Would it not be easier for Matt Yglesias to dissolve the Bangladeshi people and elect another?

by Corey Robin on April 26, 2013

Yesterday, after a building housing garment factories collapsed in Bangladesh, killing almost 200 more than 250 workers nearly 350 workers at least 377 workers, Matt Yglesias wrote:

Bangladesh may or may not need tougher workplace safety rules, but it’s entirely appropriate for Bangladesh to have different—and, indeed, lower—workplace safety standards than the United States.


The reason is that while having a safe job is good, money is also good. Jobs that are unusually dangerous—in the contemporary United States that’s primarily fishing, logging, and trucking—pay a premium over other working-class occupations precisely because people are reluctant to risk death or maiming at work. And in a free society it’s good that different people are able to make different choices on the risk–reward spectrum….


Bangladesh is a lot poorer than the United States, and there are very good reasons for Bangladeshi people to make different choices in this regard than Americans….The current system of letting different countries have different rules is working fine.


Today, after Matt Yglesias wrote these words, Agence France-Presse wrote these:

 

Hundreds of thousands of garment workers walked out of their factories in Bangladesh Thursday, police said, to protest the deaths of 200 people in a building collapse, in the latest tragedy to hit the sector.


Grief turned to anger as the workers, some carrying sticks, blockaded key highways in at least three industrial areas just outside the capital Dhaka, forcing factory owners to declare a day’s holiday.


“There were hundreds of thousands of them,” said Abdul Baten, police chief of Gazipur district, where hundreds of large garment factories are based. “They occupied roads for a while and then dispersed.”


Police inspector Kamrul Islam said the workers had attacked several factories whose bosses had refused to give employees the day off.



Managers had allegedly ignored workers’ warnings that the building had become unstable.


Survivors say the building developed cracks on Tuesday evening, triggering an evacuation of the roughly 3,000 garment workers employed there, but that they had been ordered back to production lines.


Would it not be easier for Matt Yglesias to dissolve the Bangladeshi people and elect another?

Update (April 26, 9 am)

New York Times reporter Steven Greenhouse: “With death toll at 300, Bangladesh factory collapse becomes worst tragedy in garment industry history.”

Matt Yglesias: “The current system of letting different countries have different rules is working fine.”

For more information and responses:

  1. Greenhouse’s lengthy reporting in the Times on the fallout of the building collapse.

  2. Dylan Matthews’s informative interview in the Washington Post with an expert on international trade.

  3. Some righteous, hilarious, and info-rich indignation from Mobutu Sese Seko and his crowd.

  4. Scott Lemieux on Yglesias’s Lochner-style reasoning re “choice.”

  5. Justin Doolittle’s further considerations on the collision of theory and evidence.

{ 187 comments }

1

Brett 04.26.13 at 2:52 am

Matt has a point, but (aside the incredibly insensitive timing) this is not an example of what he’s arguing. It’s not a situation where the plant was following Bangladeshi worker safety rules and an accident happened – accidents do happen even despite precautions. It was a factory that was grossly unsafe and unlawfully so, which remained open despite multiple warnings.

2

Harold 04.26.13 at 3:03 am

Workers enjoy it. They enjoy the thrill of risk taking!

Have you been talking to one of your mothers again? You’re not getting to be one of these cranks that thinks that eating people is cruel, are you, you see a man sitting in a pot and think he’s suffering? Oh, it’s not like that at all. Why, he’s just had an invigorating chase through the forest. He’s sitting there in the nice warm water, with all the carrots and dumplings and things, he’s thinking “Oh, the pleasure and happiness I’m going to give to a whole heap of people”, that man in the pot there, he enjoys it.

3

Daniel S. Goldberg 04.26.13 at 3:04 am

But of course, the analysis completely ignores historical pathways of structural violence, oppression, and international political economy. Vicente Navarro writes specifically of the ways in which class structures have resulted in the staggeringly unequal distribution of wealth and property in Bangladesh (which he points out has more than enough arable land to feed its population several times over).

The myopia of the OP’s perspective reminds me of the enormous debate over the propriety over the 076 AZT trials in Uganda in late 1999. And while most of the luminaries in the debate were arguing over whether it was permissible to have different standards of care for HIV/AIDS in the U.S. and Uganda (long-course AZT and nothing, respectively), only a few pointed out afterwards that the primary ethical question ought to be why it was that Uganda found itself in a position with such shocking incidence and prevalence and such inability to circumscribe the disease and care for the sick.

In short, the global North hardly has clean hands in creating the conditions that led to what happened in Uganda in the late 1990s; nor is it an innocent bystander to what is happening in Bangladesh. Structural violence, international political economy, history, etc.

JMO.

4

Mallie B. 04.26.13 at 3:13 am

I think the point that Matt is making, but also missing, is that workplace safety regulations most evolve organically with the economies that they regulate. It would be an undue burden on the poorer Bangladeshi economy to impose all of the workplace safety regulations and protections the US currently has. This does not mean that they will never achieve these protections or that Bangladeshi workers shouldn’t use this incident as a catalyst to begin asking for similar regulations. In this sense, it is okay that different economies have different regulations.

5

Omega Centauri 04.26.13 at 3:21 am

it’s entirely appropriate for Bangladesh to have different—and, indeed, lower—workplace safety standards than the United States.
You can’t disagree with a statement like that. But, its pretty meaningless without numbers attached to it. Let me make an educated guess, US industrial workplace fatalities and probably below one per million man years. So I might say 2.5 fatalities per million might be a decent tradeoff for a developing country like Bangladesh (they not us should get to determine this value), but clearly 250 per million is grossly unacceptable. I’m not sure where they are at, but its almost certainly in the unacceptable range.

6

Harold 04.26.13 at 3:32 am

Doing dangerous work is intoxicating — sort of like writing a business blog while high — and people should have the freedom to do it.

7

Batocchio 04.26.13 at 3:34 am

Points for the Brecht reference.

8

Billikin 04.26.13 at 3:36 am

It is convenient to emphasize the distinction between Bangladesh and the US in terms of their ability to afford the same level of worker safety. But not when the Bangladeshi factory exists to produce goods for consumers in the US and other developed nations. Then we cannot say that the costs in lives and health are their problems.

9

Mario 04.26.13 at 3:41 am

What I find fascinating here is that Yglesias takes what is *inherently* political–i.e. how much should workers as a class be protected from the negligence and/or depradation of capital owners as a class–and somehow attempts to *vacate* the politics from it.

It’s a sleight-of-hand move, to claim that political choices (like corruption of safety standards) are simply economic preferences. Bangladeshi workers are only allowed a “choice” about taking on hazardous work as individuals (“do I go work in this factory or do I not get paid this month?”). There is no political “choice” or discussion made here–there’s no power other than economic power.

10

Stewart 04.26.13 at 3:56 am

Paging Dr. Pangloss.

11

Harold 04.26.13 at 4:03 am

I am sure that they are happy being useful, providing Walmart with cheap clothes. What an opportunity!

12

Rich Puchalsky 04.26.13 at 4:03 am

“It would be an undue burden on the poorer Bangladeshi economy to impose all of the workplace safety regulations and protections the US currently has. “

Nonsense. If those regulations were imposed everywhere, then no one would lose the “competitive advantage” of having unsafe working conditions. The cost of regulations would become a very small component of the cost of all products and services. Since the Bangladeshi workers aren’t making products for sale in Bangladesh anyways, they wouldn’t even bear this cost.

The only way in which increased regulations could become a cost to Bangladesh’s economy is if it means that they don’t win a race to the bottom. And that’s what Yglesias is really saying — that Bangladesh is at the bottom, and if they know what’s good for them, they’ll stay there.

Also note that America is taking actions right now that are predictably going to kill a lot of Bangladeshis through global climate change via sea level rise. Perhaps Yglesias should next write about how that is OK. I’m sure that he can think of some reason.

13

Cleisthenes 04.26.13 at 4:06 am

After the accident of the 25th April
One predominant amongst the blogger union
Had articles distributed in the Internetallee
Stating that the workers
Had forfeited the confidence of left neoliberalists
And could win it back only
By putting up and shutting up. Would it not be better
In that case for Matt Yglesias to dissolve the Bangladeshi people
And elect another?

14

Ben 04.26.13 at 4:15 am

It seems like this is an extension of Yglesias’ blind spot about theories of politics and not considering the political economic effects of technocratic proposals.

Domestic governments chase foreign capital streams. Even if they don’t come with conditions (ha ha), domestic laws and governance get altered to make things more attractive for that foreign investment. The toothless regulation of working conditions that were technically illegal, followed by the massive extra-institutional response Robin quotes in the post, highlights the kind of feckless political influence domestic interests exert in these conditions.

With that reality, a hands-off “let them have their own politics” approach doesn’t make sense. Domestic politics are always already affected by foreign economic involvement. Changing the nature of that involvement to favor different elements of society in third-world countries doesn’t somehow taint the pure waters of a tranquil domestic pool that had been unsullied by foreign economic deals.

Which makes what Mario points out @9 even worse. “We should leave labor regulatory decisions in other countries to their political systems, in which I don’t recognize workers’ agency.”

15

shah8 04.26.13 at 4:17 am

As I said in the L, G, M thread, I don’t think Yglesias was actually *wrong*, per se, but he was unbelievably callous–in the timing and how he used the event to illustrate a point, even though Loomis started it.

To be most accurate, Yglesias more or less just said the world’s evil, and that inherent evilness will frustrate Loomis’ grand plan of better globalism worker protections and naturalizes said evil. In other words, this is remarkably like the evasions people made about slavery when slavery was profitable for everyone else but the slaves. You know, free and uncivilized over there, in bondage, but civilized, here–a little suffering before things get better for all the darkies.

Haiti, for example, has never gotten better in the forced existence in the global marketplace it has had. Even now, it suffers from a killer cholera attack brought by careless UN operations. Bangladesh has profited only to a minimal degree from being a textile powerhouse. The money just flows back to secret accounts in London, somewheres.

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to understand the management of Venezuela’s economy, especially visávis regional peers, and one thing I’ve grown to think is that export manufacturing industries are not the way to get out of poverty. There are usually peripheral reasons–mainly that export industries bring in hard cash and allows the state (if very centralized) to buy advanced technologies. Being able to consume fancy imports drives urbanization. Being part of the grand war against Communism meant that there were limits on how exploited Asian tiger communities could be on the front lines. If none of those things are happening, then, like many countries, Bangladesh will never get a better life for its children in return for all the deaths yesterday–doing textiles. When Venezuela had a boom in manufacturing as a result of low oil prices (or as much of one as it could get), it didn’t go anywheres–they were just making a little money trying to make up the difference, and the welfare of the public went down. You want to build HVAC units, not rubber duckies, and not assembling semi-finished products, if you’re an actual up and coming country.

16

Corey Robin 04.26.13 at 4:18 am

12: Perfect.

17

Collin Street 04.26.13 at 4:34 am

A non-sequitur is, of course, no different to any other form of mendaciousness.

18

Medrawt 04.26.13 at 4:38 am

What is so odd about the observation at #9 is that Yglesias demonstrates awareness of precisely what he’s (correctly, I suppose) diagnosed as thinking about here when he talks about the different political choices made by the USA and Europe, though on issues of compensation rather than safety. He knows perfectly well that the different systems have made political choices that constrain the individual’s range of choices in re: the balance between income and benefits. I can’t say “you know, I’d like an extra three weeks of vacation time per year, and you can lower my pay commensurately,” and I have a salary and a job that is only marginally deadline-bound. And obviously, I can’t say “you know, I’d take x% less money for more comprehensive health benefits and a guaranteed pension.”

Yglesias knows these things. So how does he not know the other? I think shah8 is more or less right about what was going on in his head, and I’ve thought for a while that his commitment to a usually bloodless style except when something really gets his personal dander up contributes to less than charitable interpretations of what he means to say, but the whole thing was just astoundingly callous.

19

godoggo 04.26.13 at 4:56 am

Hector?

20

Peter Dorman 04.26.13 at 4:59 am

Yglesias is channeling a standard trope. You see it in Kristoff and many other “friends of the poor”: two cheers for sweatshops! I wrote a book on the topic a while back and don’t want to repeat all the arguments here. Let’s just say that the risk-reward tradeoff for Bangladeshi garment workers would be a lot more supportable if there were a modicum of reciprocity involved — if millions of impoverished people were not risking life and limb to make a few people at the top rich. And the issue, as many have said, is not whether safety regulations should be identical in the US and Bangladesh (or the US and Finland or Denmark for that matter), but whether such egregious breaches of care and respect should be tolerated anywhere. If Bangladeshi workers have a voice in their working conditions, I’m sure they are capable to deciding what a reasonable risk-return tradeoff looks like in their country — maybe even better than Yglesias.

21

bad Jim 04.26.13 at 5:12 am

It’s hard not to hear an echo of General Westmoreland’s notorious remark that “The Oriental doesn’t put the same high price on life as does a Westerner.”

It may well be that occupations like deep-sea fishing, logging and mining are intrinsically hazardous, but it’s blatantly ridiculous to put sewing or assembling electronics in the same category.

22

Brett 04.26.13 at 5:59 am

I think the interview that Dylan Matthews has over at the Washington Post makes a good attempt:

It’s a little bit tricky having talked about health and safety, but there’s a distinction between core and cash standards. The idea is that core standards like freedom of association, nondiscrimination, child labor, or forced labor are both fundamental rights, and they’re also framework rights in terms of having a well-functioning rule of law system in place for your economy. Those rights they can vary in the details but, and this is what the 1998 ILO declaration said, all countries, regardless of level of development, should respect these core rights.

Then you have all these other standards like health and safety, like wages, that will necessarily differ by a country’s level of development and, as Matt Yglesias says, by their choices. I wouldn’t go so far as Yglesias to say that therefore it’s only up to them. In a lot of these cases the workers aren’t making a fully informed choice to take these risks. They don’t know the chemicals are toxic. They don’t know that the building’s unsafe. These still need to be addressed and the question is “How do you do that?”

23

shah8 04.26.13 at 6:28 am

I think the linked article from the Post has more problems, tho’ not especially obvious ones. Classic sooth the nerves, we’re doing something about it, sort of article.

For example, wrt Vietnam, industry in Vietnam has a harder time getting workers to come in from the countryside, and those workers are more demanding than elsewheres.

Cambodia is such a weak state such that it’s not really able to meaningfully comply with much of anything.

Etc, etc…

Lastly, a strong, if not *the*, motivation is the sense of control being sought. Business owners have an adversarial mindset with their employees, subcontractors, etc, etc, and many of them pride themselves on contributing as little to their worker’s welfare as they possibly can, even when it’s not economical to do so.

24

nvalvo 04.26.13 at 6:35 am

Yeah, basically he pitched a #slatepitch to Slate. I like Matt Yglesias’ work a lot of the time, but here I think he’s being willfully perverse to drive hits, which is pretty gross, in my eyes. He has a point, but it’s not really the most important one in a case like this, is it? Certainly not the most compassionate.

But lest we forget, it’s not as though the United States didn’t just have a massively deadly industrial accident a few days ago, its “strict” worker safety regulations, on which proposed global standards would be based, notwithstanding. It looks like the rules in Bangladesh weren’t being followed; that’s a horrible, likely criminal, enforcement oversight, and it’s had a tremendous human cost. We don’t yet know (or at least I don’t) whether something similar happened in Texas. The issue may be enforcement, not safety standards, and that may be a tougher nut to crack.

25

nvalvo 04.26.13 at 6:38 am

Or, basically what Brett shared with us @21. Hadn’t gotten there yet.

26

Mao Cheng Ji 04.26.13 at 6:54 am

Well, this is what neo-liberalism/globalization is all about, the essence of it.

As I see it, there are only 2 possible responses (within capitalist system): massive protectionism (which would have take the form of some sort of national syndicalism, fascism-light), or global unionism.

27

john c. halasz 04.26.13 at 7:44 am

@3 and @ 5:

Bangladesh (East Bengal) is one of the most densely populated places on earth, with about 160 million people. It’s basically the Ganges river delta, so it is at once highly vulnerable and highly fertile. But it is still, if marginally, a net rice importer, and the garment trade accounts for 80% of its export/FX earnings. It’s per capita GDP is $700/$1700PPP, half that of India. (Around 165 on the world tables)

The U.S. occupational death rate is 3.5 per 100,000. The Bangladeshi garment industry employs 3 million workers. The number of fire deaths in the last 7 years is reported as 700, 3.3 per 100,000. Obviously other deaths occur for other causes, including building collapses, (which were obscurely referred to in the last fire reports). But floods, typhoons and diseases might be more pressing concerns. Let alone violent political conflicts.

Now I think Yglesias is being sh*t-faced here, as is his wont, and I share something of your perspectives. But a bit of old-fashioned materialism is in order, before indulging in political attitudinizing or self-righteous moralism. Or pretending to a plan for rectification of all the world’s economic woes and injustices.

28

PGD 04.26.13 at 7:46 am

let me make an educated guess, US industrial workplace fatalities and probably below one per million man years. So I might say 2.5 fatalities per million might be a decent tradeoff for a developing country like Bangladesh (they not us should get to determine this value), but clearly 250 per million is grossly unacceptable.

Not sure if you meant these numbers to be accurate or just a totally made-up example, but they are way way off. 4,600 workplace fatalities in the U.S. last year, which seems somewhere around 150-200 per million person years, not one per million person years.

29

PGD 04.26.13 at 7:51 am

Whoops, sorry, it was my calculation that was off — misplaced a zero and had the wrong number of workers. Halasz is right, U.S. rate is 35 per million person-years. Still far from ‘less than one’

30

Random Lurker 04.26.13 at 8:11 am

What Rich Puchalsky wrote at 11 plus what Mao Cheng Ji wrote at 25.

I would personally prefer global sindacalism.

31

Sam Dodsworth 04.26.13 at 8:22 am

Is there a kinder reading of “Matt has a point” and related variations than “the lives of Bangladeshi workers are less valuable than ours”? Because I’m having trouble finding one.

32

William Berry 04.26.13 at 8:25 am

And, the elephant in the room: Deep-sea fishers, over-the-road truckers, miners, loggers, etc., are almost uniformly men. This holds true everywhere, and the pay is higher than for other jobs, in the developing world as well as in the West.

Textile workers are women. This probably has something to do with it.

Typical of MY not to notice.

33

William Berry 04.26.13 at 8:26 am

And again, what Rich said.

34

gaddeswarup 04.26.13 at 8:57 am

Henry Farrell discusses a previous Banladesh garment factory disaster in
http://www.aeonmagazine.com/living-together/henry-farrell-post-democracy/

35

Collin Street 04.26.13 at 9:57 am

@Sam Dodsworth: but they are. Revealed preferences clearly show that bangladeshi workers value their own lives less in nominal dollar terms than do, say, welshmen.

Of course, running your revealed-preference and cost-benefit calculations in straight nominal dollars is mathematically equivalent to valuing people in proportion to their net worth. But that’s only a controversial position among people with no money, and they don’t matter.

