The Bangladesh Catastrophe and International Supply Chains

by Henry on April 29, 2013

Ricky Locke has written the [lead essay](http://www.bostonreview.net/BR38.3/ndf_richard_locke_global_brands_labor_justice.php) for a new [forum](http://www.bostonreview.net/BR38.3/ndf_global_brands_labor_justice.php) at the _Boston Review_ which is very much worth reading as an analytic follow-up to Corey’s post last week. Locke takes a decade worth of research (soon to come out as a [book](http://web.mit.edu/polisci/rlocke/publications/books/labor-standards.html)) on how these problems are endemic to international supply chains, and not fixed at all well by gestures towards corporate social responsibility. It’s particularly interesting that Locke came to this question as someone who hoped and expected to find a different answer

>have these private efforts improved labor standards? Not by much. Despite many good faith efforts over the past fifteen years, private regulation has had limited impact. Child labor, hazardous working conditions, excessive hours, and poor wages continue to plague many workplaces in the developing world, creating scandal and embarrassment for the global companies that source from these factories and farms. That is my reluctant conclusion after a decade studying this issue. Before I turned my attention to global labor standards, I was a student of labor and politics in Western Europe and the United States. I came to the idea of private regulation with the hope that it might be a new, suppler way of ensuring workers fair compensation, healthy and safe conditions, and rights of association.

What is useful about Locke’s analysis (and the analysis of nearly all the participants in this forum) is that it highlights how this is _not_ a problem of national governments making responsible and democratically-legitimated trade-offs between worker rights and economic growth in some imaginary perfectly competitive world marketplace. Instead, it’s about the more self-centered trade-offs that profit-seeking businesses make in complex global supply chains where responsibility for nasty outcomes often (though not always) tends to evaporate away into games of mutual blame and recrimination. As per [Lindsay Beyerstein](http://inthesetimes.com/duly-noted/entry/14930/no_matt_yglesias_bangladeshi_workers_didnt_choose_to_be_crushed_to_death), ‘No, Matt Yglesias, Bangladeshi Workers Didn’t Choose To Be Crushed To Death.’ The workers weren’t ever really consulted in the first place, and the organizations through which they might have tried to find some collective voice are weak and prone to corruption.

You can arrive at all sorts of different conclusions about how best to solve these problems. But if you start from some combination of Marty Feldstein and Pangloss 101, you’re never going to recognize them as problems in the first place. More generally, it’s simply unacceptable to fob off calamities as a consequence of the political choices that people have made, without troubling yourself to investigate whether they have actually made the relevant choices in the first place. The attraction of simple comparative advantage analysis, as Matt Yglesias and multitudes of other economic pundits before him have discovered, is that it allows you to form rapid opinions on a topic without actually knowing very much about it.[^fn] The disadvantage is that it allows you to form rapid opinions on a topic without actually knowing very much about it. It’s obviously difficult to have the one without the other.

[^fn]: Other modes of analysis, both on left and right, share this attractive quality.

{ 117 comments }

1

b9n10nt 04.29.13 at 5:11 pm

“‘No, Matt Yglesias, Bangladeshi Workers Didn’t Choose To Be Crushed To Death.’ The workers weren’t ever really consulted in the first place, and the organizations through which they might have tried to find some collective voice are weak and prone to corruption.”

-see above

“…what happened in Bangladesh is a tragedy and a human disaster, and to the best of my knowledge it’s also quite literally a criminal disaster under the existing laws of Bangladesh. The perpetrators ought to be punished. More broadly: Bangladesh ought to enforce its laws. Even more broadly than that: Bangladesh’s citizens deserve honest and uncorrupt government rather than government that’s excessively under the sway of the interests of apparel factory owners. ”

– Yglesias 4/26

2

b9n10nt 04.29.13 at 5:13 pm

For instance, there’s a difference between using 9/11 to talk about “blowback” and imperialism and saying that the 9/11 victims were literally responsible for their own murder. That they “chose” it.

3

Sandwichman 04.29.13 at 5:27 pm

“the organizations through which they might have tried to find some collective voice are weak and prone to corruption.”

Or suppression/assassination if they threaten to become effective.

4

Michael Collins 04.29.13 at 5:33 pm

As b9n10nt points out, you seem to be attacking Matthew Yglesias for holding a position he has explicitly rejected, i.e. that what happened in Bangladesh was an unfortunate consequence of defensible institutions. (I don’t know if you intend to.)

Now no one will hear what you’re saying about Bangladesh or lazy intellectual heuristics. There’s that annoying that once Yglesias is mentioned, no one hears or talks about anything else. (See what I’m writing now!)

5

Henry 04.29.13 at 6:24 pm

I think it’s useful to read down a bit further after all the stuff about how he is feeling Quite Annoyed that the Internet seems to have come down on his head.

Here’s what I did. I read a guy who pivoted from the tragedy to a call for the U.S. government or U.S. consumers to try to impose U.S. safety standards on all U.S.-supplying factories around the world. I did not have detailed information about the situation in Bangladesh, but I did—and continue to—have good reason to believe that this call was mistaken. 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. But at a certain point as a writer, if you feel like everyone’s misreading you, you have to consider the possibility that you’ve miswritten (thanks to Kendall Clark for making the point). I wanted to write about something I know about (the sound basis for globally differentiated regulatory regimes), and people wanted to read about the news (a scandalous breakdown of Bangladeshi law and basic concepts of informed consent), and mixing them up has done no good.

The point I’m making is that there’s something quite problematic about wandering along to a catastrophe with your pre-baked ideas about comparative advantage (and not much more than your pre-baked ideas – when you say _ex post_ that you didn’t have “detailed information” it seems to me that you shouldn’t have been pronouncing strongly in the first place) and think that you’re capable of contributing something useful to argument. Obviously, I get that he (very grudgingly) recognizes this was a bad call in this particular instance. But he is clearly strongly attached to this intellectual model of understanding things in general, and equally clearly disinclined to give it up.

I can understand why to some degree. If my job description was ‘come up with several provocative blogposts every weekday on economic issues where I don’t have any very specific expertise,’ perhaps I’d be tempted to look for cheap heuristics too (or, more likely, I’d want to quit, because I know wouldn’t be able to do it). But it means that you start curving towards the Megan McArdle asymptote unless you are very, very careful.

6

Substance McGravitas 04.29.13 at 6:37 pm

Bangladesh’s citizens deserve honest and uncorrupt government rather than government that’s excessively under the sway of the interests of apparel factory owners.

Do Bangladesh’s citizens deserve things – rights, safety standards – that are different from what American citizens deserve?

7

Barry 04.29.13 at 7:01 pm

“the organizations through which they might have tried to find some collective voice are weak and prone to corruption.”

Sandwichman “Or suppression/assassination if they threaten to become effective.”

By now I’m assuming that murder, mass murder, torture are inseparable from neoliberalism.

Michael Collins 04.29.13 at 5:33 pm

” As b9n10nt points out, you seem to be attacking Matthew Yglesias for holding a position he has explicitly rejected, i.e. that what happened in Bangladesh was an unfortunate consequence of defensible institutions. (I don’t know if you intend to.)”

Bull f-ing sh*t. He made an assertion, which is the standard, many decades old neoliberal/classical right-wing economics argument against any labor standards whatsoever, got reamed but good, and is walking it back while pretending otherwise.

” Now no one will hear what you’re saying about Bangladesh or lazy intellectual heuristics. There’s that annoying that once Yglesias is mentioned, no one hears or talks about anything else. (See what I’m writing now!)”

‘lazy intellectual heuristics’ is a pretty good description of both Matthew’s argument and Matthew himself.

8

Freddie deBoer 04.29.13 at 7:33 pm

As I said in a Bloggingheads with Conor Friedersdorf, there is no sense in trying to remove Yglesias’s comments on that issue from his general comportment, which is a deliberately provoking callousness designed in part to inflame traditional liberal sensibilities and in so doing achieve Slate’s existential mandate. Yglesias constantly says shitty, callous things. This time, he picked a particularly inapt example. That lack of tact isn’t the reason that his post was wrong; it was wrong for the reasons laid out by Beyerstein. But it is the reason why I don’t extend to him the benefit of the doubt Michael Collins advocates for here. Why would I extend the benefit of the doubt to someone who makes a living trying to tweak people? When you’re constantly being provocative, eventually, people are provoked, and you deserve the consequences of that. That’s adult life.

9

John Quiggin 04.29.13 at 8:02 pm

When did CT regain its footnote function?

10

UserGoogol 04.29.13 at 8:04 pm

Henry: Comparative advantage didn’t really have anything to do with the argument Matt was making. His argument was merely that people in different situations value risk differently, and therefore it’s appropriate that laws vary to accommodate those differences of opinion. If Bangladesh was an autarky, the argument would be equally valid. Matt’s post didn’t really mention trade at all.

11

Henry 04.29.13 at 8:46 pm

UserGoogol – fair enough – I read the “unnecessarily immiserating” claim as an invocation of comparative advantage, but one could very reasonably, as you say, read it as a more general claim about people making choices to do risky jobs etc. In which case, I think one could substitute in my arguments here and here and end up with a similar enough critique.

JQ – I circulated an email about this a while back. We now have Markdown implemented – so format your post accordingly and choose that rather than Textile to get it to work …

12

MPAVictoria 04.29.13 at 8:57 pm

“As I said in a Bloggingheads with Conor Friedersdorf, there is no sense in trying to remove Yglesias’s comments on that issue from his general comportment, which is a deliberately provoking callousness designed in part to inflame traditional liberal sensibilities and in so doing achieve Slate’s existential mandate. Yglesias constantly says shitty, callous things. This time, he picked a particularly inapt example. That lack of tact isn’t the reason that his post was wrong; it was wrong for the reasons laid out by Beyerstein. But it is the reason why I don’t extend to him the benefit of the doubt Michael Collins advocates for here. Why would I extend the benefit of the doubt to someone who makes a living trying to tweak people? When you’re constantly being provocative, eventually, people are provoked, and you deserve the consequences of that. That’s adult life.”

This is a fantastic summary of the situation. MY was looking for a reaction and then, when he got it, feigned surprise that anyone could be offended.

13

Michael Pollak 04.29.13 at 9:01 pm

Sanjay Reddy (an economist at the New School) and Christian Barry (philosopher of justice at NYU) wrote a wonderful short book that I think explains clearly why the comparative advantage argument is wrong theoretically, and how it could be overcome practically if there was any real will to do so. I think it’s a tremendous book precisely because Yglesias’s position actually is the dominant position in the field — but shouldn’t be, and wouldn’t be, if the Christian and Reddy book were given its full due. If you’re curious, I wrote a web-only review for Doug Henwood’s _Left Business Observer_ outlining its arguments fairly extensively: http://www.leftbusinessobserver.com/Linkage.html

14

Marc 04.29.13 at 9:14 pm

Freddie: Absolutely on point. If his response had been genuine remorse I’d feel differently. Instead, he claimed that his reaction was annoyance at being misinterpreted. Really? In his initial column he

Showed a picture of dead people being hauled away from a tragedy
Used it as a springboard to advocating weaker safety standards for countries like theirs.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that this is a very, very dangerous combination. Now add in “didn’t even research basic facts about how they died” and you’re left with two possibilities: sociopath or provocateur. Neither is a happy place to be, and the latter is actually more charitable to him as a person. Sadly.

