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Monday, May 04, 2015

deja vu - escaping poverty

Once almost everyone was poor, usually extremely poor.  Eventually there was a significant change.  Over the course of a recent few centuries many people around the world were able to improve their circumstances and live further and further above a subsistence level.  Although there are stories of how brutal this change was, by  revisiting history  we can achieve a more realistic perspective on these past events.  Contrary to the conventional narrative Mark Perry presents a post titled  In defense of sweatshops  offering support for their role in lifting people out of poverty.  One item on the post is a TED talk presented by Leslie Chang about alleged exploitation of Chinese factory workers.  Here are some excerpts from the  transcript:

Chinese workers are not forced into factories because of our insatiable desire for iPods. They choose to leave their homes in order to earn money, to learn new skills, and to see the world. In the ongoing debate about globalization, what's been missing is the voices of the workers themselves. --- Chen Ying: "When I went home for the new year, everyone said I had changed. They asked me, what did you do that you have changed so much? I told them that I studied and worked hard. If you tell them more, they won't understand anyway." 
So I spent two years getting to know assembly line workers like these in the south China factory city called Dongguan. Certain subjects came up over and over: how much money they made, what kind of husband they hoped to marry, whether they should jump to another factory or stay where they were. Other subjects came up almost never, including living conditions that to me looked close to prison life: 10 or 15 workers in one room, 50 people sharing a single bathroom, days and nights ruled by the factory clock. Everyone they knew lived in similar circumstances, and it was still better than the dormitories and homes of rural China.  
The workers rarely spoke about the products they made, and they often had great difficulty explaining what exactly they did. When I asked Lu Qingmin, the young woman I got to know best, what exactly she did on the factory floor, she said something to me in Chinese that sounded like "qiu xi." Only much later did I realize that she had been saying "QC," or quality control. She couldn't even tell me what she did on the factory floor. All she could do was parrot a garbled abbreviation in a language she didn't even understand.  
Karl Marx saw this as the tragedy of capitalism, the alienation of the worker from the product of his labor. Unlike, say, a traditional maker of shoes or cabinets, the worker in an industrial factory has no control, no pleasure, and no true satisfaction or understanding in her own work. But like so many theories that Marx arrived at sitting in the reading room of the British Museum, he got this one wrong. Just because a person spends her time making a piece of something does not mean that she becomes that, a piece of something. What she does with the money she earns, what she learns in that place, and how it changes her, these are the things that matter. What a factory makes is never the point, and the workers could not care less who buys their products.  
Journalistic coverage of Chinese factories, on the other hand, plays up this relationship between the workers and the products they make. Many articles calculate: How long would it take for this worker to work in order to earn enough money to buy what he's making? For example, an entry-level-line assembly line worker in China in an iPhone plant would have to shell out two and a half months' wages for an iPhone.  
But how meaningful is this calculation, really? For example, I recently wrote an article in The New Yorker magazine, but I can't afford to buy an ad in it. But, who cares? I don't want an ad in The New Yorker, and most of these workers don't really want iPhones. Their calculations are different. How long should I stay in this factory? How much money can I save? How much will it take to buy an apartment or a car, to get married, or to put my child through school?
 I would contend that like the historical experience of English workers had some important similarities to that of Chinese workers.  It was a rough experience, but there was a sense that they were improving their circumstances.

61 comments:

Annoying Old Guy said...

When I was younger and more naive, I thought tranzis simply didn't understand what created wealth and it was impossible to convert a subsistence rural civilization to First World levels of wealth and comfort instantaneously.

I've come to think now, though, that tranzis actively dislike other people becoming wealthy. It makes the poor "inauthentic" and ruins their quaint native customs (like living on dirt in a poorly cured hide tent). That those poor, like these workers, would happily trade that working in a factory sweatshop can only because of force or deceit and so must be opposed by any means.

One need not read much to detect the burning despite the tranzis have for the bourgeois and it can hardly be a surprise they don't want the poor to turn out like that.

Of course, the tranzis deserve to live in First World conditions because some one has to endure that to keep everyone else quaint.

P.S. You can see this very clearly with the global warmening scam - all the policy proposals would create massive poverty for everyone except the people proposing and implementing that policy. Of such sacrifices the tranzis are made.

Clovis e Adri said...

AOG,

Let me start conceding there is a lot of hypocrisy in the Left's discourse.

But is there any truth to it too? For example...

---
That those poor, like these workers, would happily trade that working in a factory sweatshop can only because of force or deceit and so must be opposed by any means.
---
Can you picture that "force or deceit" also may happen someplaces, sometimes?

I wonder if, when you were "younger and more naive", you had the chance to see much of the reality outside your very rich country. I wonder if I may have seen things you didn't, for I can tell I've witnessed "force or deceit" enough.


Not mentioned in Howards sweatshop's apology is all that is wrong out of the sweatshops that makes people so in need of working one. Why is it that the "historical experience of English workers" is a bit different from the historical experience of American workers? Does it have anything to do with people wanting to go to America?

Annoying Old Guy said...

