America Indentured, Sidebar Discussion: How might we improve foreign worker safety conditions

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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146 Responses

  1. Guy says:

    So, first, of the three terrible options, I choose cultural imperialism. What do you choose?

    On to the real meat of it, though: I like this idea a lot, but I think I have to ask, if we (consumers) can’t expect much of a price increase, how is it that the insurance premiums will actually have an effect on the manufacturer -> brand market? What’s stopping them from just eating the cost? Or rather, isn’t it possible they’ll just eat the cost, and none of the manufacturers will switch and become compliant? But I suppose it would (essentially) only take one…Report

    • Kim in reply to Guy says:

      Rig the game right, and the players will cheat the way you want them to.
      Here, all the incentives in the world point to making things safer, as cheaply and effectively as possible.Report

  2. Oscar Gordon says:

    A market based solution that does not require the creation or growth of a regulatory bureaucracy? You have my attention.Report

    • Don Zeko in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

      Mine too, but I’m worried about the legal nuts and bolts. A worker’s comp system is going to involve a lot of litigation: workers will make borderline or fraudulent claims, employers will dispute the amount of medical costs or try to save money by being deliberately uncooperative and forcing litigation costs onto a worker that can’t bear them easily, etc. etc. etc..

      These are all manageable problems in the US, but I’m not sure that that’s the case if the workers in question are foreign nationals suing American firms that are multiple steps up the supply chain from their actual employers. How do you resolve the jurisdiction issues? How do you ensure that injured workers know that they have these legal rights, and how do they get in touch with attorneys that can practice in US courts but can communicate with clients in foreign countries? How do they get their hands on medical records and incident reports from outside the US at a price that makes working such cases economically feasible?Report

      • Oscar Gordon in reply to Don Zeko says:


        Work the problem in front of you, then move onto the next. If you have a good idea what the next problem will be, you may be able to lay some groundwork, but you should focus on the one in front of you.

        Trying to solve big problems in one fell swoop is the fastest path to unintended negatives I can think of.Report

      • North in reply to Don Zeko says:

        I’m intrigued too. I have similar questions about enforcement and the like as Don’s but it’s definitely a more interesting idea than the usual suspect assertions that pop up in this debate.Report

      • Tod Kelly in reply to Don Zeko says:

        To be clear, foreign workers would not be suing US companies. Indeed, they would largely be prohibited from doing so, at least in terms of workplace injuries and deaths.

        Rather, they would be making claims against a US company’s insurer. And to be more specific, most likely the doctors an hospitals where they were treated would be filing claims against the insurers.Report

        • Don Zeko in reply to Tod Kelly says:

          Sure, they wouldn’t be bringing tort actions against their employers or anyone else in the supply chain, but a WC claim is still a legal action. Most cases might be resolved without any formal legal process because it’s not in anybody’s interest to add legal transaction costs to an unambiguous claim, but not all claims are unambiguous. I’ve done some work for a plaintiff’s firm that does WC actions, and in some cases employers (or to be more precise, their insurance carriers) are extremely litigious and unwilling to pay out until some court forces them to. Sometimes it’s very difficult to sort out the severity of an injury, what treatment is medically necessary, or to distinguish between treatment for the workplace injury and treatment for some other condition. Sometimes workers don’t want to go back to work or want a payday that their injury doesn’t justify.

          So if we can’t kill all the lawyers here, we’ve got to figure out how to make that process work when the parties aren’t living in the same hemisphere or speaking the same language or subject to the same sovereign. I’m not saying it’s insurmountable, or that I don’t like the idea. But I think if it turns out to be unworkable, I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the sticking point.Report

          • Tod Kelly in reply to Don Zeko says:

            How about legally binding arbitration?Report

          • Don Zeko in reply to Don Zeko says:

            Oh heck, I’m going to tell a story to try to illustrate what I’m getting at. When I was at this Plaintiff’s firm, I worked on a case where the worker had suffered an injury that left him permanently disabled and unable to return to work. He filed a claim and the employer’s insurance carrier settled it, and the terms of the settlement included that the carrier would pay for future medical expenses arising out of the injury. So he gets a lump sum, and his lawyer takes her contingency fee, and a few months later he needs treatment again. He gets his documentation from his doctor saying that this procedure is necessary and related to the workplace injury, and he sends it to his lawyer, and his lawyer calls the claims adjuster to get them to pay for the procedure…and the claims adjuster doesn’t pick up his phone, or call the lawyer back, or respond to letters and emails for about three months.

            Then once he finally does, he flatly denies that the procedure is necessary or related and refuses to pay. The worker’s lawyer takes him to court, and a few months later the insurance carrier is ordered to pay for the procedure and the plaintiff’s attorney fees. And then a year after that, he needs another procedure, and again the insurance carrier refuses to pay.

            What’s going on is that the insurance company has decided that, for this class of case, many plaintiffs will be unable to get a lawyer to represent them after their claim has been settled, because WC plaintiff’s attorneys work for contingency and the only way to get paid for work done after the settlement is to have a court award attorney fees, and courts don’t like to do that. So even if the cases where they do pay require them to pay a lot more, there are enough cases where the plaintiffs simply give up that they come out ahead.

            How much more frequently will this calculation come out this way for a worker in Bangledesh? After all, wages and medical costs are lower there, so there’s less money to take a contingency fee out of, and the distance and language barrier will make working the case more difficult. But presumably you’d still need a US attorney to work the case, and it has to be worth their time somehow.Report

            • Burt Likko in reply to Don Zeko says:

              I imagine that there are Bengali lawyers in Bangladesh. They get paid somehow.Report

              • Don Zeko in reply to Burt Likko says:

                Perhaps this is my unfamiliarity with international law showing, but isn’t Todd describing a cause of action in US law?Report

              • Joe Sal in reply to Don Zeko says:

                I don’t think it has to be US law. Just a ‘competence’ preference of U.S. corporations to require workers comp insurance of foreign manufacturers. (provided at source of production)

                Possibly be good to have a independent credential company to rank manufacturers globally for effectiveness of safety/insurance programs.Report

              • Don Zeko in reply to Joe Sal says:

                I don’t follow. Under the current system, US companies have zero obligation to pay for medical expenses or other costs incurred as a result of workplace injuries suffered by the foreign employees of their foreign suppliers. Why would they choose to assume those costs if they are not forced to do so by law? Why would they demand that their suppliers be insured against such claims when they know that the suppliers might pass the costs of doing so up the production chain?Report

              • Joe Sal in reply to Don Zeko says:

                Sorry I missed this yesterday Don.
                It’s about preference. There is a market for donuts with chocolate icing. The icing costs more, takes up more inventory. Adds variation and cost to the manufacturing process, But I’ll be damned if the market doesn’t find a way to produce chocolate iced donuts.

                The problem is chocolate iced donuts you can visually look at the thing and tell that that preference is met. Looking at clothes on a outlet store shelf, it’s not visually apparent that a fair labor practice was met.

                There is no visual context to make that judgement, and if there was, how do you think these posts would be different?Report

      • Oscar Gordon in reply to Don Zeko says:

        According to Our Tod:

        In those instances, the ultimate responsibility for that sub-contractor’s workers comp — in term of both premiums and claims cost — goes to the lowest-level general contractor or contracting buyer that does have workers comp.

        So the only change on our side would be expanding the law to cover foreign contractors.

