthwhile. The vast majority of those savings ultimately ends up in our pockets instead of the pockets of some evil robber baron type.

          On the consumer end, we’re generally so disconnected from the manufacturing process (and probably still would be even if we really wanted the information–it’s incredibly easy to obfuscate) that we make really bad watchdogs. The people closer to the problem are generally choosing between doing evil themselves and being put out of business by somebody else who is willing to do evil. Putting a floor under it is not easy once you have multiple countries competing with each other for the business.Report

          • Don Zeko in reply to Troublesome Frog says:

            Troublesome FrogAs it stands, I think Tod’s conclusion is right.As long as that market is as competitive as it is, firms will cut their costs wherever they can, and the profit margins for the people who most directly inflict the harm won’t even be high enough to make all the human suffering appear worthwhile.The vast majority of those savings ultimately ends up in our pockets instead of the pockets of some evil robber baron type.

            Except for CEO pay, of course.Report

            • Troublesome Frog in reply to Don Zeko says:

              You’re free to argue that market price for a CEO for a firm of size X is generally higher than that CEO is worth (I don’t think I’d disagree, especially for large X), but it’s hard for a single firm to pay below market rate for their CEO. I imagine CEO pay would be a lot lower if corporate boards put as much effort into cutting executive compensation costs as CEOs put into cutting non-executive compensation costs, but that doesn’t happen for a whole bunch of reasons.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Troublesome Frog says:

                And we accept those reasons. So that’s our fault, too, I guess.

                Maybe it is because the people on those boards tend to be high ranking execs themselves, and therefore have incentive to keep the gears of that machine turning faster and faster.Report

              • Troublesome Frog in reply to Kazzy says:

                I think we have at least a little more power (and reason) as consumers to deal with real abuses with real victims than we do to deal with CEO pay. The only victims of crazy CEO compensation are shareholders, and shareholders should have ample power to deal with the issue if it’s really causing them heartburn. I think you’re right about a big part of the reason why they don’t, though.Report

              • Don Zeko in reply to Troublesome Frog says:

                Troublesome Frog: The only victims of crazy CEO compensation are shareholders

                Huh? CEO compensation is a very specialized form of labor cost, no? Every time workers ask for higher pay we hear that raising wages will be passed along to the consumer in the form of higher prices or will put the firm out of business. Why is compensation for CEO’s (or CFO’s, or senior vice presidents of whatever, etc etc etc) any different?Report

              • DensityDuck in reply to Don Zeko says:

                Because there’s one CEO and many thousands of workers. Raising worker pay by 5% would cost as much as three entire CEOs.Report

      • Burt Likko in reply to Will H. says:

        Let me go on record as continuing to be amazed at union praise for Taft-Hartley. A sign of how far things have come, and not a happy one.Report

        • Will H. in reply to Burt Likko says:

          I understand.
          And it is really sad.
          The history of labor in the U.S. shows that the unions have been victims of their own excesses as much as the un-unionized workers were in the early 20th century.
          The old-timers tell me that the South used to be just as unionized as the North, but they got too full of themselves and weren’t able to get the work done.

          The biggest thing that I can see right now that is bad, bad, bad on the part of the unions is their way of dealing with unemployment.
          In my trade a sixty hour week is standard. Sometimes, there is overtime on top of that.
          In New York, the guys only work 32 hours a week, and they have a lot less unemployment.
          I don’t see why most, if not all, unions can’t trim back the hours of people working over 40 hours a week when unemployment hits a certain level. It would enable more men to come off the bench.

          But the present state shows the level of concern the leadership has for the rank-and-file.Report

        • Will H. in reply to Burt Likko says:

          Sorry, but the previous reply danced all around the issue without addressing it.


          Were there some other means of addressing or preventing corruption in the leadership, union support for Taft-Hartley would disappear overnight.

          At present, it is very much the same dynamic as using pliers as a hammer; in that the function can be performed at a rudimentary level, though with poor results, and often with undesirable consequences– but still, it’s better than nothing.
          We can’t get our hands on a hammer just yet, so pliers it is.Report

  2. I’m not quite sure I’m grasping your takeaway, Tod. And what I’m about to write probably sounds more confrontational than I want it to. But here goes….

    I suppose my main concern is that the “‘we’ are the ones responsible” is true, but tells too little of the story. Very few of us are angels (at least of the unfallen sort) to begin with. And those of us who are in some ways are demons in other ways.

    If, as you say, the CNMI textile industry didn’t really affect the retail garment industry, then consumers (“us”) didn’t particularly benefit from the way things were before the reforms anyway. Maybe those other, non-CNMI garments were also made by something akin to slave labor. (And as you probably know, there are some pretty bad conditions on US mainland when it comes to garment manufacturing. It may not quite be indentured servitude, but it’s bad.)

    That point I suppose can be spun in a few different ways. One way is that consumers’ refusal to care about CNMI products is emblematic of our broader refusal to care about where any of our cheaper clothes and other goods come from or how they’re made. Another way is that consumers are so far removed from how their products are made that they have a strong incentive not to notice or care about the conditions those products are made under. Yet another way is that some consumers are so financially strapped that on a macro scale, it’s in some way a choice between cheaper products or a stronger dent into their income. (That probably sounds cynical, and it is. You could say that antebellum southern cotton was responsible for cheaper textiles in the 19th century, but that’s no argument for slavery. And you’d be right.)

    I do think you have another argument, something I’ll call the “apathy” argument although that doesn’t seem to fully get at what you’re saying. “We”–this time as voters/citizens and not merely as consumers–don’t care, or don’t care enough, about our politicians’ cynical “information gathering” visits, or we’re too quick to focus on other things, like, say, our politicians’ political tribe, to the exclusion of these others. That’s probably a stronger argument.

    But so often it’s a choice among the candidate who tolerates slavery conditions, the candidate who also tolerates slavery conditions, and not voting/throwing your vote away on a 3d party. Or if enough of us demanded a candidate pledged to oppose slavery conditions, and that candidate is someone who actually has a shot at winning, then it’s very likely that candidate supports or tolerates something else that is horrible. It can also be a “what can you really expect from your politician” issue. A senator can be reliably expected to vote up or down on a supreme court justice regarding that justice’s view of abortion. But it’s harder to know how effective that one senator will be in sheparding or supporting one of scores of very morally necessary pieces of legislation.

