Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Forcing The Poor To Buy Rich Man's Toys

Closing sweatshops and forcing Western labor and environmental standards down poor people's throats in the third world does nothing to elevate them out of poverty. Instead, it forces poor people to buy a lot of rich man's toys, like clean air, clean water, and leisure time. If clean air and leisure time don't strike you as extravagant luxuries, that's because Americans - even the poorest of us - are so rich these days that we've forgotten what true poverty is like. But chances are your great-great-grandparents could have told you what it's like: when you're truly poor, you can't afford things like clean air. Nobody in 1870 America worried about the environment.

~Rochester economist Steven Landsburg in "More Sex is Safer Sex"

6 Comments:

At 11/27/2007 7:41 PM, Anonymous T. Scroatsky said...

I'd like to agree with Mr. Landsburg, but there are tangible negatives to dirty air and dirty water. They're called birth defects... and they're the reason that the Chinese government is fully on board with regulating sweatshops. They thought like you for too long, and now they face massive protests from people who are telling them to get their priorities straight.

 
At 11/28/2007 1:01 AM, Blogger Gregory said...

Well, if the Chinese now want clean air and water then aparently they are now rich enough to afford clean air and water. This does not change the argument: someone somewhere is too poor to afford such things and is being forced to do so by rich white men.

 
At 11/28/2007 10:40 AM, Blogger Old Word Wolf said...

"Nobody in 1870 worried about the environment" is a false comparison. The impact of that time's coal-burning economy was far less than today's industrial output with so many fewer people concentrated in urbanized and suburbanized areas. There weren't oozing burial sites of long-half-life toxins; plastics weren't being piled up in landfills. And just because "nobody worried," for whatever reason, doesn't make it right. If we had started worrying in 1870 and had sought ways to create solar power instead of extracting oil and coal, things might be quite different today.

 
At 11/28/2007 2:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So you are telling me you can't afford an extra percent or two on goods you purchase so that people can have safe and sanitary working conditions as well as clean air and clean water?

 
At 11/28/2007 4:16 PM, Anonymous Alex said...

Anon 2:16 - your loaded question assumes that productivity levels are just as high or higher in places that have lower wages; unfortunately, they're not. However, the company who has opened up shop in a lower wage, less productive area has obviously found a way to make up for that with lower wages, which make the lower productivity and the added export/import costs worth it...or else they never would have done it.

If companies were going to add "an extra percent or two" onto the cost of their products to make up for "safe and sanitary working conditions," they might as well just keep the work in their home country, where wages and productivity are higher; unfortunately, that raises prices for the consumer, and would leave them vulnerable to competitors that would still move overseas...and the workers in India are left with nothing, instead of these jobs which they are literally beating down doors to take, despite your western liberal visions of "safe and sanitary," and "living wage."

 
At 12/04/2007 3:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The orginal assertions are both wrong.

Nikola Tesla wrote extensively about the need to develop environmentally sound energy sources and transportation in the 1800s after seeing the horrible working and living conditions in industrial England. He then went on to develop the first large scale hydroelectric plant at Niagra Falls and electric cars, boats and submarines. Unfortunately, he lacked the political connections that the coal and oil people already had.

On the main point, there's much more to quality of life than working 60 hours a week to buy more disposable junk from China. If I make $100K a year and die from cancer I'm still dead. Pushing the idea that more money is always better is part of the propaganda to keep the slaves busy at the machines while the parasites at the top enjoy free time in clean and healthy private reserves.

 

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