[the other problem with efficient market allocations arises from the fact that the winners of round n+1 are picked by the winners of round n]

36

Jesús Couto Fandiño 04.26.13 at 10:08 am

I’m sure one of the 250 dead in Bangladesh would have desired to have Yglesias share his or her working conditions right to the end of it, if they could read this.

37

Sam Dodsworth 04.26.13 at 10:29 am

Collin Street@35 – Well, quite. And note how much of management practice in general is aimed at reducing workers’ self-estimation of their value, directly or indirectly.

Also note how value-as-a-person and economic-value-of-a-person get conveniently confused. There’s an obvious parallel with David Graeber’s point about the way power is exercised by combining the social and economic meanings of debt.

38

a different chris 04.26.13 at 12:16 pm

Harold is being much funnier about it than I can manage, but this is so f*cking stupid:

>pay a premium over other working-class occupations precisely because people are reluctant to risk death or maiming at work.

I actually know people who log and truck. People take the jobs they can get, and given choices they take the job they like the most. No lumberjack is going to leave his job to work a goddamn cash register at Walmart if it paid the same, or even if it paid a little more.

That’s just not who they “are”….

I just can’t get over they way people like Matt think that people behave. Sure, money is a big driver, I can accept it as the biggest (although I think social status is the biggest and we just happen to currently live in a world where money means status), but jeez.

39

P O'Neill 04.26.13 at 12:33 pm

It’s particularly lame to #slatepitch off the 1990s version of Larry Summers when a major strand of current thinking in development economics is that weak state capacity is itself a cause of poverty and not a choice (see e.g. work of Tim Besley).

40

chris 04.26.13 at 12:35 pm

Is there a kinder reading of “Matt has a point” and related variations than “the lives of Bangladeshi workers are less valuable than ours”? Because I’m having trouble finding one.

If you can save 10,000 Bangladeshis from starvation and preventable disease by giving them dangerous jobs in which 100 will die of workplace accidents, that’s a good deal from the Bangladeshi perspective?

Money isn’t just for conspicuous consumption — poverty kills, albeit less spectacularly than collapsing buildings.

I don’t know if the numbers actually work out the way Matt needs them to for the argument to actually succeed, but I think that’s basically it.

41

Bob Duckles 04.26.13 at 12:36 pm

Most of us most of the time, some of us all of the time are blissfully unconscious of the fact that the “things” in our lives and the pleasure or satisfaction we get from them are a part of a system in which people work in collapsing factories, live short lives breaking cargo ships for salvage on beaches in India and Bangaladesh at great risk to life and health. Our goods are made and transported around the world on the backs of exploited people.

It is painful to pay attention to the human exploitation that our world market system requires. It makes us examine our responsibility. What should we do? At least we should advocate and support policies that lessen the burden on the exploited, even though it will add to the cost of our “necessities,” for which we pay very little today.

42

Steve LaBonne 04.26.13 at 12:40 pm

By the way, people like MY tend to vastly overestimate the cost of complying with basic workplace safety regulations such as those that Bangladesh in fact has (but obviously does a lousy job of enforcing). This is part of their general lack of contact with reality.

43

Jeffrey Davis 04.26.13 at 12:51 pm

Imagine two Jews in WW2. One was shot in the head and so never had to endure a suffocating cattle car on the way to be gassed. Well, that’s the lesser of two evils, right? So, I guess that worked out fine.

A choice of two horrors isn’t “fine.”

44

Mao Cheng Ji 04.26.13 at 12:54 pm

“This is part of their general lack of contact with reality.”

No, I believe this is their avoiding the slippery slope, and standing on principle: if you signed the contract without a gun anywhere near your head, that means that you decided that it was beneficial for you. End of story.

45

Eric H 04.26.13 at 1:08 pm

Yes, and while we’re at it, Bangladesh should be required to have a minimum wage near $7.25; wideband to every house (all of which are LEED certified); full cell penetration; reliable electricity, water, and sewer; effective OSHA, EPA, Army, Navy, Air Force; a robust space program; and all of the other hallmarks of a modern western country. We have the evidence that having these things makes us happy, so therefore they should have them. And once they have them, then their workers will be on a level playing field with ours. Let’s not worry about the knowledge, culture, institutions, and other means necessary to bring these about – those will follow.

Sorry, I think #8 and #20 are on the right track. Many here seem to be making the poor assumption that Bangladesh has a chance of having all of the benefits of a modern western nation without having first attained the level of financial and human capital and institutional sophistication. Contra #12, the cost of a regulation is not the few dollars needed to install a fire extinguisher – it’s the system required to pass, publish, and enforce regulations (including inspectors, courts, and the political will to prosecute), and also to supply fire extinguishers, inspect them, train workers to use them, refill them, etc. Your indignation at this tragedy does not mean that we can waive these requirements.

46

Rich Puchalsky 04.26.13 at 1:17 pm

“Contra #12, the cost of a regulation is not the few dollars needed to install a fire extinguisher – it’s the system required to pass, publish, and enforce regulations (including inspectors, courts, and the political will to prosecute), and also to supply fire extinguishers, inspect them, train workers to use them, refill them, etc.”

All of which adds negligibly to the cost of products — there really aren’t that many people employed as regulators, inspectors, count employees, etc. But wait … there’s one item that you have stuck in there that isn’t about costs, it’s “political will”. Could this be a political problem after all? I wonder why countries like Bangladesh just don’t seem to have the political will to do something about these problems. You say that it’s because they are unsophisticated primitives … that of course is what everyone who find Yglesias convincing thinks, but I wonder if, somehow, it could have something to do with the political will of the country being affected by the owners of those factories and the wealth they get from exporting cheap goods.

47

William Timberman 04.26.13 at 1:25 pm

One hears these sorts of arguments all the time: Capitalism has so vastly increased the world’s wealth that everyone is better off no matter how many children died of lung disease in a Manchester textile mill, or a coal mine in the Black Country — The Lakota were just sitting on the land, doing nothing economically useful with it. We tried to teach them better, but they wouldn’t listen — When the figures are all totted up, the Chernobyl disaster resulted in a mere 50,000 excess deaths in the whole of Europe. Do you know how many people coal kills every year? Nuclear power is essential to our future. The rest is just ignorant whining — Etc., etc.

I believe that it’s literally impossible to say such things, even to think them, if you or yours have ever been selected as the collateral damage in one of these supposedly beneficial orgies of economic development. There may be some statistical truth in the numbers bandied about by expert pundits, but surely it’s perverse to find any comfort in them unless, like MY, you’ve gotten off scot free yourself.

I find this maddening, but I lack the strength to keep arguing about it. I can’t even say any longer that I wish MY, and others like him, would someday get a taste of their own medicine. Even if they did, it wouldn’t help much, and given that God in His wisdom puts up with all this butchery in the name of progress, I suppose I can too — but I honestly cannot — and will not — ever see it simply as a Good Thing.

48

Ronan(rf) 04.26.13 at 1:38 pm

“but surely it’s perverse to find any comfort in them unless, like MY, you’ve gotten off scot free yourself”

Indeed. Yglesias can acknowledge the complexity of these issues without adopting such a blasé attitude. But this is the pose of the self described neutral, unemotional technocrat, which always falls apart when a tragedy falls closer to home.

As for this:

“Bangladesh may or may not need tougher workplace safety rules”

Really? YM is noncommittal on *whether* Bangladesh needs tougher workplace safety rules? I think it’s pretty bloody obvious they do

49

LFC 04.26.13 at 1:51 pm

Apparently no mention yet in this thread of the jute industry — jute was once Bangladesh’s (formerly E. Pakistan’s) main export — and its decline. According to Wiki, Bangladesh is still the world’s top jute producer and supposedly there has been some increase in popularity of jute-made clothing over the last decade (perhaps a dubious claim). But it’s the case that, as the Wiki entry on jute observes, increased use of synthetics caused the jute industry to decline:

In the 1950s and 1960s, when nylon and polythene were rarely used, one of the primary sources of foreign exchange earnings for … Pakistan was the export of jute products, based on jute grown in then East Bengal [shd say E. Pakistan, given the context], now Bangladesh. … However, as the use of polythene and other synthetic materials as a substitute for jute increasingly captured the market, the jute industry in general experienced a decline.

During some years in the 1980s, farmers in Bangladesh burnt their jute crops when an adequate price could not be obtained. Many jute exporters diversified away from jute to other commodities. Jute-related organisations and government bodies were also forced to close, change or downsize. The long decline in demand forced the largest jute mill in the world (Adamjee Jute Mills) to close in Bangladesh. Bangladesh’s second largest mill, Latif Bawany Jute Mills … was nationalized by the government. Farmers in Bangladesh have not completely ceased growing jute, however, mainly due to demand in the internal market. Between 2004–2010, the jute market recovered and the price of raw jute increased more than 500%[citation needed].

Notwithstanding the last sentence of the quoted passage, it’s clear that the decline in jute meant Bangladesh needed another source of export earnings, and garments is currently it. On the issue of safety standards: of course the current Bangladesh govt standards are not being enforced properly, if a building w visible cracks is allowed to continue in operation. Some of this no doubt has to do w a less-than-well-functioning political system.

Also, if as Halasz says above @27, the garment trade accounts for 80% of for. exch. earnings, that’s a problem, just as overreliance on jute was a problem. The country needs to diversify its exports (easier said than done, I’m sure, but still worth saying).

50

Rich Puchalsky 04.26.13 at 1:57 pm

I’ll expand on my comment above, because there’s one other thing in Eric H’s ridiculous comment at #45 — the minimum wage. What people who own factories in Bangladesh are really competing on is low labor costs, of which the cost of workplace regulation is a minimal part. So there’s another level of deceptiveness in Yglesias’ answer. The real reason why Bangladeshis are supposed to be better off with their jobs rather than none is because they’re low-wage jobs, not because they are necessarily hazardous jobs.

And strangely enough — what a surprise — employers object to workplace regulation of hazards even though it really doesn’t affect the bottom line that much. Why? It’s because employees who start thinking that they’re valuable start to demand higher wages. The employer wants to keep them downtrodden in the workplace in every sense, just like a repressive regime that thinks that any liberalization could lead to a revolt.

And in the U.S., employers sell this to the general public as “the cost of regulation”. This is because the only “regulation” that most people encounter directly is filling out forms, generally income tax forms, which they dislike, or waiting in lines for a permit for something or other. So it’s a good public relations technique, not an accounting of actual costs.

I’ll leave it to the neo-liberals to declare that Bangladeshis should be happy to compete globally on low wages even if their workplace safety was magically upgraded. But we’re not even close to having that conversation.

51

Corey Robin 04.26.13 at 2:03 pm

Yglesias just tweeted, “I surrender—that post on Bangladesh was in poor taste” and posted this: http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2013/04/26/some_further_thoughts_on_bangladesh.html

52

Kevin 04.26.13 at 2:09 pm

Is that a non-apology apology non-apology apology?

53

Barry 04.26.13 at 2:10 pm

Steve LaBonne 04.26.13 at 12:40 pm

” By the way, people like MY tend to vastly overestimate the cost of complying with basic workplace safety regulations such as those that Bangladesh in fact has (but obviously does a lousy job of enforcing). This is part of their general lack of contact with reality.”

Which, I believe, has been a standard practice of those opposing such rules, again and again and again, in industry after industry, decade after decade after decade.

This isn’t an innocent error, it’s deliberately lying.

54

Harold 04.26.13 at 2:12 pm

“Bangladesh may or may not need tougher workplace safety rules” is a boilerplate instance of the art of bullshit.

55

Rich Puchalsky 04.26.13 at 2:17 pm

And his followup post was meaningless, because it includes this:

“So I wrote a post trying to outline why I think it’s appropriate for rich countries to have more stringent standards than poor ones, and I absolutely stand by that conclusion.”

In other words, it’s an “I’m sorry if you were offended by what I wrote” post. No knowledge of how much stringent standards actually cost, no knowledge that he’s mixing up cost of standards and higher wages, no evaluation of how hazardous those jobs actually have to be, just reflexive defense of oligarchy.

56

Rich Puchalsky 04.26.13 at 2:17 pm

And his followup post was meaningless, because it includes this:

“So I wrote a post trying to outline why I think it’s appropriate for rich countries to have more stringent standards than poor ones, and I absolutely stand by that conclusion.”

In other words, it’s an “I’m sorry if you were offended by what I wrote” post. No knowledge of how much stringent standards actually cost, no knowledge that he’s mixing up cost of standards and higher wages, no evaluation of how hazardous those jobs actually have to be, just reflexive defense of oligarchy.

57

Harold 04.26.13 at 2:19 pm

It’s their fault for being poor, so if a building falls on them that’s Heaven’s punishment. They shouldn’t have made that choice.

58

Barry 04.26.13 at 2:23 pm

Kevin : ” Is that a non-apology apology non-apology apology?”

Yes – we didn’t understand the Poor Thing.

Frankly, as far as I’m concerned he’s excommunicated with bell, book, candle and salt. He wants to be a Slate neoliberal ‘contrarian’, he’s free to be one, but nobody owes him respect.

59

bjk 04.26.13 at 2:35 pm

“more to open our doors to people seeking better opportunities for themselves”

Electing a new people here, that we can all agree on.

60

reason 04.26.13 at 2:37 pm

Isn’t the problem the first mover problem. The net cost of having and enforcing better safety regulations may in fact be zero. But there is a learning curve involved in providing safer conditions, and because of sunk cost a first mover will not only have a higher cost of adjustment (due to learning costs) but will also be less profitable because of the interest payments. It may make them more likely to go broke. It is in nobody’s interest to move first, so nothing changes.

61

mdc 04.26.13 at 2:47 pm

Good, smack him down. As penance, he has to write advocacy for labor movements around the world.

62

Harold 04.26.13 at 2:52 pm

I’d like to know how many deaths he would have been ok with. Or how small a building collapse.

63

chris y 04.26.13 at 2:55 pm

If you can save 10,000 Bangladeshis from starvation and preventable disease by giving them dangerous jobs in which 100 will die of workplace accidents pushing 100 of them under runaway trollies, that’s a good deal from the Bangladeshi perspective?

I can’t bear that this discussion is actually happening among supposedly civilised people.

64

Ronan(rf) 04.26.13 at 2:59 pm

“I actually know people who log and truck. People take the jobs they can get, and given choices they take the job they like the most.”

Yeah I think MY is watching to much discovery channel here. Having grown up outside a fishing village, it’s really not that lucrative a living, from what I can see, and people tend to follow their family into the industry rather than move into it for the £’s. So it might be a minor point, but it’s still kinda dumb.
(I can’t speak to truckers, but is it really that dangerous a job? Outside of ice roads and what have you)

65

Harold 04.26.13 at 3:10 pm

Shorter Matthew: My hypothesis remains the same, even though the facts do not support it.

66

Ronan(rf) 04.26.13 at 3:21 pm

..so basically MY’s evidence that in the US you’ll be rewarded for taking risky jobs is to point towards discovery channel docusoaps.

67

Brett 04.26.13 at 4:01 pm

The point was that he rushed into a response to Erik Loomis without looking at the facts in the particular situation, and so he wrote a post that was not only not really applicable to the Bangladeshi accident, but which had very insensitive timing.

@Rich Pulasky

No knowledge of how much stringent standards actually cost, no knowledge that he’s mixing up cost of standards and higher wages, no evaluation of how hazardous those jobs actually have to be, just reflexive defense of oligarchy.

He pointed to the Kimberly Ann Elliot piece I linked to up-thread, which talks about how much it might cost to actually do improvements (and enforce the laws on the books in Bangladesh).

68

Corey Robin 04.26.13 at 4:07 pm

Oops. Up at 16, I said 12 was “perfect.” I meant 13. The referents to these numbers seem to change sometimes after I post.

69

Rich Puchalsky 04.26.13 at 4:22 pm

“The referents to these numbers seem to change sometimes after I post.”

When a comment gets automoderated, it’s usually for no good reason, and when a poster de-moderates it all of the comments after it get renumbered.

Brett: “He pointed to the Kimberly Ann Elliot piece I linked to up-thread”

He did, but he didn’t seem to actually internalize any of the information in that piece, because he absolutely stood by his prior conclusion.

I dislike the claim that what’s wrong with his piece is “insensitivity”. What’s really wrong with his piece is that it’s factually wrong. Poor countries really can have stringent standards in most respects, and all that Ygelesias did was unthinkingly follow corporate propaganda that is designed to confuse this issue. His piece wasn’t bad because he was insensitive, it was bad because he’s paid to opine about matters that he evidently doesn’t have a clue about.

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Dr. Hilarius 04.26.13 at 4:50 pm

Yglesias is simply acknowledging the truth, as known by a host of US intellects (Kissinger comes to mind), that poor, third-world people are just extras in our movie. Their role is die without ever having become real people. 240 garment workers, exit stage right.

Perhaps it is unrealistic to expect Bangladesh workers to have identical workplace safety protections as in the US, but buildings that don’t collapse of their own accord hardly seems excessive. Allowing shoddy construction, with three illegal stories added on, isn’t a necessity for competing in the international wage market. The money for decent construction was there, it just went into someone’s pocket.

71

Trader Joe 04.26.13 at 5:00 pm

Perhaps a different slant on Rich at 12 & 69

When you pay $10 for a shirt at Wal-Mart…

$5 goes to Wal-mart and all of its hardworking people for taking it out of the box, putting it on the rack and making sure there is a greeter.

$3 goes to all the people that touched the box be they Teamsters or sailors from the minute it left the factory.

$1 goes for cotton, packaging, labels, taxes, tarrifs, commissions etc.

Its that last $1 that the factory owner must divide between labour, profit and capital (i.e. plant and working condition).

We can agree that in the latest example that the factory owner made a poor choice about how to divide the last dollar – but the fact that he only had $1 to divide because so many others took out the other $9 is where the problem arises. This ratio wasn’t the one envisioned when economists “invented” the notion that Free Trade as a win-win for both buyer and seller.

There is no way to be certain that charging $11 for the shirt or having the retailer or middle-men take less of the $9 would actually result in a safe building for the workers – it could just as easily wind up as bribes for inspectors or profit to the Bangledeshi plant owner. Therefore the responsibility falls to consumers and the Wal-marts of the world to say: I’m giving you this $1 that is specifically for safe workplace, wages etc. we won’t buy it/sell it if its not made in a safe way by fairly paid workers.

Note: I’m using Wal-mart as a proxy for any of thousands of companies that source from places like Bangledesh. Also the splits of the $10 might vary by product with more direct cost or less shipping, but anyone with knowledge or this kind of sourcing will tell you it isn’t far off in percentage terms left to the outsourced factory.

72

UserGoogol 04.26.13 at 5:20 pm

Mario@9: If you just look at politics as the struggle of different factions, then there’s no sense of right or wrong. Workers would prefer one thing, owners would prefer another thing, and who am I to pick sides? Any remotely reasonable foundation of justice comes from “depoliticizing politics” and looking at issues from the perspective of society as a whole, detached from individual human concerns.

73

Billikin 04.26.13 at 5:54 pm

Trader Joe:

“When you pay $10 for a shirt at Wal-Mart . . . .