    Again, this comment is probably overly confrontational (and a drive by, unfortunately, as I have to go to work), and to be honest, the post is an impressive piece of research. To my knowledge, I have never heard about the CNMI stuff before you started writing it (although, apparently, it was in the news at the time, so maybe I heard and just chose to forget). Thanks for opening it up for discussion.Report

    • North in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

      I don’t think there was necessarily a takeaway Gabriel, or at least not a baldly stated one. There was a conclusion; “Ultimately the responsability for bad working conditions in garment factories rests with consumers who prioritize price and virtually ignore all other factors;” but I don’t think there was a takeaway such as “therefore such and such policies should change” or “therefore we should do X,Y and Z.”Report

      • Gabriel Conroy in reply to North says:

        I guess what I was thinking of was this from the OP [emphases in original]:

        Who, ultimately, was really responsible for all of this?

        The answer, of course, is us. Follow the money, and it leads to you and me. We’re the ones that did this.

        and if we look at the lede (which, I admit, I didn’t look at until long after I wrote my comment), we see [emphasis in original]:

        In which I follow the money in search of an answer to this question:

        Who was really responsible for a modern slave state on American soil?

        I’ll concede I’m being a little nitpicky, but that does seem to be Tod’s principal takeaway.Report

    • Oscar Gordon in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

      Gabriel Conroy: A senator can be reliably expected to vote up or down on a supreme court justice regarding that justice’s view of abortion. But it’s harder to know how effective that one senator will be in sheparding or supporting one of scores of very morally necessary pieces of legislation.


    • As I read it, the j’accuse aimed at the public is “Y’all just plain don’t care and that’s how politicians get away with all this shit.”Report

      • Kim in reply to Burt Likko says:

        Oh, no, it’s worse than that. We CHEER as the banks maneuver to deprive people of basic essentials. We not only demand that they do so, we are ever so happy when they do it.
        But this is about America, and not about the Marianas, so of course no one cares.
        This has seen press, even — Washington Post.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Burt Likko says:


        Is not caring about it worse than actively making it happen?Report

        • Burt Likko in reply to Kazzy says:


          Is not caring about Eric Garner getting choked to death by NYPD for selling cigarettes on a subway platform while being Black worse than being the cop who actually choked him?

          I’m not saying, and Tod’s not saying, that we all have to be Erich Schindlers, expending all of our resources to remedy all the wrongs happening around us all the time. But we can, and should, demand better of our leaders — and let them know that we demand better of them, and enforce our demands at the ballot box and with our campaign donations.

          Enforcement of the NRLA and FLSA in all U.S. jurisdictions, not just the fifty states and D.C., doesn’t seem like too much to ask. The notion that there won’t be any industry or commercial activity if we do enforce our laws is demonstrably a lie — we enforce those laws in the U.S. proper and there’s plenty of industrial and commercial activity here.Report

          • Jaybird in reply to Burt Likko says:

            Yeah, my original questions were “how do we feel about white people in 1850 who just didn’t care about slavery?”

            I mean, the argument over whether they’re worse than slave owners seems a bit… well. It’s not exactly a huge victory to hammer down that slave owners are worse.

            Same for people who didn’t care about segregation in 1935.

            Or AIDS in 1980.

            Or gay marriage in 2005.

            In a few years, maybe we’ll be able to add “people who didn’t care about transpeople in 2015”.Report

            • Kazzy in reply to Jaybird says:

              But Tod’s argument, it seems to be, is that the person who doesn’t care is to blame. Not the people actually doing it.

              That seems… well, flat out wrong.Report

              • RTod in reply to Kazzy says:

                Do you believe that we were powerless to stop this? That we *are* powerless to stop it? If we were to say to the people who sell us things, “no more of this, we won’t buy this,” do you think they would continue anyway, and toss everything into the sea for the sport of it?

                Imagine if an owner of one of these companies had no idea at first what was going on because his managers ran everything, And then, once he found out he said, “Oh well. It lowers my cost, so I won’t think about it anymore.” Would he, also, not be complicit? Or being the one calling the shots and giving the orders, would he not bare the blame for what his company was doing — even if it was the managers who were on the clock when the atrocities were committed?

                That we knowingly — and, if we’re being honest, quite happily — tell those who serve us to continue to do what they do, and that we tell them this over and over, is a wee bit more than “not caring,” I think.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to RTod says:

                Again, I haven’t argued that we aren’t complicit. But there is no way we are as, let alone MORE, responsible than those who actively perpetuated the system.

                My ability to stop this is predicated on garnering support among a large swath of citizens, organizing them to boycott companies and choose public officials — if not become public official themselves — who will stop the behavior. And to do this on a massive scale.

                Certain company execs could stop the practice with a single phone call.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to RTod says:

                a wee bit more than “not caring,” I think.

                Endorsement? You’re saying that “we” – all of us collectively, to a person – endorsed, even advocated by our collective apathy, sex slavery and forced abortion and etc in the Marianas?Report

              • Kazzy in reply to RTod says:

                I mean, by this logic, YOU, Tod, are responsible for every civilian death in Iraq. And Afghanistan. And everywhere else around the world. You are responsible for Eric Garner. And Walter Scott. And Tamir Rice. You are responsible for the Iran-Contra Affair. You are responsible for everything your government did that you didn’t do everything in your power to stop. I mean, that is the same logic, no? You are responsible. Not the people pulling the triggers, giving the orders, dropping the bums, trading the weapons. You. Tod Kelly. You. Me, too. But us. Not the people doing it. You and me. The people not doing it.

                Really, it boggles the mind.

