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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/5151/something-to-cheer-at-the-new-york-times/

Something to Cheer at The New York Times

June 6, 2006 by

Earlier today I would not have believed it possible that I would write something in praise of an Op-Ed piece in The New York Times.

But Nicolas D. Kristof has written an article that demonstrates some serious understanding of a highly charged subject and has had the courage to express it in his column. The title of his article conveys its nature. It’s called “In Praise of the Maligned Sweatshop.”

Datelined, WINDHOEK, NAMIBIA, the article opens with the statement, “Africa desperately needs Western help in the form of . . . sweatshops.” Kristof understands that the sweatshops would raise the demand for labor and cause a substantial improvement in economic conditions in comparison with what they are in the absence of the sweatshops. In the print-edition of the article, this point is driven home by a callout that reads, “What’s worse than being exploited? Not being exploited.”

Here are a couple of gems that his article contains:

Well-meaning American university students regularly campaign against sweatshops. But instead, anyone who cares about fighting poverty should campaign in favor of sweatshops . . . . If Africa could establish a clothing export industry, that would fight poverty far more effectively than any foreign aid program. . . . [A] useful step would be for American students to stop trying to ban sweatshops, and instead campaign to bring them to the most desperately poor countries.

Kristof even has an answer for advocates of paying a “living wage” in the sweatshops. He points out that because such a wage is above the market rate, the premium is typically pocketed by local managers, who are in a position to collect bribes for awarding the premium-paying jobs to workers of their choice, with the result that “the workers themselves don’t get the benefit.”

Kristof’s article has what I experience as a kind of premonitional quality. Namely, it gives a momentary glimpse of what the world might be like if the world’s most intellectually influential newspaper were regularly filled with articles of this kind. How different the intellectual climate of our country would be. How different its political and economic policies would be. How much freer and more rational our society would be.

Of course, this is only a momentary premonition. But it makes me recall another such premonition that I experienced sometime in the mid-1970s, when I read that the Soviet government could no longer rely on the philosophy of Marxism to obtain the support of its people, but instead had to rely on Russian nationalism. That I recognized as a decisive crack in the whole edifice of socialism/communism.

It’s just possible that in Kristof’s column, we have a comparable crack in the left-liberal edifice of The New York Times. And I say this in the knowledge that Kristof has written other columns that are as horrendously bad as this one is remarkably good.

This article is copyright © 2006, by George Reisman. Permission is hereby granted to reproduce and distribute it electronically and in print, other than as part of a book and provided that mention of the author’s web site www.capitalism.net is included. (Email notification is requested.) All other rights reserved. George Reisman is the author of Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics (Ottawa, Illinois: Jameson Books, 1996) and is Pepperdine University Professor Emeritus of Economics.


Black Bloke June 7, 2006 at 3:35 am

“Kristof’s article has what I experience as a kind of premonitional quality. Namely, it gives a momentary glimpse of what the world might be like if the world’s most intellectually influential newspaper were regularly filled with articles of this kind. How different the intellectual climate of our country would be. How different its political and economic policies would be. How much freer and more rational our society would be.”

The NYT would probably cease being influential, if it decided to take that road today. It might have made a difference about 60 years ago. I’d highly recommend you keep at the blog prof. Reisman, I’ve learned a lot from you, and I expect that the rest of the world will as well in the coming years.

Ron Brown June 7, 2006 at 7:17 am

Does anyone know another means of accessing this article without having to subscribe – even for the 14 day free trial?

Bruce June 7, 2006 at 9:14 am


See Bugmenot for pre-fabbed ID’s and passwords for the likes of NYT, Washington Post and other sites that require registration.

Person June 7, 2006 at 10:30 am

Reisman is forgetting that, as per the work of Kevin Carson, no one would work in these sweatshops if their oppresive governments didn’t stop the people there from printing their own currencies and then inflating them, or from getting low interest loans through offering worthless collateral (like your house would be under mutualist property rules, since they can’t seize it as long as you’re using and occupying it).

Note: above comment was sarcastic. (Yes, I read the last JLS.)

Roger M June 7, 2006 at 11:45 am

It’s interesting that the sweatshops of China are disappearing now that their booming economy is driving up wages.