15

Kindred Winecoff 04.29.13 at 9:15 pm

Thanks for the pointer, Henry. I’ve followed Locke’s work for a few years and look forward to the book. This, from the BR essay linked above, might be the most important bit:

“However, recent research shows that national governments—even in poor countries with few natural resources—have far more ability to impose their will on foreign investors than was previously believed.”

There’s variation of course, but a decent bit of academic literature (he mentions some of it) has both shown this and shown that many national governments in developing countries don’t care all that much about worker protections. They are corrupt and/or have other priorities. Foreign capital isn’t really “forcing” them to do anything… local capital is oppressive all by itself. The owner of this particular building in Dhaka was, indeed, a local politician. My finger isn’t exactly on the pulse of the local situation, but from news reports it seems like the Dhaka protests have been directed at local officials, not multinationals.

Locke suggests that public-private partnerships can help, but the examples he offers involve a government and a corporation with aligned preferences in favor of tighter regulation (corporations would prefer tighter regulation when their competitors are defecting). That condition is not always met, and probably usually is not in LDCs. When it isn’t, such public-private partnerships could easily exacerbate the problem by multiplying the strength of the powers which do not support stricter standards. At the same time, asking MNCs to be mini-governments by taking on monitoring and enforcement roles themselves is both asking a lot and asking for trouble.

So I return to the most simple question: what would increase the power of local labor enough for them to exert greater control over their social environment? So far, since this tragedy has occurred I haven’t heard any single thing that would do it as quickly as we’d all like.

16

jb 04.29.13 at 10:03 pm

“There’s variation of course, but a decent bit of academic literature (he mentions some of it) has both shown this and shown that many national governments in developing countries don’t care all that much about worker protections. They are corrupt and/or have other priorities. Foreign capital isn’t really “forcing” them to do anything… local capital is oppressive all by itself. The owner of this particular building in Dhaka was, indeed, a local politician. My finger isn’t exactly on the pulse of the local situation, but from news reports it seems like the Dhaka protests have been directed at local officials, not multinationals.”

It’s very true that local capital can be just as oppressive-or more so-than multinationals. My impression of the protests is similar to yours. To be frank, I don’t think that many people would really deny this, but would only add that MNC’s are also part of the problem.

“So I return to the most simple question: what would increase the power of local labor enough for them to exert greater control over their social environment? So far, since this tragedy has occurred I haven’t heard any single thing that would do it as quickly as we’d all like.”

I don’t really know what specific measures could be taken. However, I think that strengthening the role of labor unions, and encouraging more organizing might be a good start. Also an anti-corruption drive of some kind seems essential to this case, given that Bangladesh’s own laws weren’t being followed. I don’t think this can really be done quickly. I disagree with prasad about many things (though his latest post makes me realize he’s more reasonable than I had estimated), but I don’t disagree that this process will take time. In fact, it might take decades to really sort out the problems here.

17

Katherine 04.29.13 at 10:05 pm

MY: I did not have detailed information about the situation in Bangladesh,

… so he thought – f*ck the ‘detailed information’, ’cause really who cares about how and why some Bangladeshis died when I can use their deaths to make a point about something.

And this is part of his defence? What a choad.

18

Matt 04.29.13 at 10:10 pm

So I return to the most simple question: what would increase the power of local labor enough for them to exert greater control over their social environment? So far, since this tragedy has occurred I haven’t heard any single thing that would do it as quickly as we’d all like.

As recently as a couple of months ago, Bangladesh had significant legal barriers to the establishment of effective trade unions. Bangladesh is still promoting all the factory space available in Export Processing Zones, where trade unions are legally forbidden.

Eliminate restrictions on union membership and end reporting requirements that allow factory owners to easily identify and retaliate against union organizers. It’s not a matter of the government needing to do more to empower unions, more like do less to hobble them. Which of course parallels the history of unionization in the West.

19

jb 04.29.13 at 10:48 pm

Those seem like good steps to take.

20

Kindred Winecoff 04.29.13 at 11:02 pm

@16 and @18

Agreed, but recall that my premise was that the domestic government is corrupt or uncaring. Pointing out particular ways in which the domestic government is corrupt or uncaring is useful in terms of locating the particulars of the problem, but not in terms of altering the underlying dynamic.

Which gets to what @16 says. MNCs may be part of the problem. They may be a bigger part of the solution, however, not by “corporate social responsibility” but simply by altering the distribution of power. The entrance of foreign capital reduces the power of local capital by reducing the reliance of the domestic government on the support of local capital. If Locke is correct that national governments have a great deal of ability to “impose their will” on foreign investors, and a good bit of research suggests that he is, then a solution would seemingly begin with the entrance of foreign capital. MNCs provide national governments with “room to move”, as Layna Mosley put it, and gives labor outside options and thus bargaining power in the market and the government.

The first link provided by @18 suggests that this process may already be underway in increments. Bangladesh is democratic, at least for now, and it has been growing pretty quickly; if those gains can be consolidated and extended then the situation has a better chance of being improved than if we all boycott Nike (say).

21

Rich Puchalsky 04.29.13 at 11:15 pm

“So I return to the most simple question: what would increase the power of local labor enough for them to exert greater control over their social environment? ”

Riots.

The only real solution is going to be domestic (i.e. Bangladeshi). They could charge the 10 cents per garment needed to fix the problem themselves, and foreign buyers would have nowhere else to go that’s cheaper. But they won’t do it until workers in Bangladesh overcome the power of the local oligarchy. Since they have no legal way to form unions or strike, it’s going to have to be extralegal.

22

b9n10nt 04.29.13 at 11:37 pm

Henry @ 11:

And those were two perfectly great blog posts. I just don’t see much daylight between Yglesias’ and your own positions.

Regarding any specific regulation of a workplace, Yglesias says “there’s nonetheless sometimes a decent case for labor market regulation. But you have to make the case! ” 7/6/12

And you echo this: “Partial indeterminacy doesn’t say that we get rid of regulation altogether; it suggests that (a) one wants to think carefully about the tradeoffs and possible abuses, as best as one can given limited information, before introducing regulations, and (b) to be very willing to incorporate feedback ex post and to alter or abandon regulations that aren’t working.” 7/13/12

Yglesias’ “make the specific case” is coming from a skepticism to his left that workplace regulation is a progressive tool. It’s simply insufficient for what we need to accomplish.

And your “make the case” is coming from an understanding to your right that the case for free labor market’s is hopelessly tied up in unrealistic abstractions.

And now, you both agree that using the Bangladesh tragedy to point out that poor and rich nations may rightly pursue different strategies to optimize social welfare was tactless. Here we have an opportunity to speak out against injustice and all Yglesias offers is…wealthier nations might, in some (“make the case!”) situations, rightly want to pursue more workplace regulation than poorer ones.

So the argument is rather minute, and yet it interests me. I think the argument is about the politics of sympathy. To what extent does tact matter, as a public intellectual. Can we say, “the labor movement is defunct, and not a very likely means of further social progress?’ Haven’t we just shown a gross insensitivity to all those who have suffered and fought for the labor movement. When are we allowed to ignore some need to publicly perform an Emotional Response and demonstrate our Goodness before we give our analysis?

23

Brett 04.29.13 at 11:45 pm

@Rich Puchalsky

The only real solution is going to be domestic (i.e. Bangladeshi). They could charge the 10 cents per garment needed to fix the problem themselves, and foreign buyers would have nowhere else to go that’s cheaper. But they won’t do it until workers in Bangladesh overcome the power of the local oligarchy. Since they have no legal way to form unions or strike, it’s going to have to be extralegal.

Who said they have to be legal to try for unions? You can have unionizing in the face of legal restrictions – that was common in American history in the late 19th century. And you can have wildcat strikes to increase pay or counter abuses even if unions are illegal and impossible to form, as in China (technically not illegal, but the sole legal union is a corrupt arm of the Chinese Communist Party).

24

GB 04.30.13 at 12:52 am

Regarding the local Bangladeshi responsibility vs multi-national corps, Matt #18 up there hints at it — such special economic zones’ environments are union-free, tax-free, regulation-free and all the rest of the neoliberal capitalist hardons for the benefit of, and at the behest of, Western MNCs. The local scene complies because they’ve been persuaded that it’s the only way to get by. But they’ve basically got a gun to their heads and the MNCs are saying ease up on the rules and the wages we don’t like or else. The protests and arrest locally in Bangladesh prove nothing to the contrary IMO.

25

Leo Casey 04.30.13 at 1:33 am

The reason why folks react to Matt Ygelsias the way they do is that the simple ‘comparative advantage’ analysis he applies to every economic question invariably takes the form of disdainful dismissal of the attention to the needs of working people. I was struck by how little he has changed since I wrote this post at the Dissent blog: http://207.97.238.133/atw.php?id=242

26

Marc 04.30.13 at 1:48 am

@22: The goal of writing opinion pieces is, presumably, to persuade. At minimum you want people to pay attention to your argument. If you’re deliberately offensive they are unlikely to do this. If your piece is sloppy and misinformed, why should we dig around to see whether there is anything of value to dig out? We’re not hunting for mercy scoring points in a freshman essay, are we?

27

john c. halasz 04.30.13 at 2:24 am

Re OP:

Why would anyone expect corporations to undertake contradictory agendas? Isn’t the whole point of globalized out-sourcing/subcontracting, and thereby the creation of “flatter”, more virtual corporate hierarchies, based on a nexus of controlling contracts determining market access, precisely to take advantage of “competitive” processes downstream to boost oligopolistic rents to be extracted via inflated stock market prices? The cost displacements involved are simply the “rules of the game”, ROE, a feature, not a bug. It’s not a matter of enhancing productivity or output, but rather of increasing the returns extracted from minimized investment. Such that “corporate responsibility” codes have “value” only as PR, (with factory inspections themselves usually subcontracted), part of the Potemkin village required by the basic neo-liberal agenda of privatizing the public domain. To think otherwise is mere academic punctilio, an effort to maintain “pure” theoretical intentionality, a form of “false consciousness”.

Though it originally referenced especially the financial sector, a line by a FT columnist applies here: self-regulation is to regulation as self-importance is to importance.

28

Michael Drew 04.30.13 at 6:44 am

If you have to rely on someone’s general comportment to show what’s wrong with specific statements they make, you’re failing. You’re failing at addressing the problem of their comportment, if there is a problem there, because you’re talking about something other than it, and you’re failing at showing what is wrong with the statements, because someone’s general comportment is irrelevant to whether there is something wrong with a specific statement they make. Clearly, people we don’t like, even who have done bad things in the past, can make correct statements that there is nothing wrong with. If you have a problem with that possibility, it is your problem, not theirs. It still doesn’t get the job of showing they’ve said something that is wrong (again) done to simply say that they’ve said things that were wrong before and that you don’t like them.

29

Michael Drew 04.30.13 at 6:53 am

Marc @22:

If response to MY’s post had been of the nature of, “Gee, due to his tactlesness I am not persuaded by his argument,” would there have been much of anything to discuss by way of the reaction to it? I think not likely.