                Again, I’m not denying complicity. I’m denying that “following the money” leads to consumers being responsible for slavery in Saipan.Report

              • Guy in reply to RTod says:

                Well, sometimes (clearly not with regards to CNMI, but certainly for, say, trans* folks), the answer is, “we’re stopping it, but that is taking a non-zero amount of time”.Report

          • I think this,

            Enforcement of the NRLA and FLSA in all U.S. jurisdictions, not just the fifty states and D.C., doesn’t seem like too much to ask. The notion that there won’t be any industry or commercial activity if we do enforce our laws is demonstrably a lie — we enforce those laws in the U.S. proper and there’s plenty of industrial and commercial activity here.

            pretty much agree supports @kazzy ‘s point that

            My ability to stop this is predicated on garnering support among a large swath of citizens, organizing them to boycott companies and choose public officials — if not become public official themselves — who will stop the behavior. And to do this on a massive scale.

            Yes, it’s not too much to ask that the NLRA and FLSA (and the 13th amendment) be enforced on US soil. But I’m not the secretary of labor or the attorney general. I’m a citizen. Of course, I can ask (write letters, protest, probably do more than my lazy self thinks possible) and I can vote those morals, provided I know the president I help elect will appoint ministers with those prerequisites. And maybe even that minimum is something I and “we” have failed to do. But I don’t think “we” bear the primary responsibility.

            At the same time, however, this is an awkward argument for me to make because I generally endorse the “we’re all guilty” approach to social ills. @rtod
            in answer to Kazzy brings up the example of Mr. Garner’s death. I personally feel more guilty for that than I do for what happened to those people in the Marianas, probably because I’ve grown up in racist environments and have made and sometimes made racist choices, and these choices carry with them a certain amount of malice.

            The Marianas situation, however, is more of a willful ignorance (I’m speaking of myself). Sure, I participate by not investigating where my clothes are made and making my purchases accordingly–all the more bad because I could probably afford to pay more than I currently do for clothes–but it’s different.

            In either case, I’m not the one who was the direct agent for the bad that happened. That doesn’t absolve me or “us” of guilt, but my/our guilt is less than those who could have done more and didn’t. (Similarly, my guilt is more than those who are less affluent than I and who have fewer choices about their clothes.)Report

        • Will H. in reply to Kazzy says:

          Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral.Report

      • If that’s all he’s really saying, then I guess I agree. It certainly applies to me, unfortunately.Report

  3. North says:

    Really well written my Tod and a pretty solid conclusion.Report

  4. Jaybird says:

    Excellent post. I am (but probably shouldn’t be) surprised by the revelations of how the factories lost money instead of merely breaking even.

    A couple years back, winter was descending once again and I asked Maribou if we could find me a hoodie made in the US, by union workers. I got a pullover hooded sweatshirt for around $40.

    Googling right now for “hoodie sweatshirts”, I see that I could get one made by Hanes for around $10 from Walmart.

    Even if I’m mis-remembering the price and it was closer to $30… that’s still three times as much as opposed to four times as much… for a hoodie that isn’t appreciably of higher quality than anything else in my closet (though, granted, not appreciably worse either).

    In that same vein, I recently had some yardwork done. I called up a licensed and bonded yardwork place, got a quote, said “golly, that’s a hair steep… can you knock 20% off? That’ll make it so that I don’t have to get a quote from someone else.”

    They did. I let out a sigh of relief.

    How much of that 20% was due to illegal immigration?

    When talking about illegal immigration, how much easier is it for me to say “well, they’re just trying to make a better life for themselves”?

    Union labor (and small business labor) is expensive… unless it has to compete against 2015’s version of slavery.Report

    • Kim in reply to Jaybird says:

      Yeah. That’s why stuff around Pittsburgh and in most of the Rust Belt is more expensive. Not because of unions, really, but because we have fewer slaves around here.

      I hire someone to measure the energy efficiency of my house, I get a college student, on break, and a small businessman. Legal top to bottom.

      [By the way, do NOT hire someone who doesn’t have workerscomp insurance to work on your house. You are then liable, and it’ll all hit your home insurance if someone gets hurt… unless, of course, that’s not allowed in your home insurance, and then you’ll be paying out of pocket AND dealing with the angry home insurance folks.]Report

    • Will H. in reply to Jaybird says:

      I’m running the factors of production through my mind, and I’m thinking land is the single biggest expense.
      And I have to wonder how much expanding employee parking adds to the cost of the end product as opposed to, say, bumping up everybody another $1/hr.Report

  5. Chris says:

    What is the source for the profit margin?Report

    • Chris in reply to Chris says:

      I don’t mean to imply that the overall point — low profit margins in the garment industry — is incorrect. It’s a well-known fact. Just wondering where the actual number came from, and what period it covers.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Chris says:

        I think we also need to look at what other “costs” exist. What was executive pay like during this time?

        Saying, “We only make $6 profit on a pair of jeans!” doesn’t really mean anything if your labor costs are $2 and your management costs are $12.

        I’d like to see a real breakdown of exactly what went into the cost of a pair of jeans during that time. What did materials cost? Labor? Store overhead? Advertising? Store employees? Local management? Central management?

        You say “Follow the money” but we don’t actually follow it. Again, we are back to the idea that in order to maintain the (supposedly) slim profit margins, labor costs must be minimized. Why? Why can’t execs and office types take a pay cut?Report

        • Chris in reply to Kazzy says:

          Worth also noting that the garment industry isn’t the only area where these factories were making money off their exploited labor force. Forced prostitution, for example, was (is?) common.Report

        • Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

          That’s a real quick way to start playing the “butwhatabout” game.

          Back in the 1950’s, there was a thing called an “expense account”. If you worked for one of the gimungous corporations, you had a shot of getting access to one of these. Even, like, low-level manager types.

          Going out to lunch? Expense it. Going out for drinks/meeting? Expense it. Higher level exec? Going on vacation with your wife? Expense it.

          As part of the reformation of the loopholes, expense accounts went away.

          But they were part of the remuneration of the types we’re comparing to back then and saying “this guy only made the equivalent of $280,000 a year!” without taking into account the fact that he could expense freakin’ everything is comparing apples to apricots.

          And that’s without getting into the whole issue of how we used to have only 1 church outfit, 2 leisure outfits, and 3 work outfits and that was the clothes you had. (My closet has about 30ish work-appropriate shirts in it. If we’re going to compare now to then, we should also point out that they had a *LOT* fewer clothes than we did. They darned them. They patched them. “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without” was something that they grew up with. If one of my shirts starts to look a little shabby… I just throw it in the goodwill box if it’s still usable and just throw it in the trash if I’d be ashamed to give it to goodwill. This is another big difference between us and them.)Report

          • Kazzy in reply to Jaybird says:

            I’m confused, @jaybird . Is your argument that we shouldn’t question executive pay because — one way or another — executives have always been highly compensated?