Clovis;

Can you picture that "force or deceit" also may happen someplaces, sometimes?

Yes. Again, this is why I am a minarchist, not an anarchist.

I wonder if, when you were "younger and more naive", you had the chance to see much of the reality outside your very rich country. I wonder if I may have seen things you didn't, for I can tell I've witnessed "force or deceit" enough.

Interesting question - does it not imply that believing in the tranzi view requires *not* having see much of reality outside my very rich country? I certainly agree with that - as I have become older and had more such experience, I've changed my view.

all that is wrong out of the sweatshops that makes people so in need of working one

I can make no sense of this. Are you objecting to reality, that which requires people to work to live?

Why is it that the "historical experience of English workers" is a bit different from the historical experience of American workers?

Because the USA was founded on individualism and liberty, I would say. Contrast with the founding principals of South America and the results. Or consider the historical arc of Argentina. There's an object lession in the rewards of populism vs. individualism.

erp said...

Howard, bravo!

Clovis, the difference between here and England is here, we tell people to make their own way and as in most things, some are better at it than others.

In England, and most of the rest of the world, people are born into their class and it's darn near impossible to break out of it without violence.

Lefty elites think any "work" other than sipping tea in faculty lounges is oppression/slavery.

On perspective: When a relative who was a medical doctor educated in Moscow was allowed to emigrate from Albania to the US after communism’s fall, he marveled on the luxury of the rather run-down apartment in a working class area of Brooklyn where he was living. The family was embarrassed by it, but he said that in Albania and even Moscow living arrangements with hot water, bathrooms and showers, appliances, etc. were unheard of even among the elites. He caught on fast and was able to work in a hospital again after not too many years. Not exactly a sweatshop, but then that tag was another semantic triumph of the left.

erp said...

Clovis, our country became rich because We, the People made it so following the simple guidelines laid out by the founding fathers and we are in the process of making ourselves destitute by reversing that process.

Why is that so difficult for you to understand?

Clovis e Adri said...
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Clovis e Adri said...

AOG,

---
Clovis: all that is wrong out of the sweatshops that makes people so in need of working one
AOG: I can make no sense of this. Are you objecting to reality, that which requires people to work to live?
---
Not at all. I am objecting to bad logic.

Like exemplified by the following answer you gave me:

---
Clovis: Why is it that the "historical experience of English workers" is a bit different from the historical experience of American workers?
AOG: Because the USA was founded on individualism and liberty, I would say.
---
... yet, it is all fine to make apologies for sweatshops in places where both individualism and liberty are outlawed.

I understand the message Howard wants to draw here: life is tough, nothing wrong with hard work and suffering to make out a better life, that's how you escape poverty.

Not mentioned is how you use the heavy boot of the State to boost corporate profits. For would those workers in China's sweatshops keep being so cheap otherwise?

Or I am apparently the only one noticing how our supposed free-marketeers are so keen to offer odes to very non-free market conditions?

erp said...

The boot of the state is not that of free marketeers, but fascist crony capitalists.

Annoying Old Guy said...

Clovis;

I am objecting to bad logic.

Physician, heal thyself. The bad logic is you creating a false dichotomy. That is, there can exist the categories "bad", "not so bad", "good", not just pure libertarianism and "the heavy boot of the state". Your categorization here means I can never approve of something that's not as bad, if it is not also perfect. That's precisely the kind of thing I was ranting about earlier, thank you for demonstrating it's not just a straw man.

P.S. One might also note that the "heavy boot of the state" is not evident in the article Howard posted and we were discussing.

Peter said...

It's all historically well-founded, but can't we come up with something a little more inspiring than "In Defense of Sweatshops"? Geez, why not "The Blessings of Child Labor" or "The Tyranny of Health and Safety Laws"? No wonder so many young feel pulled to the left.

Annoying Old Guy said...

Peter;

My current slogan is "consenting adults". No child of the modern age can argue against that. It was quite interesting to hear exactly that out of a San Franciscan (!) arguing against the minimum wage law there.

I've also adopted labeling social justice schemes as "legislating your morality on me" which, according to our leading lights, is a Very Bad Thing (and why Religious People Are Evil).

Peter said...

My current slogan is "consenting adults"

You must often get mistaken for a leftist sex-ed teacher. :-)

Clovis e Adri said...

AOG,

---
Your categorization here means I can never approve of something that's not as bad, if it is not also perfect.
---
To judge the extent to which something is "not as bad" asks for a metric. The one you often pronounce to use, Libertarianism and free-market ideals, would tell you that Chinese workers are getting out of poverty *despite* their semi-slavery environment full of sweatshops, not thanks to them.

Take a not so different culture that also started from very poor conditions - South Korea - and watch where they are now.

---
One might also note that the "heavy boot of the state" is not evident in the article Howard posted and we were discussing.
---
I guess that was pretty much my point when I started that phrase with "Not mentioned is how you use...".

---
That's precisely the kind of thing I was ranting about earlier, thank you for demonstrating it's not just a straw man.
---
May I take from this phrase that you are more interested in scoring rhetorical points than in engaging a honest argument?