        The trick will be making sure the foreign workers (& supporting medical system) know that they can file a claim, & how to do it, & that no one on that side is doing what Maribou’s former boss would do.Report

    • Damon in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

      This isn’t a “market based solution” by the simple fact that a law has to be passed bringing Tod’s recommendation into force. And do you really thing that those regulatory agencies that are part of the us workers comp system wouldn’t have the law crafted to allow them to stick their noses into this?Report

      • Oscar Gordon in reply to Damon says:

        It’s market based in that it is attempting to leverage market forces (insurance) to achieve a desired result, rather than just mandating the desired result directly.

        If market-based offends you, call it a more diplomatic solution (in that diplomacy is the art of letting someone else get your way).Report

        • Damon in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

          Actually, I’d call it a “market disruption” given that all gov’t regulation into a free market is exactly that..just like minimum wages laws, just like laws against “price gouging”, etc.Report

          • Oscar Gordon in reply to Damon says:


            What is the purpose of Workman’s Comp Insurance? Why did the government feel the need to craft laws requiring it?Report

            • notme in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

              The gov’t got involved b/c the common law defenses that were available to employers were preventing many workers from getting care. The gov’t decided to move from folks from a litigation based system into a no fault system.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to notme says:

                I suspect because the litigation based system became inefficient.

                Thank you, @notmeReport

              • Stillwater in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                I suspect because the litigation based system became inefficient.

                Or maybe that it led to unjust outcomes?Report

              • notme in reply to Stillwater says:

                Probably both as litigation is rarely a quick process and the defenses can prevent any recovery.

                Fellow Servant Doctrine: An employer can be held harmless to the extent that injury was caused in whole or in part by a peer of the injured worker. Contributory Negligence: An employer can be held harmless to the extent that the injured employee failed to use adequate precautions required by ordinary prudence. Assumption of Risk: An employer can be held harmless to the extent that the injured employee had voluntarily accepted the risks associated with the work.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Stillwater says:

                Or thatReport

            • Damon in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

              What has the reason for a market disruption have to do with anything? It’s not a “real” disruption if the consensus is that it’s justified? I’m not arguing that WC is valid, invalid, good, bad, or something else. I’m simply pointing out that Tod’s recommendation is a disruption in the market, not as you claim, a “A market based solution…”Report

              • Don Zeko in reply to Damon says:

                The way you’re defining “market-based” seems to mean that there is no such thing as a market based public policy solution possible at all, since changing anything about the current situation via public policy is a disruption of the free market.Report

              • Kim in reply to Don Zeko says:

                A market based solution is a solution that creates a market.
                Isn’t that freaking obvious?
                George HW Bush created a market in order to stop acid rain. it worked well. lookitup.Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to Don Zeko says:

                It just leads back to the fact that the “free market” refers either to the status quo consumer market we have now, or some illusory mirage where the state has withered away, or some chimera hybrid, where the state sets some arbitrary rules, while refusing to set others.

                So trying to find a “market-based” solution to something usually ends up being an exercise in tail-chasing.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Damon says:


                …organized so that companies, prices, and production are controlled naturally by the supply of and demand for goods and services, rather than by a government:

                Since Tod’s idea would involve allowing market forces to work, it is market-based. The fact that the market comes into existence by dint of regulation does not remove the fact that the bulk of it’s operation will obey some variation of supply & demand, instead of command.Report

              • Joe Sal in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                I’m kinda with Chip on this one, in that if the market forces are operating in a capitalism3 “free market” environment the tail chasing begins right out of the gate.

                Market forces in that context start at pear shaped.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Joe Sal says:


              • Joe Sal in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                from Gary Chartier:

                an economic system that features property rights and voluntary exchanges of goods and services.

                an economic system that features a symbiotic relationship between big business and government.

                rule — of workplaces, society, and (if there is one) the state — by capitalists (that is, by a relatively small number of people who control investable wealth and the means of production).Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Joe Sal says:

                Context, how I love thee! Still, I’m insufficiently versed in this context to be able to grok it, so I can’t offer much opinion.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Oscar Gordon says:


                PS Do you have a link to this Capitalism 1/2/3?Report

              • Joe Sal in reply to Oscar Gordon says:



                (In full admittance, I do shamelessly cherry pick some ideas from the left)Report

              • Damon in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                “Simply put, workers comp is a legislated compromise between labor and management. This compromise stipulates….”

                A forced compromise?
                An injection of the state into the market between labor & management?

                These are not the words of a market. Markets are composed willing buyers and sellers.

                If you’re forced to buy or sell a product when you might not want to, then companies, prices, and production are NOT controlled naturally by the supply of and demand for goods and services because you are an unwilling participant. If there was a real demand for this product, it would likely already exist. It doesn’t matter that there is a people trading this product because the action of the gov’t has irrecoverably distorted the free exchange between buyer and seller. You didn’t want to be there in the first place.

                It’s command based not market.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Damon says:

                production are NOT controlled naturally by the supply of and demand for goods and services because you are an unwilling participant.

                So what? It leads to better outcomes, just like protections for private property lead to better outcomes. (Is your definition of a market what would “naturally” occur? What’s the meaning of “naturally” here?)

                If there was a real demand for this product, it would likely already exist.

                Likely? Well, as a factual matter it didn’t exist. That’s what we have to go on, ya know?Report

              • Damon in reply to Stillwater says:

                I’m not arguing it’s a poorer economic situation, I’m simply arguing that it’s not market based since markets are composed of willing buyers and sellers. I’ve assigned no moral judgement on Tod’s recommendation, just as I’ve been arguing all along that markets are by definition, moral. WE ascribe the outcome of markets as good or bad depending upon our value system.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Damon says:

                Damon, I think some of this has to do with what we mean by market-based, as Oscar pointed out. But if you’re right, then no scheme to address externalities or collective action problems (for example) could be ever be market based. And at that point, I think holding tight to your definition puts you behind the 8 ball.Report

              • Damon in reply to Stillwater says:

                Well, again anything having to do with a market requires willing buyers and sellers. Wen the gov’t inserts itself and requires participation, it corrupts the very nature of the market and distorts it. I’d go along with “near market” or “market like” but I’ll stand behind the 8 ball if pushed.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to Damon says:

                When the gov’t inserts itself and requires participation, it corrupts the very nature of the market and distorts it.

                Exactly like when the government inserts itself into religion. And I do mean “exactly”.Report

              • Don Zeko in reply to Damon says:

                Well ok, but why is the market valuable? Is it because price signals are very often the most efficient way to allocate scarce resources and balance between competing demands and interests? If so, then this reform sure seems to be a way to use markets effectively to balance between our interest in cheap manufacturing and our interest in preventing the injury or death of workers. But to me, it sounds like you’re saying that The Market, in it’s natural* state, is the morally correct way to organize society and manage these sorts of questions.

                *and of course let’s not even get into the wrinkles and difficulties in trying to separate the natural or normal free market from one that has been ‘distorted’ by government.Report

              • Damon in reply to Don Zeko says:

                “If so, then this reform sure seems to be a way to use markets effectively to balance between our interest in cheap manufacturing and our interest in preventing the injury or death of workers.”

                Ah, but you’re assuming that there is a market for “our interest in preventing the injury or death of workers”…in a foreign country. I don’t think you can assert that with out explaining why it’s in MY interest to agree to such.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Damon says:

                You are conflating Free Market with Market Based.

                A true Free Market solution would be one that rose from the existence of a demand for it.