            That is kind of my point. It seems to be assumed that executives will be very highly compensated. When numbers need to change, cutting exec pay never seems to be on the table.Report

            • Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

              No, not at all. My argument is that if we look at CEO pay and only CEO pay, we might miss out that there were quite a few ways to hide and shuffle remuneration back then that don’t exist today and if we only compare salary to salary, it’s very easy to jump to conclusions that something more fundamental has changed than actually has.

              Now, for what it’s worth, I think that if we compared salary+perks 1955 to salary+perks 2015, we’d see that while it’s possible to get into some weird weeds when it comes to “intangibles”, the modern CEO still gets paid a lot more than his ancestor.

              But there are a lot of weeds involved with making that comparison.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Jaybird says:


                I’m not necessarily arguing that anything has changed. My point is that, for a long time now (at least going back several decades and certainly encompassing the entirety of the time that Tod is discussing), executive pay/management costs have been high. At least in the garment industry, this seems to have been achieved on the backs of slave labor.

                I don’t see anything controversial about that opinion nor anything in Tod’s thorough description here that refutes it. So, if it is correct that executive pay/management costs were bolstered by slave labor — in a way that far outpaces what individual consumers saved on cheaper goods — and that executives were responsible for institution and maintaining the system of slave labor — if ALL of that is correct (and if it isn’t, please do correct me!), than why are see saying the consumer is primarily to blame and NOT the execs?Report

            • DensityDuck in reply to Kazzy says:

              “It seems to be assumed that executives will be very highly compensated.”

              Why shouldn’t they be?

              We pay doctors more than nurses, right?Report

          • Saul Degraw in reply to Jaybird says:

            Of course this raises the question of how much stuff should people have. I don’t think anyone wants to return to the days of most people owning 1-3 pieces of clothing but the American ability to buy a whole new wardrobe every year might be too much in the other directions.

            There does seem to be a potential philosophical divide. I’ve generally heard Europeans own less but what they own is better quality.Report

            • Jaybird in reply to Saul Degraw says:

              Of course this raises the question of how much stuff should people have.

              If I wanted to live a 1972 lifestyle, with a 1972 house and 1972 habits and 1972 possessions, how tough would that be?

              Now, of course, you immediately drive into the ditch of “do you mean a 1972 car or do you mean the equivalent of a 1972 car?” and issues where my dad’s 27″ 1982 Magnavox Television Set (in wood case! put a lamp on top of it!) cost more than twice as much as my 52″ LCD television cost in 2010 (adjusted for inflation, of course… now I could get a 65″ television for the same price I bought my 52″ tv for).

              Some stuff is soooo much freakin’ less expensive than it used to be (entertainments) and some stuff is a lot more expensive than it used to be (lifestyles) and I don’t know how we can best compare today to yesterday.

              On one level, today in 2015 sounds like a downright utopia to someone from yesterday.

              On another, it’s downright dystopian.Report

        • Michael Cain in reply to Kazzy says:

          This. Right at the end of my technical career, I was acquired by a large corporation that didn’t ever make a profit*. But the CEO/COB took home his $3-5M and a zillion stock options every year.

          * They had a huge cash flow and were, under the rules at that time, allowed to depreciate their large capital base at a rate much faster than it would actually wear out. Their financial statements barely mentioned profit and loss; it was all about EBIDA, baby, and that cash flow.Report

        • switters in reply to Kazzy says:

          Right – and given an environment where forced prostitution (shouldn’t we just go ahead and call this serial third party rape), slavery and indentured servitude were common place, I gotta think the book keepers could do basically whatever they wanted.

          I’m gonna need a lot more convincing that a really successful businessman ran a un- or barely- profitable warehouse as a vanity project because he liked the idea of mass rape and slavery.Report

          • Chris in reply to switters says:

            Whether the factories made a profit (I suspect they did quite well, given the companies that owned them had other options for sweatshop locations), they brought a ton of revenue in, and spent a whole lot of it on Saipan, essentially driving the economy and funding much of the government, which is where a substantial portion of the island’s natives worked (work?). Owning a factory there world therefore give one a great deal of economic and political leverage.Report

            • Kolohe in reply to Chris says:

              Saipan natives (for these purposes, those of Chamoran and pre Ww2 Japanese decent) didn’t work in the garment industry, except maybe high level management or outside skilled trade contracting (ie building construction and maintenence) jobs. The natives work in the tourism industry.

              This was why the local government looked the other way when they werent actually complicit – the citizens of Saipan weren’t adversely effected by the labor conditions.Report

              • Chris in reply to Kolohe says:

                Right, I was saying they worked for the government, though I worded it poorly. The government employed a good percentage of the locals, which made maintaining its size a fairly big political issue for any local politician. Since the factories provided the government with a substantial portion of its revenue, keeping the factories in the money was politically important (not just for this reason, but also for this reason).Report

  6. Zac says:

    Very, very powerful stuff, Tod. One of my closest friends is Saipanese, so this is an issue I’ve had strong feelings about for a while. Interestingly, my friend generally blames the Chinese for the state of Saipan, but I wonder if he’s not mistaking the effect for the cause. I’ll shoot this article, and the prior one, his way, because I think he’ll find it very interesting.Report

    • North in reply to Zac says:

      Interesting, has he ever said why he lays Saipan’s state of affairs at the feet of the Chinese?Report

      • Chris in reply to North says:

        I’m curious, too. The factories are mostly Korean-owned, though the labor pipeline is largely Chinese, and the main competitors (and those forcing owners to drive down costs as much as possible) of Saipan sweatshops were/are Chinese sweatshops.