Annoying Old Guy said...

Chinese workers are getting out of poverty *despite* their semi-slavery environment full of sweatshops, not thanks to them.

No, because of them. Do you think these workers moved from an enlightened libertarian paradise to these factories? Or just magically appeared there one day?

Take a not so different culture that also started from very poor conditions - South Korea - and watch where they are now.

Yes, that would be my point. You are also failing to observe that after the Korean War, South Korea wasn't all that free a society, but evolved, over time, to be what it is today. Somehow, though, you fail to think how this might apply elsewhere and how incremental improvements can add up over time, and therefore a good libertarian cheers such things.

I guess that was pretty much my point when I started that phrase with "Not mentioned is how you use...".

And how is that? I fail to understand your point here, except by presuming you're working with a false dichotomy of "heavy booted state" vs. "libertarian paradise". The real world is not so simple.

May I take from this phrase that you are more interested in scoring rhetorical points than in engaging a honest argument?

No, exactly the opposite - you showed that I wasn't just scoring rhetorial points but was in fact addressing an actual argument.

May I take from this that you just throw out stock phrases to see if they hit?

Bret said...

Clovis wondered: "I wonder if, when you were "younger and more naive", you had the chance to see much of the reality outside your very rich country."

In 1984, I did a self-guided tour of communist Hungary and communist Czechoslovakia with two friends. They were very poor compared to the west at that time. And very unhappy. In Prague, the air was chokingly polluted, soot everywhere, the buildings dark, dirty and grimy, the few people outside walked slowly with their heads hung, frowning, scowling, never smiling, in bars, people were passed-out drunk. One could see that under the layers of filth, Prague was an exceptionally beautiful city, but the environment and their lives had been ruined by being stuck as part of the Soviet sphere of influence.

Since I was a socialist at the time, I was shocked. Indeed, one of the reasons I went to visit was to prove to myself that the western propaganda regarding poor living conditions in socialist countries was false and that they were indeed workers' paradises.

In 1998, a mere 14 years later, I had the opportunity to revisit Prague. It was unrecognizable. Everything was clean, fixed, maintained, the people boisterous and smiling, there were crowds everywhere, the energy was now like any western city. Somehow, large numbers of people had learned English, French, and German in those 14 years. The vibrancy of Prague was stunning compared to my previous visit.

The reality that was Prague was a story of people suddenly not being forced to work in communist sweatshops. Places I've been on the other side of that story include Thailand and Indonesia. In both places, the people I met who left their rural lives for the city factories and the long hours at low pay in conditions I would find intolerable had no regrets. We trekked in the forests of northern Thailand to visit remote hill tribes and the young there all wanted to head for the cities. They knew what conditions were like in the cities but still felt it better than doing slash-and-burn agriculture and living in wooden, single room huts with a hole cut in the ceiling to let the smoke out from the fire in the center of the hut.

Doesn't Brazil have a story like Thailand's Hill Tribes? Slash-and-burn agriculturalists who are preferring the "sweatshops" in the cities and migrating? If not now, a couple of decades back?

Clovis e Adri said...
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Clovis e Adri said...

Bret,

---
Doesn't Brazil have a story like Thailand's Hill Tribes? Slash-and-burn agriculturalists who are preferring the "sweatshops" in the cities and migrating? If not now, a couple of decades back?
---

Not quite. The people who massively migrated from farms to cities by the 60's were not from tribes, or had any indigenous culture to speak of.

I think I've said it before: Try to picture Brazil somehow as to what would be America down the Mississipi if the confederacy had split and survived, and slavery only abolished in 1888. It still misses many cultural differences, but is way better than comparisons with any Asiatic country.

Clovis e Adri said...

AOG,

---
Do you think these workers moved from an enlightened libertarian paradise to these factories?
---
No, I think they moved from very poor conditions to these factories, starting in the late 70's, and nearly 4 decades after that, so many are still trapped to poor conditions in those factories because they are more slaves than citizens.

South Korea made the transition quite faster, as most of the USSR satellites, as well exemplified by Bret above.

---
South Korea wasn't all that free a society, but evolved, over time, to be what it is today.
---
And have you ever given consideration to speed here, Sir?

---
And how is that? I fail to understand your point here, [...]
The real world is not so simple.
---
That, from someone who explains the key to America's success as simply "individualism and liberty". I quite agree the world is not so simple, hence you don't see me making any such grand declarations.

But if I did believe such a grand statement, I would take care to apply it in a more coherent way. That you (and Howard) don't, *is my point*.

erp said...

Clovis, the transition that Bret told about in Prague was after Reagan won the cold war.

Your comparison with the south isn't correct either. Only a small percentage of people owned slaves even along the Mississippi.

Annoying Old Guy said...

Clovs;

I think they moved from very poor conditions to these factories, starting in the late 70's, and nearly 4 decades after that, so many are still trapped to poor conditions in those factories because they are more slaves than citizens

Therefore...what? I should oppose the factories that made their lives better? Here's the real question - did those factories improve the lives and liberty of the people who work in them, compared to other options? I say yes, and that's why it's important (as Howard did) not so much to praise them but to debunk the tranzi abhorence thereof. What do you say?