                A Market Based solution is merely one that uses aspects of a market to attempt to achieve an efficiency toward the desired result.

                If there was a real demand for this product, it would likely already exist.

                There is such a thing as Market Failures. It is more than possible that a demand existed, but no one was much interested in meeting that demand; or entrenched interests had already sufficiently distorted the market such that risk of meeting the demand was too high.Report

              • Joe Sal in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                It seems to me there is a lot of preference in clothes made by manufacturers that provide a basic level of safety and humane treatment of workers.

                So I don’t think we are necessarily operating in market failure mode.

                Which reinforces Damon premise that it is likely a distortion command(ish) based problem.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Joe Sal says:


                No, actually, there isn’t, which is kind of the whole point here. Western consumers may ideally have that preference, but the bulk of consumers are not making the effort to ensure that the production chain for their clothes is populated only with firms that practice basic safety & humane treatment. This lack of effort could be because they don’t really care, or they have no idea how to find out, or they simply can not afford the brands that make that guarantee.

                I mean, if this was the case, if the actual, revealed preference of Western consumers was basic safety & humane treatment for foreign workers, Tod would have little to write about, certainly not 4+ posts worth. Mike & Chip would have little to gnash their metaphorical teeth against on this topic.Report

              • Joe Sal in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                This kind of gets to a pivot point. Is it the corporations and government not servicing the preference or this lack of consumer effort?

                What is the threshold between a subjective value market and a command driven market?Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Joe Sal says:

                So, we have things like “Fair Trade” for coffee, any textile equivalent? I mean, ideally, that would be the first thing I would encourage.

                Although I understand Fair Trade implies more than it actually delivers, so pragmatically it might not be all that effective, but still.Report

              • Joe Sal in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                I was looking at that yesterday. I found this:

                It’s accreditation process looks insufficient. Establishing/insuring processes continuation is something important as jr alluded to below. Hell, we aren’t even that good at process maintenance in this country.

                If it ever developed into a visual indicator on a label it might gain traction. I doubt it will come to fruit and likely be buried/ignored by the powers that be.Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to Damon says:

                “An injection of the state …”
                Why is the word “inject” used here? Is the state ever NOT in the midst of every single exchange made?
                How can it be “injected” when it is already there, as the guarantor of enforcement and protection?
                This is my objection to this entire concept of a “free market”, or “undistorted” market, or whatever terms you want to use.

                The state is what creates the market, what erects the very concept of private property, medium of exchange, definition of contract, and definition and enforcement of rights.

                You can’t escape the state- its the water in which the market swims.Report

              • Damon in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                Nope, the basic free market functions without the state. The state does not create it. It already exists. Do you think there was a “state” creating the market for trade in shells and skins when are ancestors were hunter gatherers? Of course not.Report

              • Don Zeko in reply to Damon says:

                Is a market without enforceable contracts and something beyond might makes right protecting property rights a free market?Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to Damon says:

                Of course there was.
                There was an organized power that decided what land belonged to what group and how things were transacted so as to enforce a peace.

                Oh and by the way why do people think it’s a terrific persuasive argument to advocate policies for a globalized high tech 21st century society by starting out with “Imagine two traders in a forest exchanging beads…”

                Seriously man, can’t you find some exemplar that at least was after the invention of the steam engine?Report

              • Damon in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                “There was an organized power that decided what land belonged to what group and how things were transacted so as to enforce a peace.”

                O really? Citations? Given that any allegedly ruler’s authority went no further than his reach, I doubt that. There was a whole lotta trade going on with out the trapping of a gov’t . Why should I find “some exemplar that at least was after the invention of the steam engine” when that example serves it’s purpose?Report

              • Joe Sal in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                “There was an organized power that decided what land belonged to what group and how things were transacted so as to enforce a peace.”

                This sounds a whole lot like faction. Not only faction, but a might makes right faction theory of ‘peaceful’ government, which I consider mostly illegitimate.

                This isn’t primitive stuff. Everyone wakes up with demands relating to exchange, it’s how you arrange capitalism around those demands that makes a viable market, or a control freak hellish state-corporation slave master.Report

              • Kim in reply to Damon says:

                Blaise would say so, though it would be a simple government basically consisting of the tribe itself. And it would be mostly about preventing blatant theft. Punishment by shunning would be akin to a death sentence, after all.

                Government sets up external rules and enforces them “equally” on all parties. By this metric, you’ve got government.Report

              • Damon in reply to Kim says:

                The very nature of gov’t is not to enforce rules equally on all parties.Report

              • Guy in reply to Damon says:

                Hang on, hang on: what do you call it when (as in this example) we get together a group of buyers and/or a group of sellers and force them to trade a particular product, but otherwise leave things up to regular market forces? Ie, we let them set all other terms of the transaction, but stipulate that somehow parties in Category A must transfer Good/Service 1 to (their choice of) parties in Category B (where either of Categories A and B might be “anyone at all on this entire planet of Earth”).

                I don’t know what to call that if it’s not a market. Maybe we can call it a mandatory market, in the sense that it wouldn’t exist without the mandate, but, well, it walks and talks like a market.

                I’m not (yet) willing to grant that the only markets are fully free markets. You’ve gotta actually make that argument.Report

              • Guy in reply to Guy says:

                Y’know what, it’s 6:30 in the morning, let’s be rigorous about this.

                We have A, B which are distinct* sets of people of cardinality at least 2; a class X(1…i) of goods or services of a particular type that people in set A can provide, where i is the cardinality of A; and a class of sets Y(1…p)(0…n) of goods and services** (which might be empty) that people in set B can provide, where p is the cardinality of B.** I claim that a market arises when people in set A provide people in set B the goods X(i,j,k…), and receive in return the goods in set Y(p,q,…)(m,n,…). In this model each member of Y is an offer from someone in B for a set of goods in X produced by a person in A, so the index (i) tells us who in set A sold it, the index (p) tells us who in set B bought it, and the index (n) tells us tells us what they paid for it.

                A natural market arises with no intervention – there is a set B of people making offers**** Y for a particular kind of good X, and a set A of people providing that kind of good in exchange.

                A mandate market arises from an outside mandate of some kind – either no set B of people making offers for Y exists or, more likely, no set A of people providing kind of good X exists naturally. The outsider provides the missing set*****.

                To fully formalize this I should probably allow goods to have varying quality******, and bring in functions to actually map buyers, sellers, and prices, but now I’ve spent 50 minutes on it and it has seven footnotes, so really I should stop.

                * A and B must be nonequal – that is, at least one of A or B must have at least one member not in the other. They might, however, have a nonempty intersect.******* It is trivial to prove that this means that a minimum of three people are needed to make a market under this definition.
                ** I’m going to drop the word “services” from now on. Assume it is there, just invisible.
                *** A single transaction is not a market. A single transaction repeated across time could be construed as a market if time-varying people are viewed as distinct, but this is arguably not what we want.
                **** The accepted offers might be empty. This is a boring market, but still a market.
                ***** In the sense that they define the set or otherwise make it exist, not that they constitute it.
                ****** A market with goods of varying quality as well as varying offers would allow us to define regulated markets, where certain prices or qualities are forbidden by an outside agent. Mandate markets might be regulated or not, and regulated markets might be natural or mandate. A fully free market would be what Damon is talking about – a natural market that is not regulated. There should also probably be some proviso for artificially restricting the sets, and maybe one for expanding them artificially, even if they exist naturally.
                ******* Oh, hey, there’s a definition: a middle man is any person who is a member of both A and B that interacts with distinct buyers and sellers.Report

              • Damon in reply to Guy says:

                I’m not arguing that only “free markets” are markets. I saying that a “market” is a group of willing buyers and sellers. It is the willingness that is key, since if you didn’t want the product, you wouldn’t be in the market. That is one of the elements of a market influences the price of the item, as each possible buyer has a price point where he is willing to purchase the product.