P.M.Lawrence June 8, 2006 at 1:08 am

Well, if you want to take Kevin Carson‘s insights seriously rather than mocking them, you will see that the analysis Reisman praises really does leave that sort of area out.

That is, whether this or that country would be better off with more exploitation, (a) that’s a different question to whether its people would be, and (b) it doesn’t go into the questions of whether that is solely from exploitation becoming a lesser evil or whether outside efforts tended to make it a lesser evil, working as a movement away from a more ethical and/or more efficient and effective development path. That comes up whether there is a conscious effort or a mere unconscious ground cover plant type of mechanism.

And, of course, there’s the whole question of whether the transitions that eventually led other countries forward rested on their finding yet other countries to take up those economic niches. If so, there’s a fallacy of composition in thinking that undergoing this sort of “development” now will eventually deliver every country into a developed status.

Note that one does not need to go along with Kevin Carson’s suggestions for the future to find a lot of meat in his assessments of today’s situation. We can also look at our own history, and find that historical examples either confirm it or else are consistent with both views (and thus refute neither).

Alessandro June 8, 2006 at 1:51 am

Finally a serious article in the NYT. God Bless Mises and the Austrian Economists.
Please Help Italy We are governed by fools.

Person June 8, 2006 at 7:59 am

That’s a good point, P.M.Lawrence. If only I could print my own currency and inflate it, I could start my own business. Also, I wouldn’t have to pay such high interest rates if only the state would stop banning me from putting up collateral that could never be seized.

Dan June 8, 2006 at 10:14 am


Thanks for mentioning Kevin Carson’s rants and Prof. Block’s review of his book. I remember a few months back reading a few anti-trade entries on this blog along the lines that free trade doesn’t work, or is immoral, or some such thing because of fractional reserve banks.

And as quickly as he was there, he was gone again, seemingly content with his few posts, but leaving me wondering “what the hell was all that, and where did it come from?” If you had told me back then that this guy wrote a book espousing this nonsense I’d of laughed in your face. Truth, at least in this case, turned out to be stranger than fiction.


I’ve read only Professor Block’s critique of the book, but exactly which assertions of Mr. Carson’s should be taken seriously? The defense of labor theory of value? The assertion that by offering someone a job you are exploiting them? Or the idea that somehow fractional reserve banking is tied into this, and thus by “allowing” the free trade of companies that use different fractional currencies we are in essence encouraging companies to exploit inhabitants of undeveloped lands by offering them jobs?

Throughout the development of the west exploitation did occur. Vast injustices were incurred. However, Mr. Carson, according to Prof. Block, seems to want to say that the whole of western progress ought to be disregarded because of these injustices. Mr. Carson’s posts on this blog seem to back up Prof. Block’s reading of him. He has suggested, essentially, that free trade ought not be allowed to occur simply because some injustices will occur.

P.M.Lawrence June 10, 2006 at 4:58 am

Dan, I was ignoring Person’s remarks since he seems impervious to communication. Unfortunately he seems to have confused you about what I was getting at.

Except in one respect, I am not defending Carson just here. I am not commenting on the views put forward in his book at all. What I am doing is, pointing out that a certain rather important quaestion has been addressed by him and others at his blog.

That important question is, are today’s processes actually contributing to the very evils that they also provide supportive care for? Is this, in Carson’s analogy, a case of breaking someone’s legs and then selling him a crutch.

Now, I am not absolutely suggesting that this is inevitably the case. Certainly it does happen when globalisation encourages cash crops, without providing compensation for the newly marginalised (this is exactly what happened in our own history). But sweat shops may – or may not – be different.

I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know that Reisman refuses even to entertain that range of possibilities (it’s not this article that shows it, but other things like email correspondence). Carson himself may be wrong – but at least he is looking at the area.

In fine, I am criticising Reisman for not being willing to look at certain issues, preferring to jump to conclusions, and I am NOT endorsing the straw man that Person set up, about agreeing with Carson’s BOOK’s recommendations. I haven’t even read those, what I am agreeing with is Carson’s view that there is an outstanding area that still needs looking into – because I know we’ve been here before, centuries ago.

Kevin Carson June 10, 2006 at 12:43 pm

Thanks for jumping in, P.M. Lawrence.