And have you ever given consideration to speed here, Sir?

Yes. Multiple instances in this very comment string.

from someone who explains the key to America's success as simply "individualism and liberty"

You are conflating a simple set of metrics with presuming the binary nature of those metrics. It is the latter to which I object. To give you an analogy, it is like arguing with someone who "disproves" E=IR by pointing out that I don't always set R to 0 or infinity. And then, when I point out R is a continuous value, says I am being incoherent in apply my simple model to electrical circuts, because what's the difference bewteen having just 2 independent metrics and having just 2 values for one of those metrics. Are they both equally simple?

Clovis e Adri said...

Erp,

---
Your comparison with the south isn't correct either. Only a small percentage of people owned slaves even along the Mississippi.
---
My comparison may fail in many ways, but not on that one. Only a small percentage of people owned slaves in Brazil either. The same way only a very small percentage owned the large farms where slaves labored.

You should take my comparison more seriously in regard to the economic model and organization of the US South and Brazil then.

You can draw from it that it would be wrong to assume that Brazil suddenly sent a large wave of "slash-and-burn agriculturalists" to work sweatshops in the cities. The transition from agrarian to industrial was way smoother than that, with time for people and labor laws to adapt. Just like the US South, our black population has been under some harsh conditions even after slavery during part of that period - but the rest of the population mostly endured much better conditions, with industrial sweatshops being not the norm.

Clovis e Adri said...

AOG,

---
I should oppose the factories that made their lives better?
---
Oppose is a strong word. Maybe "not praise" would be good enough.

---
I say yes, and that's why it's important (as Howard did) not so much to praise them but to debunk the tranzi abhorence thereof.
---
If that article is not a praising one, I am losing something here. Or, maybe, it is not me the one losing a hint or two there.

---
Here's the real question - did those factories improve the lives and liberty of the people who work in them, compared to other options?
---
Tricky one. Which "other options"? I assume you want to compare with the one where people just stayed in their agricultural life. I am taking the one where people did go to the cities but liberties evolved enough for them to actually have real rights (like South Korea) and make them matter.


I must add that your analogy with electrical circuits completely miss the point. I am not arguing for binary outputs being the only valid ones. I am recognizing sweatshops may well be part of any transition from agrarian to industrial. But in this day and age, to assume that process should take periods of time like old industrial-revolution England is clearly wrong, you only need to look for similar countries to get that.

US economists often accuse China of keeping their currency undervalued. That's not the only thing they tweak in their planned economy - they also keep their workers undervalued. And many corporations do profit from that. I think this is a valid point of view supported by some evidence, while you look to think this is some crazy "tranzi abhorence" of something.

Hence my very first question to you in this thread, regarding the Left discourse: "But is there any truth to it too?" I think you stumbled upon one and can't recognize it.

Annoying Old Guy said...

Clovis;

By "other options" I mean options that exist in the real world, not a theoretical one.

I am not arguing for binary outputs being the only valid ones

That is not the impression I get of your arguments.

assume that process should take periods of time like old industrial-revolution England

I am not assuming that. I am also not assuming the opposite. Some societies transition faster than others (I would note that being dominated politically by the USA after WWII correlates strongly with faster advancement, which obviously did not happen in China, but did in Taiwan).

That's not the only thing they tweak in their planned economy - they also keep their workers undervalued. And many corporations do profit from that

Certainly that's true, but that's not the subject under discussion. By "tranzi abhorence" I am speaking of people who do explicitly abhor those factories and work to have them shut down, and all the workers dismissed because the factories are not up to First World standards, regardless of whether this would make the workers better off. That's not concern for the workers. If that's not your argument, then you're not one of the people I am writing about (which is why I used that phrase, specifically to exclude people who have valid concerns).

Clovis e Adri said...

AOG,

---
Certainly that's true, but that's not the subject under discussion.
---
Shut up, he explained.

I believe it bears much relation to the topic Howard initiated. To argue it is off topic looks like a cheap way to dismiss my points.

---
By "tranzi abhorence" I am speaking of people who do explicitly abhor those factories and work to have them shut down, and all the workers dismissed because the factories are not up to First World standards,
---
Tell me again, who is operating on binary mode here?

If anyone speaks against those conditions, it means they want to shut down everything? Isn't there any intermediate position, where people can honestly wish for both better conditions and the factories open?

Few tech companies keep the level of net profit displayed by Apple. If anyone argues they could afford to have better pay at their lines of production, is he necessarily arguing to bankrupt the company and make the workers jobless?

I guess you can make a case for people exposing those views as being naive, or hyprocritical - since they usually are the ones who often buy Apple. But IMHO you far exceed your quota of cynicism by posing they all want to see the company in shatters and the employees in poverty.

Annoying Old Guy said...

Clovis;

Tell me again, who is operating on binary mode here?

You, mostly.

If anyone speaks against those conditions, it means they want to shut down everything?

No.