We’re having this discussion not because it was said about Matthew Yglesias that he failed to persuade; we’re having it because he was effectively said to be a monster on account of a terrible sin of commission he committed, which apparently had real victims somewhere who are apparently in need of restitution (which comes courtesy of self-appointed internet vigilantes saying those same things about him). All of which is fine – that’s part of the internet, and I’m not even 100% sure there shouldn’t have been such a reaction. But that’s the reaction we’re talking about, not a series of statements dispassionately noting the lack of persuasiveness of his arguments.

30

Michael Drew 04.30.13 at 7:05 am

…As to Beyerstein showing why some things that a person might think about labor standards in Bangladesh are wrong, yes she absolutely does do that. None of them happen to be things that Yglesias wrote about those topics, but yes, she does knock down a number of ideas that a person would be mistaken to hold.

31

Tim Worstall 04.30.13 at 9:17 am

“So I return to the most simple question: what would increase the power of local labor enough for them to exert greater control over their social environment? ”

Many more capitalist bastards looking to employ them. This will bid up wages and working conditions. As it has everywhere else it has ever happened.

32

Peter T 04.30.13 at 10:58 am

“As it has everywhere else it has ever happened.” And unions, threats of violence and the need for the state to persuade workers that they had a stake worth defending from the state next door had nothing to do with it. Nothing at all. Nothing to see here. Move along please.

33

Henry Farrell 04.30.13 at 11:29 am

If I said anything about ‘comportment’ in the post above, it’s news to me. And if you have to claim that people are saying things that they actually didn’t say to make your case, you’re failing. Or perhaps you are just responding to other people in comments. What I’m saying is that if you keep on approaching your punditry as a set of problems in applied Econ 101, you’ll be able to generate a lot of posts quickly about issues and problems that you don’t particularly understand very well, because Econ 101 gives you a way to ‘seem’ to understand them without actually having to come to grips with the complexities. However, you’re also likely to screw up, sometimes as here, spectacularly. And a surly quasi-apology which acknowledges that the case is indeed not as suggested, and that you actually didn’t know anything much about it, while doubling down on the claims for the virtue of your analytic framework suggests that you’ve missed the point quite spectacularly.

34

Tim Worstall 04.30.13 at 12:32 pm

“And unions, threats of violence and the need for the state to persuade workers that they had a stake worth defending from the state next door had nothing to do with it. Nothing at all. Nothing to see here. Move along please.”

Excellent, more than one possible cause then. Anyone care to try to ascribe how much to which? My example would be China where manufacturing wages have risen some 6 x in the past 15 years or so. Not hugely convinced that legislation or unions have had much to do with that.

Your example is?

35

Trader Joe 04.30.13 at 12:54 pm

China is an interesting case because clearly wages have risen without the need for unions, riots or any other passive or non-passive form of activism. Although to be fair a 6x rise in wages must be measured against what is probably a 4x cost in living expenses – or more to the extent a particular laborer transitioned working in a rural collective to a city factory job.

As Rich said upstream – the answer is labor organization and violence if necessary. There are many examples of both success and failure, there are few examples that didn’t result in both some wins and losses, but on balance moved the cause forward over a period of time – a few which come to mind are:

Ireland in the ’20s
Various US industries in the 30s + again in the 60s/70s
Poland in the 70s
Mexico at various points in time

No doubt digs can be taken at any of them, but any “cause” has to start somewhere and usually absorb a few losses before it can proceed. I’ve never heard of much labor movement – maybe it is surpress or maybe it doesn’t exist – its not much reported on in any event.

Many have pointed out that U.S. corporations, taxes, tariffs etc. can at best be only part of the solution. At some point the people concerned need to express their own outrage which leads to organization which can then lead to results. Its not easy and there will be blood – they seem to have the cause, what they seem to need is a leader – until then, the controlling powers and their patrons will continue to do as they choose to the detriment of the working poor.

36

prasad 04.30.13 at 1:01 pm

I think tone and comportment have a great deal to do with what’s wrong in Yglesias’s post (a fairly gung-ho post that begins with pictures of dead people is either clueless re framing or deliberately seeking to provoke. ) But if you get beyond tone, you do have to start with context, where the immediate context for his post is that he was replying to a pretty boneheaded (I think) policy prescription from someone else.

37

Freddie deBoer 04.30.13 at 1:07 pm

You know, Michael Drew, the fact that you keep insisting that people don’t disagree with Yglesias doesn’t make that true. Perhaps you should read Beyerstein’s piece again– or this post again– and consider if your notion that there is no difference between Yglesias’s sentiment and Beyerstein or Ferrell’s isn’t motivated by a certain contrarian impulse.

38

Alex 04.30.13 at 1:36 pm

China is an interesting case because clearly wages have risen without the need for unions, riots or any other passive or non-passive form of activism

Clearly? China has a *lot* of riots. Also, strikes. You need to read Jamie Kenny’s blog.

39

Wonks Anonymous 04.30.13 at 2:27 pm

Freddie, is it your position that Bangladesh should adopt the regulations we have in the U.S? That would be disagreeing with Yglesias.

40

Rich Puchalsky 04.30.13 at 2:54 pm

“Freddie, is it your position that Bangladesh should adopt the regulations we have in the U.S? That would be disagreeing with Yglesias.”

No. One might say that Bangladesh should adopt its own regulations for any one of a number of reasons — national self-determination, for example. Yglesias’ post is factually wrong whether you agree with that policy outcome or not.

For instance:
1. People in Bangladesh are not “making choices on the risk-reward spectrum”, neither individually nor communally. A privileged group of rich people is making the choices on everyone else’s behalf, and “people in Bangaladesh” can only obtain a partial ability to make individual or communal choices after a lot of labor agitation.

2. “Safety rules that are appropriate for the United States” would *not* be “unnecessarily immiserating in much poorer Bangladesh.” In fact, basic safety rules don’t cost that much compared to the cost of labor, and if the costs were borne by foreign buyers, they would not be borne by people in Bangladesh.

3. Garment jobs are not “unusually dangerous” in the same way that “fishing, logging, and trucking” are. There is no good reason why anyone should have to be paid a risk premium for sewing, even if that was actually what was going on, which it isn’t.

4. Ygleasias elides any discussion of the difference between safety rules and wages. There is good reason to think that if Bangladeshis were paid a much higher wage, foreign business would stop buying from them — what to do about this is a matter for a different discussion. There is no good reason to think that better safety rules or enforcement would change Bangladesh’s overall status as the cheapest global labor pool for this industry.

41

Paul 04.30.13 at 3:02 pm

Foreign factories should be more dangerous than American factories. (https://twitter.com/mattyglesias/status/327530993240121345)

A lot of back and forth about what Yglesias believes but unless someone hijacked his twitter machine, what does the example above suggest? More than a whiff of exceptionalism…I wonder if the foreign-owned car plants in the US are measurably less safe than their domestic ones? Were there sufficient savings to be had to warrant redesigning processes or setting up a different supply chain with fewer safeguards?

He doesn’t say we should expect that factories will be less safe, but that it’s best that way.

And in the same thread he offers this:

we’ve gotten stricter with our regulations as we’ve gotten richer. The exact right strategy. (https://twitter.com/mattyglesias/status/327522416815378433)

as if labor laws or collective bargaining were part of some overarching plan, rather than an equalizing tension at best or the cause of worker deaths (Haymarket 1886, Centralia 1919, Triangle Shirtwaist 1911, Bangladesh 2013) either in conflicts or on the job.

Has he ever worked for living, at a job that offered any greater risk than carpal tunnel or a paper cut?

42

Leo Casey 04.30.13 at 3:37 pm

The claims about China @34 and @35 are stunning in their sweeping generalizations that actually run counter to the available evidence. It appears that Matt Yglesias is not the only one who has relies on simple formulas to reach conclusions about matters on which he knows nothing. There is a very active workers movement inside China, with a remarkable number of strikes and collective actions that seem to grow year by year. China Labour Bulletin, founded and led by the leader of the independent unions at the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, has a wealth of information at its web site, http://www.clb.org, including this useful overview of the Chinese workers movement from 2100 on: http://www.clb.org.hk/en/sites/default/files/File/research_reports/Decade%20of%20the%20Workers%20Movement%20final_0.pdf

There is an entire web site dedicated to reporting on Chinese worker strikes and collective actions: https://chinastrikes.crowdmap.com/

If you want to have a discussion of Chinese economic development, by all means do so, but please start by getting the most basic information, easily findable with a google search, right.

43

Trader Joe 04.30.13 at 3:40 pm

38 & 42
Thanks for the insight. I was not aware of the extent of the Chinese labor movement. Perhaphs they are more appropriately added to the list of sucess stories.

44

prasad 04.30.13 at 4:54 pm

The twitter exchanges from Paul’s post are quite revealing to me, though not in the way they are to him. Everyone of any political persuasion understands that at time t there are monetary tradeoffs involving safety and other goods. Everyone who’s thought more about policy than “human lives are priceless” at any rate. But the observation becomes politically or rhetorically suspect diachronically, and taboo combined with the knowledge that different places aren’t equally rich. And yet the tradeoff itself can’t be wished away by ignoring it in either of the latter cases.

45

Rich Puchalsky 04.30.13 at 5:21 pm

“But the observation becomes politically or rhetorically suspect diachronically, and taboo combined with the knowledge that different places aren’t equally rich.”

This has nothing to do with observations being suspect or taboo. It has to do with the particular assertions that Yglesias made being factually wrong.

The particular dodge that you’re using in your comment has a U.S. shorthand, in which a conservative screams “You’re only condemning what I say because it’s politically incorrect!” No amount of answering “No, I’m condemning it because it’s not true” then seems to help. The fake victimization of the brave truth-teller has set in, even though he isn’t actually a brave truth-teller.

46

Barry 04.30.13 at 5:34 pm

Paul: “…as if labor laws or collective bargaining were part of some overarching plan, rather than an equalizing tension at best or the cause of worker deaths (Haymarket 1886, Centralia 1919, Triangle Shirtwaist 1911, Bangladesh 2013) either in conflicts or on the job. ”

And as I’ve pointed out, every single one of these was fought against using the exact same arguments that Matt used (‘can’t afford it’, ‘economically inefficient’, ‘workers chose the risk/rewards’).

I had made a comment before that Matt could simply search old newspaper and magazine editorials and do a search/replace to bring the specifics up to date.

47

prasad 04.30.13 at 6:21 pm

@Rich – I’m know there’s argumentation (proper argumentation) happening, but thought the twitter exchange was a great instance of the tabooing phenomenon. Here’s the beginning of it:

Stephen Kosloff: Welcome to the @mattyglesias doctrine: Poor people should all die in factories so we can buy cheap clothes.
Matt Yglesias: Fortunately for the world, that’s not what I think and not what I wrote.
Stephen Kosloff: What if people in the US made your argument in the early 20th century? A: We’d look more like Bangladesh than we do today.
Matt Yglesias: On the contrary, we’ve gotten stricter with our regulations as we’ve gotten richer. The exact right strategy.
Stephen Kosloff: Your argument is that Bangladeshis benefit from dangerous job conditions so those conditions should remain in place. Ouch!
Matt Yglesias: No, my argument is that the most appropriate regulations for the US won’t be the same as those for Bangladesh.
Stephen Kosloff: Yes, we need to roll back regulations so we can have more refinery explosions and oil spills.