        There is also a simmering racial tension on the island now that people of Chinese descent make up a majority of the Saipan population.Report

        • Zac in reply to Chris says:

          I think the racial tension is a big part of it, to be honest. I think the way he sees it, if cheap Chinese labor hadn’t come to Saipan, the Americans/Koreans wouldn’t have set up the sweatshops there in the first place, and I think he sees that as a proxy for the destruction of native Saipanese culture (his dad is some kind of village leader there, and also a labor lawyer IIRC). He feels pretty strongly about it, too: he literally uses the word ‘Chinese’ as an epithet, or as an intensifier to them (like, if I beat him in a video game or something, he’ll be all, “Oh, you Chinese motherf*cker.”).Report

  7. Gates paid conservative and libertarian pundits and policy analysts to publish reports and columns that trumpeted this idea.

    When this came out, how many of these pundits and analyst were fired for having taken bribes? (Yeah, it’s a rhetorical question.)Report

  8. Brandon Berg says:

    I’m having trouble verifying your claim that Bailey took money from Abramoff. All I can confirm is that the industry covered his expenses when he went there to do the story. It’s from 1997, and I’m unable to find it online, but I found a second-hand account saying that the story both a) acknowledged that labor abuses were an issue, and b) disclosed that his expenses had been paid by the industry.

    Additionally, it seems to be that your series is conflating genuine abuses (e.g., bringing workers to the island under false pretenses with no way to get home) with having different labor standards (e.g. a lower minimum wage) than the mainland US. This is exactly the kind of thing that makes me skeptical of claims of labor abuse, because terms like “slavery” and “labor abuse” are so frequently thrown around with gross disregard for their actual meanings.Report

    • Chris in reply to Brandon Berg says:

      Pretty sure the accusations against Bailey were quickly shot down back when.Report

    • Brandon Berg in reply to Brandon Berg says:

      To elaborate on my second point, regardless of what you think about the issue of banning certain mutually-agreed-upon employment relations because they don’t conform to whatever standards you think they should, this is a completely different issue from stuff like luring people onto an island with false promises and then holding them captive. Conflating the two increases the likelihood of train wrecks like the first subthread, although that’s certainly not all your fault.Report

  9. Kazzy says:

    I don’t mean to belabor the point, but I’m really struggling to accept that primary culpability for this issue lies with your average citizen. Do we bear some responsibility? Certainly. But when I compare the following two groups, it seems obvious where primary culpability lies…

    Group 1: People who were unaware or only marginally aware that the practices were going on, had limited options to address the practices, and were in both those positions because of the deliberate actions of others.

    Group 2: People who were intimately aware that the practices were going on, sought to create and maintain an environment where the practices could persist, and benefitted to the tune of thousands to millions of dollars.

    Now, you can take issue with my framing and, if so, please do. But I can’t imagine doing so in a way that addresses the vast, vast, vast gulf that seems to exist between these two groups.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

      Kazzy, this is yet another example of something where individuals, acting perfectly rationally (and morally within more than a few frameworks) are, collectively, acting horribly. Even if they don’t realize it.

      But how to address group 2? Keep in mind, they’re pretty much above the law.

      Without getting into targetted assassinations (WHICH I DO NOT CONDONE), we’re stuck with crap like “raising awareness” and getting people in group 1 to realize that their individually rational behaviors have hidden costs born by others.

      And guilt is one of the few tools that can add additional costs to that really sweet $10 pullover sweatshirt.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Jaybird says:

        Oh, I don’t excuse the consumer. I just reject that they are the primary cause of this issue because I don’t see that they are the primarybeneficiary of this system. I don’t buy a lot of clothes. I spend MAYBE $500/year on clothing. Let’s assume all those clothes would cost TWICE* that if made in Nebraska by fairly paid Americans. That means I’m saving $500/year on clothes because of the slave labor that is actually used to craft them. Man… that ain’t nothing.

        But… wait… how much higher is the CEO’s salary as a result of these practices? Probably more than $500. No?

        Now, we can lump all the consumers together and, yea, now, we probably collectively save more than the CEO makes. Or even all the CEOs make. Probably. So perhaps the collective responsibility of ALL the consumers is greater than the collective responsibility of ALL the CEOs. But on an individual level… it doesn’t even compare.

        As to being above the law… well, who makes the laws? And who lobbies for those laws to be made? Yea, sure, we vote for the bastards. But we aren’t the bastards. That matters. To me at least.

        So, yea, I play a part in a really, really fucked up chain. But I didn’t fly to Saipan and say, “Yea, let’s do this shit,” so that I could maintain my fleet of jets. That matters.

        * They wouldn’t, obviously. But I’m feeling generous…Report

        • Chip Daniels in reply to Kazzy says:

          For my part, I just rant about how we should stop accepting “BUT IT WILL RAISE PRICES!!1!” as the trump card against the minimum wage, environmental laws, globalism, etc.

          In this, I don’t spare my liberal brethren. If we accept the framing that the purpose of policy is to provide a lot of stuff to the hands of as many people as possible, then we can’t object to a system that does that very thing.

          This is why I push back so strongly to the “Rising Tide” argument; our goals have to be a bit more broad than cheap tee shirts and the freedom to choose 30 brands of toothpaste.

          In the epic struggle between capitalism and communism there was always the promise that the American Way could deliver both consumer goods and freedom-

          We don’t have much experience in resolving a clash between freedom and wealth- we just assume they go hand in hand.

          Globalism in general and China in particular have demonstrated a new model, where freedom and wealth don’t go hand in hand, and can easily be separated.Report

          • notme in reply to Chip Daniels says:

            Maybe I don’t want to pay anymore for my fast food than I already do just so some slack jawed dropout can get the $15 you think he deserves. Frankly, I don’t see why I should either.Report

            • Damon in reply to notme says:

              Deserve has nothing to do with markets. Not many people seem to understand that Notme.Report

              • Don Zeko in reply to Damon says:

                Which is why Notme’s comment has nothing to do with markets, either. He’s saying that he deserves to have a given level of material security and dignity, while the people that serve him food when he goes through the drive-thru do not. Why those people deserve so much less reward for their labor is something I think you’d have to take up with him.Report

              • Damon in reply to Don Zeko says:

                My comments were not directed at notme, but supporting his comment.Report

              • Don Zeko in reply to Damon says:

                Well sure, I was just trying to be cheeky. The fact is that both of you seem to think that you deserve the outcomes the market produces for you, but that implies a moral theory that I find nonsensical and wrongheaded.Report

              • Damon in reply to Don Zeko says:

                Actually, no. There is no morality in markets. And neither does deserve have anything to do with markets, as I said above, “deserve has nothing to do with markets.”