Isn't there any intermediate position, where people can honestly wish for both better conditions and the factories open?

Yes there is.

If anyone argues they could afford to have better pay at their lines of production, is he necessarily arguing to bankrupt the company and make the workers jobless?

No.

they all want

What definition of "all" are you using here? This one - "I am speaking of people who do explicitly abhor those factories and work to have them shut down"? Then yes, all of the people who want that, want that.

Clovis e Adri said...

AOG,

---
This one - "I am speaking of people who do explicitly abhor those factories and work to have them shut down"? Then yes, all of the people who want that, want that.
---
And how representative are they?

I don't know if that's only me, but I personally know few people who would fit the description even among the most Leftist friends I have.

But I guess you have to elect a few straw men to make your case...

Annoying Old Guy said...

how representative are they?

I'm not sure about representative, but influential - very. I need only read my son's school history books to see that. Here are examples of abhorence - this. Let us note the demands for "living wage" are de facto a demand to shut down, and not the same as "improved conditions". Do you think that there is some point at which demands and vituperation of these factories shades from legitimate concerns to abhorrence? Or only explicit calls for their destruction count?

I'll keep an eye out for the other variant of economic development destroying cultures, like this one in the NY Times.

erp said...

aog, your link to your son's history book is a threat and my AVAST virus protection won't let it be opened???

I've also read the AP World History book and was aghast!!!! Friends have read the AP U.S. History book and say that's even worse, so I'll pass. I don't think I'd survive it.

My daughter tells me this is my granddaughter's world and she has to live in it, so don't get into it, so I don't.

How do you handle it?

Clovis e Adri said...

AOG,

Your first link isn't working.

---
Do you think that there is some point at which demands and vituperation of these factories shades from legitimate concerns to abhorrence?
---
I hope you see how subjective that question is.

There are many people who are, let us say, very emotional in their way to see and react to the world. So I can understand some of them looking for the very bad working conditions and reacting with abhorrence - it does not mean they wish the workers jobless, or the company closed, only that they are reacting to a specific thing without taking notice of a greater context, but it comes from their hearts. I wouldn't direct to them all the cynicism and contempt you display.


I like that part of the post that says: "But like so many theories that Marx arrived at sitting in the reading room of the British Museum ...". This one is a constant in articles who praise how capitalism is so great for those working sweatshops: they think it is too smart to remark on Marx being a lazy intellectual who barely knew suffering to begin with.

The irony is that its author is probably writing it over a well cushioned chair, with a good coffee and donuts besides him, surrounded by comforts Marx wouldn't dream of. I wonder if Howard, who posts on the virtues of so hard working, actually knows what physical exhaustion ever meant in his long life.

Or you, dear AOG, working your brains over your multiple computers and screens - and knowing what's like to have a sore muscle only in your occasional bike trekkings, that you so much need in this sedentary life.

So when it comes to cynicism, who is winning here? All of us in our easy life preaching how those sweatshops are a virtue, or all of us in our easy life preaching how those factories should be closed down for the greater good of maintaining those cultures intact? I honestly can't pick up a winner.

Annoying Old Guy said...

Clovis;

I hope you see how subjective that question is.

Not really. I think the existence of such a line is fairly objective. Locating the line is very subjective.

My view on such emotional people is they are incredibly selfish. They put their own emotional response above any concern for the actual worker or his well being. So, yeah, I'm very cynical about that.

Which ties directly to that criicism of Marx. It's not about laziness, it's about otherworldly "concern" that doesn't actually concern itself with real workers in the real world.

As for physical vs. mental labor, it's not infrequent that I work to literal mental exhaustion. I'm not sure why physical exhaustion is better, but I've had my share of that as well, including working out in the fields of farms.

Clovis e Adri said...

AOG,

Well, thanks for the lesson on not assuming too much about someone you don't know.

Harry Eagar said...

And if the factory collapses and crushes a thousand workers, that's just the breaks, I guess. Gotta shave two mills off the production price of undershorts.

For China today, all I get is that the living standards in rural China were unbelievably low, despite the fact that China was the richest country in the world. (The Economist has an amusing graphic showing who displaced who in that category. No link, somebody put it in an FB post I saw.)

So, let us do history, and go back to the glorious period when Adam Smith was developing the theory of avarice unlimited. Were the crofters choosing to abandon their harsh lives in the Highlands for the shipyards and mills of Glasgow?

Well, were they? Was that the dynamic?

Or were they being driven out by the army working at the order of the capitalists?

And were they then better off anywhow?

Annoying Old Guy said...

Who should decide if the pay is worth the risk? Harry Eagar, arbiter of what is Good, or the workers?

Harry Eagar said...

Are you talking about the crofters?

Or the Bangladeshis?

If the crofters, your question is inane. If the Bangladeshis, then yes, Harry Eagar, because the choice is not between me and the workers but me and the employers, and we know the employers will always put the workers in danger if it widens profits. That's the
'fireproff hotel' principle which I have written of so often.

Harry Eagar said...

Let's consider risk/reward in Bangladesh, since that is the centrality of the capitalist fallacy.