“Its that last $1 that the factory owner must divide between labour, profit and capital (i.e. plant and working condition).”

Assuming that you are roughly correct, that just shows how cheap it would be to provide safe working conditions in the factories. Pennies on the dollar. A modest tariff on shirts manufactured at unsafe factories would provide sufficient incentives for the factory owners to make their factories safe.

74

Bruce Baugh 04.26.13 at 7:51 pm

UserGoogol is a fascinating exercise in thinking moderately astutely for a while and then making wrong choices at every possible occasion.

75

john c. halasz 04.26.13 at 7:53 pm

If you’d want to seriously address the issues involved here, rather than just expressing intermittent outrage when such stories make the news, then you should be focusing on the endemic gap between nominal $ and ppp GDP. Admittedly, ppp figures are a bit iffy, since domestic market baskets don’t exactly translate across economies and since, not being used regularly, their calculations are not adjusted and refined. But the large gap is still an obvious reality, reflective of the way labor costs filter into and determine domestic price structures. Now in principle, the FX value of a country’s currency should reflect the overall level of productivity in its economy so ppp and nominal values should align. But that is precisely what doesn’t happen under the current global system of trade and FX with floating exchange rates, which results instead in an endemic gap between overvalued 1st world and undervalued 3rd world currencies, which MNCs are free to strategically arbitrage. That means for a country like Bangladesh, its labor is internationally cheap and must be worked all the harder to gain FX earnings from exports, while imported capital goods that could raise its level of labor productivity are proportionally dearer, re-enforcing the tendency to rely on cheap low productivity labor over capital investment. Further, the enforced dependency of the country on FDI from MNCs, which not only control access to 1st world markets, but also enjoy a relatively cheaper cost of capital, leaves the government little discretionary control over its domestic economic policy, (monetary, fiscal, and regulatory). (So isn’t it obvious that poor countries are to blame for their poverty because of their “bad governance”, eh?) If a country like Bangladesh is to have even half a chance at a modicum of economic development, raising the conditions and standards of working and living, that underlying problem would need to be rectified.

In 2011, there was a conference at the Bangladesh manufacturers association HQ, including representatives from the manufacturers, the government, the MNCs and NGOs, addressing the issue of fire safety, which came to nought. A demand was made (by whom and with what bargaining power?) that between $1.5 and $3 billion be spent over 5 years to correct the situation. To me, that smells of “the white man’s burden” type of humanitarian interventionism. Given that the garment factories are small job lot subcontractors subject to highly competitive bidding processes and thus low profit margins, $3 billion might be more than the entire 5 year profits of the industry. Put it this way: suppose you’ve just been elected to the Central Committee of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh and the MNC bastards have been successfully sued in the international court in Den Haag and you’ve managed to collect to the tune of $300 million a year for 5 years. Would you then choose to invest that windfall of extra capital in fire safety, a a cost of $3 million per life saved (or maybe $1 million including reduced deaths in out years), or would you rather decide to invest it elsewhere, say, in improved agricultural output or electricity generation or primary education? This isn’t to say that nothing can, nor should be done about workers’ safety, only that it could be done more cheaply and less grandiosely. One obvious way would be to put unions in charge of safety inspection, (where as MNCs currently outsource their inspection programs to subcontractors, with the expected results), since they would have the incentives and the local knowledge to follow through, while determining the trade-offs between costs and wages. But that would imply domestic political struggle and a capacity for the regime to determine its own domestic policies…

What makes Yglesias’s original post so obnoxiously fatuous, is that he portrays the situation as a matter of “free” choice by some “representative agent”, when it is so obviously a matter of a nexus of desperately bad economic transactions. It’s true that there has been some very limited “progress” in Bangladesh. In 1950, its population was 40 million and now the birth rate is slightly above the replacement rate per woman, so recent GDP grow has been mostly per capita. But it’s still a desperately poor country and all the more threatened by the implications of AGW. Perhaps the most amusing tidbit from his post is a historical chart of per capita GDP growth ppp for both Pakistan and Bangladesh that he links to, which includes the years 2013-2017:

http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-w6NdJOGnnow/UEKiLgVCaKI/AAAAAAAAAOM/aefAoWm83W0/s1600/ScreenHunter_74+Sep.+01+20.01.jpg

But Bengalis are one of the major ethno-linguistic groups of historical India, with an ancient high culture, which underwent a modernizing renaissance in the late 19th and early 20th century. They have plenty of intellectual cadres of their own, to go with their mass poverty. However, they might choose to reach out internationally to their own diaspora and to other sympathetic factions, it’s not just “the white man’s burden” to shower them with our concern.

76

Main Street Muse 04.26.13 at 8:06 pm

Again, I wonder what they are teaching at Harvard (Yglesias’ alma mater.)

The idea that Bangladeshi workers deserve to work in high risk factories because the nation is “poorer” is appalling. Apparently, according to Matt, we need to recreate the Triangle Shirtwaist factory tragedy in all emerging economies – well just because those who don’t die in such tragedies get to get paid to work.

William Timberlane @47 has a wonderful response.

77

JW Mason 04.26.13 at 8:34 pm

— When the figures are all totted up, the Chernobyl disaster resulted in a mere 50,000 excess deaths in the whole of Europe. Do you know how many people coal kills every year? Nuclear power is essential to our future.

Wait wait wait. That example is not like the others.

MY has no idea how expensive it would have ben for the Bangladeshi factory to comply with safety standards. Even if he did, he has no idea what the employment effects are of a given increase in costs. And even if he knew THAT, he has no idea what the effects on health or wellbeing are of reduced access to sweatshop jobs. The reason his post is pure BS is that despite not knowing any of this stuff, he just assumes that the fire was the result of some kind of optimal tradeoff between safety and employment. He has no evidence at all that it is, he just wants to be a person who can smile approvingly when poor women are killed in a sweatshop.

The case of coal and nuclear energy is not like that. We know the tradeoff between coal and nuclear power — a megawatt is a megawatt — and we know pretty exactly how many people die from each. Making a fact-based case that increased use of nuclear power would be a net gain from an environmental health perspective has nothing to do with MY-style trolling.

(I have an interest in this because my blog happens to host — tho it’s not by me — one of the the internet’s more detailed versions of this pro-nuclear argument.)

78

Matt 04.26.13 at 9:33 pm

Most of us most of the time, some of us all of the time are blissfully unconscious of the fact that the “things” in our lives and the pleasure or satisfaction we get from them are a part of a system in which people work in collapsing factories, live short lives breaking cargo ships for salvage on beaches in India and Bangaladesh at great risk to life and health. Our goods are made and transported around the world on the backs of exploited people.

It is painful to pay attention to the human exploitation that our world market system requires. It makes us examine our responsibility. What should we do? At least we should advocate and support policies that lessen the burden on the exploited, even though it will add to the cost of our “necessities,” for which we pay very little today.

There’s a truth here but it also seems presented in a way to diffuse responsibility that should not be so diffused. It reminds me of a certain strain of environmentalism-lite sermonizing: the power plant owner who fights air pollution controls in court, the woman who doesn’t recycle newspapers, the paper mill owner who dumps waste by the tonne in the nearest river, the man who doesn’t turn off the lights when he leaves a room, are all part of the same gallery of shame. They’re all responsible. Pay no particular attention to the orders-of-magnitude difference between the scale and malice of the industrial-scale offenders and the lazy consumers.

Urging people to take personal responsibility for complex multinational supply chains when they’re buying shirts strikes me like urging them to take personal responsibility for food safety when they’re buying groceries. I’m sure most consumers would prefer that garments are uniformly, minutely more expensive so that garment workers aren’t ordered back into almost-collapsed buildings. Just like they prefer to have food without arsenic-based coloring as a blanket rule even though in a Truly Free Market, Untainted by FDA Nannying they could buy food that’s very slightly cheaper with a bonus surprise of sometimes poisonous dyes. But they have almost no power to make that choice while shopping. They shouldn’t have to investigate the provenance of shirts on store shelves back to the factory of origin to make a choice any more than they should have to hire an analytical chemist and microbiologist to check food before buying it. That job is for professional regulators, and as far as I can tell consumers are already in favor of these kinds of regulations.

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William Timberman 04.26.13 at 9:33 pm

J.W. Mason @ 77

Yes, I’ve read a number of pro-nuclear arguments, including the one on your blog, which claim to be disinterested. I don’t find them persuasive, although explaining why I don’t would probably constitute a derailment of the thread.

What I will say is that, Sesame Street bon mots notwithstanding, I don’t agree that the pro-nuclear arguments in question are categorically different from the others I originally referred to. First, they’re often, if not always, advanced by those who are in no danger of winding up on the wrong end of the cost/benefit analyses they’re touting, and second, because there always were — and in the case of nuclear power, are — undiscussed alternatives clearly available in the excluded middle. That we didn’t — and don’t — take advantage of them, is a matter for psychologists and sociologist even more than it is for economists. (Which is how a contest of ideas becomes a contest of wills, and we find ourselves back in the realm of politics again.)

80

Anderson 04.26.13 at 9:42 pm

I think Chernobyl is mainly an argument against the Soviet Union’s being allowed to operate nuclear power plants.

81

Rich Puchalsky 04.26.13 at 10:13 pm

Matt at 78 is right. All versions of the “consumers should take responsibility” argument are wrong, although some of them are more or less vicious and stupid. That goes for the “good” people who tell you that you can contribute towards saving the environment by personally cutting back, as well as the “bad” people who tell you that systematic change is impossible and that all you can do is be personally moral by buying something with a non sweatshop certification on it.

Weirdly enough, countries negotiate trade agreements — including agreements that put conditions on workplace safety — all the time. It’s only when wealthy interests are threatened that all of a sudden we can’t communally do something and it’s up to the individual consumer.

82

Chaz 04.26.13 at 10:17 pm

I do think that the labor, safety, and environmental laws should be simpler and less comprehensive in Bangladesh than in the United States. This is because the United States has a superior national and local government bureaucracy to actually enforce the laws (and explain them to businesses), so we can handle more complexity. Bangladesh would be best off focusing on the most important issues and making simple laws that they are able to actually enforce. I don’t have the expertise to say exactly where the optimal balance between comprehensiveness and enforceability lies, but certainly the ideal Bangladeshi laws are simpler than the ideal American laws. Over the longer term they should recognize that their current administrative capacity is inadequate (whose isn’t?) and work to improve it.

Note that I don’t know squat about Bangladeshi law, so I can’t say whether their existing laws are too strict or not strict enough. Probably not strict enough, but the main problem seems to be with enforcement. This disaster was an enforcement failure, right?

Naturally Yglesias doesn’t mention any of this, and instead reaches the same conclusion through a ridiculous argument about workers’ right to have other people risk their lives without their consent. And then he posts an apology that says everything he says is actually right, but he didn’t explain it well, and won’t try again. Plus immigration something something.

83

john c. halasz 04.26.13 at 10:29 pm

@81:

‘Weirdly enough, countries negotiate trade agreements — including agreements that put conditions on workplace safety — all the time.”

I’d like to see some textual examples of such agreements.

84

LFC 04.26.13 at 10:31 pm

john c halasz @75

It’s interesting that Halasz argues that the floating exchange rate regime disadvantages 3rd world (or global Southern) labor via undervaluing 3rd world currencies, when K. Winecoff has argued the opposite here (meaning on another CT thread) previously. (I’ll try to find the Winecoff comment and link to it when I have a bit more time. Can one search for commenters’ names?) More specifically, Winecoff argued, iirc, that the floating exchange rate regime benefited both Southern labor and Northern capital, relative to the fixed exhange rate (BW) regime.

85

Substance McGravitas 04.26.13 at 10:37 pm

86

Rich Puchalsky 04.26.13 at 10:43 pm

Drat, Substance McGravitas posted that link just before I could. (DeLong worked on that side agreement, if I remember one of his old blog posts correctly). In any case, I’m not arguing that current examples work — only that they can indeed be negotiated at a communal level. The problems of current agreements come down to “political will” i.e. “our system is dominated by oligarchs”, but this is not necessarily the case.

87

Ronan(rf) 04.26.13 at 10:44 pm

“Can one search for commenters’ names?”

You can through Google, though here it is

http://crookedtimber.org/2013/04/09/how-good-was-gold-compared-with-bretton-woods-and-the-float/#comment-461392

88

Substance McGravitas 04.26.13 at 10:53 pm

Form of the search:

site:crookedtimber.org LFC

89

LFC 04.26.13 at 10:58 pm

Thanks Ronan(rf) [that is the comment I meant] and Substance.

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john c. halasz 04.26.13 at 11:32 pm

LFC @84:

Here’s a quote from Winecoff:

” Development requires the accumulation of capital stock, not the deterioration of it. You can’t overcome this secular decline when trade is balanced; you need to run current account surpluses — i.e. capital account deficits — for awhile to get enough capital to invest in modernization. Under a fixed exchange rate system it’s difficult to do that. With capital controls in force it’s even harder.”

It contains a crude accounting error: CA and capital accounts are mirror image inverses: a capital account surplus, i.e. importing capital, requires a CA deficit. As such you’d expect a developing nation to be running a moderate CA deficit, in order to import the capital goods required for improving/diversifying productivity, to be repaid by future exports on improved terms, (though not like the 23% CA deficit that Latvia ran in 2006 and 2007!).

I don’t know exactly where Winecoff is coming from, but it sounds like s/he is just arguing from the neo-classical H-O model and praising the imperial British gold standard!

That advantages are enjoyed by concentrated industrial production economies (with their internal differentiation) over raw commodity-producing monoculture economies has long since been pointed out, by Kaldor among many others. The usual developmental econ prescription then is that poor commodity-producing economies try to process raw materials for value-added and develop internal diversification domestically for “take-off” through positive externality networks.

That Winecoff seems to disparage the Bretton Woods system is rather surprising, since it amounted to the most robust stage of global economic growth in capitalist history, for all member economies, regardless of ostensible domestic regime, precisely because it encouraged global trade in goods, while discouraged free flows of financial capital, thus permitting each country relative autonomy in selecting it economic policies to suit its circumstances and conditions. That the commodity disadvantage still held, even as de-colonization was occurring, (together with Cold War follies), notwithstanding.

91

Tony Lynch 04.26.13 at 11:59 pm

Kant: [W]oe to him who creeps through the serpent-windings of utilitarianism to discover some advantage that may discharge him from the justice of punishment, or even from the due measure of it, according to the Pharisaic maxim: “It is better that one man should die than that the whole people should perish.” For if justice and righteousness perish, human life would no longer have any value in the world.

And the serpent winding away is, of course…

92

Eric H 04.27.13 at 1:09 am

@#46, I am apparently not making the point well. The price of the goods are not going to the infrastructure I listed because most of it ends up in some American guy’s pocket (see 71). The people of Bangladesh have to pay for all of those infrastructury things. Public costs, private gain. Since the Bangladeshi people haven’t got the money for the costs, it’s private gain all the way down. Asking them to have champagne policies on their beer budget is just silly, and asking them to help subsidize our Western champagne taste/beer budget issues is cruel and probably pointless, no matter how good it makes you feel/look.

@50 Minimum wage? I’d rather see a collectively bargained, international wage particular to the industry ala ILGWU’s Protocol of Peace because I’m guessing that the average street vendor can’t afford US-style minimums to all of the kids working for him, but there’s no reason why FDI businesses like The Gap can’t afford it. It might of course draw people out of The Sticks and cause urban unemployment, but hey, these are the kinds of unintended policy consequences that guys like Dani Rodrik can afford to gloss over. Also, there’s the problem that some countries flat-out ban collective bargaining …

By the way, how come nobody has brought up that favourite Nobelite: http://www.slate.com/articles/business/the_dismal_science/1997/03/in_praise_of_cheap_labor.html. Surely, he’s no worse than Yglesias on this score, but I don’t think he is ever called on to retract.

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Rich Puchalsky 04.27.13 at 1:46 am

“The price of the goods are not going to the infrastructure I listed because most of it ends up in some American guy’s pocket (see 71). “

You know, that’s actually not an immutable rule. Pretending that it is an immutable rule is just another variant of what Yglesias did.

If export industry workplaces were more highly regulated — funded by a tax on those industries — then the cost, which would overall be fairly minimal, would have to be added to the cost of the goods and would be passed along to the buyers. So no, Bangladeshis wouldn’t pay it. The real issue, and the reason that minimal regulation is supposed to be good for Bangladesh, is that this increment of added cost might mean that they no longer win the race to the bottom. I think that’s doubtful, given how far down they are already.

So no, no matter how many times you repeat that this is about making people feel / look good, it’s not. It’s about dismissing the BS that you’re writing.

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Eric H 04.27.13 at 2:16 am

Gosh, Rich, vitriol much?

Are we talking about regulating our import industries or their export industries? You switched between them and are simplifying this as if writing a sentence about it requires only slightly less effort than doing both. If regulating their exports, the infrastructure to detect, inspect, and prosecute does not exist, would not stop The Gap from leaving (or the local mogul from influencing) if it did, and does nothing to influence where most of the profit accumulates. I’m not arguing the latter is immutable, but that Bangladeshi law doesn’t have much to do with it. So no matter how high you raise the tax and how much it might yield in theory (including enough to self-sustain the infrastructure), the trick is to get the tax to land on the right party or even some party. I’d like to see some details on how that will work; details that show a basic acknowledgment of Kolko’s thesis. It’s not like they’re filing SOX statements and can be hit up with a 1099. This is a country where the per capita GDP is less than a quarter what it was in the US at the time of the Triangle Fire.

If you’re talking about doing something about Matt’s immutable rule, well then that has nothing to do with Bangladesh and everything to do with the system in this part of the world … which is largely run by and for the people you intend to regulate. Incidentally, I am not supporting Matt’s idea that, hey, this is all just the way it is so we have to live with it. I just oppose procrustean policy solutions.

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Kindred Winecoff 04.27.13 at 2:30 am

I see I’ve been dragged into this. Not that it matters too much, but I am certainly not a proponent of returning to the gold standard. In fact, my “disparagement” of Bretton Woods — it isn’t, really, as I’ll explain in a second — is partially motivated by the fact that it *was* a gold standard, of a sort.

@90:

My accounting was not off, although my exposition wasn’t very elegant. I was thinking in a dynamic sense rather than a static sense. You import capital (CA deficit/KA surplus) at time t which you invest in productive capacity to generate export (CA surplus/KA deficit) at time t+1. Some of the income from export is saved (possibly as forex reserves), some is invested in more productive capacity. As this process is iterated you try to invest in more capital-intensive forms of production, which moves you up the value-added chain. I.e.:

“That advantages are enjoyed by concentrated industrial production economies (with their internal differentiation) over raw commodity-producing monoculture economies has long since been pointed out, by Kaldor among many others. The usual developmental econ prescription then is that poor commodity-producing economies try to process raw materials for value-added and develop internal diversification domestically for “take-off” through positive externality networks.”

Right. The question is how best this might be done. A system of fixed exchange rates and tight capital controls and balanced trade is quite good for labor in countries which already have a lot of capital. It gave a lot of policy flexibility on the demand side — economies could reflate postwar without worrying about capital flight — which was also good for labor in industrialized societies.