Regardless of who’s right, I claim it’s obvious this is _far_ from being a calm and refined exchange of views. Calling someone a supporter of manslaughter and oil spills counts as an attempt to taboo his argument in my book. Either MY is wrong and deserves the bashing he’s getting, or he’s not wrong and doesn’t, but denying the bashing itself is weird. There’s a whole bloggingheads discussion involving Freddie deBoer being outraged people are not yelling at Yglesias more, or calling him “sociopathic” like he does, and for not taking for granted he’s arguing in bad faith. MY braves such condemnation and name-calling the same in any psychologically meaningful sense independent of whether his argument is correct factually.

48

Kindred Winecoff 04.30.13 at 9:22 pm

This is an ungated version of a paper which was published (online, in early view) today by International Studies Quarterly. The gist as it applies to this discussion: if the central tendency of the cross-national sample holds, improving labor protections in Bangladesh would exacerbate inequality.

http://people.duke.edu/~ew41/Research_files/ChristensenWibbels_ForWeb.pdf

49

Substance McGravitas 04.30.13 at 9:55 pm

I guess then a further question might be “Can inequality be ameliorated?”

Has anybody tried that anywhere in the world?

50

Consumatopia 04.30.13 at 10:25 pm

But if you get beyond tone, you do have to start with context, where the immediate context for his post is that he was replying to a pretty boneheaded (I think) policy prescription from someone else.

The context makes it worse. Yglesias was arguing against the idea of requiring everything consumed in America to follow U.S. labor standards. There are arguments against that idea, but a particularly terrible one is “there are very good reasons for Bangladeshi people to make different choices in this regard than Americans”, because current Bangladeshi standards aren’t necessarily “chosen” by Bangladeshis. What evidence does he have that Bangladeshis wouldn’t prefer that their factories making goods for America comply with American labor safety standards?

It doesn’t solve the problem to later admit that the current incident was not the result of Bangladeshi choice, because the core of his argument against Loomis’s proposal was that it would override Bangladeshi choice. If the current system isn’t respecting Bangladeshi choice either, Yglesias’s argument against Loomis’s doesn’t work.

51

Rich Puchalsky 04.30.13 at 11:42 pm

“MY braves such condemnation and name-calling the same in any psychologically meaningful sense independent of whether his argument is correct factually.”

If I went around insisting that the world was flat I’d be “braving condemnation and name-calling” too, but so what? I’m not denying that what you call bashing is occurring, if by bashing you mean people being indignant at and making fun of Yglesias. But the reason that some people are doing it is because he’s very wrong, and he really hasn’t backed off about that at all.

Some other people may be doing it for other reasons, but so what? It’s a big Internet, and I am not amazed that Twitter exchanges are not known for their highly reasoned quality. You’re making a version of the argument from Some Guy With a Sign.

52

prasad 05.01.13 at 12:13 am

– Jeez, I didn’t introduce that twitter exchange. Given exchange, I saw it as symptomatic a of certain desire to not debate the argument at all and taboo it. I also pointed to a BH discussion in my next, if that strikes you as less guy-with-a-sign.

– We’ll simply have to disagree on whether making a (fairly routine) argument on the acceptability of non-uniform standards – something Krugman and Jeff Sachs have come out for in the past – is usefully compared to flat-earth. Also, there’s some gap at least conceptually between bad and wicked arguments – you’d merely laugh at a flat earther. I’m identifying the tendency to see the argument as wicked and depraved etc – something no morally decent human could believe.

53

Michael Drew 05.01.13 at 3:16 am

It’s possible that we simply differ about what Yglesias said in the post.

54

Michael Drew 05.01.13 at 3:20 am

…But I nowhere said that Beyerstein or others don’t disagree with Yglesias about a number of these questions. I merely said that none of the things that Beyerstein successfully shows are wrong things to think are things that Yglesias wrote.

55

Michael Drew 05.01.13 at 3:22 am

Sorry Henry – you did not say anything about comportment, and I was unclear. My apologies. I was addressing the person in comments who did.

56

Rich Puchalsky 05.01.13 at 4:13 am

“We’ll simply have to disagree on whether making a (fairly routine) argument on the acceptability of non-uniform standards”

No, actually we won’t. Up at comment #40, I listed four things that were wrong with Yglesias’ post. I quoted from that post. None of those four have to do with the acceptability of non-uniform standards.

Since you seem to introduce a different common Internet argument trope with each comment, this one is the two-step of terrific triviality. First, right after a plane crash, someone says that frankly we just have accept planes crashing when they go over the edge of the world sometimes. Then after the storm of mockery and disdain you say “But he was only saying that world isn’t a perfect sphere, and everyone accepts that. He just made a routine argument about the non-total-uniformity of the Earth.”

57

Rich Puchalsky 05.01.13 at 4:13 am

“We’ll simply have to disagree on whether making a (fairly routine) argument on the acceptability of non-uniform standards”

No, actually we won’t. Up at comment #40, I listed four things that were wrong with Yglesias’ post. I quoted from that post. None of those four have to do with the acceptability of non-uniform standards.

Since you seem to introduce a different common Internet argument trope with each comment, this one is the two-step of terrific triviality. First, right after a plane crash, someone says that frankly we just have accept planes crashing when they go over the edge of the world sometimes. Then after the storm of mockery and disdain you say “But he was only saying that world isn’t a perfect sphere, and everyone accepts that. He just made a routine argument about the non-total-uniformity of the Earth.”

58

Quiddity 05.01.13 at 10:13 am

Just throwing this out there because I think it fits with the discussion. In 2007 there was a New York Times report about manhole covers being made in India in foundries by bare footed workers. In my blog post (written back then) objecting to the whole affair, neoliberal economist DeLong commented:

So if you prohibit trade and shut down the foundry, have you done its workers a favor?

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/26/nyregion/26manhole.html?_r=2&hp&oref=slogin&

59

Phil 05.01.13 at 10:14 am

Since they have no legal way to form unions or strike, it’s going to have to be extralegal.

Initially, yes. Initially – as far as the law was concerned – there was no difference between forming a union and going on strike, no difference between that and picketing the workplace, no difference between picketing and occupying, no difference between occupying and machine-breaking, and no difference between machine-breaking and lynching the foreman. There was no difference because they were all crimes. The drawing of the line between ‘crime’ and ‘legitimate tactic of collective bargaining’ happened later, and it happened through struggle: the workers pushed, the owners pushed back, and when the music stopped the frontier of legality had moved over a couple of notches, with one or two more forms of action added to the list of non-criminal tactics.

Charles Tilly made this argument a long time ago. It’s been argued subsequently that this happens over and over again (which I think is true and a useful insight) and that outbreaks of innovative contentious activism tend to lead to an expansion of the ‘legal’ list. I’ll plug my book at this point, as it’s about how – and why – this didn’t happen in one significant case, and how (and why) that case has been forgotten.

60

Barry 05.01.13 at 10:59 am

“The drawing of the line between ‘crime’ and ‘legitimate tactic of collective bargaining’ happened later, and it happened through struggle: the workers pushed, the owners pushed back, and when the music stopped the frontier of legality had moved over a couple of notches, with one or two more forms of action added to the list of non-criminal tactics.”

This is my earlier point – not a single one of the standards that the developed world was obtained other than despite the (basically identical) arguments deployed by Matt.

And Brad.

And Tim.

And Prasad.

And every other one of the clone army.

61

Jason Weidner 05.01.13 at 3:30 pm

Phil, I found the link to your book by clicking on your name and finding the book link there. But the link in your comment is no good, maybe because it’s missing the “www.” The book looks very interesting; I’m looking forward to checking it out.

62

Wonks Anonymous 05.01.13 at 5:51 pm

Rich, there’s one issue of whether the U.S (or other countries) should impose standards on Bangladesh. And then there’s a separate question of what laws are good for Bangladesh. Yglesias is indicating that if he were in their parliament and someone proposed a law setting standards as high as they currently are in the U.S, he would vote against it because such standards are inappropriate for a country as poor as Bangladesh. Based on point 2, you would disagree with him on that point. It wasn’t clear whether that was a hypothetical objection you raised as a possibility or your actual position, but the latter seemed most likely. Most responses to Yglesias I’ve read don’t focus on the small costs of safety regulations or the incidence of marginally higher prices on Bengali textiles, but would it be correct to say that is your primary objection?

Barry, that argument would work if Yglesias was taking a laissez-faire position. But his explicit argument is much closer to one would that justify any legal regime based on the fact that people chose it.

63

Barry 05.01.13 at 6:25 pm

“Yglesias is indicating that if he were in their parliament and someone proposed a law setting standards as high as they currently are in the U.S, he would vote against it because such standards are inappropriate for a country as poor as Bangladesh. Based on point 2, you would disagree with him on that point. ”

And what is Matt’s attitude towards similar laws here? Not in this special case, but in general?

64

Rich Puchalsky 05.01.13 at 6:27 pm

The numbered points in #40 are my actual opinions. The bit about national self-determination as a reason why someone might agree that the U.S. should not set standards for Bangladesh, and still disagree with everything that Yglesias wrote, was a hypothetical objection.

I wouldn’t characterize #2 as my core objection. Safety costs could hypothetically be quite high, and they’d have to be exceptionally high to push Bangladesh out of the lowest-cost labor position it currently occupies. And point 1 and 3 are more about why Yglesias’ premises and reasoning are wrong, not even necessarily about this particular case.

65

Substance McGravitas 05.01.13 at 6:27 pm

Rich, there’s one issue of whether the U.S (or other countries) should impose standards on Bangladesh.

No. The issue is whether there should be standards in business arrangements. Those are agreed-to contracts, not impositions or laws.

66

b9n10nt 05.01.13 at 6:28 pm

Rich @ 40:

Items 1 through 4 aren’t simple facts. They are fact-based interpretations.

#1) Citizens of Bangladesh have chosen to react to the tragedy, and may yet choose to riot, etc… for greater workplace safety. The concept of choice isn’t a “fact” that can be observed the way a sunflower can. Reasonable minds can differ as what choice entails. Not that you’re interpretation is “wrong”, it’s just not a fact.

#2) Safety rules may not ultimately add marginal cost to production, but you yourself would (IIRC) observe that rioting may be a necessary precondition to the adoption of such rules. In other words, the rules’ codification could be a cost borne by some of the most marginalized workers in the world.

#3) Your statement is that worker’s shouldn’t have to bear a cost for worker safety rules. First of all, “shouldn’t” represents either a statement of value or highly theoretical model of labor markets . This Econ. 1o1 reasoning, as internally pure as it is, is not a fact. It ignores that actual costs are socially embedded, socially determined. As a matter of fact, “should” has nothing to do with it .

#4) Again, “there’s no good reason” is not the predicate to a statement of fact.

Your points are well taken. They make a case. We rightly distinguish between a knave who plays loose with the facts and an honest attempt to make sense of a crazy, mixed-up world.

For all either of us knows, someone has written or is about to write an analysis that makes an alternate case: workers in poorer countries will sometimes eschew higher workplace safety laws out of self-interest. Support for this proposition is all that is required for Yglesias’ comments to be well-founded. For many of us, the claim has a prima facie reasonableness. Or someone will more fully demolish Yglesias’ case.

But the question isn’t one fact and probably could never be. And so the strong language, the denunciation…it’s a performance equivalent to “I’m the good guy; I’m the one who really care’s about the plight of the oppressed”.