                If the gov’t forces you to buy a product then that influence is gone because you have to buy it. Oh, you can have a system where buyers and sells trade stuff/services for money, but is it really a “market” when I’m forced to buy it when I didn’t want to, or buy it at a price I was unwilling to pay before the gov’t forced me to buy it?Report

              • Kim in reply to Damon says:

                Yes. And what’s more, it is a market that works.
                It’s just another game, and one that incentivizes certain optimizations, without mandating what the hell the optimizations will be.

                Sequestration Credits incentivize California Companies paying coal mines in WV to sequester carbon.

                Markets are good because they get things done quicker and more effectively… they’re good at finding the most optimal solutions in a large solution space.

                If we already knew the solution, we wouldn’t need a market.Report

              • Damon in reply to Kim says:

                We’ll have to agree to disagree.Report

              • Guy in reply to Damon says:

                If all the things that we talk about when we talk about market forces are there? The offers of products of varying quality at varying price? Yes, that’s still a market. If someone is forced to sell something or someone else is forced to buy something, you can (and often do, as long as there isn’t a monopoly somewhere) still have competition over price and quality. Again, if buyers and sellers buying and selling competitively might not be a market, what is it ? Because a collection of buyers and sellers buying and selling is what most people would call a market, regardless of its origins.

                By saying that it’s not a market if the sale or purchase of the item is required, you’re claiming that the primary thing we care about when we talk about markets is that the buyers and sellers all desire the transaction before they get to the table, which is demonstrably not true. It is demonstrated, for example, by the fact that you are the only person in this thread claiming that the market for worker’s comp insurance is not in fact a market.Report

              • Joe Sal in reply to Guy says:

                I wouldn’t say he is the only one. I would attribute a workers comp insurance ‘solution’/deployment as a bad outcome of capitalism3.

                You could call these things ‘markets’ in a capitalism3&2 environment but it would be inaccurate to call these free markets and understand the distortions of monopoly type effects that are going on from the influence of the state-corporation powers.Report

              • Guy in reply to Joe Sal says:

                Really? It looks more like your capitalism2 to me, though you seem to sort of group those together. And I’m not trying to say it’s a free market, just that it’s a market. Which, as far as I understand it, people are shopping around, at least to the extent that there are multiple workers’ comp insurance companies, and some companies choose to do without their product entirely, but maybe I don’t understand far enough. Where is the monopoly, and if there’s no monopoly, what “monopoly type effects” are you talking about?Report

              • Joe Sal in reply to Guy says:

                I typically look at capitalism-2 as transitory to capitalism-3. (If only by means of the regulated employees becoming the regulators, and the regulator employees becoming the regulated. A lot of job swapping going on there.)

                I’m good with the market term, but for years it was difficult to convey that: yeah it’s a market, but what environment is it operating, and what assumptions of degrees of freedom are being maintained? To say a capitalism-3 market isn’t operating correctly, my response would be: well duh!

                I could be tasked with citing companies that are trying to own the dominant share of various world markets, but that stuff is in the news nearly every other day. One of those stories would probably drive it home for you.Report

  3. Saul Degraw says:

    The Loomis school of thought is that the only way to really improve working conditions in foreign countries is through a true International Labor movement and with International courts that can seriously enforce Western level worker safety laws including minimum wage laws.

    The chances of this happening are probably not great.

    Are you planning on addressing the economic debate at the heart of this matter? There do seem to be a lot of people who see sweatshops as good and also economically necessary for development. Lee once brought up the idea that there is a divide between those who see economics as being like the laws of physics (not to be messed with) and those who think economics can be tinkered with via human action and interaction. I am thinking of a big debate I got into with Roger/Cardiff Kook on the end of child labor. My view was that child labor ended in the United States because of human action during the Progressive Era. Roger’s view was that child labor ended because technological advancement and other factors like rising wealth made it no longer efficient to employ children in factories, etc.

    In short, Roger felt that all human agitiation and agency on the issue was pointless. Child Labor only ended because of the unbreakable course of economic law and development. It just happened to coincide with the photographs of Lewis Hines and serious activism on the issue.

    There was this classic Matt Y headline about the Bangladeshi factory collapse a few years ago:

    “Different Places Have Different Safety Rules and That’s OK”

    So there seem to be a lot of people who think sweatshops are good and not bad because they do provide more wages than sustenance farming and also cheap goods for the rest. Better working conditions happen and then sweatshops move somewhere else. They would also seem to argue that trying to destroy sweatshop conditions in developing economies would do more harm than good because it destroys the chances of citizens in developing countries to rise from sustenance farming.Report

    • North in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      I’m perched between you and Roger on the spectrum. I definitely think that more humane labor conditions occurs as a result of human action, specifically laborers and consumers demanding better standards from business and from government and holding those entities feet to the fire to get them. I also, however, think that a certain base level of economic and civil development is required before the populace has the oomph necessary to accomplish this and also has the base Maslow needs covered sufficiently that they’re willing to risk trying.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to North says:

        I agree with you that there is a base. I can’t deny that working in a sweatshop in Bangladesh or wherever does produce better economics and standards of living than sustenance farming.

        The issue is tricky.Report

        • El Muneco in reply to Saul Degraw says:

          (As an ex-Lib) I third this. Sweatshops are better than subsistence farming, and they are known to be the first step on a road that (if you don’t miss a turn somewhere) leads to a generally better place. Sweatshops are better than the current alternative.

          But then I ask myself “why are we stopping at just better?” Is there an alternative that will bootstrap even quicker, or have fewer false paths down the line, or just not stay in the sweatshop stage for more than the absolute minimum?

          Tricky indeed.Report

          • Saul Degraw in reply to El Muneco says:


            This is what I mean. There is a serious philosophical and possibly real world divide here. Is economics like the laws of gravity or is it like legislation which can be changed to suit needs? Something inbetween? The libertarian true belief seems to be that these are steps every developing nation/economy must take.Report

          • North in reply to El Muneco says:

            The world is sitting on Nobel Prizes, fame and billions of dollars for anyone who actually thinks up a better, faster, more humane method. Seriously.Report

            • Joe Sal in reply to North says:

              Cut and paste from Hanleys rent seeking post:

              And in an NBER working paper, Fogel, Morck, and Yeung, demonstrate that business stability–“low turnover of dominant businesses…related to high government spending, high regulatory barriers to entry, Civil Code legal systems, bank-centered financial systems, weak outside shareholder protection, and trade or capital barriers”–is negatively associated with economic growth. They measured “the stability of the largest businesses in 44 countries over 1975 to 1996,” and found that “Economies with less persistently dominant large businesses grow faster than other countries with the same initial per capita GDP, level of education, and capital stock.”

              A point of contention here is persistently dominant large businesses slow Beta-convergence.

              This indicates to me that if you want to level the field faster, things need to decentralize.