But where capital was scarce domestically and immobile internationally such a system was suboptimal. It effectively locked in a monoculture economy, so development was dependent upon the world price of commodities (except not even, because GATT didn’t liberalize agriculture), which were in a state of secular decline during Bretton Woods.

So Bretton Woods was designed to benefit (what we used to call) first-world labor but not third-world labor. The end of Bretton Woods was a thus to some extent a prerequisite for the sort of economic diversification, capital investment, etc. that marks a developing economy, and export-led growth has been the fastest in history. This strategy is much easier to pursue in a world of capital mobility and floating exchange rates. In practice, how much this has helped labor in (what we used to call) the global South is somewhat a function of domestic politics, but I’m not aware of a case where labor has not benefited at all from development. There are certainly risks associated with this (as the 1990s Asian crises demonstrated), but on balance if you’re a developing country you want access to foreign capital.

So was Bretton Woods bad? No, it wasn’t bad. But it wasn’t unreservedly good either, and it was unsustainable for both technological (Triffin paradox) and political reasons.

Regarding the question at hand, I try to apply some recent political science literature to the Bangladesh situation at the link below. It’s not perfect, and it does not encompass everything, but the main point is that while it’s super-fun to just blame everything on MNCs and neoliberals, the situation really is more complicated that that:

http://ipeatunc.blogspot.com/2013/04/understanding-bangladesh-tragedy-with.html

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Omega Centauri 04.27.13 at 2:36 am

PGD. I should have said the workplace fatality stats should be for comparable industries/activities. US numbers are considerably skewd upwards by non manufacturing activities, such as mining, driving vehicles, and farming. I’ve heard farming is the most dangerous common occupation; tractors are dangerous -can tip over, or one can get caught up in operating equipment etc. And of coure driving, aren’t traffic acidents the number one cause of death for under 40 or so in the USA? Having a job that entails driving all day only increases the exposure.
So a developing country need not have the same level of safety in manufacturing as a developed country manufacturing worker, but the gulf shouldn’t be orders of magnitude.

The other dangerous occupation is suposed to be firefighter. And of course don’t forget the military. A lot of kids join the military because of perceived economic benefits.

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Rich Puchalsky 04.27.13 at 3:29 am

“If regulating their exports, the infrastructure to detect, inspect, and prosecute does not exist, would not stop The Gap from leaving (or the local mogul from influencing) if it did, and does nothing to influence where most of the profit accumulates. “

I guess that we’ll have to agree to disagree, but you’re mixing things into a hash and resisting my attempts to disentangle them. Mixing everything up in this way helps if the purpose of what you’re saying is to claim that Bangladesh is poor and primitive and nothing can be done.

1. “the infrastructure to detect, inspect, and prosecute does not exist”

But it could exist. Bangladesh, as in most poor countries, has a group of educated people who have trouble finding jobs. There are political barriers, yes. But one of those barriers is people saying that they can’t afford to create this infrastructure, when really they can.

2. “would not stop The Gap from leaving (or the local mogul from influencing) if it did,”

I’ve already stated my reasons for saying that The Gap probably will not care. They don’t directly own factories or hire workers; they do business with factories. It’s unlikely that workplace safety measures will make the total cost of Bangladeshi labor high enough so that their products will become more expensive than elsewhere.

As for the local mogul… yes, they are everywhere, including the U.S. Really not sure that they have more trouble influencing regulators here than they would there. No system is perfect. But saying that you can’t ever do this because of political will is self-fulfilling prophecy.

3. “and does nothing to influence where most of the profit accumulates. “

But that’s not the point of this whole thread. The point is that garment industry workers really aren’t doing inherently hazardous jobs, and there’s no real reason why their jobs have to be hazardous.

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prasad 04.27.13 at 6:25 am

Yglesias was replying to Erik Loomis arguing that US labor safety standards should be applicable to American firms globally. To me the obvious followup to such a question is to ask whether such a policy should also apply to US firms regarding *consumer* safety:

Ford sells many cars in India, cars which don’t begin to meet US safety standards – Indian care safety standards are much lower than American ones. That means people driving those cars are at greater risk and die at higher rates, albeit not in “newsworthy” ways. In each case, the lives of foreigners are lost, through inadequate safety standards, and the firm and American shareholders earn money. What, if any, is a relevant moral difference here?

It may be objected:
- that car drivers are much richer than factory laborers. Yes, but a) there are lots of American companies selling products in the third world to much poorer people than that. b) Exploiting middle class Indians earning 10k is surely not acceptable either.
- That Ford India isn’t Ford USA. But Ford India is a subsidiary of Ford, and Ford has invested two billion dollars in it so far. ISTM the connection between Ford India and Ford is rather tighter than that between say Gap or Walmart and the people who owned this clothing factory. In any case there are plenty of instances of US firms selling directly, without the interposition of a subsidiary.

There’s a difference in that in the garments case products are imported into the US, while in the auto case it’s only the profit. It seems to me this makes no moral difference, though the lack of a tangible product in the US matters viscerally. On the other side, I’d argue the loss in lives in the Ford case is perfectly predictable (and after a decade and a half of selling cars in India actually calculable) so there’s no unforeseen accident either. So why not demand that Ford be held to US consumer law for its products? Why not make it so every Indian who dies in Ford car crash can have relatives sue because his car didn’t have airbags, and wouldn’t be deemed safe in America?

I can think of the “practical” outcome if such a thing were ever mandated – Ford cars would basically become a completely niche product in India and Americans would lose money. I can also predict that a likely consequence of mandating US labor standards for US firms worldwide would bring many blue collar jobs back to the US. One of these things is “good” for America in a way the other isn’t. Hmm.

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ponce 04.27.13 at 7:51 am

Yglesias has reached a level of insight in just eight years that it took David Broder over 50 to reach.

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jb 04.27.13 at 7:57 am

Seems a good time to repost something I said on LGM:

“Almost every argument made against Bangladesh applying First World safety standards was made against the original standards themselves. Moreover, these arguments have been made against every safety standard and workplace regulation ever. Some of those arguments may have been valid, but most turned out to be wrong, sometimes dramatically so. It is true that much of the First World once stood roughly where Bangladesh stands on workplace conditions, and that it has improved dramatically. But this improvement, is due in large part to the implementation and enforcement of safety regulations. This is true of most workplace and labor issues. If the Fair Deal, the Great Society, and the New Deal were all repealed tomorrow, working conditions for the vast majority would worsen drastically. In fact, I would bet that working conditions would regress to the level of the 1890′s within two or three decades, at least for most of the population. The improvements since the 1890′s did not come about solely, or even primarily through technology, or the beneficence of the market. They came about largely because of regulations and the influence of unions!”

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jb 04.27.13 at 8:02 am

Also, I would again like to say to prasad that it is rather galling to be told that my support for safety standards means I want to privige First World workers over Third World ones. It is especially galling to be told that by an upper-class Indian.

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prasad 04.27.13 at 9:04 am

Hey this entire debate has involved assuming vastly worse about the motivations of neo-liberals, as if one couldn’t possibly be one in good conscience without being a shill for $Corporation :)

Nothing nearly that extreme follows from the end of my question re consumer safety laws, since mere convenience and self-deception will suffice to explain the discrepancy in outrage.

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prasad 04.27.13 at 9:26 am

Oh, the argument on my side isnt “labor standards shouldn’t improve” but rather that demanding US standards is premature and counterproductive. You bring up the history of safety reforms in the US, but forget the first thing about them – they didn’t happen overnight.

It’s also galling to have ‘class’ thrown in ones face by someone who almost certainly makes more money even after adjusting for PPP than my family did when I was growing up. Positional goods aren’t everything – those missing airbags and such in 800cc cars and families of four riding two wheelers aren’t imagined, neither are daily power cuts or infectious disease. And my school (one of the best around) had teacher ratios of 50 and no advanced classes. Heck poverty – actual, absolute poverty – matters more not less the poorer your society is.

And however much you find it “galling” to have it thrown in your face that the interests of first and third world labor can conflict when they compete, that simply is true despite any longing for the convenience of the “old” kind of class narrative. The tension between the western left’s solidaristic, social welfare strain and its internationalistic and humanitarian commitments, that shit’s internal, and the mere fact that I enjoy bringing it up more than you doesn’t mean I’m inventing it.

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Alex 04.27.13 at 10:38 am

78 is good.

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hix 04.27.13 at 10:56 am

Managers that close fire exit in some misguided authoritarian attempt to control workers or let them work in colapsing buildings are not just egoistic, they are plain dumb. Enforcing or creating regulations that avoid such will not even make t-shirt production in Bangladesh a peny more expensive.

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Christiaan 04.27.13 at 12:18 pm

The problem is that the people suffering from the choice are generally not the people that make the choice.

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Barry 04.27.13 at 12:35 pm

I would second job, except I’ve been making that same argument. As for Pralad – you’re right, these measures were not obtained overnight. However, they were obtained by pushing hard for everything obtainable.

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Nine 04.27.13 at 2:10 pm

prasad@103 – “Heck poverty – actual, absolute poverty – matters more not less the poorer your society is.”

Being able to afford a car sans airbags in India establishes the owner in in the “actual, absolute poverty” cohort, really ? My heart bleeds …

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Bob Duckles 04.27.13 at 2:11 pm

@78

We don’t really disagree. My point is that even those of us who can advocate and support better policies, regulations, are blissfully unaware, most of the time, of how we live in a system that connects us to the people who are exploited. This lack of awareness limits us in making choices (I’m not talking about whether or not to buy a $10 shirt at Walmart) in what we support and advocate as policy.

The sad truth is that one of the things that limits us is our inability to see these connections, because they are disturbing. We would rather not think about it. I don’t know what strategies would work to overcome this.

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Consumatopia 04.27.13 at 2:21 pm

Ford sells many cars in India, cars which don’t begin to meet US safety standards – Indian care safety standards are much lower than American ones. That means people driving those cars are at greater risk and die at higher rates, albeit not in “newsworthy” ways. In each case, the lives of foreigners are lost, through inadequate safety standards, and the firm and American shareholders earn money. What, if any, is a relevant moral difference here?

Assuming that you’re asking this in good faith, it is not that it is okay to build to lower standards unless American consumers or stockholders benefit from them, it is that it is okay to build to lower standards because Indian consumers benefit more from the greater availability of somewhat unsafe products than they would from the limited availability of fully safe products. (Or at least that there’s no reason why we can’t trust the Indian electorate and market to make that decision at least as well as we could).

To put it another way, it is not that the production of unsafe products is a good and natural thing unless we Americans somehow interact with them. It is that producing unsafe products is a necessary evil if unsafe products are better than no products at all. If that’s the dilemma consumers face, then lower consumer standards might be a good idea. But it’s the situation of the consumers in question that morally determines the right consumer protection laws–not the nationality of ownership. The car company’s profits are always a necessary evil, whether the owners are Indian or American.

In the case of lower labor, as opposed to consumer, standards, you might justify them by pointing at workers (an unsafe job is better than starvation) or consumers (people are so impoverished that cheaply produced stuff products would save more lives than are lost producing the stuff). But if the consumers are Americans the latter justification isn’t available. And I also find the former justification a bit dubious–even in the extreme case that you insisted all products consumed by Americans comply with all American labor laws, including the U.S. minimum wage, America would still be strongly dependent on foreign labor–there aren’t enough Americans to produce everything that Americans want to consume.

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Salient 04.27.13 at 3:07 pm

What, if any, is a relevant moral difference here?

Arguing that we shouldn’t improve X because that means logically we should also want to improve Y is, I dunno, spurious. If you’re arguing for X+Y, ok, happy to follow your lead on this, although X is much more urgent because of the specialness of the labor nonmarket-market. If you’re arguing we should shut up about X unless we’re willing to devote equivalent energy talking about Y, then fuck you; targeted piecemeal improvements are usually the only achievable thing when attempting to react to a tragic event with policy; all you’re really doing is telling us to shut up unless we meet your demands; you’re in no position to make demands on us.

As for nonmarket-market — The labor market isn’t really a market, for moral reasons. As far as possible, we do absolutely need to make sure every able and willing human being is able to work productively enough to support their security and well-being, in a manner that’s free of institutionally-avoidable personal suffering. We don’t absolutely need to make sure that every car seller is able to sell cars. The degree to which we need to make sure every consumer is able to purchase a safe car, is exactly proportional to the degree to which laborers need cars in order to access the nonmarket-market and/or to with security and wellness. Which means it’s entirely plausible that car safety standards in Bangladesh actually ought to be a pressing concern. I just don’t trust that you’re arguing that in good faith, given the angle you’ve chosen and the context — but hey, I could be wrong. Am I?

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prasad 04.27.13 at 3:14 pm

@Nine – you know perfectly well that’s not what I said. There are two distinct points, which I separated by using a new sentence starting “Heck…”
1. I replied to someone bashing me for being “upper class” when he – like most readers here – likely grew up richer than most upper class Indians. I pointed out a few things people here took and take for granted, but upper class Indians don’t. You are welcome to claim those things are irrelevant.
2. I am assuming you know do what “absolute poverty” means, and just went for the transparent snark, but if you don’t it’s defined as a buck fifty a day. Rates thereof are declining, both in India and (most spectacularly) in China and so on. The neoliberal claim is that globalization and trade have something big to do with that.

@Consumatopia:
it is not that it is okay to build to lower standards unless American consumers or stockholders benefit from them, it is that it is okay to build to lower standards because Indian consumers benefit more from the greater availability of somewhat unsafe products than they would from the limited availability of fully safe products. (Or at least that there’s no reason why we can’t trust the Indian electorate and market to make that decision at least as well as we could).

I am failing to see why the above fails to hold for labor:
It is not that it is okay to have lower labor standards unless American consumers or stockholders benefit from them, it is that it is okay to have lower standards because Indian laborers benefit more from the greater amounts of higher paying but somewhat unsafe products than they would from the limited availability of fully safe jobs. (Or at least that there’s no reason why we can’t trust the Indian electorate and market to make that decision at least as well as we could).

Remember, for *both* products and labor, there’s not a binary choice between “no safety” and “US level safety” for foreigners (as you show you recognize for foreign consumers). Also, my argument is neither that the right level of safety is attained in Bangladesh today or that the levels there shouldn’t improve. It is to rebut Loomis’s move that sacralizes safety so that it cannot be pegged at *any* value lower than US levels for an American company trading overseas.

I am asking why that level of safety matters so little when “globalization” means American goods being sold overseas to foreign consumers, but so much when it’s foreign labor competing with American labor. All the stuff you say about “necessary evils” in the consumer case applies with equal force to the labor case. I think the discrepant response is a very interesting one; heck the US has been pushing global markets for its products for decades now, and in the third world that has generically meant products that aren’t up to US standards.

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Salient 04.27.13 at 3:17 pm

ah hell dashed that off too quick, “to live with security and wellness” was what I meant, and “laborers” was probably too specific (just “people” works fine)

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Salient 04.27.13 at 3:20 pm

to spell it out carefully, prasad, the difference is that at the moment we might have the opportunity to honor the unnecessary deaths of hundreds of garment industry workers by demanding a higher standard for those who remain working in the industry. Make demands for change too broadly, and that opportunity might close on us entirely.

It’s very context-dependent. If it seemed like there was a tragedy-induced opening for making even broader positive change, then hells yes we really should go for it. So, hey, do you think that’s currently the case?

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Ronan(rf) 04.27.13 at 3:21 pm

“Being able to afford a car sans airbags in India establishes the owner in in the “actual, absolute poverty” cohort, really ? My heart bleeds …”

I seem to remember Dani Rodrik making the point that you’re much better being poor in a rich country than rich in a poor country (unless you’re a part of the statistically insignificant elite in the poor country).. although I can’t remember what countries fit into his classification of poor country. I’m pretty sure India wouldn’t classify as such any more, but still ‘western global working class solidarity’ is a whole lotta nonsense

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prasad 04.27.13 at 3:29 pm

Let’s put it in one very simple question: what is the moral difference between US companies selling Chinese people somewhat unsafe and definitely inferior products (necessary evils that the people on balance are better off with, it seems) and Apple/Foxconn giving the Chinese people somewhat unsafe but higher-paying-than-local jobs (a moral abomination apparently).

Sticking with Ford [*]; China sales were ~800k last year, so you should take for granted the deaths from lower safety features *vastly* exceed the two dozen suicides we hear so much (heartfelt) concern about. Obviously those drivers would probably die anyway buying Cherry but you wouldn’t have blood on your hands. Blood-on-hands I am given to understand is everything in the labor context, where too iSuicides are morally significant in a way domestic or rural suicides not making money for Americans aren’t.

[*] I’m sure everyone realizes American companies sell all sorts of products worldwide, from consumer products to machinery to cigarettes. Cars are just an obvious mathematically tractable case, since we know they kill lots and lots of people, and we know safety laws have a lot do do with shifting fatality rates. Again, why “some minimal standards” here, but US safety for labor.

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Ronan(rf) 04.27.13 at 3:35 pm

..to continue as that’s a little flippant, I tend to agree that the interests of north and south labour are in opposition, and if we had the sort of (realistic) global regulatory regime that Erik Loomis would favour, where the rich countries (which would probably dominate the organisation) were strongly influenced by the interests of domestic labour, it would be detrimental to development in the South

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Cranky Observer 04.27.13 at 3:46 pm

The discussion of extreme safety standards in interesting when one considers that the instant incident was a building flat-out collapsing. In that respect commentators here might find the following article of interest:

“The Soviet Problem with Two “Unknowns”: How an American Architect and a Soviet Negotiator Jump-Started the Industrialization of Russia, Part I: Alfred Kahn”, Journal of the Society of Industrial Archeology, Vol 36 No 2.

The author estimates that by 1920 Kahn and his firm were designing and/or building 40% of the large industrial structures in the United States. You can still see these buildings today: once you know how to spot them they are everywhere in New York City, Detroit, Los Angeles, etc. Abandoned for 30 years, unkept, unrepaired, with window glass gone and often missing roofs, with a little reconstruction they can be put back in operation as factories, converted to lofts, or whatever is needed. And they are very, very difficult to tear down.

If the infant Soviet Union could afford to build hundreds of these structures on a financial shoestring (at one point a substantial percentage of the Soviets’ entire foreign exchange reserves were allocated to paying Kahn & his firm), then a modern-day WalMart subcontractor can afford to do the same anywhere in the world. If they want to.

Cranky

Oddly enough, I’ve also worked in the fashion garment industry, so I’m aware of the basic economics thereof thanks.

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Hector_St_Clare 04.27.13 at 3:59 pm

Re: Ford sells many cars in India, cars which don’t begin to meet US safety standards – Indian care safety standards are much lower than American ones. That means people driving those cars are at greater risk and die at higher rates, albeit not in “newsworthy” ways. In each case, the lives of foreigners are lost, through inadequate safety standards, and the firm and American shareholders earn money. What, if any, is a relevant moral difference here?

You’ve got to be kidding.

Firstly, that no one in India *needs* a car in the same way that they *need* a job; secondly, that the factory in Bangladesh was *violating Bangladesh law*; and third, that Indians buying cars are a relatively privileged group.