                I don’t know why 1) you ascribe ethical/moral aspects to markets and 2) why you make assumptions about what I think I deserve.Report

              • Don Zeko in reply to Damon says:

                Because you said you agreed with Notme, who was pretty clearly making a normative argument that “slack jawed [dropouts]” don’t deserve $15 an hour. I’d agree that markets are totally amoral systems myself, but then the only reason that we use markets is in order to achieve outcomes that we have decided are superior to the alternative.Report

              • Damon in reply to Don Zeko says:

                “only reason that we use markets is in order to achieve outcomes that we have decided are superior to the alternative.”

                Oh, remind me when “we” had that conversation.

                And what I was agree with Notme on what this comment directed at you: “just so some slack jawed dropout can get the $15 you think he deserves.” Tact, aside, “deserve” has, as I said, nothing to do with markets. I may think or feel that I DESERVE a 200K a year salary but no company is going to pay me that unless I’m contributing more than than paycheck to the firm. Same goes with some dude flipping burgers.Report

              • Don Zeko in reply to Damon says:

                As you suggest below, we may have to agree to disagree about how to read Notme’s comment, which I found difficult to read without seeing an element of just desserts in his perception of how different people fare in the labor market and why. I think that you and I disagree more on empirical questions of what happens when the government starts fiddling around with demand and supply curves for labor in various ways.

                But also, even in the abstract land of supply and demand curves, what you are paid is more complicated than the value that you provide to your employer. If it was that simple, then wages would have been keeping up with productivity gains for the past thirty years in this country.Report

              • Damon in reply to Don Zeko says:


                That’s cool.

                “what you are paid is more complicated than the value that you provide to your employer. ”

                Oh indeed, but this isn’t the forum to get into the devaluation of the currency via inflation, quantitative easing, and fractional reserve banking. 🙂Report

              • Kim in reply to Damon says:

                you forgot theft.Report

              • Patrick in reply to Damon says:

                There is no morality in markets.

                Markets are a human construct, and thus they have issues of morality in them whether we would like them to or not.

                Drawing a line around a social system and saying, “this is where the border ends of what I’ll call ‘a market'” is gaming the system.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Patrick says:

                It’s also a weird thing to say because according one prevailing theory of morality – utilitarianism – market transactions have moral properties built right in.Report

              • Damon in reply to Patrick says:

                No, actors in a market have morality or not. Morality is a construct and can differ societies and change over time as people come to view somethings as no longer moral or moral. Reference pot. Once it was immoral, now it’s moving towards moral. All along, you could buy it.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Damon says:


                All your comments so far are along the “no, you’re wrong, markets aren’t that” sorta line, which isn’t very helpful in figuring out where the disagreement is. Could you define what you think a market is?Report

              • Kim in reply to Damon says:

                There is no morality in markets…
                Will you say that again when we put your bollocks up for sale?
                Or market your death for the public view?

                A market is a game, and some games are more moral than others. It all depends on how you set up the rules (and the loopholes, and incentives, of course).Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to Kim says:

                You are kinda vicious. I like that!
                Come the revolution, I am putting you in charge of the re-education camps.Report

              • Damon in reply to Kim says:

                Of course I will. A market isn’t a game. Slavery wasn’t wrong because people were selling humans for specific amounts of currency, they were wrong because it’s immoral to sell humans.

                But don’t count on me going passively into the night. I don’t expect you’d take me alive.Report

              • Kim in reply to Damon says:

                Anything devised by humans is a game, be it a simulation or a market. Reality provides its own rules, but those rarely impinge on a game. I rather enjoy the insights that game theory provides to marketplaces. Plenty of nobel prizewinners on my side.

                Is it more moral to sell death, or to inflict it for no purpose other than blind hatred? We say there are just reasons to kill someone… is the free market a just reason?

                Would you argue that the free market is merely allowing someone else to decide your morality for you?Report

              • Damon in reply to Kim says:

                If you keep refuting your points, I’ll just stop posting…”Reality provides its own rules, but those rarely impinge on a game.” Exactly why it’s not a game. Sure, markets can be “gamed” but tis not the same.

                As for your last two questions, asked and answered previously.Report

              • Kim in reply to Damon says:

                Did you by some chance forget that I’m a physics major?

                Four fundamental forces. Name which one impinges on a blasted market.

                What fundamental reality is a market tethered to?

                I can’t break gravity, I can’t stop the sea from coming in. But markets? They only work by mutual consent. Not to cheat, to work within the rules of the game.Report

              • Damon in reply to Kim says:

                @kim @stillwater (since he asked above)

                Actually, I don’t recall ever knowing you were a physics major. Anyway, I’m sure some could argue I’m being pedantic, but meh:

                Game: “A game is structured form of play, usually undertaken for enjoyment and sometimes used as an educational tool.”

                Free Market: “in which the prices for goods and services are set freely by consent between vendors and consumers, in which the laws and forces of supply and demand are free from any intervention by a government, price-setting monopoly, or other authority.”

                These two things are not the same if only because a market, a REAL market, isn’t structured, unless by some weird definition, you consider hundreds of thousands of individuals acting in their own best interest “structure”, but a market for damn sure isn’t for fun.Report

              • El Muneco in reply to Don Zeko says:

                I mean, it’s not like he put an explicit class marker in his comment or anything. If he had done, it would be easy to see why he might feel superior. Pity that he didn’t do something like that, so now we have to guess.Report

              • Damon in reply to El Muneco says:


                Remember that I’ve been labeled as a filthy “FYIGM” libertarian-ish type guy and so lots of people think they can infer that I’m cold, callus, cruel, and only interested in myself, sitting in my bunker with my gold coins, guns, and MREs, and that I actively seek to buy things that have been manufactured by child slave prostitutes who are regularly tortured to improve productivity.Report

              • Don Zeko in reply to Damon says:

                Well then don’t agree with Notme, who was making perhaps the most unadulturated expression of FYIGM I’ve ever seen.Report

              • El Muneco in reply to Don Zeko says:

                For clarity, I was also calling that out, not Damon’s response.Report

              • Damon in reply to Don Zeko says:

                Where you see “fyigm” I see demand curve, regardless of his lack of tact. We can agree to disagree.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Damon says:

                Hey, if you’re referring to our conversation, I said no such thing. You self-labeled that way. And who am I to disagree with how you self-identify, y’know?