              (maybe deconstruct is a better word.)Report

          • Chip Daniels in reply to El Muneco says:

            But you can understand how people like me see this Sweatshop-as-Interim-Phase argument as astoundingly convenient, since it demands absolutely nothing of us, but asks everything of others?
            And how much it sounds like the old “Negros deserve civil rights but are not ready yet” argument?
            Further, in seeing sweatshops as naturally ocurring phenomena, you have to ignore the fact that there are powerful vested interests who desperately want them to exist and will fight to preserve them?Report

            • North in reply to Chip Daniels says:

              Oh it demands plenty of us, tons in fact, far more than the alternative does I’d say. It’s an open question during this economic epoc as to if the developed world will hang onto paying the prices free trade demands of us or if we’ll retreat back into protectionism and trade barriers. I am far from certain of the eventual outcome.Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to North says:

                What demands are you referring to?
                The loss of manufacturing jobs?Report

              • North in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                Among other things yes. It demands acceptance of large diffuse benefits and smaller but concentrated and highly visible pain for people in developed world countries. It makes demands of most elements of our political spectrum:
                It demands that conservatives not take action on their jingoistic and populist impulses.
                It demands that liberals not create comfortable well paid sinecures for educated urban administrators (our natural tribe).
                It demands that both sides not indulge in an economic form of neocon thinking where we declare that we can eliminate some set of unpleasant phenomena in other nations if we just will it hard enough.
                It demands a lot really.
                It doesn’t demand much of libertarians, true, but there’re what, couple percent of them in the total population?Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to North says:

                So, it “demands” that you shift your pet arguments and theories.

                Tough work. I’m sure 12 year old garment workers feel your pain.

                None of the pundits or economists or think tankers who champion this have endured any sort of pain from the current structure of global trade; in fact, most have been rewarded handsomely, by continuing to receive First World wages while spending Third World prices.

                The workers who have endured the pain, are the ones roaring lustily for Trump promising to herd fellow workers into cattle cars.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                And this is where the Copenhagen interpretation of ethics has bite again.

                The lives the people left in order to work in a sweatshop? Less problematic than the option they picked.

                Talking about Qatar again, I found myself shocked not only by the horrible treatment the people from 3rd and 4th world countries got… I found myself shocked that they signed up for it voluntarily and their lives back home were so awful that being treated like this a million miles away from family was *PREFERABLE* to their lives at home.

                The last guy in the last anecdote told me that he goes home periodically to see his family and only comes back to Qatar to earn the cash so his kids can go to a good school so they won’t have to live like he does.

                But me saying “This is awful! Let’s make sure he can’t get a job in Qatar!” is the most likely outcome from anything I might suggest to improve his life on a policy level and, on a personal level, all I could do was give him somewhere between 10 and 20 bucks depending on the exchange rate.

                But the guy who lives next door to him back home who suffers similarly? I really haven’t given much thought to his neighbor at all.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

                And if we could in some fashion put pressure on the Qataris not to abuse their guest workers, they’d cease to hire any, because the workers aren’t there to do work, they’re there to be abused.

                I mean, I can’t rule that out, but is it really the case being made?Report

              • North in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                Probably the arguement is that there is an ideal but narrow band where guest workers are permitted but not abused flanked on one side by workers being permitted but being abused (the current state of affairs) and on the other by guest workers being more trouble than they are worth to their employers and thus not being employed and left to starve and that assuming that we could apply force with sufficient consistant deftness to move the needle our of the one wide area and into that narrow ideal without moving it clear through and into the other undesirable wide band is unrealistic.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                The main thing that makes sense to me is some variant of “we need to stop giving these people freaking money”.

                I’ve since changed my opinions on so-called “green” energy and am much more in support of wind, solar, and whatever (in addition to nuclear, of course) than I was this time last year.

                But for the “abuse”… most of the abuse is of the form “live in a situation that an American would recognize as squalor and work in situations that an American would recognize as exploitation and make wages that an American would recognize as a pittance”.

                And they’re standing in line to receive this particular situation.

                Telling the Qataris “be even better to the people standing in line to work for you!” is an argument that… well, what kind of pressure are we talking here?

                Full-throated support for so-called “green” energy?Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

                If by abuse, you meant low wages and unpleasant working conditions, yeah, there’s a limit to what can be done about that. I was thinking more the enslavement, assault, rape, and murder that occurs distressingly often to domestic workers in, say, Saudi Arabia.Report

              • North in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                And just to be clear on this, you are advocating for what precisely with regards to foreign trade? I confess I have to read between the lines here but if I understand your preferred policy correctly then I would agree that the twelve year old garment worker wouldn’t be feeling any pain from it because they wouldn’t be twelve year old garment workers; they’d be twelve year old prostitutes or twelve year old junk scavengers or twelve year old corpses.

                I mean I understand that subscribing to some kind of green lantern theory of foreign trade can feel edifying (the neocons just love it when it comes to foreign wars). If we just will it hard enough foreign sweat shops will vanish and all foreign workers will work in humane well compensated positions and the sun shall shine upon a kinder more just world. The parts where we get to that promised land, however, always seem foggy.

                Now I may be simply overly skeptical but when I look at those proposals I just see recepies for comfortably paid administrators in the first world to instruct starving developing world workers on what is best for them without ever being accoutable to those developing world workers for what those outcomes are.

                But again, since you’ve been coy on what you’re in favor of, I concede that I’m having to speculate on what you actually think should be done about inhumane working conditions in developing world countries.Report

              • LeeEsq in reply to North says:

                There is nothing really to prevent a twelve year old garment worker from being sexually abused from the higher ups at work if they so want it. Many child laborers were subject to horrific abuse besides the ravages of child labor.Report

              • North in reply to LeeEsq says:

                Yes, it’s a shitty lot for third world workers by and large. The current system is a grinding wheel crushing lives with maiming, abuse, exploitation and the like. Then eventually after some time they climb out of it and become developed nations and that horrible bloody wheel grinds on to another place.

                If we’re talking about replacing that wheel with a new one that grinds slightly less heavily, but does so indefinitly, well I’d say that’s a choice that we don’t have any business making for those people; no matter how pure our intentions are.Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to North says:

                I am in favor of using the same hegemonic pressure we exert when protecting the Coca Cola trademark to protect the rights of the workers.
                Of course it wouldn’t work perfectly, because the forces that want to force 12 year olds to have only the awful choices you describe, and no others, are very entrenched and powerful.

                Again- we don’t need to achieve perfection. But to insist that 3rd World workers have meaningful representation in trade regulations is certainly possible.
                But first we have to stop feigning helplessness, or pretending that no other future is possible.Report

              • North in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                I’ve already pointed out, repeatedly, the very significant differences between trademark protection and enforcing some kind of global labor standard.

                Also what powerful entrenched forces are we talking about here? Multinational global corporations are self interested fishers, no doubt about it, but they did not make nor do they keep developing nations poor. So we’re talking about jousting with what? History? Reality? Poverty, misery and starvation are, after all, the global norm. It is developed world lifestyles that are the exception to the rule.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to North says:

                Poverty, misery and starvation are, after all, the global norm. It is developed world lifestyles that are the exception to the rule.

                This is the axiom that so many find difficult to swallow.Report

              • North in reply to Jaybird says:

                Well understandably, even our lower quintile has been raised in comparative plenty since birth.
                And it’s far from a desirable global norm, and it’s in retreat! That’s the hopeful part of it; that the exception is moving towards becoming the norm.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to North says:

                Well, we will probably realize at some point that the USA has a lot more of it’s fair share of the global top quintile. (For small values of “fair share”, of course.)