1. The risk was not something uncontrollable like a comet hitting. It was deliberately created by the wealthiest capitalists the world has ever seen in the name of capitalist efficiency.

2. The workers were not well informed about the risk and were not in a position to become informed.

3. They did not chose low pay and death, only low pay; when they became alarmed they asked and were lied to or (in some cases) forced to return.

4. There was little opportunity for the alleged self-guiding hand of the markets to operate from the other (purchasers') end, as knowledge about risks was not easily found; and the Waltons spent enormous sums to spread disinformation.




Bret said...

Harry Eagar wrote: "They did not chose low pay and death..."

They probably chose low pay or death.

I had a leftist friend who traveled to India. When he got back he said something that astounded me: "We shouldn't work to force India to ban child labor."

Me: "Huh? Why not?"

Him: "Because if they aren't able to work and make money, they'll starve to death."

Be careful what you wish for Harry. Your attitude damages countless people. Far, far more than the "capitalists" you hate.

erp said...

... bbbbut Bret if they lived in a socialist paradise, they wouldn't have to have child labor. Remember, it's from all according to their abilities; to all according to their needs -- to be determined by people like Harry.

Harry Eagar said...

Ricardo lives. As I have said often enough.

However, the Bangladeshi disaster was a perfect example of the 'fireproof hotel' phenomenon, which in turn is the ultimate logical reaction to free market economics.

The risk/reward assumption from electing to build a collapsible factory adhered not to the workers: for them it was all risk, no reward. They did not get paid more for working in an unsafe factory than working in a deathtrap.

The economic reward came to the factory owner, as long as the building did not fall. He had a chance to get rich, or, as he presumably thought, a smaller chance of killing a thousand people and being prosecuted.

Wal-Mart knew of the situation but chose to be complicit. I'll let you work out the percentage gain to its bottom line and stock valuation.

Howard said...

Ricardo is terrific, but you need to add some Bastiat to your analysis at a bare minimum.

Bret said...

Harry wrote: "They did not get paid more for working in an unsafe factory than working in a deathtrap."

Why do you think they would've had jobs if they didn't work there? Why do you think the factory owner would've been able to hire the workers if not for Walmart? Why do you think with 60,000 suppliers that anybody at Walmart who could've prevented this would've known?

Clovis e Adri said...

Bret,

Why do you think they wouldn't have jobs if the factory had to be a safer place?

Law of diminishing returns applies here too, but in the inverse: safety requirements may be expensive and look excessive in places like the US, but in places like Bangladesh you can add a lot of safety very cheaply, for they start from a much lower level.

Bret said...

Clovis,

GDP per capita US: $55,000
GDP per capita Brazil: $11,000
GDP per capita Bangladesh: $1,100

Brazil is ten times richer than Bangladesh, the US is 50 times richer.

Any amount of money you put into anything other than food in Bangladesh means someone doesn't eat. It's very simple.

Clovis e Adri said...

Bret,

That's a fallacy, and a cheap one at that.

The owner of that factory surely applied his money in many things other than food.

Try to think it this way: when the US was 50 times poorer so long ago, would its entrepreneurs display the same disregard for the life of its employees?

I think both Harry and you miss the point by framing it as purely a matter of capital. It's more a matter of culture.

Bret said...

Clovis wrote: "The owner of that factory surely applied his money in many things other than food."

Maybe. Do you have conclusive evidence for that? Even if so, perhaps he bought stuff from other businesses so that those business could employ people so the employees could buy food.

If he put more money into the facility, he likely would've paid them less. Below a certain ROI, things don't happen, companies don't start, people don't get hired, and then they starve.

Ten times poorer than Brazil, Clovis. At $1,100 GDP per capita, the vast majority of money is going towards food.

Clovis wrote: "...when the US was 50 times poorer so long ago, would its entrepreneurs display the same disregard for the life of its employees?"

I'm not following. You think that workers were never killed on the job in the US 200 years ago? Or today? Up until recently, there have always been plenty of high-risk jobs in the US (and everywhere else) and plenty of people willing to take them.

Clovis e Adri said...

Bret,

---
Even if so, perhaps he bought stuff from other businesses so that those business could employ people so the employees could buy food.
---
And if the stuff he bought from other businesses was directed to improve his factory safety a bit, it suddenly wouldn't contribute anymore to "employ people so the employees could buy food"?


---
I'm not following. You think that workers were never killed on the job in the US 200 years ago? Or today?
---
Maybe you are not following for lack of information.

Tazreen factory fire, 2012:

"On the night of the fire, more than 1,150 people were in the eight-story building, working on a tight deadline to fill orders for international buyers. When the fire broke out and an alarm sounded, some managers told their employees to ignore the alarm and continue to work."
[...] "noting that some of his managers closed collapsible gates to block workers from running down staircases."

How so much more expensive would be for them to have managers who knew better?