If you read the latest issue of JLS, you must have poor reading comprehension skills. Among other things, I specifically addressed Rothbard’s misconception that the mutual banking of Greene and Tucker is an inflationary scheme. In fact, their critique of monopoly returns on secured loans is directly analogous to Rothbard’s critique of inflated premiums on life insurance owing to state-created market entry barriers for that industry.

The question of land seizure is more problematic. But it’s not as absurd as you seem to think. Tucker argued that there would still be a market for land–nobody would quit “occupancy and use” of a superior site without being paid to do so by the would-be new owner, in most cases. I see no contradiction between occupancy-and-use tenure, and a contractual obligation to quit occupancy in the event of default on a loan. You’re also ignoring the possibility of mortgaging movable property.


The fact that you’ve only read Block’s critique without reading my rejoinder (I double-dog dare you to either do so, or shut up) says all we need to know about the value of your comment. Every one of the litany of my so-called errors you list is Block’s strawman parody of what I actually said. As I repeatedly demonstrated in my rejoinder, if Block possessed any critical reading skills at all he showed no sign of it in his review article.

Take this exercise in blackwhite: “He has suggested, essentially, that free trade ought not be allowed to occur simply because some injustices will occur.” I suggested, essentially, the opposite: that injustices occur because most of what neoliberals and vulgar libertarians call “free trade” is NOT free trade. My suggestion was that governments stop promoting injustice by intervening in trade for the benefit of large transnational corporations.

In addition, Tucker in places seemed to leave open the possibility that house-rent would continue: so long as the state did not prevent homesteading of vacant land, market competition would reduce house rent to the

Kevin Carson June 10, 2006 at 12:45 pm

Oops–the last paragraph, on Tucker, should have appeared before the comment directed at Dan.

Person June 10, 2006 at 3:31 pm

Kevin Carson: Poor reading comprehension, “or just unconvinced”?

Once you accept that people can be forced off land they are occupying and using, you accept that some absentee landlord demanding feudal rent might not be a violation of the user/occupier’s absolute right of property. You also accept that rather than taking out a loan, some people would prefer to rent, and mutualist property rules specifically exclude this possibility. Low risk-free interest rates, even if you could make them happen, wouldn’t “allow people to own their homes free and clear in their 30′s”; it would substantially drive up the cost of homes. People, realizing they can make comfortable monthly payments yet borrow more, will bid higher. Nor would use-occupancy rules make that much of a difference — it would just enourage people to hoard as much land as they could reasonably be considered to be “using”.

What’s with hatred of high interest rates anyway? I live frugally (i.e., resist the state-Whig-corporate-endorsed “buy buy buy” mentality) and spend a small portion of my income, so I loooooooooove high interest rates. High interest rates allow workers to retire early and thus get more “bargaining power”.

Kevin Carson June 13, 2006 at 12:38 am

I don’t see a contractual agreement to vacate one’s land as any more a violation of occupancy-and-use ownership than a contractual agreement to perform some physical act is a violation of self-ownership. And since Tucker, at least at some stage of his thought, distinguished land-rent from building-rent, I don’t think the incompatibility it’s as cut and dried as you seem to think.

And it’s generally land prices that are bidden up by people’s purchasing power, not buildings and improvements.

P.M.Lawrence June 13, 2006 at 8:01 am

Now I’ve had a chance to look at this thread and compare it with what came before, I feel obliged to point out that Reisman is using argument by repetition here.

That is, he is merely restating what he stated earlier, which doesn’t further discourse at all since it omits any of what he missed before too, and furthermore it is intellectually dishonest considered as a rhetorical device.

He should have contented himself with referring people back to what he said earlier if he lacked time, or – since he was clearly able to post as much as he did – he should also have made some acknowledgement of the rejoinders, at least to the point of referring people to the rest of what got posted those earlier times round. What he did is much like selective editing.

I shall not comment further on the merits of the case, which others are already doing as ably as I could, but I should mention that I do believe that it is possible to establish property rights in other ways than the ones Carson uses – only, when Reisman uses expressions like “legitimate” property, that’s begging the question of whether the particular cases he has in mind really do stack up. It’s up to him to substantiate what is only hypothetical so far.

Here’s a start: when the Australian government displaced the Clunies-Ross family from their position in the Cocos Islands, that was wrong, but to try to redress that at this late stage would be a further wrong to the people living there now. And two wrongs don’t make a right. (Zionists please note.)

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