                As DIY Genius put it: If you make more than $35K in US Dollars then you are in the global 1% of income earners.

                The median (not the mean) wage in the US is under this number by a bit at $26,695… but that’s a number that most of us here at Ordinary Times recognize as surprisingly achievable for those of us with our levels of privilege, right?

                We’re the baddies, is the point I’m trying to make here. Even those of us who are merely part of the top 10%.Report

              • Guy in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                Loving the holocaust reference. Really loving it.Report

              • LeeEsq in reply to North says:

                I think the bigger demand on liberals is that it demands that we don’t push for labor unionization rights. I’d be a lot more comfortable with the current system if the stack against labor unions was decreased rather than increased.Report

              • North in reply to LeeEsq says:

                That’s an interesting point because I’m not aware that any of trade deals currently have anything in them that actively works against unionization rights though I grant that they are certainly entirely absent any requirements that’d make unionization within those nations easier.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to North says:

                From the NYT:

                A pact between Washington and Hanoi to strengthen labor unions in Vietnam could give workers more bargaining power, but the impact will depend on how Vietnam carries out the agreement, longtime Vietnamese government advisers and other specialists said on Thursday.

                The side agreement to the Trans-Pacific Partnership calls for Vietnam to pass legislation that would legalize independent unions, allow them to strike and let them seek help from foreign labor organizations like the A.F.L.-C.I.O.Report

              • North in reply to Stillwater says:

                Hmm so Obama’s peeps slipped in a potentially helping hand to labor into the TPP vis a vis Vietnam? That’s interesting, it’ll be fascinating to see what the Vietnamise do with it.Report

              • LeeEsq in reply to North says:

                Even if trade deals do not contain any provision against unionization per se or even things that might help, unions still have to deal with hostility from individual governments and the threats of employers to move to more anti-union places. I have no idea how to achieve this but it is rapidly clear that a global trading system needs global unionization in order not to be horrifyingly exploitative system. Globalization might be lifting people out of poverty but some check on business people is necessary.Report

              • North in reply to LeeEsq says:

                Referring to our own history LeeEsq unionization achieved the successes it did despite, not because, of government actions. The state was generally sympathetic to the businesses. If the Pinkertons were in danger of getting their asses lynched the government would bring in the army.
                Now eventually unions forged their own clients and allies in government, there’s no denying that, but that isn’t how it began.Report

              • Guy in reply to North says:

                Well, they are friends of the (powerful) government(s) now. But of course they’re not particularly interested in rocking that boat, especially in a matter where it would be somewhat to their detriment.Report

              • North in reply to Guy says:

                They’re friends of a part of a few powerful governments. It’s not exactly the golden age of union love in the first world right now; not even close.Report

              • Guy in reply to North says:

                Oh absolutely. Miscellaneous boat rocking = bad for unions. That’s why they don’t do it.Report

    • Tod Kelly in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      “Are you planning on addressing the economic debate at the heart of this matter?”

      No. Or to be more precise, I will not be focusing on it the way it’s always framed.

      Instead, I’m trying to actually shift the debate’s framing. And the way I am trying to shift it might best be summed up by this question:

      Would it be acceptable to reintroduce slavery as a legal labor option open to businesses into the United States, provided that employers could demonstrate that it would be more profitable in the long run?

      If one’s answer to that question is no — and I certainly hope that it is — then I want to ask, why not?

      We spill a lot of ink and pixels — especially those of us who lean more toward liberalism — comparing ourselves favorably to those who, generations ago, went along happily with the practice of human slavery. But we also tell ourselves that what we allow today to save a couple of bucks on a shirt is not only different, not only morally defensible, but actually in the best interests of those exploited.*

      So I want to know: Why? What is it that makes it different? Is it that one system preyed upon Africans, and another Asians? Is it that we believe we can really own a human being and force them to do things they don’t want to with their bodies, so long as we only do it for 2-10 years per person? Is it just that one happened on US soil? If so, is it OK for US corporations to run slave companies overseas — or does merely hiring others to do the actual whip cracking somehow make it morally acceptable? If so, how, exactly? If these practices will truly make things so much better for the world’s poor in the long run, shouldn’t we start shipping them here to be our property for a couple of years, or even a decade? Wouldn’t that be the moral thing to do, if it’s really that much in their best interest?

      And I ask all of these things because, going back to the first post, I think that the talk radio host and Huckabee were on to something — even if they were wrong about what that something was.

      You can’t argue that it’s in the world’s (and workers’!) best interest to allow and encourage these kinds of practices because ECONOMICS, and then argue that we must never allow slavery to return to the US because MORALITY. Either one of those positions is true, or else the other one is. Pretending that they are both simultaneously true is a convenient lie we tell ourselves to save a few dollars at the mall.

      *(Which, fwiw, was pretty much the exact same argument south of the Mason Dixon line a century and a half ago.)Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Tod Kelly says:


        I am on your side here. I am just pointing out that this is an issue where there is deep ideological divides and I am not sure about what can bridge those divides.Report

      • Burt Likko in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        I am at a loss to respond to a claim that regulations of economic matters should be based on purely economic considerations. The very purpose of regulation and legislation into economic matters is to inject non-economic values into the way economic matters are handled.

        We restrict the ability of vendors to enforce contracts against minors for non-economic reasons. We criminalize certain kinds of transactions in substances (e.g. drugs) and services (e.g. sex) for non-economic reasons. We regulate pollution and capture of wild animals for non-economic reasons. We impose all manner of taxes for both economic and non-economic reasons. We impose all manner of regulations on complex products like insurance and banking services and public utilities for both economic and non-economic reasons. I could go on, but hardly need to.

        The right response to someone resisting a proposal to regulate economic activity who says, “But that creates economic inefficiency!” is “So what? We pay that price in other contexts, why not this one?” The real political question is whether we value the non-economic good that the regulation will enhance more than the degree of economic good that the absence of regulation would permit, and we make that sort of bargain all the time and there is no point in human history that one can look at and find a society wherein such bargains are absent.Report

        • Damon in reply to Burt Likko says:

          Indeed Burt, quite true. But we do have a habit of “forgetting” that it IS creating an inefficiency and don’t have the debate on whether or not the price we pay for that inefficiency is “worth” the goal we’re trying to achieve. We also have a tendency of ignore / disregarding unintended consequences ’cause that’s “hard to think about”.

          Kinda what I’ve been trying to point out to Oscar above.Report

      • Zac in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        I find it rather striking that the site’s libertarians are all over your proposal in the other subthreads, but yet have not responded to this comment.Report

  4. LeeEsq says:

    One potential way to get around the problem of sweatshops is that wealthy countries could basically subsidize better industrialization in developing countries through various direct and indirect mechanism like low interest rates on loans for factories with adequate safety features and lower levels of pollution. This is highly unlikely but it is possible.

    On the consumer end, better working conditions in the clothing industry and other consumer goods industry must mean that people have to get used to having fewer goods available for their own use because costs are going to be more expensive.Report

    • notme in reply to LeeEsq says:

      Sure, wealthy countries could do lots of things to make life better for millions of third wolders but why should we? Liberals always have good ideas on how to spend other people’s money. If they want better condtions they should demand them.Report

  5. Will H. says:

    The big problem I see with that is that workers’ comp is different from state to state.Report

    • North in reply to Will H. says:

      Yeah it’d potentially be really different from State to State.Report

    • Burt Likko in reply to Will H. says:

      Well, yes in terms of benefits structures and dispute resolution mechanisms. But no (or at least not very much) in terms of underwriting. All that stuff is pretty objective once a sufficient body of data (five years’ actual experience) is accumulated. Yes, there are games you can play in the short run and the rule makers need to watch out for things like PEOs and shell games with entity formations but this can be done.