They were lucky only 112 (of 1150) employees died. Because one year later, there was the Rana plaza factory collapse, where 1130 died (of 2500), and there we have it again:

"The Bangladeshi news media reported that inspection teams had discovered cracks in the structure of Rana Plaza on Tuesday. Shops and a bank branch on the lower floors immediately closed. But the owners of the garment factories on the upper floors ordered employees to work on Wednesday, despite the safety risks."

Terribly expensive to have people in charge that actually knows what huge cracks in the structure means?


As I said before, it is really cheap - in fact, it gives you great economy by saving you of greater trouble - to implement very basic safety standards, Bret.

Annoying Old Guy said...

How so much more expensive would be for them to have managers who knew better?

This could only be written by someone who hasn't had to actually interview and hire people. If you find a way to always hire managers who know what they're doing, drop out of physics and go in to business, you'll be rich.

I would also note you wrote this - "when the US was 50 times poorer so long ago, would its entrepreneurs display the same disregard for the life of its employees?". Bret asked you about it and your long response was not in fact responsive. Is your claim things like those fires did not happen in US history?

Bret said...

Clovis,

I'm not finding your arguments convincing. I'm confident in my belief that:

* those workers had a choice to work in that dangerous factory and/or other dangerous factories like it or not at all.

* if they had chosen not to work, they wouldn't've eaten or at least been in dire straits.

* there is no societal organization for a poor country like Bangladesh that will avoid all situations like that

* there have been dozens of cases in the United States where hundreds of people have died in tragedies that could possibly have been prevented

Was it a tragedy? Yes. If I could wave a magic wand and make such tragedies never happen (without causing alternate tragedies such as higher unemployment, lower opportunity, etc.) would I do so? Yes. Will that happen? No. Do tragedies happen like this all the time? No, it's moderately rare even for a place like Bangladesh.

In all honesty, Harry's (and now your) focus on this one incident in a world where 200,000 people die each day (i.e. 1,100 is hardly a blip), makes me suspicious, as if there's a hidden agenda (for example, anti-capitalism or anti-Walmart), as opposed to any real and realistic concern.

Clovis e Adri said...

AOG,

---
If you find a way to always hire managers who know what they're doing, drop out of physics and go in to business, you'll be rich.
---
I do believe I can find a reasonable number of managers who would not lock people up to burn to death.

I even think that's so easy that pretty much anyone willing to find those managers could do it too, so that's not going to make me rich.

---
Is your claim things like those fires did not happen in US history?
---
No, it is my claim that in US culture, back then and now, you won't find the same level of disregard for the life of fellow citizens and/or employees as in Bangladesh.

Bret said...

Clovis wrote: "I do believe I can find a reasonable number of managers who would not lock people up to burn to death."

Sure. Nearly all of them given that this particular incident was pretty unique and rare, even for Bangladesh.

Clovis e Adri said...

Bret,

---
Do tragedies happen like this all the time? No, it's moderately rare even for a place like Bangladesh.
---
Wrong. It is not rare at all in Bangladesh. Hundreds of people die every year in those factories. And it has been so for many years now.

There are many levels between tragedies "that could possibly have been prevented". We are talking here about the most dire levels, where they could have been prevented by basic and, many times, costless acts.


---
makes me suspicious, as if there's a hidden agenda (for example, anti-capitalism or anti-Walmart), as opposed to any real and realistic concern.
---
If you want me to label as anti-capitalist for my views presented here, it is your call. I do frequently buy at Walmart down here in Brazil though (and did so even as a tourist in the US too), and I can't recall writing something against them in your blog yet (or any other blog, for what it's worth).

May it be that your need to look for some hidden agenda is betraying yourself?

Bret said...

Clovis wrote: "...you won't find the same level of disregard for the life of fellow citizens and/or employees as in Bangladesh."

I don't really know Bangladeshi culture, so I'll have to take your word for it.

My impression though, is Harry's feeling is that since we buy from Walmart who buys from a supplier who buys from Bangladeshi factories, we have the exact same disregard for human life as those in Bangladesh. Or am I misinterpreting where Harry (and now to some extent you) has been taking this.

Bret said...

Clovis wrote: "Hundreds of people die every year in those factories."

I have to assume far more than hundreds. There are thousands of occupational deaths in the United States every year. Many of them potentially preventable.

When I'm out in the world of agriculture, I see employee actions that are intensely risky. These actions would get them fired on the spot if the employer saw them do it and are illegal to boot. For example, drivers jump off moving tractors to inspect the operation of the equipment being pulled by the tractor, then they run to catch the tractor and jump back on. Just this one activity problem kills 10 people a year.

Crop duster pilots repeatedly fly under power wires (or just over) while spraying fields. These guys die all the time.

Work is risky. Life is risky.

Clovis e Adri said...

Bret,

I can't tell what Harry feels, but don't think you display any disregard for Bangladeshi's human life when buying at Walmart.

IMO though, you do display such disregard when you downplay the extent to which Bangladeshi's garment industry owners are reckless and stupid. You try to cloth it in some sort of harsh realism about life, but maybe it is you who have some hidden agenda where any criticism to entrepreneurs is taken too personally.

Lately, I often find myself siding with conservatives in their criticism to liberals who bill any human misbehavior on money and external conditions, to the expense of any view touching the role of character and moral fiber.