Re: It’s also galling to have ‘class’ thrown in ones face by someone who almost certainly makes more money even after adjusting for PPP than my family did when I was growing up. Positional goods aren’t everything – those missing airbags and such in 800cc cars and families of four riding two wheelers aren’t imagined, neither are daily power cuts or infectious disease.

Upper middle class Indians don’t deal with daily risk of infectious disease, that’s nonsense. I have plenty of relatives who live over there, most of whom are upper middle class, and they live perfectly healthy lives. Infectious disease in India, as in most other places around the world, is overwhelmingly a problem of the poorer classes (which in India are the large majority). They do have to deal with power cuts (less nowadays, since the governments over the last twenty years seem more interested in improving power supplies in wealthy areas than in poor rural areas). I’ve dealt with power cuts when I visit, though, and it’s not the end of the world. Stop assimilating your own problems to the problems of actual poor people in India, which are substantially greater than yours.

And yes, I’m more critical of upper middle class Indians (at least, the ones who don’t vote for one of the socialist or communist parties) than I am of the average American, precisely because they enjoy a disproportionate share of their country’s wealth, and are a much more immediate obstacle to the welfare of poor people in India than most of the people on this thread.

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LFC 04.27.13 at 4:05 pm

@99

Yglesias has reached a level of insight in just eight years that it took David Broder over 50 to reach.

As I have had occasion to mention before, Broder was a political reporter for a long time, and a very good one, before he turned to full-time columning. Let him rest in peace, would be my suggestion. Not that it’s going to be heeded here.

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Gene O'Grady 04.27.13 at 4:05 pm

I have not read all the comments, but Yglesias is only displaying his ignorance when he says that fishing, logging, and trucking get premium wages. Trucking did once upon time, but his neoliberals finished that off, much to the detriment of working people and safety on the highways.

Yglesias makes you miss Marie Antoinette’s common touch.

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Cranky Observer 04.27.13 at 4:26 pm

= = = I have not read all the comments, but Yglesias is only displaying his ignorance when he says that fishing, logging, and trucking get premium wages. = = =

He is correct, however, in pointing out that some people (everywhere in the world, including the United States) have a higher tolerance and even appetite for risk (and/or danger) than others. People who work in heavy industrial environments, construction of all types, etc have absolutely no desire to sit on their butts all day staring into an LCD screen, and they relish levels of personal risk which would make those working at Mr. Yglesias infamous “blogging factories” cringe. That is something that is very difficult for many academically-oriented people to accept. That said, the current generation of industrial workers is only vaguely aware of how health and safety standards have changed in the US / Western world since 1950 and how far the death rate has dropped; they complain about excess government regulation and nanny’ing from corporate HQ but are actually working in an environment 10x safer than their grandfathers did (even when it is the same plant where their grandfathers worked).

Cranky

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prasad 04.27.13 at 4:31 pm

@Salient, if all you want is that *right now* there’s a greater political opportunity for one (labor safety) than for the other (product safety), fine. If you think American product safety laws should apply globally for US firms too, and you intend to make such arguments, okay great.

I’ll push back against the intuition that product safety is less pressing with one simple example: cigarettes. American laws on cigarette marketing (to children, warnings etc) are much more stringent than those that either exist or are enforced in the third world. The line of argument given here seems to imply straightforwardly that Philip Morris should be held to American legal standards (including lawsuits later etc) for cigarettes sold in India. Again, cigarettes are a vastly bigger health issue than workplace safety. In general I don’t understand the intuition that labor safety is more morally pressing than product safety.

Just to be clear – you’re agreeing with my argument at least to the extent that *profiting* from substandard American products killing foreigners is morally equivalent to profiting from substandard labor standards killing foreigners. In each case there’s a certain Kantian principle that views any amoral welfare calculus with distaste.

@Ronan – you might want to look up actual numbers on the great Indian middle class. Things are much better than they used to be, but the number of people who can afford American style middle class lifes is tiny. China is poorer than Mexico, and India is a lot poorer than China.

@Hector “Firstly, that no one in India *needs* a car in the same way that they *need* a job; secondly, that the factory in Bangladesh was *violating Bangladesh law*; and third, that Indians buying cars are a relatively privileged group. “

- You miss that my argument applies to globalization in the sense of American products being exported *in general* and has nothing specific to do with cars.
- Also, you missed that I state explicitly I’m not defending this factory collapse but arguing against the idea that *US labor safety laws* should apply. Why not product safety then, I ask.

“Stop assimilating your own problems to the problems of actual poor people in India, which are substantially greater than yours. “

This is misunderstanding. I was explicitly comparing myself to western readers here, specifically “js.” I made a *further* argument against over-valuing positional goods, noting that any poverty vs inequality tradeoff is shifted in the direction of poverty *when absolute poverty is involved.* As for what upper middle class Indian lives are like, I’m that says more about what you called “upper middle class” when you went to India and which neighborhoods you were staying in. Let’s just say that 10k number I alluded to wasn’t an abstraction.

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prasad 04.27.13 at 4:41 pm

@Salient, I see you made a longer post that appeared between my two.

“Arguing that we shouldn’t improve X because that means logically we should also want to improve Y is, I dunno, spurious. If you’re arguing for X+Y, ok, happy to follow your lead on this, although X is much more urgent because of the specialness of the labor nonmarket-market. If you’re arguing we should shut up about X unless we’re willing to devote equivalent energy talking about Y, then fuck you”

ISTM the point of showing a connection between X and Y is to show that consistency is required, in long term equilibrium if nothing else. What precisely *my* motives are and whether you feel like yelling expletives at me merely substitutes bluster at the speaker for argument against his.

“targeted piecemeal improvements are usually the only achievable thing when attempting to react to a tragic event with policy;”

Um, that – except in the context of labor and not consumer law – is pretty much what the neoliberal argument comes to here isn’t it? Asking for US labor safety laws to apply is neither piecemeal nor targeted. Or if your understanding of those adjectives encompasses advocating for such a goal in the sense of asking for the moon, great. A) Let me hope next time there’s some product story (X Indians are killed by products in some market Americans are in) people here might perk up and demand similarly sweeping changes. B) Also, outrage level in the face of events isn’t fully exogenous – in general sweatshops don’t provoke newsworthy tragedies, but there seems to be outrage anyway.

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Consumatopia 04.27.13 at 4:55 pm

prasad, I’ll try to simplify my earlier post, since you missed the important part. The morality of labor and consumer protection simply does not work the same way. Ideal consumer protections are written solely to benefit consumers (people work so that they may consume, we don’t consume so that others may work). But ideal worker protections must balance the worker’s safety with the consumer’s need for life-sustaining goods. The moral basis of consumer and labor protections isn’t symmetric–search/replace doesn’t work here.

Cigarettes are a good example–it’s probably the case that Indian cigarette standards are too lax, but imposing stronger restrictions on only American sellers of cigarettes in India would do little to nothing to protect Indian consumers–it just means American cigarette sellers wouldn’t be able to compete in India, only Indian companies would be able to sell the cheapest cigarettes. If you want to protect Indians, then regulate everyone who sells to Indians. Otherwise, it’s just protectionism. And, hey, I don’t have a big problem with protectionism, but it protects industry, not consumers. (And, no, search and replace doesn’t work in this case. Labor protections and consumer protections are not interchangeable.)

Let’s assume that India balanced its labor standards according to the needs of Indian workers and Indian consumers. Then once you replace poor Indian consumers with middle class Americans then the balance changes. Perhaps Indian consumers are so desperately poor that it’s worth Indian workers undergoing extra risk to produce stuff that Indians are dying without, but Indian workers shouldn’t continue to face the very same risks when producing for middle-class Americans.

Also, note that the economic effect of Bangladesh refusing to do unsafe jobs is not the same as the economic effect of America refusing to buy from factories with unsafe jobs. In the former case, Bangladeshi factories would simply close–Americans would start buying from some other place that still did unsafe labor. In the latter case, America still has to buy someone’s labor, and while Bangladesh could no longer rely on unsafe labor as a competitive advantage, it wouldn’t become a disadvantage either. The two situations are comparable, respectively, to a single worker refusing to work below minimum wage and a government imposing a minimum wage on everyone.

I’m not taking any side here on Loomis’s proposal. But your particular arguments against it don’t work at all. I know you have an emotional need not merely for Loomis to be incorrect but also for him (and others) to somehow be a hypocrite, but the truth is not complying with your wishes. Please think carefully before you respond–I am very close to losing patience with your obtuseness here.

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prasad 04.27.13 at 5:17 pm

Ideal consumer protections are written solely to benefit consumers (people work so that they may consume, we don’t consume so that others may work). But ideal worker protections must balance the worker’s safety with the consumer’s need for life-sustaining goods. The moral basis of consumer and labor protections isn’t symmetric–search/replace doesn’t work here.

I don’t believe this is properly thought through. The product case involves iffy US products being sold to Indian consumers, and the labor case involves labor being extracted from Indian laborers, each endangering Indian lives while making (some) Americans money. That’s it. I’m not talking about manufacturing Ford cars supposedly being hugely dangerous so you need to balance Indian car worker safety with Indian car consumer utility, or anything like that. (“Perhaps Indian consumers are so desperately poor that it’s worth Indian workers undergoing extra risk to produce stuff that Indians are dying without, but Indian workers shouldn’t continue to face the very same risks when producing for middle-class Americans.“)

The additional “balancing” in the case of labor laws is precisely the thing you don’t want to count; *that* is the case that would “balance” cheaper shirts for Americans against more danger for foreign factory workers, and I certainly understand you to think this is not a permissible trade. So it can’t be permissible to exploit foreign product consumers to benefit American shareholders either. (Also, how would you treat such an argument if it were made re not tightening some product safety regulation in the US?)

I hope that helps understand the argument better.

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Barry 04.27.13 at 5:23 pm

Ronan(rf) 04.27.13 at 3:35 pm

” ..to continue as that’s a little flippant, I tend to agree that the interests of north and south labour are in opposition, and if we had the sort of (realistic) global regulatory regime that Erik Loomis would favour, where the rich countries (which would probably dominate the organisation) were strongly influenced by the interests of domestic labour, it would be detrimental to development in the South”

At some level, a level which is virtually impossible in the current circumstances, I agree. But in any level which is achievable in the next few decades, no. It’s been clear that most of the money is not going to these workers; large amounts of it goes into a massive markup.

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prasad 04.27.13 at 5:24 pm

Also, note that the economic effect of Bangladesh refusing to do unsafe jobs is not the same as the economic effect of America refusing to buy from factories with unsafe jobs.

I honestly don’t understand why you think this is something I need to be told. I understand collective bargaining. And when you say “In the latter case, America still has to buy someone’s labor, and while Bangladesh could no longer rely on unsafe labor as a competitive advantage, it wouldn’t become a disadvantage either.” Umm, yeah, *someone* would certainly do those jobs; I’m arguing that the effect of too high labor standards would be to shift jobs back to the US. You can certainly disclaim this as a motivation, and I’ll believe you quite honestly -most people aren’t Machiavellian. But outrages do provoke horror and such directly as interest in consequences, unless human nature has changed dramatically recently.

Also, I do retain a healthy suspicion that American labor unions pushing higher standards abroad aren’t doing so entirely out of the goodness of their pure hearts, bursting with concern for welfare of people competing against them for jobs. Defly some room for Machiavellian scheming _there_.

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Barry 04.27.13 at 5:26 pm

prasad: “ISTM the point of showing a connection between X and Y is to show that consistency is required, in long term equilibrium if nothing else. What precisely *my* motives are and whether you feel like yelling expletives at me merely substitutes bluster at the speaker for argument against his.”

Do you understand that the long term is not the short term?

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Nine 04.27.13 at 5:29 pm

prasad@111 – ” you know perfectly well that’s not what I said. ” etc

Actually, I don’t know what you are saying, since you seem to be tripping confusedly over would over what appear to be a great many of your hobby-horses – free trade, american left, blah blah blah brought on, i suppose, by the the tragic deprivations of being raised with the inconvenience of power-cuts – instead on concentrating narrowly on the matter of the op-ed ie the enforcement of existing Bangladeshi law, whether said enforcement would destroy that country’s comparative advantage etc not as a matter of vague first principles but with actual emperics. AFAICT, Trader Joe seems to be the only person trying to make an actual argument of that nature.
And now it turns out you are a spokesperson for the hive-mind of “most upper class Indians” ? Congratulations on the appointment.

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prasad 04.27.13 at 5:38 pm

Barry -
“Do you understand that the long term is not the short term?”
Yes, generically so. What specifically did you have in mind in terms of this distinction? Improving labor safety or improving product safety? Or is the distinction important in one case, while the other must happen immediately?

Nine -
The logic and clarity of your last is unassailable. I am abashed. I *will* issue two minor objections
a) this debate (for me, and certainly re MYs post) isn’t about whether existing standards and laws need change but about the idea of international application of US standards now. If that subject bores you, that’s fine. It doesn’t me, and it kinda _is_ the subject.
b) I had to search to understand where you were getting this stuff about channeling ‘hive minds’ but here’s what I actually said: “I replied to someone bashing me for being “upper class” when he – like most readers here – likely grew up richer than most upper class Indians.”
This statement certainly assumes certain things about the real incomes of CT readers, but there’s no need at all to channel minds to peg income levels for different quantiles of the Indian distribution. You can look this stuff up on the web. I think you meant to say “channel the hive-mind of CT readers” which would be extravagant, but at least coherent.

Your last seems hard to I do not know what your last

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Jeremy 04.27.13 at 5:46 pm

@124, thank you. I think you explained that all quite clearly, though who knows how much good it will do.

I think, to try to put it as concisely as I can manage, that the issue that Loomis’s proposal is supposed to solve is that penny-pinching by US firms is driving a race to the bottom in worker safety in the third world. If Cambodian subcontractors can undercut Bangladeshi subcontractors by even a tiny margin, jobs move from one country to the other. The US setting a floor for what it will tolerate from suppliers for US firms ideally removes US influence as a driver of lowered safety standards.

It’s not at all clear that the US is in any way causing less safe cars to be marketed in India. There is a market for cars without airbags in India because people can’t afford cars with airbags, and because India allows cars to be sold without airbags. Regardless of what the US allowed Ford to do in India, both the supply and demand for cars that don’t meet US safety standards would still exist. Certainly, at some point, it’s flat-out immoral to supply dangerous products to people, and a case can certainly be made that the US should prevent US companies from doing so worldwide, but it’s a very different argument than applying US worker safety rules to all workers producing goods for the US market.

There’s also probably a million hurdles the Loomis plan would face in any attempt to implement it, but as it’s a pipe dream anyways, it seems like a decent enough place to start from.

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Consumatopia 04.27.13 at 5:58 pm

I’m not talking about manufacturing Ford cars supposedly being hugely dangerous so you need to balance Indian car worker safety with Indian car consumer utility, or anything like that.

Perhaps it’s not part of your justification for weaker labor standards, but if you want to charge others with inconsistency you would have to claim that it’s not part of anyone’s justification. Once it is, then weaker labor standards for goods destined for Indian consumption than American consumption becomes justifiable.

Furthermore, once we move to the case of consumer protections, I don’t see how any other justification can exist. The only reason to weaken consumer protection is that this weakness would somehow benefit consumers–that Indians are somehow better off with cheaper, less regulated products. If that’s the case, I don’t see how it makes any difference whether the shareholders are American or Indian.

Umm, yeah, *someone* would certainly do those jobs; I’m arguing that the effect of too high labor standards would be to shift jobs back to the US.

Some would, yes. But not all–there aren’t enough Americans to produce everything America wants to buy. So the net result would be Americans buying fewer hours of foreign labor, but paying more for each hour. Whether that means more or less money overall moving from American consumers to foreign laborers is unclear.

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QS 04.27.13 at 6:14 pm

You’re all talking about top-down approaches — why not support the bottom-up as well? The violent repression of unions in Bangladesh is a huge problem. Effective governments are the product of popular movement. So if the problem is building an effective organized labor, perhaps we could look at it from the perspective of what the US could do the aid this development.

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prasad 04.27.13 at 6:56 pm

My last for now, since it’s clear we’re generating more friction than anything else (will gladly take my share of the blame). Will type more tomorrow if anyone’s still interested.

@Jake
Re “race to the bottom in worker safety in the third world” – Cost *isn’t* the only thing that matters for these firms – they can certainly get _cheaper_ labor in the form of poorer people than Foxconn, if that’s all they’re seeking. More usefully, I want to say this idea is basically empirically falsified so far. Firms sought South east Asian and Chinese markets, in each case bringing about increased growth and enlarging domestic markets etc. And Chinese no longer have the kinds of lives and exploitation that was common in say 1985. As countries get richer they go next to even poorer places, Bangladesh now, Somalia tomorrow when Bangladesh is too rich? This doesn’t seem like much of a race to the bottom istm. You can deprecate the means certainly, but the idea that cycles of exploitation will spiral ever downward as the poor get ever worse off seems not to be based in fact.

Re “There is a market for cars without airbags in India because people can’t afford cars with airbags, and because India allows cars to be sold without airbags.” The disanalogy isn’t clear to me:
- there’s a market for higher paying jobs in India, and these jobs _do_ that. Once further you’re above the local minimum wage you’re not just better than the next best option but also in compliance with Indian law just as all sorts of US-illegal products would be.
- If anything, if the US got out of product markets because of too high standards (US law) there’s be reasonably good perfect substitution with some Indian company making the thing, and no-one’s worse off except US shareholders. While for labor, if the US firm got out because of too high standards (US law) those very laborers would be worse off since the very nature of the game is that these exploitative jobs are better than the next best alternative.

One last iteration of the view, since some seem to be understanding by it things not said:
1. American firms have been selling products in global markets for a long time to all rungs of society. Access to larger markets makes Americans money. Those products are quite generally not up to US standards, which means there is loss of life.
1.1 Nothing about this observation depends on the thing being sold being a car; that just makes it clear large numbers of lives are involved. Think any corporation you please really.
2. In recent decades and increasingly American firms have come to offshore labor, so globalization isn’t just US products but foreign labor too. Here again labor standards aren’t as high as in the US yada yada.
3. When the US enters a foreign market selling unsafe things (that some local company may sell instead), American wallets are implicated in the sense of profiting from selling substandard stuff.
3′ When the US enters a foreign market hiring people under bad conditions (who may do some equally bad or worse job instead) American wallets are implicated in the sense of profiting from selling substandard stuff.
4. If providing jobs with less-than-US labor standards is inherently exploitative (this may differ depending on whether you’re talking wages or safety or environmental pollution or whatever) so is selling things to people under less-than-US-safety standards. In *neither* case am I arguing against floors, suggesting children should work in factories or that companies can sell fungus infested food for a discount or whatever. In each case I’m wiling to stipulate that the floor for US firms might be higher than that required by local law.
5. If there’s a moral value placed on not implicating oneself in exploitative but positive sum transactions like 3′, it applies with equal force to 3. I don’t see why 3′ is categorially more important than 3 from a moral standpoint.
6. It doesn’t seem to me that there are general statements to be made about updating labor law being cheap and product law being expensive. The same holds if you’re talking about lives saved or the number of lives that “weigh” on American consciences.
6.1 There are going to be cases where requiring tougher product regulations will improve the products consumed by foreigners – increased awareness and halo effect and whatnot. Cases too where there’s no-one belling the cat on imposing some change that’d impact prices negligibly (as argued here re labor prices). And cases where imposing such a standard will simply stop American companies from earning blood money since they’ll have to withdraw.
6.2 Ditto on regulation enforceability given third world institutions and such.
6.3 The cigarette company case is an intuition jogger for me here. In fact I wonder why US tobacco companies shouldn’t simply be forbidden from selling abroad based on the arguments made here, given the extra distaste that exploiting poor foreigners for pecuniary benefits to locals evokes here, and given that Americans profit from the deaths of foreigners selling stuff no-one needs.
7. My sense of the conventional view is, 3′ should provoke an application of US labor laws everywhere to US firms, while 3 instead merely requires that US firms follow certain minimum standards (at the least there’s a dog-that-hasn’t-barked-much point here) that incrementally improve.
7.1 I do want to say that 7′s interest *doesn’t* depend on my having the view that US standards should apply in both cases rather than neither.