      The part that amazes me is the extent to which I see and hear tell of a certain category of employers will expend money and effort and creativity into finding ways to circumvent the rules, rather than simply complying, which would be cheaper, faster, and easier.Report

      • Will H. in reply to Burt Likko says:

        A standardized dispute resolution mechanism would be a huge leap forward.
        I would have to look at the enabling act again, but a workable minimum of standards would appear to be enforceable.

        I get what your saying about the creativity dreadfully wasted into non-compliance.
        To make it worse, there are a number of companies which offer compliance tools. Software for PACs tracking donor contributions is the really big one that comes to mind.

        Still, there are corporations administratively dissolved by the Sec. of State for failing to mail in an annual form.
        Pure stupidity of that sort seems more excusable than the misspent genius of creative accounting schemes, though the penalties for stupidity tend to be much higher.
        Lex Luthor wins.
        Pinky gets a lap dance, while the Brain serves time.
        Remind you of Scooter Libby?Report

  6. Chip Daniels says:

    I think it’s instructive that global corporations ( in their revealed preferences!) have decisively come down in favor of international governmental regulation.
    They fervently believe in its power and efficacy which is why they lobby so hard for trade agreements.Report

    • Oscar Gordon in reply to Chip Daniels says:

      They fervently believe in its power and efficacy their ability to capture the process to their benefit, which is why they lobby so hard for trade agreements.


      • Stillwater in reply to Oscar Gordon says:


        On that premise, you’d reject those trade agreements on pretty standard libertarian grounds then, yes? (Government = Bad!) But do you reject them in practice? Do you think NAFTA, the TPP, GATT, the WTO, etc, are moving things in your preferred direction or not?

        Presumably, by your own lights, those firms acting in their own (collective!) self-interest results in benefits accruing to others, benefits which justify the policies they advocate for, yes?Report

        • Oscar Gordon in reply to Stillwater says:

          Ya know, I don’t think of government as bad, per se. I think of it more like a nuclear reactor. Very, very useful and a source of an abundant good, but don’t take your eyes off of it for too long or it’ll go bad in big damn hurry.

          So wrt trade agreements, good in theory, not so much in practice (largely because they are crafted in secret with little input from the populace, and a lot of input from power players). And firms acting in their own self interest does not necessarily mean benefits accrue to others. Rather, if I wish to craft a government policy to achieve a desired end, finding a way to make that policy beneficial* to a firm while still meeting my regulatory goal is a preferred path to take.

          *beneficial in a sense other than, ‘if you don’t do this, we’ll come after you with every resource the Justice Department has’.Report

          • Stillwater in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

            Hmmm. It seems to me that neoliberal trade practices result from a bunch of perhaps imperfect policies, and you’ve been defending those practices, so I just assumed that you defended the policies.

            I mean, I know that those types of policies wouldn’t exist in your own version of libertopia. But that seems like an impractical reason to reject them in practice, ya know? How do you get there from here?

            Maybe that question should be directed at some of our more principled, and therefore rejectionist, commenters….Report

  7. Chip Daniels says:

    While I am in favor of international labor unions and regulation I stay away from the more mechanistic interpretations, e.g., rape and abuse happens as an aberration of an otherwise fine system.

    Where abuse is a rarity, we can assert that the system failed.
    Where it is the norm, we have to conclude that the system was designed to produce this result.
    By “system” I mean the edifice of law and culture that guides behavior.
    Culture can be changed, but requires a lot of work, and often brutal coercion.

    The success stories of feminism, SSM, and civil rights didn’t just happen by market forces ,and didn’t magically change when a law was passed.
    Coercion in the form of public shaming, lawsuits, and raw political maneuvers were needed to change the cultural miles which gave rise to injustice in the first place.

    The more mechanistic interpretations often seem like the “One Weird Trick” approach, a desire for an easy shortcut.

    The system that is in place now, where some people profit handsomely off the the cruelty and mistreatment of others can be changed but we should not fool ourselves into thinking that the beneficiaries will relinquish their advantage without a fierce battle.Report

    • Oscar Gordon in reply to Chip Daniels says:

      As the saying goes, do not trust to a person’s better nature, they may not have one. Target their self-interest, you gain more leverage. This is where I think Tod’s idea has merit, it doesn’t trust to anyone being decent, only self-interested in making money.

      The one weakness is the supporting legal structure, which Don alludes to up above. Absent a local one, claimants would have to rely on our system, which is neither convenient nor cheap to them, so there would have to be a change in that regard that would stand up to legal challenges.Report

      • Chip Daniels in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

        My interest is in taking your stuff, and making you work for free.

        Come to think of it, that’s also the interest of everyone else here.Report

        • Oscar Gordon in reply to Chip Daniels says:

          Except those incentives suck. You are trusting solely to my professionalism to do a good job (i.e. my better nature), which will only get you so far. A nice paycheck and comfortable standard of living buoys that professionalism, A LOT!Report

  8. Kazzy says:

    I like the idea, but a few questions… largely around how this works in practice: How do we ensure foreign factories (or what have you) allow their employees to file claims? And that the claims are taken seriously?

    I mean, my hunch is that insurers would rather not pay out claims if they don’t have to. And that employers would rather their employees not file claims if they can prevent it (if claims contribute to higher premiums). So how do we ensure the system works as planned when on foreign soil?Report

    • KatherineMW in reply to Kazzy says:

      That was the question that came to my mind, too.

      What’s the stop the companies from just having an implicit rule that if you try to file a worker’s comp claim, you’ll be fired?Report

      • Jaybird in reply to KatherineMW says:

        Why not prohibit doing that?Report

        • Kazzy in reply to Jaybird says:

          How do we prohibit that in other countries?

          To be clear, I don’t think this torpedoes Tod’s idea. There very well may be easily implemented or already-in-place mechanisms to ensure the system functions. I just don’t know what they are and I’m hoping he can shed a little bit more light on how this works in practice.Report

          • North in reply to Kazzy says:

            Well once you’re talking about that you’ve got your finger on the pulsing core of the problem of global labor standards.

            I am keenly feeling Blaise P’s absence from round here at the moment because he had some stories about the things foreign manufacturers would do to bamboozle their customers. Potemkin villages and the like. The core point is we can pass the rules we like but American levels of law abidance and rule enforcement (and those note are far from perfect) exist only really within America and the borders of other developed nations.

            LWA, Chip, likes to point out the neoliberal trade policies can enforce rules like contract enforcement and intellectual protection (the former far more effectively than the latter) in developing nations. This overlooks the fact the those two things are rather low hanging fruit. When you have two parties in a contract or a party with IP and a party without then you have at least one party who is going to fight like hell to enforce the third party rules about contracts or IP, if those rules aren’t adhered to then people stop bringing their IP to those regions and those regions are considered too risky to contract in and they suffer fiercely for it. Labor standards don’t enjoy that same practical conveniences.