67

Harold 05.01.13 at 6:41 pm

MY argued that safety rules would be “unnecessarily immiserating” for Bengladesh:

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. That’s true whether you’re talking about an individual calculus or a collective calculus. Safety rules that are appropriate for the United States would be unnecessarily immiserating in much poorer Bangladesh.

He subsequently tweeted: “Foreign factories should be more dangerous than American factories.”

He later issued a half-hearted apology, saying he had written before being aware of all the facts — apparently he thought workers had died in a fire (which would have been acceptable, presumably). But said he still stood by his basic point. In his “apology” he also expressed annoyance that he had provoked such a strong reaction on the internet.

Say that he was misunderstood or what you will, he’ll never live this one down. Res ipsa loquitur.

68

Steve LaBonne 05.01.13 at 7:02 pm

Say that he was misunderstood or what you will, he’ll never live this one down. </blockquote?

Sadly, that isn't how Pundit World works. Being wrong about everything- especially if you do it in an outrageous and flagrantly ignorant / dishonest way- seems to be a great career move.

69

Cranky Observer 05.01.13 at 7:17 pm

Harold @ 6:41,
On the 4th day fire broke out in the rubble, roasting any victims who might have been trapped alive at that point, so MY wasn’t entirely wrong.

Barry @ 6:25,
For the last five years, MY’s position has been that safety regulations in the US should be substantially reduced, and those who oppose such reductions (particularly labor unions) should be politically defeated.

Cranky

70

Rich Puchalsky 05.01.13 at 7:20 pm

“Items 1 through 4 aren’t simple facts. They are fact-based interpretations.”

I’m not pretending that my opinions are facts. Yglesias’ post was both factually incorrect in many ways *and* in its opinions worth using strong language to condemn.

But you’re understating the factual basis for my opinions. For #3, to take one example, Yglesias was presenting a theory under which riskier jobs get hazard pay, implicitly in order to convince workers to take them. I’ll quote from Yglesias’ post:

“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.”

Do I have to go through all of the ways in which this theory, already rather shaky, factually breaks down when you go from applying it to logging jobs to sewing jobs? There was no premium paid to workers for “accepting risk” that was illegal under Bangladesh law. There is no kind of risk inherent to garment industry jobs that requires this kind of risk premium. There is no sense in which workers obtain any kind of added profit that factory owners get from cutting safety costs to illegal levels. If you’re talking about a country-wide average, there is every reason to think that collapsing buildings cost as many jobs as the additional safety costs involved in not working in illegal buildings would.

“And so the strong language, the denunciation…it’s a performance equivalent to “I’m the good guy; I’m the one who really care’s about the plight of the oppressed”.

Oh, your delicate feelings! I’m so, so sorry.

71

Harold 05.01.13 at 7:38 pm

The Pope had a more realistic assessment of the workers’ plight.

72

Jacob H. 05.01.13 at 8:11 pm

Bangladesh has experienced one of the most dramatic increases in living standards of any country in recent decades (admittedly from a truly horrifying starting place). You can probably attribute that to greater participation in a global market economy, as well as improved governance and public health and everything else.

The particular facts of last week’s building collapse aside, conflating globalization with criminality is tendentious and self-serving.

See this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jAJC2YAJw_A

73

Harold 05.01.13 at 8:50 pm

@72 Jacob H., I just watched the video of Hans Rosling and did not hear him connecting the improvement of Bangladesh’s child mortality with industrialization or globalization. He said the improvement had taken place in rural (not industrial) areas and had started with the country’s independence. I am not saying that it wasn’t connected with the garment industry – I don’t know whether or not it was – I am saying that Rosling didn’t say that it was.
It could also conceivably be argued that if Bengladesh’s workers were paid more than slave wages and had better (or any) standards of worker safety, then the economy could well have seen even better growth, and not “immiseration”, just as the economy of the USA improved when Henry Ford paid his workers enough so that they themselves could to buy the cars they produced. Why do we have to accept that a country’s prosperity and well being has necessarily to achieved with only by means of the sacrificial spilling of blood and crushing of bones because of an iron law of evolution?

74

b9n10nt 05.01.13 at 9:30 pm

Rich @ 70:

“There is no kind of risk inherent to garment industry jobs that requires this kind of risk premium.”

If it requires a riot for the state to begin enforcing building codes, then one could argue that’s a risk for workers. If the riot is successful, there’s a risk that future garmet factories will be built in other localities that revert to having poor enforcement of building codes. Race to the bottom. Etc…

Now, you argue that Bangladesh is already at the bottom, so no risk of losing employment. Okay, maybe it’s true. But it’s not a fact. You can’t know that it’s true. It’s certainly a point worth considering. I’m glad you made it. If I were for some strange reason in a position to support more stringent workplace safety laws, you’ve argued clearly why there may not be as much risk to that position as Yglesias would.

But we haven’t established facts that close the case (and perhaps wouldn’t be able to). & we certainly haven’t established any basis to strongly condemn a competing view.

No need to apologize. I’m very thankful to have delicate feelings that are easily wounded. Sensitivity to the emotional tone of a discussion provides useful information, I think, about the discussion’s social import.

75

LFC 05.01.13 at 10:05 pm

From the OP:
this is not a problem of national governments making responsible and democratically-legitimated trade-offs between worker rights and economic growth in some imaginary perfectly competitive world marketplace

Haven’t, unfortunately, read the BR forum yet, but I think it may be worth pointing out — just to reinforce the OP’s pt here– that “democratically-legitimated trade-offs” can only be made, if at all, in certain kinds of political systems. No trade-offs made at the natl level in China, for instance, cd be said to be “democratically legitimated” and in eg the contemporary US, the most one cd claim, I think, is that trade-offs are the subject of very imperfect democratic legitimation. Probably increase that imperfection for any trade-offs actively made by the B’desh govt, as opposed to made passively by inaction (don’t know enough about current B’desh to say more here).

In this connection it occurs to me that when one reads a bk like The Priority of Democracy (re: democracy has a pragmatic justification b.c it encourages institutional effectiveness through constant experimentation — oh, but wait, not actually in the world as it exists b.c there is too much inequality of influence) and then looks at the number of actual trade-offs that cd be said to be ‘democratically legitimated’, one realizes how sharp a gulf remains betw normative theory and the real world.

76

Jacob H 05.01.13 at 10:07 pm

I agree! Improved working conditions, higher wages, and enforced
Labor law would all be great things for Bangladesh. But it’s also true that all of them seem much more possible now than thirty years ago. And whether or not the arrival of the global garment industry in Bangladesh caused improved living standards across the country, it was certainly not incompatible with those improvements.

77

Freddie deBoer 05.01.13 at 11:00 pm

The fact that Prasad praises Matt Yglesias for his bravery, when what he did was to justify the conditions that led to the deaths of hundreds of people from a tony Washington suburb, is precisely my point.

78

Rich Puchalsky 05.01.13 at 11:20 pm

“Now, you argue that Bangladesh is already at the bottom, so no risk of losing employment. Okay, maybe it’s true. But it’s not a fact. You can’t know that it’s true. ”

Have you ever considered that not everything is bullshit?

Seriously, look at some poverty stats. Then look at the the basic infrastructural characteristics of the only countries that have worse poverty stats than Bangladesh. There’s no “it’s not a fact”, “You can’t know that it’s true” about it. Of course, at some point in the future, the facts could change. Also, at some point in the future, we could all be hit by a meteor.

I call this to your attention because I’ve noticed that there’s a strong sense of unfalsifiability to your comments. This is a familiar characteristic of market fundamentalism — being named, as it is, with an implication that it’s a religion. According to market fundamentalism, all market outcomes reflect choices made with regard to costs, benefits, risks, and so on, and it is unfalsifiable because of this kind of linguistic slippage that you’re using.

Someone like Yglesias says that loggers are paid more because they chose a higher-risk occupation. That sets the tone, and makes this a “market” question. From then on, there is nothing the people involved can do, rational or irrational, chosen or not, which does not result in “Well, them running the risk to do that involves paying a cost. So they’re really choosing X and and taking risk Y and the market will respond accordingly.” Protestors could be pouring gasoline over themselves and setting themselves on fire and the market fundamentalists would say “Yes, they’re advertising their preference,” police could be hauling them off and executing them and “The protestors chose that risk to make the regime’s policies more costly”, etc.

79

Eli Rabett 05.01.13 at 11:27 pm

To put it bluntly are people who buy goods they know were produced by slave labor complicit in slavery. The answer is simply yes.

MY and TW are arguing that consumers who buy clothing produced in ways that clearly put the laborers lives at risk are not in any way responsible for continuing and increasing those risks. The same is even more true of the middlemen, the Targets and Walmarts of the world. A position worthy of contempt.

80

b9n10nt 05.02.13 at 12:16 am

Rich @78 :

“Of course, at some point in the future, the facts could change.”

Exactly, countries could regress in labor conditions, making them more alluring to the garment supply chains. Other countries could rapidly progress toward Bangladesh’s level of infrastructrure. We’re discussing history: we can’t isolate variables and replicate conditions for study.

And of course, just like ourselves, ithe Bangladesh public does not know that it’s strategically located to demand safer working conditions without fear of reprisal.

” I’ve noticed that there’s a strong sense of unfalsifiability to your comments.”

I don’t understand this. What is an unfalsifiable claim I am making?

I suspect we are both appealing to Econ. 101 logic to investigate and predict society.
The formulation you give above goes: comparatively low wages to workers + sunk costs in infrastructure for garment manufacturing = market power for Bangladesh labor. & that’s a perfectly fine formulation. It’s abstract and arid. But it’s very well a rough approximation of how the world would work All Else Being Equal.

But…Isn’t that an unfalsifiable formulation given that “wages” can be redefined (for more weazel room) “compensation” and “infrastructure” is likewise fraught as a stable, objective thing? I mean, say Nigeria becomes the new low-wage garment manufacturing center and I say “well, there you go, you were wrong about the reasoning”. Then you can say “no, no, no there were these technological improvements in infrastructure in Nigeria such as Effective Governance and the relative compensation of Bangladesh labor increased because S. Asian rice became dear “. So the formuation can’t be disproved because the terms are too vague and it attempts to explain a historical process.

Secondly, we’d both argue, I guess, that we’ve seen first hand (see Health Care Reform) that Elites will behave collectively, strategically, even beyond their pure material interests. Might it be the case that, if the Bangladesh garment industry becomes Exhibit A of wealthy-state governments attempting to increase S. Asian living standards via uniform international workplace safety standards, the Capitalists might relocate to a more expensive locus simply to deflate the political movement? Political strategy can interfere with Econ. 101 reasoning, right?

So, you’ve a perfectly good story, but it has holes. Just like Yglesias, whose story goes: poor states pursue the goal workplace safety at greater risk than wealthy states. “The reason is that while having a safe job is good, money is also good.” Well, as you’ve so eloquently shown, there’s holes in that story too. So let’s acknowledge them!

“It’s very plausible that one reason American workplaces have gotten safer over the decades is that we now tend to outsource a lot of factory-explosion-risk to places like Bangladesh where 87 people just died in a [fire].” In other words, maybe our wealth hasn’t afforded us better standards, it’s just outsourced the misery.

“There are also some good reasons to want to avoid a world of unlimited choice and see this as a sphere in which collective action is appropriate…” In other words, maybe making this a market question is the wrong move.