I am far from convinced 7 is the position that makes moral sense. At any rate, the above is the analogy; if it the moral difference between globalization of product and labor above, or difference in urgency of any associated problems are quite clear to you ( sufficient at any rate to justify 7), so be it. The best I can hope for then is that each person convince himself he isn’t motivated by a-c below, or at least not unconsciously.

I have also pulled back from the above and speculated – given my sense that the analogy *is* useful – on why 3′ evokes much more excitement than 3. I’ve said that the two cases differ in terms of implications for the American economy and society. That at least is a fact I think, albeit inflammatory. The rest is nakedly my speculation on what’s going on psychologically:
a) the natural sympathy one feels for ones own strengthens interest in 3′ vis-a-vis 3.
b) Interest is always a motivator behind the scenes in the sense of making certain outrages extra salient while making others less vivid.
c) Some people (like labor unions) view the tradeoff and make interested arguments motivated underneath by nativism quite consciously.

I can’t expect anyone to share my views re a)-c): that’s the part of the argument that basically consists in my tit-for-tat’ing the speculations ubiquitous here about the nefarious motivations of neoliberals. What can be dished out can also be taken etc :) Still, if you’re fairly sure a-c don’t shape your view, that’s better than if not I guess…

Okay, as I said, can argue more tomorrow, if anyone still cares.

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prasad 04.27.13 at 6:58 pm

Hmm, made a long comment that’s basically my closing post for now, which got held up. Not sure if it’s for length, or for some other reason. I did save it as a text dump in case the former and the comment’s lost in the ether.

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Harold 04.27.13 at 7:12 pm

Singapore (that supposedly capitalist paradise) makes people pay a $50,000 fee before they even can buy a car, and then they can’t just buy any car, it has to meet certain standards — such as, be new and expensive.

Thus, allowing people to drive cars is not a right, but a government policy. There is no reason India couldn’t impose safety standards, and, ,judging from what we read about the huge numbers of fatal accidents that abound there, it is probably inevitable that they will do so sooner or later in response to public outrage.

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prasad 04.27.13 at 7:12 pm

Once it is, then weaker labor standards for goods destined for Indian consumption than American consumption becomes justifiable.
Gah, I’m talking about weaker *product* safety standards for goods destined for Indian consumption than *labor* standards for Indian-produced goods destined for American consumption. My argument assumes _nothing_ about Ford’s Indian employees and assembly lines; they may be earning under American conditions for all it matters. Heck, Ford doesn’t need Indian employees at all, just Indian consumers – lots of US firms sell in any given overseas markets without hiring much or any local labor. My long comment if it appears is a (hopefully) clearer summary.

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Hector_St_Clare 04.27.13 at 7:34 pm

Re: I made a *further* argument against over-valuing positional goods, noting that any poverty vs inequality tradeoff is shifted in the direction of poverty *when absolute poverty is involved.*

By the same token, your duties of solidarity to your poorer countrymen are more important *the more absolute poverty is involved*. And this is why I’m more critical of upper-class Indians hanging on to their privileged status, than upper-class Americans. If those upper class Indians choose to side with left-wing politics, of course, they their hearts are in the right place and I’m not complaining.

Re: for what upper middle class Indian lives are like, I’m that says more about what you called “upper middle class” when you went to India and which neighborhoods you were staying in. Let’s just say that 10k number I alluded to wasn’t an abstraction.

I meant more or less the sort of people who would be considered upper-middle class in America. I’ve stayed with some very wealthy Indians, and with some who make probably close to the $10k figure you suggested (maybe closer to 15k). But fair enough, I’ll concede that you’re talking about a somewhat lower economic tier than I am. I have worked in another third world country (in Africa) though, and there I was exposed to more of the sort of genuinely middle-class people you seem to be talking about (successful shopkeepers, prosperous farmers, country doctors, etc.). My feelings about them weren’t all that different: though many of them were perfectly nice people, they did enjoy a disproportionate and undeserved share of their country’s resources, and in a fairer world they would have had much of their money and status taken away from them. *Even though* they had a standard of living, in absolute terms, that wouldn’t be considered very high in America.

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Hector_St_Clare 04.27.13 at 7:35 pm

Re: There is no reason India couldn’t impose safety standards, and, ,judging from what we read about the huge numbers of fatal accidents that abound there,

When I go to India, I see about as many accidents in two weeks as I’d see in two months in America. If not more.

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Harold 04.27.13 at 7:54 pm

There was a recent article about a man whose wife and infant daughter lay dead from an auto accident by the side of the road in India and no one headed his pleas and stopped to help him and (I believe) his surviving child for hours and hours. The article suggested that this was not unusual.

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Barry 04.27.13 at 8:26 pm

prasad 04.27.13 at 5:38 pm

Me: “Do you understand that the long term is not the short term?”
prasad: “Yes, generically so. What specifically did you have in mind in terms of this distinction? Improving labor safety or improving product safety? Or is the distinction important in one case, while the other must happen immediately? “

That we go for what we can get now, that we look to see which will likely cause the most good for the least harm, things like that. In short, we don’t have to accept the standard argument ‘if you’re against A, you have to be *right now active* against B, C, D, etc., as I choose’. This is not a new argument; the classic variation is ‘you can’t argue for improving the status of women in the First World until you’ve improved the status of women in Afghanistan’.

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hix 04.27.13 at 8:28 pm

Indifference towards strangers dying is also the norm in China. This includes police and similar, not just random bystanders. India is not just very indifferent towards strangers dying, there is also a high degree of indifference towards personal risks. When someone calls the ambulance, he will get the bill. Once read a 100 year old book makeing the case that live was valued less in the US than in Europe. The book compared rail accident rates in Europe to the US compared to rail kilometers – the accident rate in the US was much higher than in any European country.

Not that this will stop certain people traped into efficient markets for everything thinking from babling about how it is all a rational decission with different incentive structures or risk preferenes.

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JW Mason 04.27.13 at 8:45 pm

Besides everything else wrong with the Yglesias/prasad argument, what’s remarkable to me is how oblivious they are to the differences between the claims (1) there is a tradeoff between employment and wages, workplace safety, etc. and (2) the tradeoff is currently being made at the balance which is best for workers in poor countries. The first claim might be true, or might not be, but in any case it does nothing to establish the second, for which they provide no evidence at all.

In fact, we know quite well that free markets in general will generate “too much” employment, and too little wages, working conditions, etc. if left to themselves. This is partly because workplace safety, in particular, is hard for workers to monitor on their own. But more fundamentally, it’s for the same reason that in any market, producers are better off if they can restrict supply.

Anyway, this is not just hypothetical. When you have thousands of workers striking, protesting and shutting down factories, you can be pretty sure that they do not think they are already getting the best possible mix of jobs and decent pay and working conditions.

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Hector_St_Clare 04.27.13 at 9:00 pm

Re: and (2) the tradeoff is currently being made at the balance which is best for workers in poor countries

Exactly.

I’d say that, when India is governned by a working-class based party of the Left (or by some government body that can fairly genuinely claim to be acting on their behalf) we can then have some sense that their economic policies will made tradeoffs at the level that most benefit Indian workers. That isn’t the case now, and arguably hasn’t ever been- while there are individual states where left-wing parties dominate, at the national level the two dominant coalitions are one on the right, and another one on the center, both of which are beholden to elite interests, and neither of which is particularly beholden to workers or poor people.

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Ronan(rf) 04.27.13 at 9:18 pm

” (1) there is a tradeoff between employment and wages, workplace safety, etc. and (2) the tradeoff is currently being made at the balance which is best for workers in poor countries. The first claim might be true, or might not be, but in any case it does nothing to establish the second, for which they provide no evidence at all.”

In fairness to MY on (2), he doesn’t say that the balance is currently at what is best for workers, but that the decision on that tradeoff should be made in Bangladesh, not the US
On (1) isn’t there *always* a tradeoff between ‘employment and wages, workplace safety’ ? (Or am I missing something)

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Mao Cheng Ji 04.27.13 at 9:49 pm

The thing about cheap labor is that it hinders the progress. If you can hire a cleaning lady for a dime/hour, you will never buy a vacuum cleaner. You don’t need it. No one will ever produce a vacuum cleaner. It won’t be invented.

Cheap labor is not a good thing for (almost) anyone. It’s a fucking curse, for (almost) all of us.

If we were to destroy all our technology down to the middle ages, there would be plenty of jobs for everybody, including all those Bangladeshis. Jobs, like carrying water in buckets, and cutting trees to make a fire, when someone wants to take a bath. So what. The game is not about having a job. It’s all about productivity and having to work less.

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Consumatopia 04.27.13 at 9:58 pm

If anything, if the US got out of product markets because of too high standards (US law) there’s be reasonably good perfect substitution with some Indian company making the thing, and no-one’s worse off except US shareholders.

But that’s the point! No one’s worse off and no one’s better off. The Indian consumers will still buy substandard goods. What’s the point of higher standards on unpurchased goods?

I think this should be enough to make the point. You believe that if America adopted higher labor standards for America-destined goods, Bangladeshi jobs would either go back to America or move to some other wealthier country. Others believe that it would mean Bangladeshis would have jobs at the higher standard.

But whatever your belief on that issue is, it’s unrelated to your belief on what would happen if America adopted higher product safety standards for goods produced by American owned factories destined for India. On this issue, we agree exactly–there would be little to no effect, good or bad, on Indian consumers. All that would change is that rich Indians would make the “blood money” instead of rich Americans. Who cares?

I say again, the case of cigarettes should make clear why you’re wrong, so it’s weird that you keep bringing it up. All that would happen if we forced American companies to comply with American cigarette laws is that Indian cigarettes would be sold by Indians instead of Americans. That’s great if you like protectionism (a-c), but has nothing to do with Indian consumer safety.

Point 3′ is not at all what I believe. I don’t care at all about the personal moral purity of the shareholder, be they American or Indian, or however “implicated” their profits are. Whatever policy America adopts on foreign labor or consumer standards, it should be because of the effects of that policy on foreign labor conditions or foreign consumers, not because Americans don’t want spiritually dirty wallets. And, as you yourself pointed out, the effects of America restricting itself to higher product or labor standards are very different.

To be honest, your warning about personal hypocrisy is bit comical. Do you really think typical Americans care about Ford India? Do you think we all own Ford stock? Do you think those of us you argue with on the Internet are the ones most likely to be competing with Bangladeshis for jobs? But I would pay higher prices if everything were produced according to American labor standards, so if anything my interests point in exactly the opposite direction–but they are quite slight interests in any event.

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Harold 04.27.13 at 10:08 pm

Clothes and food shouldn’t be so cheap. People should take more pains and eat and wear less junk. The cheap clothes have fibers mixed with plastic and can’t even be recycled. The cheap food is made by planting “fence row to fence row” with cash crops (as Earl Butz famously recommended), and then pouring chemicals all over the fields and destroying the environment and the plant, bird, and insect world that we all depend on for our air and sustenance.

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Nine 04.27.13 at 10:15 pm

prasad@131 – “I had to search to understand where you were getting this stuff about channeling ‘hive minds”

Learn to search better -

“I pointed out a few things people here took and take for granted, but upper class Indians don’t. “

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Nine 04.27.13 at 10:33 pm

J.W Mason@144 -
“The first claim might be true, or might not be, but in any case it does nothing to establish the second, for which they provide no evidence at all.”

hix@143 also makes a similiar point. I suspect that MY/Prasad are very well aware of all this which is the reason for the extravagant misdirection involving cars, cigarettes, american liberals & in MY’s case climate change !

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awy 04.28.13 at 1:19 am

yea i’m pretty sure it’s a choice alright. it’s the choice of whatever developer out there.

the real valid point is actually okay if put in non-braindead-econspeak. if bangladeshian housing buyers had more legal rights, more money, they’ll have more power to demand better housing products. unscrupulous developers (because nobody wants to live in a collapsed building, so that part at least, is nobody’s choice. it’s just a con job) are still unscrupulous, poor bangadeshians are still poor and powerless and in need of more power.

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purple 04.28.13 at 5:17 am

The people working in those factories had at best a choice between the lesser of two evils. And with the elimination of public squatter’s areas and communal farming land under IMF advise, they literally may not have had a choice.

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JW Mason 04.28.13 at 5:33 am

In fairness to MY on (2), he doesn’t say that the balance is currently at what is best for workers, but that the decision on that tradeoff should be made in Bangladesh, not the US

Right, but the whole point of the original post is that there are an awful lot of people in Bangladesh who are pretty clearly trying to shift the tradeoff toward better wages and working conditions. That’s why Corey’s Brecht joke works, it’s because Yglesias is saying that Bangladeshi workers are poor judges of the interests of Bangladeshi workers.

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ponce 04.28.13 at 6:43 am

@120

Yglesias is so bright, he skipped right over the decades of insightful political reporting that Broder did and has gone straight to the bored, fast, know-it-all, empty pontificating of the twilight Broder years.

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Tim Worstall 04.28.13 at 10:20 am

“Rates thereof are declining, both in India and (most spectacularly) in China and so on. The neoliberal claim is that globalization and trade have something big to do with that. “

That sure is one of the neoliberal claims. Branco Milanovic supports it too:

http://www.theglobalist.com/storyid.aspx?storyid=9788

“The top 1% of the global income distribution has seen its real income (adjusted for inflation) rise by more than 60% over those two decades.

What is far less known is that an even greater increase in incomes was realized by those parts of the global income distribution that now lie around the median. They achieved an 80% real increase in incomes.

It is there — between the 50th and 60th percentile of global income distribution, which in 2008 included people with annual after-tax per capita incomes between 1,200 and 1,800 international dollars — that we find some 200 million Chinese and 90 million Indians, as well as about 30 million each in Indonesia, Brazil, Egypt and Mexico. These 400 million people are among the biggest gainers in the global income distribution.

The real surprise is that those in the bottom third of the global income distribution have also made significant gains, with real incomes rising between more than 40% and almost 70%. (The only exception is the poorest 5% of the population, whose real incomes have remained about the same.)

It is precisely this income increase in the bottom of the global pyramid that has allowed the proportion of what the World Bank calls the absolute poor (people whose per capita income is less than 1.25 PPP dollars per day) to decrease from 44% to 23% over approximately the same 20 years.

But the biggest losers of globalization — or at least the “non-winners” (other than the very poorest 5%) — were those between the 75th and 90th percentile of the global income distribution. Their real income gains were essentially nil.

These people represent what can be called a global upper-middle class. Their ranks include the citizens of rich countries with stagnant real incomes as well as many people from former Communist countries and Latin America. “

It’s not a perfect outcome of course. But it could be said to be a very good one.

As to the living standards of upper middle class Indians. I think it’s Milanovic again (might be Lance Pritchett?) who makes the point that the top 10% of Indians have lower average incomes (PPP adjusted) than the bottom 10% of Americans.

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Mao Cheng Ji 04.28.13 at 11:00 am

” They achieved an 80% real increase in incomes.”

Income of a subsistence farmer who now works at a factory may have increased by a thousand-fold. But that’s utterly meaningless. He now buys the food he used to produce himself; a different mode of production. You’d have to make your comparison in calories, or something.

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Salient 04.28.13 at 2:15 pm

@Salient, if all you want is that *right now* there’s a greater political opportunity for one (labor safety) than for the other (product safety), fine. If you think American product safety laws should apply globally for US firms too,

I didn’t say that, I said that we should write and revise and enforce safety and protection laws in such a way that prevents institutionally-avoidable suffering (for workers). The bit in parentheses can be taken out and I stand by the statement as a more general goal (for all people), but in this thread we’re talking about worker safety.

Probably U.S. law is fairly good at this in some respects, so there’s some overlap, but the goal should be decided based on the outcome we’d like to have, the prevention of institutionally-avoidable suffering (for workers). The reason to do this, rather than focus on disparities between regional laws, is because focusing on the outcome lets us avoid the ‘race to the bottom’ trap — if I just committed to spreading American safety laws globally, what happens when American safety laws get compromised?

So I think Matt’s whole approach to structuring the problem is nonsense, long before he gets to the odious part. The comparison is not coherent.

But for the sake of momentarily indulging your ‘devote time to talking about this’ push, I’ll go ahead and say that if all third-world countries adopted the current safety laws and safety law enforcement protocols of the United States, for worker safety and consumer safety, that would probably be a substantial improvement. I don’t think I would push for that in a vaccuum, but you never know when a tragedy happens and moves people’s compassion and support and demand for change; where and when that move happens, I’m happy to try and do my little part to help it flourish and accomplish.

and you intend to make such arguments, okay great.

That is what the ‘then fuck you’ part was for. I don’t have to address every goddamn thing that could be made better and should be for similar reasons. Nobody does, nobody can. I don’t even have to devote a moment of my time to make such arguments even in parallel situations where the argument carries over really well. It’s not my responsibility to generalize (but note that I’m happy to hear you generalize, and I made a mental note to remember this parallel for occasions when there’s a push for better consumer safety law — saying that I am not responsible for talking about something doesn’t mean you can’t talk about it). You can point out our moral grounding implies we should be willing to also express support for other forms of improvement, but you have no grounds from which to make demands on what we do or do not talk about or try to make better.

It’s also really contraindicated by experience. How do we get broader protection for people? By winning narrower protection for some people and then using that success to argue on other people’s behalf, usually. Demanding that we broaden our perspective immediately and devote our attentions diffusely is basically demanding that we not honor the specific memory of people who suffered the tragedy that happened. If there is a genuine opening to do more in their name, yes, let’s do more in their name. But those genuine openings are not usually derivable from abstract arguments about moral foundations, and I certainly don’t see you even attempting to argue that the Bangladeshi currently in the streets are demanding consumer safety protections too, or are at all receptive to those extensions of their demands.

I’ll push back against the intuition that product safety is less pressing with one simple example: cigarettes.