You are practicing here a bit of the same, by thinking those Bangladeshi can't possibly act based on Right and Wrong in the middle of their dire poverty.

Bret said...

Clovis wrote: "You try to cloth it in some sort of harsh realism about life..."

I'm actually trying to clothe it in terms of tradeoffs which is what this post is about. I think the Bangladeshis would do well to encourage entrepreneurs and business activity as much as possible even if some of those business owners are going to be reckless and stupid and even if some catastrophic events occur ending in death. In the not-so-long-run, I feel that the Bangladeshis will be, overall, better off with more business, not less, and I find the American Leftists carping from the sidelines about this one incident over and over (this is at least the third time Harry has brought it up here), is hugely counterproductive for the Bangladeshis and poor people everywhere.

I think it's extraordinarily unlikely that you can simultaneously get Bangladeshis to focus on safety while encouraging business development. I see zero evidence that that's possible and significant evidence to the contrary (GDP of $1,100 and reckless and stupid owners abound apparently).

Clovis wrote: "...criticism to entrepreneurs is taken too personally."

Perhaps. What is certainly true is that I rarely take criticism to entrepreneurs seriously except from other entrepreneurs because I'm convinced that those who haven't started and run businesses have no idea how hard it is since I certainly didn't before I did it. In other words, go start a business or two, and let me know if you still feel the same way. Otherwise, sorry, I don't feel you have the experience and knowledge base with which to understand the tradeoffs that business owners face.

Clovis wrote: "...thinking those Bangladeshi can't possibly act based on Right and Wrong in the middle of their dire poverty."

Of course they can and yes, it's wrong to lock people in a burning building (though I don't trust MSM reporting on the subject so I'm not even vaguely convinced that that's what happened).

But why the focus on this one event? Why is it so important? Are there any concrete actions that can possibly be taken be me or you with the knowledge of this one event?

Bret said...

It turns out that according to the Left, American entrepreneurs are equally callous as the Bangladeshis. From http://www.hoover.org/research/political-economy-nail-salons :

"In this age of strong populist discontent with the state of American labor markets, Nir does not pull any punches in condemning the abusive practices in this rapidly growing industry, which is largely serviced by Korean, Chinese, Nepalese, and Hispanic women: “Manicurists are routinely underpaid and exploited, and endure ethnic bias and other abuse.” Her investigation documents the tyrannical practices of the small business owners who employ the manicurists. Whatever the benefits of cheap manicures may be for the people of New York City and nearby communities, Nir argues that they exact a human toll, moral and physical, on the young immigrant women of Asia and Latin America."

Poisoning our manicurists. For shame!

Clovis e Adri said...

Bret,

---
What is certainly true is that I rarely take criticism to entrepreneurs seriously except from other entrepreneurs [...]
---
I see, who am I to criticize those truly illuminated by market wisdom?

You could as well have upfronted that opinion in your first comment, so I wouldn't waste your precious time with my ignorance.

---
But why the focus on this one event?
---
I did not focus on one, rather I gave you too and easily could have given dozens. As any other Google user can attest.

---
Why is it so important?
---
I did not bring it up first, but I believe it was brought up to make context for the claims in this thread. IMO it illustrates the weak logic behind this post, where everything can and should be justified for the greater good of "escaping poverty".

---
Are there any concrete actions that can possibly be taken be me or you with the knowledge of this one event?
---
Is this the criterium for everything we usually discuss in this forum?

Annoying Old Guy said...

Clovis;

it is my claim that in US culture, back then and now, you won't find the same level of disregard for the life of fellow citizens and/or employees as in Bangladesh

Based on what? Apparently not a lower rate of accidents in the American past of this nature.

Let's posit that "Bangladeshi's garment industry owners are reckless and stupid". Therefore...?

Clovis e Adri said...

AOG,

---
Based on what? Apparently not a lower rate of accidents in the American past of this nature.
---
I believe I could argue even that - most probably a correlation that takes account of severity and rate will show the US as safer even then. But I won't lose more time arguing anything on this subject, I don't think people here are approaching it with an open mind.

---
Let's posit that "Bangladeshi's garment industry owners are reckless and stupid". Therefore...?
---
Let's posit progressives are all reckless and stupid. Therefore...?

Annoying Old Guy said...

Clovis;

Let's posit progressives are all reckless and stupid

Why?

I'd rather consider something actually in this discussion, that is your quote in my posit. I'm curious as to what you think are the implications of your statement.

Clovis e Adri said...

The same as any other statement in a blog: it only implies lost bits and time you put out there.

Harry Eagar said...

'Why do you think with 60,000 suppliers that anybody at Walmart who could've prevented this would've known?'

Because Wal-Mart controls everything; Wal-Mart store managers are not even allowed to turn on the lights. It's all -- and I do mean all -- controlled fron Bentonville.

'Any amount of money you put into anything other than food in Bangladesh means someone doesn't eat. It's very simple.'

So the hills of refuge in the coastal zone were a needless extravagance?