“Bangladesh may or may not need tougher workplace safety rules…” In other words, the author doesn’t know.

Of course, as you’ve undoubtably guessed, those are all quotes from the infamous post. Yglesias, 4/24/13. He didn’t call Erik Loomis a monster. He didn’t say that Loomis was worthy of contempt. And for good reason: his understanding of the world is hedged, not confused for a fact.

This allows for humility. And humility spares my precious feelings.

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Rich Puchalsky 05.02.13 at 1:38 am

“I suspect we are both appealing to Econ. 101 logic to investigate and predict society.”

Nope. I’m supplying at least minimal facts to back up what I’m saying, and you’re not. Instead, what you’re doing is saying that no factual claims can be made at all, because facts could always change in the future. That is blandly and unremarkably true, and it’s a fine philosophy to live by if you want people to take no action about something. But in the world in which people actually have to live, people in Bangladesh may want to take action now since they have the lowest cost labor now. And if something happens to change that in the future? Well, then they can do something different then.

As for humility, I can see that it is in great demand as a self-description after someone wrote something stupid, and would rather not be criticized. Aggressive humility is well known in America, sadly. Here’s what Yglesias wrote in his apology:

“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.”

He absolutely stands by it! — but humbly, so humbly that anyone criticizing him for opining about something he knows little about must really have something wrong with them. Why, they must be making a performance, in order to show how they really care.

And I like your unfalisfiability game. Let’s play:

““It’s very plausible that one reason American workplaces have gotten safer over the decades is that we now tend to outsource a lot of factory-explosion-risk to places like Bangladesh where 87 people just died in a [fire].” In other words, maybe our wealth hasn’t afforded us better standards, it’s just outsourced the misery.”

Maybe so! But maybe not! There are no facts available to settle this question, like global accident death stats, and it’s just a big puzzle. Can we really know the answer? No, we can’t.

““Bangladesh may or may not need tougher workplace safety rules…” In other words, the author doesn’t know.”

And who could know? No one could know. Certainly not someone who knew something about Bangladesh. Those people with their facts are just not very humble. But anyways, no, no one could really know anything. If anyone pretends that they do know something, it’s just because they don’t want to admit that their understanding of the world is hedged, unlike much more responsible pundits like Yglesias who don’t know, but for whom that doesn’t stop them from absolutely standing by their conclusions.

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Consumatopia 05.02.13 at 2:07 am

This allows for humility.

You really shouldn’t mistake Yglesias’s coldness for humility. He doesn’t get mad at you for failing to care, he gets mad at you for failing to understand.

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LFC 05.02.13 at 2:42 am

So much attention is being paid to MY. Seems to be a recurrent issue here. I almost never read him and I don’t really care that much what he says. People who were early entrants into blogging, like MY, reaped big benefits. People who were later entrants into blogging have a much harder hill to climb.

Just think: if MY had started blogging a mere two or three years later than he did — ’05/’06 instead of ’03 (or ’01 or whenever it was) — this conversation about what he said wouldn’t be happening because chances are good, I think, that he wouldn’t be making a living at blogging (it would be purely a sideline) and almost no one would be reading him.

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LFC 05.02.13 at 2:46 am

The exception to the above, of course, is if one had established a reputation in some other way before beginning to blog. But MY really hadn’t.

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b9n10nt 05.02.13 at 6:40 am

Rich @ 81:

“I’m supplying at least minimal facts to back up what I’m saying, and you’re not.”

That’s not necessarily true, depending on what we call a fact. I would regard “US businesses could save great sums of money were they freed from purchasing health care for their workers via a privatized health insurance market” to be rather fact-y. And as well “States with single payer health care allow large employers to be free of obligations toward health insurance.” As well as “US business groups (nevertheless) did NOT support single payer health form”. These facts were alluded to as support for my claim: Elites may act against their material interest, sensu stricto, in order to pursue a unified political agenda.

You likewise provided a fact: Bangladeshi garment workers are paid less than any other significant group of garment workers. This supports your claim that Bangladeshi workers could achieve greater workplace safety standards without fear of losing their jobs. You also provided a fact that the costs to the employers would be minimal and not necessarily affect the price of the apparel. (I guess the difference between fact/evidence and claim/thesis is fundamentally murky, but I’m going to call these items of evidence you muster to support a claim).

My point is that, even where the facts are clear, the conclusion that is drawn from them is not proven. When you say “what you’re doing is saying that no factual claims can be made at all, because facts could always change in the future. That is blandly and unremarkably true…” I’m not sure what precisely that means or refers to, but my guess is that your agreeing with the truism that conclusions about the effects of political choices can’t be known or proven.

This does not mean that people should not act. Again, we agree. It’s absurd to suggest that societies and individuals can only act upon matters when the effects of their actions are knowable in advance.

Precisely because we are deeply ignorant, we gain a great deal from charity and humility toward others in our rhetoric.

I think what follows demonstrates that you are frustrated, and insulting. But I couldn’t make sense of it otherwise: “Maybe so! But maybe not! There are no facts available to settle this question, like global accident death stats, and it’s just a big puzzle. Can we really know the answer? No, we can’t.”

These rhetorical performances of anger, frustration, insult: they make a very poor advertisement for left wing politics. I advocate for a rhetorical tone that assumes good faith among arguing parties. I think it makes for better thinking and tames the instinct for divisiveness and ill will on the left.

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Harold 05.02.13 at 9:01 am

Well, speaking of rhetorical games, what, exactly, is meant by “more stringent” ? Enough to prevent 500 deaths but not 87? Maybe we are not even taking about “stringent”. Maybe even minimum safety precautions (enforced) would have prevented any deaths, either here or in a third-world country.

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prasad 05.02.13 at 9:36 am

@Freddie: “The fact that Prasad praises Matt Yglesias for his bravery, when what he did was to justify the conditions that led to the deaths of hundreds of people”

Umm, he said Erik Loomis’s ‘equal standards’ view is wrong, and deBoer called him a sociopath and wants to see him and his inconvenient view anathematized.

Speaking of Loomis’s views, his recent post wasn’t that specific. He said “I argue that we should apply U.S. labor law to all American corporations, no matter where they site their factory” but it wasn’t clear whether there was an implied scope restriction just safety, or also environmental regulations say, etc. Searching his blog for minimum wage, I find the clearest expression of the view comes weirdly enough in the context of a discussion with deBoer. Loomis states his beliefs and program, and also lists ten items that are controversial since they’re too left to happen. Number nine is _quite_ revealing:

9. U.S. companies can move overseas if they want–but the U.S. minimum wage applies to those workers. Also to contracted suppliers.

So the minimum wage for Americans hiring factory workers in India should be 7 lacs per annum. In December 2012 when this post was written, there’s a reason this isn’t programmatic: “I don’t really talk about these things much. Why? They are irrelevant. They are so far out of what is possible that why bother. Do they make me more of a leftist? Who cares.”

Move forward to April 2013, and certain dreams have cobwebs dusted off storage and become, if not realizable, at least discussable. And what dreams these are.

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prasad 05.02.13 at 10:31 am

I got the exchange rate wrong, US minimum wage would come to 790 k rupees per annum. which comes pretty close to the highest income tax bracket of 800 k. Labor globalization carried out under these terms really would be a very negative thing, being exclusively a transfer from poor in rich to rich in poor places. But I guess there wouldn’t be any so it’s not a problem :)

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prasad 05.02.13 at 11:20 am

On reflection, I won’t imply that Loomis is advocating for equal minimum wages for offshored work in the aftermath of this tragedy. It remains unclear just how much of US law, or even safety law, he wants to glom on here, the words being all over the place. But knowing what someone’s ideal legal framework looks like does tell you a lot about the objectives he values.

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Rich Puchalsky 05.02.13 at 12:17 pm

“I think what follows demonstrates that you are frustrated, and insulting. But I couldn’t make sense of it otherwise”

It demonstrates that I’m making fun of what you’re writing. You keep insisting that things are unknowable that aren’t. For instance, you present this paragraph of you quoting and then restated Yglesias as an example of Yglesias’ humility:

““It’s very plausible that one reason American workplaces have gotten safer over the decades is that we now tend to outsource a lot of factory-explosion-risk to places like Bangladesh where 87 people just died in a [fire].” In other words, maybe our wealth hasn’t afforded us better standards, it’s just outsourced the misery.”

But all it is is an example of laziness. There are accidental death statistics for every country involved in large-scale international trade. Have places like the U.S. just outsourced their misery? No one needs to “be humble” and admit that we just don’t know. We can instead literally see whether as some countries’ accidental workplace deaths went down, others went up. It’s a manifestly answerable question that people like Yglesias don’t want to answer because that takes work, and it’s easier to pontificate based on knowing nothing.

And you are prepared to excuse everything stupid that he writes on the basis that if we do otherwise we are not assuming good faith. That is the usual function of telling people that we have to assume good faith — to tell people to shut up.

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Jacob H. 05.02.13 at 1:18 pm

For much of Asia, and especially Bangladesh, the demographic boom and political changes of the 20th century brought misery and poverty of perhaps unprecedented scope. In the last few decades, participation in the global market economy, along with stabilizing political landscapes, has helped partially alleviate that misery, to the point where we can compare the living standards of many poor people in Asia to that of 19th century industrial workers in the U.S. or Europe.

Clearly that doesn’t mean the level of workplace safety is adequate. But it also doesn’t suggest that the exodus of companies from Bangladesh or other nations with unsafe working conditions (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/02/business/some-retailers-rethink-their-role-in-bangladesh.html) is going to do anyone any favors.

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Rich Puchalsky 05.02.13 at 1:28 pm

“Speaking of Loomis’s views […]”
I should mention that I don’t think much of Loomis’ post that Yglesias originally replied to either. Not because, like Yglesias, I’m interested in propounding economic choice ideology. But because Loomis nowhere mentions that the critical responses to the accident are going to come from Bangladesh, not from the U.S. People in Bangladesh aren’t going to wait for U.S. corporations to make Bangladesh employers use more stringent safety standards, or for the U.S. left to miraculously gain enough power to force U.S. corporations to do so, or for a wholly nowhere-on-the-horizon international enforcement agency to be created. Instead, they’re protesting / rioting, and getting results. Which is how it has been throughout labor history.

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Mao Cheng Ji 05.02.13 at 1:30 pm

“But it also doesn’t suggest that the exodus of companies from Bangladesh or other nations with unsafe working conditions is going to do anyone any favors”

First of all, ‘anyone’ is obviously wrong here, but in any case, how do you know that? It just might, in the longer run.

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Harold 05.02.13 at 2:07 pm

Assuming good faith means not accusing them of deliberate lying, frivolity, or fraud. It should not mean refraining from saying that they are mistaken.

When someone repeats talking points mindlessly at every opportunity (talking points that are misleading and/or contrary to fact (and which tend to benefit them and harm others ), however, it becomes difficult to believe that they are in good faith

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Wonks Anonymous 05.02.13 at 2:59 pm

Barry, you are asking what Yglesias’ attitude is towards safety regulations in the U.S? He has said rich countries should have stringent safety regulations, though I don’t know if he thinks our current laws are appropriately stringent.