Wow, what bullshit. The garment industry just lost hundreds of workers to tragedy, there are people in the streets furious about it, and you’re drifting away from that. Pressingness has almost nothing to do with the quantitative severity of a problem, and everything to do with where current momentum lies (momentum being a synonym for a community-wide change in mood).

American laws on cigarette marketing (to children, warnings etc) are much more stringent than those that either exist or are enforced in the third world. The line of argument given here seems to imply straightforwardly that Philip Morris should be held to American legal standards (including lawsuits later etc) for cigarettes sold in India. Again, cigarettes are a vastly bigger health issue than workplace safety.

Blah blah blaaaah. And rape and sexual assault are a vastly bigger issue in the third world than here in the U.S., so why the fuck do I spend time trying to help the Golden House shelter? The fact that I saw firsthand how sexual assault devastated and collapsed a couple of my mom’s friends — and later in life, one of my friends — is just meaningless feely nonsense, because screw mood and empathy, abstractly it’s obvious that abuse is more prevalent and more severe in the third world, so that’s the direction my attentions should go. I am so obviously spending my time… what, inefficiently? selfishly? improperly? naively? unacceptably? What?

In general I don’t understand the intuition that labor safety is more morally pressing than product safety.

I have no idea what ‘morally pressing’ means (if you want to insert an adjective, use contextually pressing) and ‘more morally pressing’ is just so completely bonkers that I can’t engage with it.

Would you seriously show up to a picket line arguing that people there should also be carrying signs about how the government inexcusably abides the dangers of smoking and cigarette advertisement? I certainly didn’t go to cigarette-company protests with signs about garment worker safety.

Context, prasad, context. Do you see how this type of off-key deflection is getting you nowhere?

Just to be clear – you’re agreeing with my argument at least to the extent that *profiting* from substandard American products killing foreigners is morally equivalent to profiting from substandard labor standards killing foreigners.

I try to avoid ‘morally equivalent’ because I think in general quantitative measurements and comparisons are misleading and dispiriting, but I agree they’re both examples of institutionally-avoidable suffering. I would not refuse to support improving either or both.

Let me suggest to you that you restyle your point as “let’s build from this tragedy an opportunity to try and make life better for other Bangladesh garment workers, and then as we establish or accumulate successes there, let’s use that as an opportunity to branch out and address consumer safety concerns too, because there’s a parallel moral argument for those that should resonate with people’s established concerns.” I would have little trouble agreeing with that, though I’m not as confident that the arguments carry over well.

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Katherine 04.28.13 at 4:30 pm

Wow, the thread made it to comment #155 before Tim Worstall turned up to defend sweatshop labour in poor countries. That’s got to be some kind of record.

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Eli Rabett 04.29.13 at 3:19 am

Yglesias is saying that the cost of a Bangladeshi life is zero. The rioters on the street disagree.

Sorry, Yglesias and in another place, Tim Worstall, are scum. We are talking specifically about the BANGLADESHI construction codes and workplace safety rules that were ignored by the owner of the building and the owners of the sweatshops in the building. The police, the bank, and other businesses in the building told workers that it was too dangerous to enter the building and sent them home.

Bangladesh has its own regulations and rules and they were ignored in this case because of political connections. The US and Euro customers can demand that their suppliers follow their own country’s rules. That is what this is about not some red herring that a self satisfied idiot drags across the street.

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JW Mason 04.29.13 at 3:57 am

How do we get broader protection for people? By winning narrower protection for some people and then using that success to argue on other people’s behalf, usually.

This is so, so true. And so broadly applicable. And so often forgotten.

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prasad 04.29.13 at 5:15 am

@Tim Worstall – that one graph (http://www.theglobalist.com/images/new/milanovic01.gif) from Milanovic says more than pages of text, doesn’t it. You can produce as much prattle as you want about globalization being a race to the bottom, but it just ain’t so. It’s rather a fairly narrow segment of the world (precisely the first world working class) that’s stagnating or doing worse. (It’s a narrow segment CT readers are likely to be disproportionately empathetic toward too, given where they’re from) Others are doing better generically. And its shape is neither an upward or a downward sloping diagonal, very far from it.

@Salient – you can bluster as much as you want and call my cigarette example “bullshit” but fact remains it’s rather your analogy of it to rape and assault that is (or please explain where the question of Americans or American profit enters there). The analogy between Americans profiting from lax cigarette laws to ditto from lax labor laws goes un-rebutted by you. The former situation has carried on (likewise with US products sold overseas in general) for decades. Nice people at sites like CT want to use tragedies as springboards to tighter _labor_ laws, but are curiously willing to generate casuistries on the former situation. ISTM if breaking eggs to make omelettes is bad (exploitative but positive sum labor), doing so without even making the damn omelette is worse.

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jb 04.29.13 at 8:15 am

A few things

In response to your earlier points:

a. I can’t speak for others, but I don’t actually think all neo-liberals are shills for corporations. Some are, sure, but I’ve known too many neo-liberals to think that. I agree that many (perhaps most) have good intentions. I still think they’re wrong.

b. In actuality, I have recently been laid off from my job as a result of the ongoing recession, and am thus not making any money at all. I have begun to apply for unemployment benefits, but it will probably be a while before I actually receive them. I feel reasonably confident that your family was making at least some money, so their income was probably higher than mine. I did, and still do have access to resources that your family probably did not have in India, so you are correct in that. My job (which paid $10/hr., approximately $2 more than the minimum wage here) probably paid higher than the jobs your family had, though I don’t know what that would look like in PPP ($10/hr does not buy that much in Los Angeles).

The comment I made came from rather a different place. About ten years ago, I lived in Ohio. One of my classmates at school was an Indian whose parents were very wealthy, and he introduced my father and I to his parents, who introduced us to several other wealthy Indian immigrants/expats. Most of them were very nice people, but their attitudes toward poorer people, both in America and India, ranged from indifference, to contempt and fear. Later on, when I became an adult, I read several surveys of public opinion that suggested many middle and upper class Indians held similar attitudes.

When I made the comment about your class, I was quite upset. I was upset because I felt that you had traduced my motives, and accused me and those like me of wanting to impoverish Indian and Bangladeshi workers to the benefit of American ones. I felt that that accusation was deeply unfair coming from someone whom I assumed did not genuinely care about poor Indians or Bangladeshis. I realize that assumption was unfair, and I apologize for making it. But that assumption was influenced by the fact that all the upper-class Indians I’ve known had very negative attitudes towards the poor in general.

c. Again, I can’t speak for others, but I actually would support stricter product safety standards in the subcontinent as well, even if they were applied to products made by Ford India or similar corporations. I assume many people here would as well. You can, in fact, support both. This, I think, is the point Salient is making with his analogy. (There are people in America who say you shouldn’t focus on rapes in America because the problem is worse in Third-World countries. This is nonsense. You can be concerned about both.) The reason many of us got irritated was that it felt like you were bringing this up to distract from the argument about worker safety standards. To be honest, it also felt like you were trying to make some kind of case for left-wing hypocracy, similar to conservative attacks on “limousine liberals”.

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Tim Worstall 04.29.13 at 8:54 am

“Wow, the thread made it to comment #155 before Tim Worstall turned up to defend sweatshop labour in poor countries. That’s got to be some kind of record.”

Yeah, it always takes me some time to get up the courage to repeat Paul Krugman’s arguments on a subject.

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jb 04.29.13 at 9:28 am

d. I referred to American safety standards for a number of reasons.

When the first worker safety laws were introduced in America, there was enormous opposition. The opponents of these laws claimed that they would kill the economy, and lead to the destruction of industry. These arguments, to put it mildly, turned out to be wrong. With each new law, or set of laws, similar arguments were made, from the Pure Food and Drug Act, all the way up to the ADA. In almost every case, these arguments turned out to be dead wrong. Heck, conservatives are still bitching about OSHA, but that hardly crippled the economy.

Additionally, we here in America have been undergoing a three-decade long experiment in economic de-regulation. This has worked out well for the top 10-25% of us, but quite badly for everyone else. Some exceptions exist, (airline deregulation was probably a net benefit, for example), but this has generally held true. The historical experience thus makes me very wary of claims about the disastrous effects of regulations. It may be true that US style safety regulations would cripple the Bangladeshi economy, but I am inclined to doubt it, largely based on the historical record of those making similar claims for the US.

e. Again, it is quite possible that your claims about the effect US-style regulations would have on the Bangladeshi economy are true. You assert that you are not opposed to tougher safety regulation, only to American-style regulation, and again, this might be true. But the same kind of arguments you use here against First World safety regulations (in Bangladesh), could be used against even a modest attempt to improve safety regulations there (and they will be used). Furthermore, if Bangladesh is not yet “ready” for strict safety standards, then how will we know when it is?

f. It may, in fact, be true that Bangladesh just needs to enforce the laws that it has. The problem here, is that many neo-liberals seem to believe that state intervention in the economy should be reduced to the absolute minimum, and that any kind of government involvement in the economy is suspect. David Epstein, who was involved in designing certain trade treaties, is a hard-core libertarian who essentially believes the only proper area for government involvement is the roads and the army, and he thinks minimum-wage and work-place safety laws are illegitimate. Worstall, who frequently posts here, seems to have similar views, although his economic liberalism is probably less dogmatic. Many others, including some very powerful people, have similar views. It may be true that Bangladesh just needs to enforce it’s own laws. But that will still require a good deal of state-building, and I am not sure people who instinctively feel that any kind of state intervention is bad will actually support that, or are the best people to carry it out.

Indeed, there are quite a few people who assert that all a Third World country needs to do is (a.) keep labor costs low and (b) let business interests do whatever they want. I am not saying you are one of those people, but they exist.

g. My other point when citing the American experience, was that conditions in American factories improved largely because of these laws. Economic growth and the improvement of technology probably improved things as well, of course, but these laws are a pretty huge factor. I truly believe that if all the social reforms of the last century and a half had never been introduced, then the top 30-50% of us might be as well off as we are now, but many US factories would still be hell-holes. My point is that economic growth may help Bangladesh, but only the introduction and/or enforcement of effective social legislation is likely to cure some of its evils.

h. A final point is that according to the news reports we have been reading, most Bangladeshi workers support stricter safety regulations, and are in fact demanding them. Now, it is possible to argue that they don’t know what’s in their own interest. In fact, certain left-wing arguments about “false consciousness” have been made to explain why people don’t always support their policies. But most people would find such an argument quite condescending and nonsensical, whether it came from the right or the left.

(I am sorry, I will try to shorten my posts.)

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Mao Cheng Ji 04.29.13 at 9:48 am

“When the first worker safety laws were introduced in America, there was enormous opposition. The opponents of these laws claimed that they would kill the economy, and lead to the destruction of industry. These arguments, to put it mildly, turned out to be wrong.”

Huh? You need to come visit Lowell, MA one day. Capital chases cheap labor, these days around the globe; that’s the issue. One could accept it as a given, and then collapsing factories is indeed the way to go, or one could try to do something about it: put restrictions on capital, or organize global labor.

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jb 04.29.13 at 11:09 am

1. I am highly skeptical that the de-industrialization of the US was caused by things like OSHA and worker safety laws. In any case the de-industrialization in this country didn’t really begin until the 1970′s, long after those laws had been introduced, so I am not seeing the relevance here. Furthermore, I do not want to see those laws repealed, and neither do most Americans. The New Deal and the Great Society laws helped give workers their dignity, and are widely supported by many Americans. These laws have been weakened, and the safety net is tattered and frayed, but the public will not support taking the whole thing down and selling it for parts. That would be a grossly immoral and reckless act.

2. Look, I agree we need to do something about it. But I am very sure that people like prasad don’t support either restrictions on capital (which actually can be problematic), or the organizing of global labor.

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Tim Worstall 04.29.13 at 12:29 pm

“Capital chases cheap labor, these days around the globe; that’s the issue. One could accept it as a given, and then collapsing factories is indeed the way to go, or one could try to do something about it: put restrictions on capital,”

That would be a strange way to try to raise living standards. Even Marx got this one right. Capitalists make money by exploiting labour. Capitalists are in competition with each other to make the profits to be gained by exploiting labour. Once the reserve army of the unemployed is exhausted (as it recently has been in China) then wages of workers shoot up (as they have recently in China) as capitalists compete for that labour to make profits from.

Thus the more capital and the more capitalists chasing that cheap labour then the better off those poor labourers are going to be.

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Mao Cheng Ji 04.29.13 at 2:03 pm

Hmm, I thought ‘the reserve army of the unemployed’ is not a bug but a feature; it doesn’t get exhausted. And in a global economy, if Chinese workers are demanding higher wages, why not respond by moving (if gradually), to some other place; Mongolia is just next door…

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prasad 04.29.13 at 4:41 pm

@jb thanks for the gracious response. I’ll get a bit biographical too so you know where I’m coming from. My family actually managed to lose from the 1991 on liberalization, since certain niches of the financial sector basically went away. We spent the second half eating savings to zip and moved down class hierarchies. Things looked up after 2k so probably we’re back to roughly where we were at the start of the ride. While my view is certainly weighted disproportionately by the lives of people around me, most of whom are doing much better (instead for actual poor people I have only my eyes and stats and news, not a class experience) I can at least say I don’t speak from the vantage point of personal gain.

Re motives and attributions of malice (felt that you had traduced my motives, and accused me and those like me of wanting to impoverish Indian and Bangladeshi workers): I think I explained the accusation much more clearly in the much longer post I made later. I do think the intelligentsia doesn’t acknowledge conflicts of interest between first and third world labor nearly enough when it talks about “class.” But outside of say politicians and labor unions I don’t think (on my terms, stipulating ultimate causes to be precisely as I believe them to be) actual mustache-twirling wickedness is implicated. First most people everywhere (though this is disproportionately untrue of the elite) are quite openly and proudly patriotic nativists anyway – such an “accusation” wouldn’t mean much, period. Plus there aren’t that many wicked people, and as Dostoevsky taught us the wicked vastly exceed in number the cunningly wicked :) It does matter, I think, for people who would speak a good leftist talk, because IMO that talk contains certain deep tensions these days, ones that venues like say the NYT or the New Yorker conspicuously ignore.

Moving beyond tone and such:
1. I think the labor/product analogy is useful in both directions. Those whose tendency is to allow any labor agreement so long as it’s beneficial to each and don’t worry about exploitation (I think that’s fairly common among at least libertarian leaning neoliberals) are probably less likely to make that same argument about rotting meat or exploding cars – that’s just how the personal impact works out. But I also think the arguments I get back from some here re product safety (a) incrementalism, b) comparing utility of outcomes and deprioritizing agency, c) trusting things to local democratic processes) make sense too! When I see an obviously batty (to me) suggestion like that of US standards for firms in Bangladesh, I want to bring products up in part precisely because of the hope that the analogy will bleed over and help people see things that really should be obvious:
– Safety isn’t binary; there’s levels thereof, and there’s certainly nothing special about the values chosen by the US in 2013.
– The US doesn’t price safety at infinity either. Never has. Never will.
– How much it prices safety at certainly depends on the political battles you refer to, but it also depends on money! Nader notwithstanding, the story of the US mandating airbags in the late 1990s isn’t one of deep moral progress. Airbags also became something that was practical at that point given the economic situation, the cost of the technology, and the ease of implementing such a scheme. In India, mandatory airbags don’t make sense yet – they’d reduce access to transportation too much to compensate for saved lives. The US doesn’t mandate any number of fancier car safety technologies either. People should be able to say such things about *labor* without meriting “Oh, you’re saying Indian lives are worth less than those of white people.” Again, this isn’t an argument for collapsing building any more than it would be for exploding cars.

2. You worry about arguments like mine being misused (But the same kind of arguments you use here against First World safety regulations (in Bangladesh), could be used against even a modest attempt to improve safety regulations there (and they will be used). Furthermore, if Bangladesh is not yet “ready” for strict safety standards, then how will we know when it is?)

Here’s my counter – I see loose talk of implementing US level safety costing “pennies” per unit, if only you could properly incentivize firms. This sounds to me like a truly jaw-droppingly blase confidence in third-world institutions (police, courts, administration yada yada), stuff you can’t fix in a day by passing laws, spending money or by anything else. Standards can be improved to be sure, but US level standards? Achieving that isn’t principally about spending pennies or trucks of pennies. If the only way $USFirm can be in India is to guarantee US levels of safety, there’s a good chance it simply won’t, because it can’t do that for *any* sum of money, however small a fraction it is on the price of a shirt. I feel like asking “If you believe this, why do you think China/India can’t basically do this on its own by spending a few billion dollars in a nicely targeted way?” The US spent considerably more on “nation building” in Iraq, I seem to remember. China/India themselves are spending tons of money on all sorts of things. But not on “making the local police effective and politicians honest.” I understand the fear of giving comfort to quietists and those who *like* exploitable labor, but you shouldn’t be able to taboo obviously true statements with slippery slope fears either Again, if I were talking about lobbyists in Washington, there’d be no trouble understanding that many things are about belling the cat, not defining goals.

3. Re historical experience of the US re deregulation, I’ll give my instincts too – in my case they’re shaped by the Indian government gratuitously overregulating everything under the sun before slowly learning to let go. We remember in our bones government “calculating” from up on high the total number of motorcycles the country needed and allocating motorcycle quotas. And we look at China and South East Asia and feel the frustration of missed decades. IOW history itself can have very different flavor in different places. But enough; this is instinctive response recounting, and we’re talking neither motorcycles nor Wall Street nor airplanes. I certainly think the labor situation in India needs tightening re safety, but quite frankly it needs nothing of the sort re hiring and firing. Obviously, the discrepancy between laws and reality (point 2) can be pretty stark or nil depending in who’s hiring and where.

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jb 04.30.13 at 12:21 am

You make some good points in that post. I don’t necessarily agree with you, but you have provided me with food for thought.

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Eric H 04.30.13 at 1:50 am

@jb 167, I am highly skeptical that the de-industrialization of the US was caused by things like OSHA and worker safety laws. In any case the de-industrialization in this country didn’t really begin until the 1970′s, long after those laws had been introduced, : from Le Wik on OSHA, “OSHA officially formed on April 28, 1971, the date that the OSH Act became effective.” So, the 1970s is not “long after those laws had been introduced”; learn to love Nixon! Otherwise, I agree to some extent that this didn’t cause deindustrialization. The extent to which I don’t agree is that until the last 5-10 years, I don’t believe the US deindustrialized at all, if you go look at the value of products manufactured domestically year-over-year. It fairly constantly increased in absolute terms, but declined relative to the total economy.

I do not agree that we have been experimenting with 30 years of dereg. “Different reg”, perhaps. The CFR continues to increase every year. Ever look at the CPSIA requirements? They have driven EU-compliant toymakers out of the US market. Ever look at California CARB and apparel manufacturing licensing requirements?

@Tim Worstall Thus the more capital and the more capitalists chasing that cheap labour then the better off those poor labourers are going to be. For the developing world perhaps, but I’m not so sure that’s such an easy case to make in the developed world any more. As Japan has learned, catch-up is easier than constant growth. Our poor are not doing so well these days, either. They did much better in the three decades after we bombed the snot out of all of the competing industrialized countries.