                I was actually making an entirely different point there.Report

              • Damon in reply to Stillwater says:


                I was referring to the convo you reference, but I wasn’t saying you labeled me that. That label was referring to other’s who had posted, not in this thread, on their opinions/accusations towards me. I’ve embraced it and take it in good fun. 🙂Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Damon says:

                Damon didn’t say he was agreeing, he said he was supporting.

                Notme’s comment was critical of the idea that a fast food work deserves $15/hr, Damon was supporting that by saying (as he has explained) that market’s do not have any morality, hence no one “deserves” a specific wage. They either earn the wage a market will clear at, or they earn the wage that has been set by regulation. The only thing they deserve is to be compensated for their labor at the agreed upon rate.Report

              • Damon in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                Oscar, I’m just going to ask you to post my thoughts. You write better than I do. 🙂Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Damon says:

                We’ll have to have a conversation regarding the compensation I’ll deserve for this service.Report

              • Damon in reply to Oscar Gordon says:


                This is the interweb! Everything if FREEReport

              • greginak in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                Markets don’t’ have morals, but how and what we use markets or government or regulations are choices, very often moral choices. Saying markets don’t have morals is certainly true and good to remember but at times it is a dodge from looking at the moral choices we do make. Someone should be paid the agreed upon rate. That rate will be determined by many things like their skills and the current market, how well that person survives on that rate will be determined by far more things. Does that person have health insurance ( which may be provided or subsidized by the gov), do they have the option for a union, what are the health and safety regs they work under, etc.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to greginak says:


                Are you just expanding on my point, or is there a point of disagreement in there that I am missing?Report

              • greginak in reply to Oscar Gordon says:


              • Stillwater in reply to greginak says:

                For a small fee I’ll explain what greg means here.*

                *I’d also be willing to establish a contract relationship with folks for both comment-writing and comment-interpreting services. You all deserve to be heard and/or understood!**

                **Flexible pricing based on ability to pay!Report

              • greginak in reply to Stillwater says:

                If anyone should deserve to profit off of my opacity it should be me. And i’m just the kind of person to keep after someone like me until i make just enough sense.Report

              • @oscar-gordon

                *I’d also be willing to establish a contract relationship with folks for both comment-writing and comment-interpreting services. You all deserve to be heard and/or understood!**

                Okay, what can you do with this:

                Aggle baddle the arguspat tpirssssss(!) nowal! Res loquitur ipset bravo!


              • Stillwater in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

                Translation: “I agree to your terms and look forward to a mutually beneficial auto-pay-based relationship in the years to come.”

                Thanks for signing up, GC. You won’t be disappointed!

                {{Just shoot me an email with your bank account info and I’ll take care of the rest.}}Report

              • {{Just shoot me an email with your bank account info and I’ll take care of the rest.}}

                Oh no, burn me thrice shame on you. Burn me four times, shame on me!Report

          • Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels says:

            If we accept the framing that the purpose of policy is to provide a lot of stuff to the hands of as many people as possible, then we can’t object to a system that does that very thing.

            What is the purpose? What is our goal? What should our goal be instead?

            I’m guessing that some of our goals are at odds with each other (or we’ve got an inconsistent triad or something) and people are screaming that they want A and B and C when, really, the laws about inconsistent triads say you pick 2 and only 2. (Not man’s law. That’s God’s law.)

            And without hammering out what our goals are and what they should be, we’re probably destined to wander through various pairings excluding the third before we break down to the point where two isn’t even an option anymore and we start picking one of the three.

            So… what’s our goal (or our goals)? What should it (they) be?

            I’m guessing we’re going to end up with some variant of “We want it done fast, we want it done cheap, and we want it done right.”Report

            • Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird says:

              So… what’s our goal (or our goals)? What should it (they) be?

              Glad you asked!
              In all seriousness, the Preamble does a lot of work in this regard; it lays out the broad sweeping vision of what they were trying to accomplish.
              It goes beyond just liberty, beyond just security or material wealth.

              I also come at this thru the lens of Christian social justice teaching; I know there are plenty of other theologies that tread the same path, but I am most familiar with this one.

              American political parties have been wrestling with this since the founding, and there have been plenty of visions articulated.

              Heck for that matter, Reagan’s Morning in America could just as easily do for example.

              In all the visions there is this sense that the human spirit is vital, that there be a sense of community and belonging and purpose.

              There isn’t some bright shining creed or ideology that produces any of this.
              But what should be happening is we should be able to insist that abstracts like human dignity and the flourishing of the human spirit are ranked as integral to our goals as other abstracts like freedom of choice or national security.Report

              • Damon in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                “Social justice”? Yeah, that’s one of those excuses to take my money away from me and give it to someone else.Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to Damon says:

                If I still had attitude I would say that your money isn’t your money unless the collective chooses to acknowledge and defend your claim to it.
                But the more polite version is that the very legal structure that gives rise to the concept of private property is a collective one. There is no escape, no way of detachment from the environment that surrounds you.
                Your claims and assertions about what is yours are valid, but not superior to the claims of others.Report

              • Kolohe in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                I miss the attitude. Maybe if you made a mini-clone of yourself you could still walk around with a Chip on your shoulder?Report

              • Damon in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                “Your claims and assertions about what is yours are valid, but not superior to the claims of others.”

                You see, that’s the point and I’d be ok with that, but that is NOT the way it is. Other’s claim on my money are superior. How does one know this? Easy. Try and prevent them from taking it.