Rich, perhaps I’m just too ignorant of international poverty statistics, but I had thought Bangladesh had improved enough that there were a sizable number of countries worse off. You make a good point that many of them are so poor that their infrastructural deficiencies prevent them from competing with Bangladesh. At the same time, it used to be the case that China was the place for rock-bottom labor costs, then other nations started occupying the lower cost niche. Beyond the short run it sounds feasible for others to become the “new Bangladesh”. On the other hand, Bangladesh has an unusually high population density not easily found in, say, sub-saharan Africa.

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b9n10nt 05.02.13 at 3:06 pm

Rich @ 90:

“Have places like the U.S. just outsourced their misery? No one needs to “be humble” and admit that we just don’t know. We can instead literally see whether as some countries’ accidental workplace deaths went down, others went up.”

No we can’t literally “see” statistics. They are a product of the methodology used to gather them, not something like a sunflower that we can…literally…see. And inverse correlation does not imply causation.

These are all elementary points I’m making:

-We can’t be certain that a toughening of Bangladesh safety standards to match those of wealthy nations’ will have no impact on garment industry employment there. Your argument back at 4o was a good one. But there were holes: unforseen historical developments such as but not limited to strategic political behavior by firms that appears to be against their immediate economic interest.

-Given the obvious uncertainty, this does not mean “Do Not Act”, it does not mean “Don’t Argue Your Point Vociferously”

-But it does mean, I would argue: Be Nice. If a performance of rhetoric is to be lacking any emotional persuation, fine. But if you are to introduce an emotional tone as a means of persuasion, you’re better off “clearing your head”, so to speak, of insults and anger.

-3 reasons: First, it allows for better thinking. The bluster you’ve introduced seems clearly to have led you to overstate your case and overlook elemental points of logic and fact. Second, cool heads with open hearts attract more sympathy from disinterested parties. The emotional tone of left-wing blogging becomes an advertisement for left-wing activism. You attract more flies with honey, etc… 3rd, strident self-sure, insulting rhetoric will cause your detractors to likewise seek tribal loyalties rather than common ground.

Thus, if you’re simply trying to argue a point: you’re making your case poorly. If you are trying to rally the troops, you’re scaring them away. If you are trying to persuade, you’re instead inviting similar invective rather than appealing to logic and human sympathy.

& that is a fundamental point as well. You, presumably, want Americans etc… to care about Bangladeshi’s. You want them to step outside of their closed world of unchallenged ideas and see the world as it is. Insult and invective make that transformation less likely.

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Rich Puchalsky 05.02.13 at 3:22 pm

“Rich, perhaps I’m just too ignorant of international poverty statistics, but I had thought Bangladesh had improved enough that there were a sizable number of countries worse off.”

Well, I’m not going to do the analysis — or even just look up relevant academic papers — for a comment thread. But yes, countries with worse poverty stats are in Africa (plus some outliers like Haiti or Afghanistan), and Bangladesh has advantages of population density, infrastructure and so on that they’re going to have trouble duplicating in the short term.

In the long term, maybe another country will replace them. But let’s look at what this really means. If they’re no longer at the bottom … they’re no longer at the bottom. Countries that have lost the lowest-end garment work have done so because their workers are getting better work. If they weren’t, those countries’ economies would sink again, and they’d get garment work again because they’d once again become lowest cost. But I don’t know of cases in which this has actually happened. When countries start to do worse, it tends to be because of catastrophes like war which make them bad places to do regular business for reasons other than labor costs.

I’m not opposed to informed disagreement. If someone who actually knows what they’re doing wants to actually do the analysis, fine. But Yglesias didn’t, he just said that things had to go according to market fundamentalist choice theory no matter what the facts in Bangladesh were. And I have no patience at all for people who can’t be bothered to let any facts get in the way of their regurgitation of an introductory econ course they took once, so that they’re wrong even on their terms.

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Katherine 05.02.13 at 3:42 pm

“Have places like the U.S. just outsourced their misery? No one needs to “be humble” and admit that we just don’t know. We can instead literally see whether as some countries’ accidental workplace deaths went down, others went up.”

No we can’t literally “see” statistics. They are a product of the methodology used to gather them, not something like a sunflower that we can…literally…see. And inverse correlation does not imply causation.

You are literally having a laugh now, aren’t you? Yes, we can literally “see” statistics – as ink on a page. And we can use those statistics to “see” – in the metaphorical sense on the word, rather than the literal – whether as some countries’ accidental workplace deaths went down, others went up. And we can use our “brains” to work out whether there is a correlation, and whether and how this correlation is indicative of causation. Your insistence that “facts” don’t exist make me suspect that you are a “brain” in a “jar”.

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Rich Puchalsky 05.02.13 at 3:47 pm

“And inverse correlation does not imply causation.”

Irrelevant. The question was “have we outsourced our misery?” Assuming that misery in this context means number of accidental occupational deaths, you don’t even need a causative theory. All you need to do is decide whether you’re interested in total deaths or deaths per population. And then, if deaths in outsourced-to countries don’t go up by as much as deaths in outsourcing countries go down … assertion disproved, no matter what the causation involved. On the other hand, if deaths in outsourced-to countries go up equally or more than deaths in outsourcing countries decline, then you can decide whether you need a causative theory to declare that the reason for this was outsourcing-as-business-technique, but in any case “we have outsourced our misery” is *descriptively* true if it just means that deaths have gone from happening in one set of places to another set of places.

And your “we can only literally see things like sunflowers” bit is silly. Science is all about things that we can’t literally see as small entities right in front of us, but that we are nevertheless very confident about. This is not scientifically one of the more complicated questions. I await your further comments about how those physicists have to be humble and not pretend that they actually know anything, because they’ve never literally seen subatomic entities.

“& that is a fundamental point as well. You, presumably, want Americans etc… to care about Bangladeshi’s”

No, not really. Those people who don’t already care aren’t going to care, and we aren’t likely to communally do anything for Bangladesh. People in Bangladesh are going to work out these problems by acting against us, which is how it has always been and how in my opinion it should be, rather than us needing to come in and rescue them from us. And in any case anything that I write here isn’t going to change any large number of people’s minds.

But I am interested in a much more focussed and possible goal: getting people who read blogs to stop treating blogging pundits like Yglesias as good-faith writers when they aren’t.

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geo 05.02.13 at 4:08 pm

Rich: rather than us needing to come in and rescue them from us

A minor and mostly semantic disagreement here: the two “us”-es in this sentence are not the same. The “us” from whom the Bangladeshis and other beneficiaries of globalization need to be rescued are American corporations and investors and their political and media whores — essentially the 1 percent. The “us” who ought to ride to their rescue by reining in (or, preferably, stomping on) the other “us” are the rest of the citizenry, who can, after all, still reclaim our democracy by getting up off our asses and turning off the television set.

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Consumatopia 05.02.13 at 4:30 pm

“Be Nice” is probably not great advice for Bangladeshi protestors. Once you’re talking about “strategic political behavior by firms that appears to be against their immediate economic interest”, then that means that reform becomes a moral and political struggle. You can’t win or even properly analyze those if you’re as uncomfortable with moral disagreement as Yglesias is. He assumes that other people are only disagreeing with him because they haven’t analyzed the situation as well as he has. That’s not demonstrating niceness, clear thinking, or humility, that’s demonstrating colossal arrogance.

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Rich Puchalsky 05.02.13 at 4:41 pm

Consumatopia: ““Be Nice” is probably not great advice for Bangladeshi protestors. ”

In fairness to b9n10nt, I don’t think he or she ever said this. He or she said that people arguing against Yglesias should be nice.

Geo: “A minor and mostly semantic disagreement here: the two “us”-es in this sentence are not the same. ”

True. But the first signs of success of the second “us” of reigning in the first would be domestic within the U.S., I think. Reining in, much less stomping, is risky, and I think that people would be first motivated to take this risk on behalf of themselves or their neighbors. By the time the effects rippled out to Bangladesh, the U.S. would have essentially become a different country. Essentially I don’t think that the two “us”-es can ever become that distinct.

There are other theories by which the first “us” (the 1%) buys off the 99% in the U.S. by giving them a share of the loot from the rest of the world. This is less often brought up as wealth inequality within the U.S. increases. But it’s quite possible that from Bangladesh the two “us”-es could look the same, even if they were also in conflict with each other.

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Consumatopia 05.02.13 at 5:03 pm

b9n10nt’s call to “Be Nice” seems to apply to activists generally. Certainly b9n10nt is saying that people arguing against Yglesias should conduct their arguments more like Yglesias does. Leaving aside that “Nice” or “Humble” are both ridiculous ways to characterize Yglesias, my contention is that what b9n10nt calls “Nice” is precisely what caused Yglesias to misread this situation and others–he thinks that morality and politics can be compartmentalized from economics and markets.

Because being “Nice” isn’t useful on the ground for the protestors, we should be suspicious of using it to analyze the situation.

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Ronan(rf) 05.02.13 at 5:21 pm

“getting people who read blogs to stop treating blogging pundits like Yglesias as good-faith writers when they aren’t”

Yeah, I definitely think there’s something to this. Even if not for political reasons, there are just so many more interesting and curious writers out there than the MY et al

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prasad 05.02.13 at 6:35 pm

Jacob H’s Times story is telling, though I’m hoping that no-one will actually pull out once the story dies. From there, a predictable outcome (predicted at least by anyone who doesn’t talk nonsense about American level safety being a simple monetary constraint solvable with pennies per shirt):

In deciding in which countries to permit production, the company [Disney] relied heavily on the World Bank’s Governing Indicators, which evaluate performance on issues like government effectiveness, rule of law, accountability and control of corruption. Disney decided to prohibit production in several dozen countries that had a combined low score on the World Bank indicators.

Because back in the real world, Disney cannot in fact spend these pennies in these wonderful ways, at least not to do anything beyond the incremental. And so there’ll be adverse selection where nations that need higher paying jobs most get them last.

Oh:

European Union officials called for immediate safety improvements, and said they were considering changes in Bangladesh’s duty-free and quota-free status to encourage more responsible management by the country’s garment industry.

Imagine that. Out of the purity of their hearts, like with their kind-hearted agricultural tariffs. No decency can be achieved on such matters when one can see with perfect clarity all the problems of corporate greed and malfeasance, but finds it so hard to see conflicts of interest on the other side.

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b9n10nt 05.02.13 at 6:53 pm

Rich @ 102:

“On the other hand, if deaths in outsourced-to countries go up equally or more than deaths in outsourcing countries decline, then you can decide whether you need a causative theory to declare that the reason for this was outsourcing-as-business-technique, but in any case “we have outsourced our misery” is *descriptively* true if it just means that deaths have gone from happening in one set of places to another set of places.”

But I would assume the analysis of the data would be messy. American garment workers would relocate to other occupations. Bangladeshi garment workers would relocate from other occupations. Perhaps more garment workers injuries in Bangladesh and fewer in the US, but less malnutrition among Bangladeshi workers as they gain wealth. So we’re transferring our misery but also our wealth.

I can’t really write these sentences without saying that the whole things a nasty business: the social fact of “work and risk death or starve” is horrible. And a system that says you suffer unless you produce for an external market treats people as means, not ends in themselves.

I agree that Bangladeshi’s activism will do more for their situation that US-led policy.

“We can’t literally see as small entities right in front of us, but that we are nevertheless very confident about. ”

…because we are studying aspects of nature that are discreet, consistent and reproducable. Those conditions don’t obtain for social science. Which doesn’t mean we can’t make very plausible truth claims, just that we don’t know them with anything like certainty.