@ Rich 97: please see prasad @ 170, especially #2. Prasad appears to have some of the same experience (almost certainly more) in trading with this region. In a country that made a conscious political decision to go after the export market, it will be at least a little difficult to try to regulate that market (guess where most of the money from this has accumulated).

Also, generally, there is a truism here that does not seem to register. Apparel is the easiest manufacturing trade to get into. Every country has started with apparel: England, the US, Japan (Toyoda!), all of us. Every country will continue to start with apparel. Do you know that you can still buy treadle machines new? Do you know why? Because people living in countries without reliable electricity can make stuff with ‘em! It is here where we learn that mass production creates solutions, problems, more solutions, etc. Bangladesh is not an aberration. 20 years ago, you probably could not have convinced anyone there that worker safety should be a priority. Today, you stand a chance, unfortunately, because of these dead workers.

Also, I noted the following from articles and BBC broadcasts:
* The apparel factory shared the space with retailers, but those retailers will not share the blame for this like the apparel factory will. Sure, there are good reasons in this case, but the apparel industry will always be the scapegoat.
* Bangladesh, like India, seems to turn a blind eye towards people riding on the outside of trains (probably among other unsafe practices we would consider to be beyond the pale). There was a story in Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found about a single utility pole that was known to kill 10s of people per month. When you have problems like that, you need to prioritize.
* Building inspectors had ordered the people out. Their boss / building owner ordered them back in. Indication that official authority isn’t real authority. A union would be much more effective in this situation than any industry-targeted regulation for at least two reasons. One, because they are always there, unlike the building inspectors who apparently left. And two, they would take the fear of losing jobs over safety concerns out of the equation.
* The building owner had authorization to build a 5 story building, but built it to 8. He is now under arrest for this. Again, infrastructure. If they couldn’t even enforce the building license until disaster hit (because this guy was apparently well-connected), what are the odds that the occasional fire extinguisher inspector is going to recognize shoddy concrete and be able to do something about it?

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Rich Puchalsky 04.30.13 at 2:43 am

“Also, generally, there is a truism here that does not seem to register. Apparel is the easiest manufacturing trade to get into. Every country has started with apparel: England, the US, Japan (Toyoda!), all of us. Every country will continue to start with apparel. “

A quick look at global poverty stats shows that the only countries poorer than Bangladesh are all in Africa (plus Haiti). I don’t think that they have the population or various forms of infrastructure to replace Bangladesh as the lowest labor cost global supplier. So Bangladesh is last in, and so now they can go up without being underbid by someone else in turn. That’s what this is about — there are no more countries waiting in the wings.

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Tim Worstall 04.30.13 at 9:08 am

“Hmm, I thought ‘the reserve army of the unemployed’ is not a bug but a feature; it doesn’t get exhausted. And in a global economy, if Chinese workers are demanding higher wages, why not respond by moving (if gradually), to some other place; Mongolia is just next door…”

Something seems to have worked in China. Manufacturing wages are up from around $1,000 pa to $6,500 pa just since the millennium. The reports out of the manufacturing areas are that they’ve had to raise wages simply to attract the labour they want. There are so many factories that that reserve army (in China, basically the rural migrants) have choices. And they express those choices in the desire for more money and better working conditions.

This is what everyone wanted to happen, isn’t it? That Chinese wages and working conditions should rise? And they are……

@172 “For the developing world perhaps, but I’m not so sure that’s such an easy case to make in the developed world any more. As Japan has learned, catch-up is easier than constant growth. Our poor are not doing so well these days, either. They did much better in the three decades after we bombed the snot out of all of the competing industrialized countries.”

Entirely agreed. Indeed, it’s much the point I keep trying to make, the one that Milanovic does make. Rich world working class hasn’t gained from globalisation (not lost either, except lost in the sense of not seeing a rise in living standards. Real wages are stagnating as a result of globalisation, not falling.). Poor world destitutes and working class have gained handsomely from it.

Which leads to the moral question: or the historical one if you prefer. 30 years ago the debate was all about “How the hell do we beat this real, absolute, $1 a day poverty?”

We seem to have an answer to that now. We might not like the side effects very much, that stagnation in the rich world working class, the growing inequality, but it is most certainly possible to argue either side of the question “Is it worth it?”

I tend to think that the greatest reduction in absolute poverty in the history of the species is worth it. But do understand that some might differ, place different weights on different parts of the outcome.

@173 “I don’t think that they have the population or various forms of infrastructure to replace Bangladesh as the lowest labor cost global supplier.”

That sentence needs an extra word. “Yet” at the end. Bangladesh didn’t have the infrastructure to undercut Hong Kong or Taiwan 40 years ago either.

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Mao Cheng Ji 04.30.13 at 9:58 am

Well, you need to, of course, compare hourly wages, not annual. For the same sort of work (or adjust for productivity). Adjust for inflation.

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Consumatopia 04.30.13 at 9:42 pm

1. I think the labor/product analogy is useful in both directions. Those whose tendency is to allow any labor agreement so long as it’s beneficial to each and don’t worry about exploitation (I think that’s fairly common among at least libertarian leaning neoliberals) are probably less likely to make that same argument about rotting meat or exploding cars – that’s just how the personal impact works out. But I also think the arguments I get back from some here re product safety (a) incrementalism, b) comparing utility of outcomes and deprioritizing agency, c) trusting things to local democratic processes) make sense too!

I have always understood that there are some arguments about product safety that work for labor safety. Where your argument went off the rails is when you claimed that all arguments against uniform international product safety standards equally work as argument against uniform international labor safety standards.

I believe I’ve given you plenty of arguments for which that’s not true. But here’s the simplest one I can come up with. All of the products sold in a market should have consistent labor and consumer standards. That’s not necessarily my position, but it’s a perfectly reasonable position–what good is a legal standard if the consumer can go around that standard by just reaching for a different product on the shelf? Or, heck, if the store manager only stocks his shelves with lower standard products?

That’s the difference. Currently, U.S. consumer product standards are mandatory for all products sold on U.S. shelves. But labor standards are not–if you want to manufacture your product for American consumers by lower standards, you can just go to a cheaper labor country.

So, you like that foreigners can compete with lower labor standards. Should they also be able to compete with lower product standards? Should Indian companies be able to ignore U.S. safety standards and sell products on U.S. shelves by Indian safety standards? Or that other countries should be able to ignore Indian product safety law and sell whatever is legal by their own standards in India?

For your larger argument on labor safety standards to work–and I’m not entirely opposed to that larger argument–you have to explain to me why there’s something special about labor safety standards, such that we shouldn’t insist on them for all products sold on the American market the way we do for product safety standards. That’s right, you have to accomplish exactly the opposite of what you’ve been trying to do here, because there is no way I would ever accept a regime that made U.S. product safety standards optional for products on American shelves, in the same way that labor safety standards are.

This analogy is absolutely destroying your case. (And it’s why you’re doing a better job in the newer thread–because you aren’t mentioning this stupid analogy that actually works against you.)

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prasad 04.30.13 at 10:36 pm

Consumatopia – I think we’re arguing past each other. Let’s step back for a moment. The analogy aims at undercutting a certain kind of Kantian ‘bloody hands’ objections to participating in exploitative labor transactions regardless of mutual welfare gains. This is extremely widespread – it’s the go-to response when someone points out the exploited labor would be even worse off without some bad job. [FWIW I do think there's something valuable here, though I distrust the logic. One benefit of the product/labor analogy is to think about the tradeoffs from a different vantage point.] The whole point of the product case is that such bloody hand situations are found pretty generically in the consumer world, without even any welfare gains for the worse off party, without seeming automatically to categorically wall off such transactions in the product domain.

We must still be talking completely different things, because you in reply say things like “But that’s the point! No one’s worse off and no one’s better off. The Indian consumers will still buy substandard goods. What’s the point of higher standards on unpurchased goods? [...] All that would change is that rich Indians would make the “blood money” instead of rich Americans. Who cares?”

Once you reject the notion of distancing from exploitative but welfare enhancing (EWE) transactions, I am left scratching my head. I don’t have that much interest here in a comparative utilitarian assessment of uniform labor and product standards – each is an extremely broad a topic, if nothing else. Imposing uniform cigarette ad and fire escape laws might be good, where uniformity in other laws would just shift markets. Or generate unimplemented and ignored laws with more corruption. Or something else. I do think many of your objections on these terms are still iffy, but really this sort of argument simply misses the point; even if successful it “rebuts” the analogy at the cost of giving up the exploitation objection entirely – not even I would go that far. I’m quite happy to declare victory at that point, which is sort of why I haven’t been going over the details of your objections.

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prasad 04.30.13 at 10:58 pm

More briskly, in the long comment laying out the argument, I said “5. If there’s a moral value placed on not implicating oneself in exploitative but positive sum transactions like 3′, it applies with equal force to 3. I don’t see why 3′ is categorially more important than 3 from a moral standpoint.” If you reject the importance of the bolded bit, you can sidestep the argument. I don’t see why I need to be arguing with this position to begin with. Given _that_ I also don’t see what’s left of the anti-sweatshop view, or at least what’s left of it that’s more than just “giving to charity and humanitarian aid is good.”

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Katherine 04.30.13 at 11:19 pm

“Wow, the thread made it to comment #155 before Tim Worstall turned up to defend sweatshop labour in poor countries. That’s got to be some kind of record.”

Yeah, it always takes me some time to get up the courage to repeat Paul Krugman’s arguments on a subject.

Paul Krugman is no big hero of mine, so whatever Gotcha you were going for here doesn’t really apply.

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Consumatopia 04.30.13 at 11:24 pm

The analogy aims at undercutting a certain kind of Kantian ‘bloody hands’ objections to participating in exploitative labor transactions regardless of mutual welfare gains.

I think the primary objection against unnecessarily dangerous yet welfare enhancing transactions isn’t “bloody hands”, but the “race to the bottom”–if Bangladesh is at the bottom, it’s not necessarily the case that if higher safety standards were imposed on them that they would lose many jobs, especially if they stay on the bottom of wages.

Moreover, it’s not clear to me that people who do rely on the “bloody hands” argument wouldn’t prefer to have Ford India follow U.S. law. In fact, I would have thought that Americans working in America actually do have to comply with American safety standards regardless of the destination of their products. If that’s the case, then the upshot of your thought experiment is that American companies shouldn’t invest in Indian factories. That doesn’t sound like a policy India would be happy with.

If you reject the importance of the bolded bit, you can sidestep the argument. I don’t see why I need to be arguing with this position to begin with. Given _that_ I also don’t see what’s left of the anti-sweatshop view, or at least what’s left of it that’s more than just “giving to charity and humanitarian aid is good.”

That’s weird, because it seems to me that “race to the bottom” is a pretty frequent refrain in the anti-sweatshop movement.

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Salient 04.30.13 at 11:33 pm

ISTM the point of showing a connection between X and Y is to show that consistency is required, in long term equilibrium if nothing else.

But see, you don’t have any grounds to demand evidence of consistency. You can’t walk into the room and demand, “stop talking about X unless you prove, to my satisfaction, that you care equally much about Y, because you really ought to.”

Maybe we ought to care about Y, and you’re free to say so. And we can continue talking about X nonstop without even so much as acknowledging its relationship to Y, and if you’re really determined to shut that down, wellllll…

Salient – you can bluster as much as you want and call my cigarette example “bullshit”

I do bluster a lot, it’s true. I’m not sure I ever do anything else, ever. But also, I didn’t really intend to call your cigarette example bullshit, I meant to call your decision to bring it up here and now bullshit. Sorry for not being clear where the distinction was important.

In retrospect, I sort of reluctantly agree with you that my own example wasn’t the best, though holy god do I ever get the viciousness from people who can’t believe I ‘waste time on first world problems’ &etc. And I had just put up with that kind of thing literally minutes ago, so it was foremost on my mind, for reasons completely incidental unrelated to the thread. (A side note: those people who insist you should stop acting locally and instead expend your time helping with more desperate conditions halfway across the globe, are invariably people who would never do either. Another side note: never publicly bleg for charity fundraising money on your Facebook; it’s a ‘those people’ magnet.)

Anyway. More topical bluster. Let me try a different, less unintentionally provocative example to make the same stupid point I made explicitly. A friend’s house has two major problems: [1] the foundation is sinking in at one side, damaging the entire structure of the house, and [2] the toilet’s broken (they ‘need a new flange,’ as theirs is cracked; I was vaguely disappointed to learn that a ‘flange’ is not a D&D weapon; what a waste of a perfect word for a big ugly bladed thing).

Obviously the more pressing problem is the toilet. But why? (There’s some nuance to this word ‘pressing’ that I never gave any thought to before interacting with you here, and what the heck, why not sort it out.) The toilet is certainly not a ‘larger’ problem, so to speak. In fact it’s not even an urgent problem, they have a second bathroom.

It’s more pressing because (a) they care about it more at the moment and (b) the change looks doable, accomplishable (how is that not a word?); each hour they put into fixing that problem will have really strong productive ameliorative effects.

They don’t have the resources to deal with the foundation and almost don’t know where to start. But they do have the resources to fix a toilet, and because the kids are whiney about the inconvenience of one bathroom, they have willing helpers (you could say the mood in the household is right for change). They can seize the moment, before ‘first-floor-toilet’s-broken’ becomes a grimly accepted constant of life, and make a dramatic change for the better. Victory’s in sight, or at least on the horizon! And it might slip away!

They would happily agree that the foundation is a huge problem, a huger problem if you like. But they would be really put off and upset if you told them to shut up about the damn toilet until they get around to formulating a plan to fix the foundation. They might tell you, oh, I dunno, all you’re really doing is telling us to shut up unless we meet your demands; you’re in no position to make demands on us. Or maybe something more like you have no grounds from which to make demands on what we do or do not talk about or try to make better.

Knowing them pretty well I think they’d just say the ‘fuck you’ part, and probably wouldn’t even take the time to explain why. But I’ll only stand by the fuller, more conditional version: If you’re arguing we should shut up about X unless we’re willing to devote equivalent energy talking about Y, then fuck you. (The if part of the if-then is pretty important. To me, at least.)

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prasad 04.30.13 at 11:55 pm

Well, I think you’ll be indulgent and not demand that a single argument be a silver bullet, destroying every argument on a subject :) istm the kind of objection I point to is a significant part of the discourse. If we do away with exploitation, bloody hands, even agency (it doesn’t matter who exploits etc) then we’re left talking only about what policy or set of policies leads to better outcomes overall. I am *delighted* to see carried out arguments on those terms, though even I would indeed insist on minimum standards. Such discussions will have to be empirical whether it’s about labor or product markets, and the idea that certain standards must hold for Americans globally is at least demoted from ethical prescription to a sort of extreme interest in standardization and uniformity no matter what. Seen in _this_ light – minus the kinds of moral resources you seem to be doing away with – the vitriol directed at an argument for differing labor standards in different places seems rather less explicable.

(Re race to bottom, I think the research Tim Worstall links to does an impressive job rebutting, as does the very fact of catch up growth and rising wages to begin with. I’d add the impressive progress on UN MDGs too. This just seems like an empirical falsehood, cured by looking at stats and charts on poverty, HDI, growth, inequality, happiness ad inf. It’s pretty hard to form an overall picture of the history of the world over the past ~30 years that involves people doing worse as corporations go marauding through countries sucking them dry then seeking the next victim. Maybe corporations are a bit like the piranha brothers before the discovery of the other other plan.)

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Consumatopia 05.01.13 at 1:09 am

Well, I think you’ll be indulgent and not demand that a single argument be a silver bullet, destroying every argument on a subject

It’s not just that you made an argument that didn’t apply to every counter-argument, it’s that you claimed that we were being inconsistent, when it’s not clear that any of us were. Some people, like me, have utilitarian reasons for approving of different policies, other people, for Kantian reasons, would oppose both policies.

I’m not sure there’s anyone who takes a Kantian stance on labor protections but a utilitarian stance on consumer protections. I’m even not fully convinced that this would be inconsistent. I think you could make a decent Kantian argument that importing a product produced with unsafe labor gets your hand “bloodier” than buying a share in an Indian company producing products to Indian standards. But it’s unnecessary from my point of view to make that argument.

“race to the bottom” doesn’t necessarily mean that living standards will fall over time–it could just mean that competition drives living standards or safety standards lower than necessary to maximize welfare.

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js. 05.01.13 at 2:38 am

the vitriol directed at an argument for differing labor standards in different places seems rather less explicable

I realize this has been pointed out, oh, 5,000 times, but the vitriol being (quite rightly) directed toward MY has to do with the particular argument MY made—which wasn’t simply about differing labor standards, but about the choices! Bangladeshi workers were supposedly making—such rational ones too! Such choices of course not being very much in evidence, and choices of a decidedly different sort being very much so. In any case, Kant doesn’t much come into it.

Given the argument, MY can’t help but become an apologist for corporate and political malfeasance. Though undoubtedly an unwitting one. (Hence the “shill” label.)

(And before you go imputing various sympathies or psychological tendencies to me, I’d like to point out that I come from the same place as you.)

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prasad 05.01.13 at 8:11 am

@consumatopia – “I think you could make a decent Kantian argument that importing a product produced with unsafe labor gets your hand “bloodier” than buying a share in an Indian company producing products to Indian standards.”

Whether you deign to make this argument is up to you, but I fully understand your lack of interest as a someone with strongly different values :) If you do though you might want to let the “company” be Indian in both cases or neither – if Walmart etc are implicated in building collapse, Ford (not just Ford India which is fully owned in any case) is implicated here.

Re your definition of “race to the bottom” as signifying here imperfect welfare maximization, really I don’t have any useful purely conceptual disagreement with someone who claims to care even more exclusively about outcomes than I do. On your own terms the strength of your objection to status quo – and for replacing it with uniform standards – will depend on the difference made to outcomes.

@js – re choices I interpreted him as talking about rational choice, choice from the standpoint of a social calculator determining what’s best, not as praising Bangladesh for being a model of liberal democratic decision making. (the long para beginning “Bangladesh is a lot poorer than the United States” and going “Safety rules that are appropriate for the United States would be unnecessarily immiserating” etc). But I think we’re analyzing tone, of the post and of the response, in the other thread already.

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Consumatopia 05.01.13 at 12:37 pm

If you do though you might want to let the “company” be Indian in both cases or neither – if Walmart etc are implicated in building collapse, Ford (not just Ford India which is fully owned in any case) is implicated here.

If you actually wanted to pass a law banning things like Ford India, what you would have to do is ban Americans from owning shares of companies (Indian or otherwise) producing goods to Indian consumer standards. (Stated in these terms, it sounds like American mercantilism, so I don’t think the potential nationalist ulterior motives point in the direction you think they do).

The comparable labor protection law would be to ban Americans from consuming things produced by sub-American labor safety standards.

In both cases the factory itself could be an Indian company.

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js. 05.01.13 at 1:27 pm

re choices I interpreted him as talking about rational choice, choice from the standpoint of a social calculator determining what’s best

…And there doesn’t seem to be any support for this sort of assertion, which was my point to begin with. Which—making assertions that lack empirical support—is not the kind of thing I tend to put in the “Matters of Tone” folder.

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