                Of course I reject the whole “collective” line of thinking, which goes back to the illusion of the social contract I mentioned above. That’s just the vehicle the bandits use to raid you and take your stuff.Report

          • North in reply to Chip Daniels says:

            I’d love for you to expand on the new model where freedom and wealth don’t go hand in hand as epitomized by China. It sounds very interesting. Maybe as a guest post?Report

          • Kolohe in reply to Chip Daniels says:

            To borrow a phrase, it’s too soon to tell if the economic policies of China as practiced since the death of Mao will allow the CCP to maintain its monopoly on poltical power. They fought back one existential crisis in 1989, and have eaten from some low hanging fruit since then, but everything indicates there’s going to be another major politcal crisis before Hillary Clinton’s first term is over.Report

            • North in reply to Kolohe says:

              To say nothing of an ecological and demographic crisis waiting in the wings. I want them to succeed enormously, it would be so great. I fear, however, that their system and institutions don’t have the feedback loops and flexibility necessary for them to handle the challenges well. I dearly hope I’m wrong though.Report

  10. LeeEsq says:

    Can somebody please explain to me what the picture of the dancing couple has to do with this post? I’m trying to figure it out but can’t.Report

    • Burt Likko in reply to LeeEsq says:

      I may be mistaken, but I believe that the inference is something along the lines of “While you were busy watching Dancing with the Stars,” this really bad thing was going on.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Burt Likko says:

        That explanation is plausible. During the first part of broadcast history in the United States, most of the broadcast companies saw news as something of a public service. They knew that a lot of people would prefer to watch something other than the news so they basically conspired to air their news shows at the same time so if you were watching TV you were watching the news. When cable made people’s entertainment options wider, this arrangement became no longer practical.

        My theory is that people read more newspapers in the past because they basically had fewer entertainment options. This led to more people being politically aware but once more options became available, people stopped reading or watching the news because they found something more entertaining. People are less aware and more mischief or worse happens as a result.Report

        • Kim in reply to LeeEsq says:

          We save our entertainment for Media Personalities, and have pretty much stopped calling the president the bastard son of a whore. Or words like that.
          I think the entertainment value hasn’t changed much, honestly.Report

    • Kolohe in reply to LeeEsq says:

      Tom Delay was on Dancing with the Stars in 2009.Report

  11. Burt Likko says:

    As I do a bit of research myself around the Intertubes on this, I see a whole lot of ire aimed in DeLay’s direction. Mark Shields’ piece throwing DeLay under the bus appears to have been very, very effective.

    Taking the point on, because I think Our Tod sort of buried it — one Congressman, in an influential enough position, really can stop Congress from doing something. But the caveat is that the single Member of Congress must be in an influential enough position. He’s got to be able to twist enough of the right arms and throw down enough warnings and be able to threaten enough sanctions or offer enough enticements to be able to get the rest of his colleagues to sit on something and squelch it. There’s no reason that Tom DeLay couldn’t have been in such a position and I find it reasonably credible that he might have been.

    So then we get to the root cause: assuming that he was in such a position, how did DeLay get so much power that he could get enough of his colleagues to go along with squelching seemingly popular CNMI reform after it was already passed by the Senate? That’s where the blame gets spread around: those other Members, committee chairs and caucus leaders and such, would need to be somehow indebted or otherwise within DeLay’s sphere of influence beforehand.

    So DeLay can go to them and say, “This things from the Senate. Kill it. Kill it quietly if you can, but under all circumstances kill it,” and they would reply, “Okay, Tom.” Maybe they reply, “Okay, Tom, you owe me one next time around,” or maybe they say, “Okay, Tom, just make sure the contributions keep flowing,” or maybe they say “Okay, Tom, so am I off the hook from that other thing last month?”

    To the extent that we describe a politician making a decision on a political matter based upon factors other than on the merits of the issue as “corruption,” then not just DeLay but other leaders in the House had to be corrupted, or at minimum susceptible to corruption. And that’s why Shields’ laying of the blame on DeLay and only DeLay is mistaken.Report

    • Kolohe in reply to Burt Likko says:

      On everything but the most high profile of issues, one shouldn’t read too much into the parliamentary procedures that went into passing (or not passing) any particular piece of legislation. (This is the sin John Oliver is most guilty of)Report

      • Stillwater in reply to Kolohe says:


        Are you agreeing with Tod that the villian is you?Report

        • Kolohe in reply to Stillwater says:

          After all, we shot the Kennedys – you and me – so, yeah. But, have some sympathy, please.

          I’m speaking orthogonally to the main issues and just picking up something both Kelly’s orginal post and Likko’s ‘seemingly popular’ wording. The oolies of Senate and House procedures make it difficult to say something passed by unanimous consent is necessarily ‘popular’ – it just means nobody bothered to oppose it at that stage of the process. Votes and vote margins are seldom correlated with either the intensity of the desire for some legislation or the actual merits of it. Each vote is an accumulation of the political circumstances around it and is largely determined by what the individual leaders think is best at that time on the grand scheme of things.

          The flip side though, is indeed that Delay, as majority leader of the House, did have the authority (unless preempted by the Speaker) do determine what’s able to be brought to a vote and what dies in committee. (The flip side of that is the authority went away once Pelosi was handed the speaker’s gavel – I’m guessing the next part of the series is what happened *after* the 2006 election when Delay was no longer in the picture.Report

      • North in reply to Kolohe says:

        And the opponents of the ACA.Report

        • Kolohe in reply to North says:

          I’d put ACA in that ‘high profile’ exception. Ditto TARP, and NCLB. (And the AUMF for Iraq) basically any legislation that is front page news during the process to final passage is ‘high profile’ and who is voting for what and when they do it *does* matter for the record.Report

  12. Damon says:

    “We’re the ones that did this.”

    In the words of my lady friend, “pa-leeeze”. Yeah, I’m the one who lobbied for the special tax environment, built the factories, staffed it slave labor, and hired lobbyists to keep Congress from doing something. My wanting a 10 dollar t-shirt drove ALL this from the GAP, or any of the other stores you mention-none of which I’ve purchased from.

    Wasn’t it a tenant of our gov’t system that we hire congress folks to do our business in DC FOR us? Then I guess I’m responsible because I let my employees in Congress get away with not fixing this problem. (And it’s my parents and grand parents blame too since they were all alive and consumers during this time as well.) Good thing since I don’t vote. Dodged that bullet of guilt.

    Are you going to blame me next for the loss of habitat for the spotted owl since I like to write on paper?Report