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b9n10nt 05.02.13 at 7:04 pm

Consumatopia: “…reform becomes a moral and political struggle. ”

Precisely why personal insuslts (Katherine: “brain” in a “jar”: why the anger? If you can state the conviction upon which this anger is based clearly, the anger evaporates, does it not?), moralistic chest thumping, and other rhetorical displays that call attention to the speaker rather than to the issue at hand are a diversion.

I believe that social movements are weakened by rancor and ill-will. I believe that left-wing discourse is strengthened by intellectual charity. I believe that such a commitment will better expose the vileness of right-wing discourse, better encourage participation in left-wing goals, and more likely convert the convertible.

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John Quiggin 05.02.13 at 7:21 pm

@LFC The best example of someone who came late to blogging, without a pre-existing profile, and did very well at it, is Glenn Greenwald.

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b9n10nt 05.02.13 at 9:21 pm

Here’s something more worthy of my blathering:

“But as the recent string of disasters has shown, there are great perils to operating there.”

This is a quote from today’s NYTimes on their story about Disney deciding whether or not to move out of Bangladesh based on the recent tragedy. Notice that “perils” applies to Disney executives perhaps receiving negative PR. There is something obscene about a discourse in which the same word can describe workers risking their lives for basic economic subsistence and marketing executives choosing how best to advertise their brand.

If I were an editor I’d make it policy to have different word usage for instances of genuine struggle, risk, & fear than the words use to describe, as they say, “first world problems.”

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Consumatopia 05.02.13 at 10:30 pm

moralistic chest thumping, and other rhetorical displays that call attention to the speaker rather than to the issue at hand are a diversion.

Morality is the issue, not a diversion. In a moral/political struggle, the way we behave is determined by either what we believe to be moral, or by our decision to be immoral. If you can’t bring yourself to say “that’s immoral” because you would hurt people’s feelings, then you will lose every moral struggle.

why the anger? ?

I can’t answer for Katherine, but anger is easy to explain here. Your posts are a nasty combination of absurdity (looking to Yglesias for “humility”), incoherence (your weird trolling over “facts”), condescension (your advice for social movements), and arrogance.

No, really, I can’t believe you think you have any insight on this. Are you succeeding in rallying any troops to your side? I assure you, the moment I hear the leader of a movement start to sound like you, b9n10nt, is the moment I leave that movement. In the future I will probably find myself at some crossroads and think to myself “no, I shouldn’t do that, that’s the kind of mistake b9n10nt would have made, and look how badly that went”. Okay? Your advice is only useful as an example of what not to do.

I believe that left-wing discourse is strengthened by intellectual charity

I don’t know how useful it is to try to diagnose whether Yglesias is personally a sociopath (though Google points out that this is not a word that Yglesias avoids when describing positions both to his left and right). But Yglesias’s first post wasn’t just mistaken. He has adopted an analytical framework that has misled him repeatedly and will continue to mislead anyone who adopts it. And it’s not crazy to think that greater empathy would have helped him avoid both this particular mistake and see the weaknesses of that framework generally.

We need to talk more about this kind of analytical failure, and we need to guard against the character flaws that lead us–not just Yglesias, but all liberals including myself–to be vulnerable to those kinds of mistakes. It is not enough to address the issue at hand, we must address the mental process that lead to the error. That’s always going to be an uncomfortable process, and avoiding that sort of discomfort will tend to cloud, not clear, one’s judgment. As it did yours.

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LFC 05.02.13 at 10:37 pm

JQ
The best example of someone who came late to blogging, without a pre-existing profile, and did very well at it, is Glenn Greenwald.

He had been a lawyer and then he started w a paid blogging job at Salon, I guess, or did he have his own blog at first? And now of course is a Guardian columnist not a blogger. So perhaps an exceptional case…though there are probably a few other similar ones.

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b9n10nt 05.02.13 at 11:49 pm

” If you can’t bring yourself to say “that’s immoral” because you would hurt people’s feelings, then you will lose every moral struggle.”

Entirely agree.

“looking to Yglesias for “humility”

I could’ve been clearer. I think a rhetorical style that (1) avoids insults and (2) acknowledges uncertainty where reasonable people with similar benign political goals differ is most effective. I saw these features in Yglesias’ post, and not in most of the critiques of his post here. Otherwise, needless in-fighting is engendered. That does not mean failing to call a war criminal a war criminal, or identify sociopathic action as such.

We differ about Yglesias’ post. I don’t find it obvious that Yglesias was clearly in the wrong in saying that Bangladeshi’s and other poor nations will often, for good reason, not value workplace safety laws as much as rich nations. I don’t think he’s obviously right. I do think his argument was repeatedly mischaracterized, and that some of that is his fault.

“condescension (your advice for social movements), and arrogance”

Yeah, but I assume that me sharing my thoughts & feelings on the internet can’t really be condescending and arrogant if it’s taken for granted that I’ve no real expertise or authority. It’s not like I’m reinforcing or establishing some social hierarchy by posting my opinions, is it?

I agree with what I perceive to be your and Rich’s politics for the most part. I don’t understand the central areas of disagreement with Yglesias, though. I don’t think ” ‘No, Matt Yglesias, Bangladeshi Workers Didn’t Choose To Be Crushed To Death.’ ” really addresses what he wrote in any meaningful way, and similar attacks on his post likewise didn’t make sense to me, except as I said a kind of social performance for self-gratification.

It’s taken for granted that these are norms for posting on the internet: the poster insults, shames, denigrates. The person disagreeing isn’t wrong about the topic, they’re wrong as a person. They’ve a character flaw, a “mental process” that must be addressed with vitriol.

But I really look forward to a new norm in which internet arguments live up to standards of charitable respect towards others.

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Consumatopia 05.03.13 at 12:38 am

I don’t think Yglesias acknowledges much uncertainty at all with regards to his final conclusion, that Bangladesh and America should have different labor safety standards.

And it is totally obvious that he was wrong to cite “very good reasons for Bangladeshi people to make different choices in this regard than Americans” as the reason for opposing uniform standards when the unenforced standards aren’t a matter of Bangladeshi national choice.

We don’t have to reach final agreement on how the issue of Bangladeshi labor protections should be resolved (and I certainly admit that that resolution would be complicated) to see that Yglesias’s particular argument was completely broken. That is why Beyerstein’s article–and its headline–is exactly correct here.

In particular, those citing that NY Times article over Disney should look at this piece Beyerstein linked.

Labor groups argue the best way to clean up Bangladesh’s garment factories already is outlined in a nine-page safety proposal drawn up by Bangladeshi and international unions.

The plan would ditch government inspections, which are infrequent and easily subverted by corruption, and establish an independent inspectorate to oversee all factories in Bangladesh, with powers to shut down unsafe facilities as part of a legally binding contract signed by suppliers, customers and unions. The inspections would be funded by contributions from the companies of up to $500,000 per year.

The proposal was presented at a 2011 meeting in Dhaka attended by more than a dozen of the world’s largest clothing brands and retailers — including Wal-Mart, Gap and Swedish clothing giant H&M — but was rejected by the companies because it would be legally binding and costly.

So Bangladeshis called for stronger standards in 2011, international corporations shot them down. Today, other international companies, like Disney apparently, might be more willing to do business in Bangladesh if such a system were enacted. (For the record, I hope Disney doesn’t actually pull out of Bangladesh). Disney, of course, is motivated by PR rather than sincere concern for Bangladeshis (and there’s no bad press for the factory they never open). But that’s an interesting incentive for companies like Wal-Mart, that don’t care about PR but just want to sell the cheapest possible products. Lower standards become desirable not just to lower costs, but to chase away other potential employers like Disney. (Yes, Disney could behave better. But so could Wal-Mart et. al.)

The issue of Bangladeshi agency–i.e. whether they “chose” to work in dangerous buildings or whether that was forced upon them–is not at all a “social performance”–it’s the core issue. Part of the reason Bangladesh has weak and unenforced standards is pressure from international corporations.

Yeah, but I assume that me sharing my thoughts & feelings on the internet can’t really be condescending and arrogant if it’s taken for granted that I’ve no real expertise or authority.

If you know that you lack expertise (as most of us do), that should be taken into account when you decide which claims to make and how to present them to others.

They’ve a character flaw, a “mental process” that must be addressed with vitriol.

You’ve spent quite a bit of time addressing what you believe to be flaws in the way we address this issue that presumably go beyond this issue (you aren’t just looking to change this argument, you’re looking forward to a “new norm”). I’m not defending the entire Internet’s response to Yglesias, but I think Henry and Beyerstein have this exactly right. If their substantive responses aren’t compatible with your proposed norm, then that proposed norm would make us all quite stupider.

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Rich Puchalsky 05.03.13 at 2:02 am

Like everyone who goes on about good faith and being nice, for b9n10nt it’s all a big excuse to insult people. Look at the number of times he or she has insisted that other people can’t have honest moral indignation, that it must be a “social performance for self-gratification”, all “rhetorical displays that call attention to the speaker” so that the speaker can say “I’m the good guy; I’m the one who really care’s about the plight of the oppressed” (all actual quotes). You see, when someone else says that Yglesias’ theory is fake, that’s not nice, but telling someone that their morality is fake — that’s civility!

It’s a sad performance on his or her point, and I’m bored with it. I’ll just say, to make something more interesting out of this, that I’d even extend Consumatopia’s remarks —
“Morality is the issue, not a diversion”, yes, but what kind of morality can we even have around this that isn’t a “performance”? There is nothing that we can do, as individuals, that would actually help people in Bangladesh. That’s true of almost all issues of this kind, and people who try to derail them into purely symbolic volunteer help are just trying to defuse the issue. So what do people do when they have a strong opinion about something that they can’t actually do something about? They yell. They get angry in public and signal to other people that they feel strongly about this and that there is public opinion that says we should communally do something about it.

That’s about all there is to do. Moreover, there’s a whole category of political rights that’s intended to protect exactly this kind of social signalling — protests, petitions, free speech, etc. The people who say “stop yelling and be nice” are just advocating quietism, whether they know it or not.

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b9n10nt 05.03.13 at 3:58 am

Many good points.

Thanks for the engagement.

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Harold 05.03.13 at 5:09 am

“Morality is just a performance.” That’s a new low in cynicism. Translation: gravity and the laws of physics killed and maimed the Bengladeshi garment workers not human greed and wrongdoing. It was fate (or Progress, if you are a neoliberal).

The multi-nationals and their apologists may consider it a “performance” Nevertheless — they also consider it very undesirable PR — so, I would say to any indignant, right-thinking observers, go to it, perform away! Beat drums. Throw pies.

And if Disney were really concerned about workers, they would pull out, not of Bengladesh, but of their shameless parasitical distributor and seller Walmart, whose goods were being made in the sweatshops.

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Katherine 05.03.13 at 2:59 pm

Precisely why personal insuslts (Katherine: “brain” in a “jar”: why the anger? If you can state the conviction upon which this anger is based clearly, the anger evaporates, does it not?),

Dude, if you think that’s insulting and angry, then you haven’t spent much time on the internet. But you are the sort of person that illicits anger, if only because you are patronising and irritating. You are also engaging in the Tone Argument writ large, which makes people justifiably angry.

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