            Enforcement is the rub.Report

            • Maribou in reply to North says:

              I had a job in this country, in the state of Colorado, where the implicit rule was that if you filed a worker’s comp claim, you’d be fired. Given that it was a right-to-work state and the employer in question tempestuously fired people on a regular basis (hence making it seemingly difficult to prove retaliation for worker’s comp specifically), none of us ever dared file a worker’s comp claim…Report

              • Tod Kelly in reply to Maribou says:

                That was monumentally bad advice, both for you and your employer.

                For one thing, bringing a worker back to work is the only true and effective way to close out a time loss claim. When you terminate a worker with a compensable claim, you pretty much give up your main strategies of forcing them back to work. Retain them and you can confer with the doctor and get them to return to light duty work when appropriate, and eventually to full work status. Fire them, and you are at the employee and the doctors’ mercy as to how long that person gets to be a billable patient that gets lost wages paid by your insurer.Report

              • Maribou in reply to Tod Kelly says:

                1) it wasn’t advice, it was an (implied) threat.
                2) I should’ve clarified: No one would’ve have been fired while on claim. Said hypothetical person would’ve conveniently managed to do something Truly Unforgivable (ie whatever the hell said boss felt like accusing them of) shortly *after* the claim was over, and gotten fired then. And stories would’ve been told (about more than one employee) in which the explicit moral was “after all we did for them (including their worker’s comp claim negatively affecting insurance costs), they went and did Unforgivable Thing” and the implicit moral was “I can fire you WHENEVER I WANT.” True retaliation, and intimidation of future workers, was the apparent end goal, not avoidance of the claim itself.

                I agree that it was terrible business practice. I pretty much go out of the way to approach worker’s comp as completely opposite to that as humanly possible, which is also my current employer’s stance. But when you are talking minimum wage workers that work for a small business with a scary boss, well, what *should’ve* happened can be several light-years away from what did.Report

              • Maribou in reply to Maribou says:

                @tod-kelly I should add that I think your solution is excellent and could well solve the problem. My anecdote was more aimed at pointing out to some of the comments above mine that there is plenty of BS behavior going on to circumvent the laws here in the mainland US (and yet things have still markedly improved as you point out), so overworrying about how that stuff could happen in foreign countries is a bit unnecessary.Report

              • Saul Degraw in reply to Tod Kelly says:

                It is actually probably illegal and comes under the public policy exception to at-will termination. But my guess is that the employer’s made it because they knew that few employees would go about finding a lawyer to fight the claim.Report

      • Tod Kelly in reply to KatherineMW says:

        The same thing that stops them in the US, as noted to Maribou below.If you terminate employees who have had claims, you can’t stop them from milking them forever. Companies that do this see their claims cost increase over time, not decrease.Report

    • Tod Kelly in reply to Kazzy says:

      Good questions, @kazzy . At first blush, at least, I’d answer that adopting the system in the US would largely tae care of these issues.

      For example, unless one of you goes way, way, way above and beyond, neither you nor your employer has ever actually filed a comp claim. That is almost always done by the medical provider. So if a worker in the Philippines was injured and caught medical treatment, they would do what workers do here: inform the doctor or hospital that it was a workplace injury and who their employer was. The doctor or hospital would then bill the insurer. In fact, at least in the US, the more impoverished a community the more likely a prover is to proactively ask about the possibility that an injury is work-related, because it move the payment issue from something that might happen to something that almost defiantly will.

      As far as paying claims, comp carriers rarely fight to deny, because of the way premiums are designed.

      For example, if my home burns down tomorrow and I file a $1 million claim, my insurer will never, ever get that $1 million back from me. If, on the other hand, I am a medium sized employer and I have an employee that has a $10,000 comp claim, my experience modifier will go up to a degree that, over the next 4 years, I will pay approx. $12,000 in addition to what I would have paid otherwise to make the insurer whole again.

      Remember too that being a pass through system, and that WC rates are universal and affect all competing insurers equally. Because of this, carriers actually want rates to increase, and in fact they frequently lobby either individual states or the NCCI (the independent body that sets rates for most states) to push them up each year. This is because in a pass-though system, carriers are hoping to make a small percentage of all collected premium — and they’d rather make 4% off of $10 million in premiums than they would 4% off of $5 million.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Thanks, Tod. I didn’t know how it worked. I didn’t realize the doctor essentially initiated the process. That would seem to greatly diminish the ability to game the system.

        Unless all the doctors are on the dole. But I can’t imagine that’d be cheaper than just making the necessary changes.Report

        • Guy in reply to Kazzy says:

          I can imagine enough idiots imagining it to try it out, though. (that is, someone will think it would be cheaper to pay off the entire medical industry of a small country, and then do so, breaking the system)

          Not that I think this is guaranteed or even necessarily likely, but see the above thread about money wasted on noncompliance.Report

  9. j r says:

    The second is an argument that it’s really in the workers’ best interest to endure years, decades, or even generations of virtual slave labor, indentured servitude, highly dangerous working conditions for non-dangerous jobs, sexual assaults, and all of the various other attacks on their humanity, because [insert economics and free market argument here].

    This is fairly unfair characterization of this argument. To the extent that there is a group of people who are broadly “pro sweatshop,” it is largely because sweatshop is the word that we have inherited to mean any workplace that falls short of the levels of health and safety measures found in the highly developed world. A better way to put it is to say that convergence takes time and it takes a certain level of economic development. Convergence does not just happen because we really want it to happen.

    In the last few months, I have taken a new job and literally moved to the other side of the world. At the same time, I have started making semi-regular trips to another part of the developing world. All of this travel reinforces something for me. We, all of us human beings, inhabit the same earth in the same literal time. it is 2015 everywhere or whatever the necessary conversion of the local calendar. What it means to be 2015, however, is drastically different in different places. In other words, different places exist at different stages of development and that has real consequences in observed levels of foods and services and human capital.

    Solutions of the type that Tod proposes have promise, but they still run up against the same disconnect. How do you enforce labor laws at the U.S. level of development in a place like Bangledesh that is decidedly not at the U.S. level of development? There are lots of reasons why workplaces fail to come up to an acceptable level of health and safety precautions. Sometimes it’s because the mustache-twirling bad guy is trying to save a few pennies. And sometimes it’s because the guy whose job it is to check the fire extinguishers or enforce break rules just doesn’t have the skill (not that he doesn’t know how to physically check a fire extinguisher, but that he doesn’t know how to put in place a system of regular checks and verification and the filing necessary to pass any kind of audit or if he does find something wrong he’s not quite sure of the procedure to get it fixed). Management and compliance are skills, not just choices.

    So, perhaps this workers comp scheme is a good way to help developing countries increase the level of human capital in an area where it is lacking, but make no mistake that this is a human capital problem. This is really not a question of will, as it is so often pitched.Report

    • Guy in reply to j r says:

      And sometimes it’s because the guy whose job it is to check the fire extinguishers or enforce break rules just doesn’t have the skill (not that he doesn’t know how to physically check a fire extinguisher, but that he doesn’t know how to put in place a system of regular checks and verification and the filing necessary to pass any kind of audit or if he does find something wrong he’s not quite sure of the procedure to get it fixed). Management and compliance are skills, not just choices.

      This pair of sentences contains a thought that, had I not read it here, I may never have considered. Thank you for writing it.Report

    • Joe Sal in reply to j r says:

      Congrats on the new job!Report

    • DensityDuck in reply to j r says:

      “Management and compliance are skills, not just choices.”

      And this is the idea behind things like ISO 9000.Report