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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/17209/speaking-of-sweatshops/

Speaking of Sweatshops…

June 6, 2011 by

It’s appropriate that this was released today in light of this morning’s discussion of sweatshops. Here’s the last in a series of LearnLiberty.org videos from Benjamin Powell:

Powell is working on a book about sweatshops. Here are Google results for some of his papers and other talks. Here are my videos on trade.

Powell makes the important point that the discussion of sweatshops is about much more than just economic efficiency. Here’s Matt Zwolinski’s paper “Sweatshops, Choice, and Exploitation,” which defends the thesis that “a sweatshop worker’s choice to accept the conditions of his or her employment is morally significant.” I’ve heard it argued that we should oppose sweatshops because we are to treat others as more than mere means to our ends. As I read Zwolinski, that obligation is satisfied when we respect sweatshop workers’ choices.

The fundamental problem here is poverty, and restricting workers’ choices by closing sweatshops is not a solution. Indeed, the economist David R. Henderson has written that you don’t help people by taking away from them what they perceive to be the best of a lot of lousy alternatives. You help them by giving them more opportunities–opportunities like the ones that what we deride as “sweatshops” provide.


Micah June 6, 2011 at 12:22 pm

What about those Chinese people committing suicide at the Apple factory? I mean, if we assume that they chose that situation, it doesn’t make sense that they’d commit suicide. Now, lots of people commit suicide in spite of having very well paying jobs with good conditions, so we know that it’s possible that something other than the conditions at the factory drove them to commit suicide. Since the factory workers live and sleep at the factory, it could just be that we saw something normal in all of China, but because the workers lived and worked at that factory, their suicides were contributed to the suicides.Mises and Rothbard are my superheroes, but that situation, I believe, poses a challenge to the statement, “Indeed, the economist David R. Henderson has written that you don’t help people by taking away from them what they perceive to be the best of a lot of lousy alternatives.” Suicide itself seems like a pretty lousy alternative, so why do the workers at that Apple factory seem to choose it anyway?

Joshua June 6, 2011 at 1:04 pm

One thing I would like to add to this discussion is to emphasize the time component in evaluating these situations. Time marches on. People don’t always remain in the situation they are in, and situations change. While suicides may be a concern now, time tends to sort these things out.

LIke was stated in the video, the standard of living increases are a process. While current conditions may not be palatable, the present may be a uncomfortable stepping stone that gives way to a better future.

FoxConn may be headed out of business (or maybe not, who knows?): http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-13624798

They have improved some of the working conditions and increased pay (not to everyone’s satisfaction of course), but they posted a major loss this past quarter.

Another thing to keep in mind about claims of worker conditions, while some companies have incentives to downplay negatives, workers and worker advocate groups both have incentives to play up these negatives. It’s just something to keep in mind.

KWebb June 6, 2011 at 2:18 pm

Wasn’t the suicide rate at that factory below the rate for the rest of the country?

Horst Muhlmann June 6, 2011 at 3:03 pm

Yes, it is. Not only that, the suicide rate at Foxconn is significantly lower than that of Italy, which has the lowest suicide rate in Europe.

This was pure propaganda against Foxconn. I’m going to make sure that my next laptop comes from a Foxconn factory.

Buycott Foxconn!

Joshua June 6, 2011 at 4:03 pm

Ha, I forgot about that. My last paragraph has a backup.

Shay June 7, 2011 at 6:31 am

I also read that they started compensating the families of employees who committed suicide. I wouldn’t be surprised if this had the unintended side-effect of increasing the suicide rate.

DMG June 6, 2011 at 12:47 pm

Micah, you have not thought in any critical way about this situation. Your questions are misleading, and your logic leads to absurdity. Please try again.

Tony Fernandez June 6, 2011 at 2:03 pm

Maybe the company is not to blame, but rather the situation of life as it is presented to them. In that case, we should applaud the company for trying to make the situation instead of trying to close down the company and make life even worse for them.

Sweatshop discussion is just like fair trade discussion: popular opinion is inane and ignorant.

Ball June 6, 2011 at 5:28 pm

He should have concluded a bit more forcefully like saying “To eliminate sweat shops and improve people’s lives will involve a process other than than banning them.” Anti-sweatshop socialist types will NOT be persuaded by this video. It makes sweatshops sound necessary or even beneficial and not exploitation.

Jake W. June 7, 2011 at 4:51 am

What do you mean by “exploitation”? I exploit my employer and my employer exploits me. We both love it. I imagine that you define exploitation as something like, “the malicious and unfair taking advantage of someone who has no other options.” But of course, the workers do have other options and yet they still have willingly chosen to work at the sweatshop, that is, they’ve chosen to be exploited.

victor June 7, 2011 at 5:16 am

Minimum wage hikes and “sweatshop” tags destroyed the dignity of work.

There used to be a thriving garment and tuna cannery industry in the U.S. territories. Local workers earned 8 to 20 x the wages of China, Philippines, and Thailand. Workers fought over taking OT work. Still the controlled economy and labor activist opportunists tagged them “sweatshops,” and they became a target for the implementation of the U.S. minimum wage. Within 18 months American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands had seen their economies crippled by the imposition of business destroying minimum wage.

However, not to worry, Uncle Sam and the rest of mainland taxpayers will foot the foodstamp, section 8 housing, and utility payments of these now jobless workers.

The economic fall is gaining momentum. These “sweatshop” jobs will look great once our so-called “standard of living” doesn’t reach even 50 percent of our current consumption levels as the fiat currency experiences hyperinflationary levels. Perhaps when $250 of foodstamps buys one loaf of bread, everyone will figure it out and most will find work…or they’ll expect everyone to share all of the bread equally.

Bruce Koerber June 7, 2011 at 4:19 pm

Economic Numbskulls Badmouth Sweatshops!

Ben Powell does a fantastic job explaining the need for a principled understanding of economics and economic freedom when thinking about any and all issues.

Ignorance of what capital looks like as it appears in society and as it morphs over time is what plagues the improperly educated. The propaganda that is passed off by the State as education is Marxist at its core in this regard. Capital is completely misunderstood, and even despised, and most definitely it is treated like an atheist treats the concept of God.

This is the absurd foolishness of Statism, promulgated in its education system, and spewing from the mouths of the ego-driven interventionists whose ambitions are to gloriously serve the State.

Capital irresistably appears, and it transforms products and people and socieites, but it can be undermined by the economically ignorant if they have the support of the corruption of Statism.

JDM July 25, 2011 at 2:43 am

I came across this article as I am doing a research paper on ethics and sweatshops. Sweatshops were in the USA and UK at one time indeed (100 years ago), then the governments declared it an abominable practice. We did not mysteriously climb to our economic state by evolving out of sweatshops. We stopped doing it, because we realized that it is wrong to exploit women and children for profit. Multinational corporations have the means to find the most vulnerable or displaced people where their only option is to work like a slave or die. Why did NIKE leave manufacturing in the Republic of China for mainland China??? You are correct when you mention that their governments should do something about their own problems. Nevertheless, it is wrong for us to capitalize and benefit off of the hopelessness of others. Now with the globalization process, the IMF & WB set structural adjustment programs that encourage sweatshops and corporate control.

Here is an example of a not so successful story. A wealthy ag/natural resource corporation purchases land that a self sufficient indigenous/ or a small farming community of people, have lived for generations; which displaces them and forces them to squaller and suffer in poverty camps and slums. Then in come other textile manufactures ready to work them to death for poverty wages (all cases are different of course but the composition of the story is the same).
The message that I gather from your theory, is that your defending poverty wages. People stay in poverty if they are paid poverty wages, and have a miserable life if they work in sweatshop conditions to earn poverty wages.

Let’s see how long it takes for them to climb out? It is taking much much longer for the miracle to happen for Indonesia and Cambodia. I wonder what happens to the women and children who work for NIKE naturally slow down from the line of work that they have been subjected to? Do the lay down and finally die after 10 years of 70 hour work weeks for pennies to buy food? They cant buy food now and their community is still in shambles. Nobody’s life is any better. It is slavery except one difference, they can leave and choose to eat out of dumpsters, or voluntarily work like a slave for barely enough calorie intake. For crying out loud, Slave owners in the South provided food and ramshackle living quarters! Sometimes people are actually sweatshop slaves who stay at the factory. Is this defendable as well? Corporations pay poverty wages so they can purchase just enough food and nothing more.

Real nice argument to defend the atrocity that we did away with 100 years ago. It was unacceptable then and it still is today! There used to be people who defended slavery as well, but the more people had to see it, the more disgusted they became with the practice. Maybe it is because we do not have to see the sweatshops that our multinational business use abroad. Some people have an ethnocentric mentality and simply do not care, because it is happening to a different country, culture, and *class* of people that are very distant from us.

Please and foremost, using the Example of Taiwan and South Korea as a success story is irrelevant, because credit cannot be given to their sweatshops (which are now in Thailand, Vietnam, and Malaysia, ect), intelligent economists today call it a miracle. Where are the miracles and success stories, when considering the current sweatshops countries???

Major basic wrongs will come up when people argue for sweatshops, slavery, and other forms of inhumane practice. No matter how intelligent of an argument one attempts to make in the defense of sweatshops, ethics and morality will naturally fall into with human rights and dignity.

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