And now for something completely different… Okay, PDers, get ready, because today we’re going to put on our scholastic hats in order to make the case for sweatshops.
For? Did we really mean to say for? Yes, for.
We will even throw in a little of our Book Club pick Milton Friedman and an odd bedfellow any way you slice it, Paul Krugman, for a well-rounded approach to this topic.
Deep breath, and here it is:
In his landmark look at poverty in the third world Jeffrey Sachs made the shocking case that the cure for the planet’s down trodden is in essence more sweatshops, thereby making clipboard wielding Progressive campus activists let out a collective gasp as they jumped onto social media to condemn such a heartless notion.
For all of their first world indignation though, those activists do not realize just how much they fit into economist Paul Krugman’s comment about those having the lofty moral position of being against globalization were only able to do so because, “They have chosen to not think their position through.”
Before one can properly assess the case in favor of sweatshops, the term itself must first be defined. According to Robert Tracinski, Progressives weighted down by their sworn dogma that any self-interest is evil, delight in the Dickensian workhouse imagery that is invoked in the public’s mind by the mere mention of the word sweatshop. The emotional reaction allows for the Progressives’ policy to have full reign in applying the term to any factory in the developing world, in addition to using vague catchphrases such as forced labor, in lieu of the lackluster sounding, few bathroom breaks.
A fairer definition of sweatshop would be a factory where people voluntarily are able to work long hours, for what is considered by the West to be low pay, often in unregulated spaces. Another important distinction that should be made is that sweatshops are thought to be a symptom of the poverty in a region rather than the cause of poverty.
In fact, sweatshops actually started in the West and provided countless millions the opportunity to better the lives of themselves and their children. Such a case even comes from one of the premier economists of the last century, Milton Friedman. In his television series Free to Choose, Friedman described how his mother, an immigrant from Eastern Europe, was able to come to the United States and make a life for herself and eventually for him through the job opportunities provided by New York’s Sewing District sweatshops. There, she was able to learn the English language and acquired skills she was able to parlay into another and higher paid job.
The Friedman family story is one that has been repeated millions of times over in nations across the world, from Hong Kong in the 1970’s and 1980’s, to mainland China in the 1990’s, and now to the Indian Subcontinent and Latin America.
Despite the Illinois Supreme Court ruling against Florence Kelly’s efforts to use state regulation to implement social justice for the factory workers of Chicago by limiting how many hours they could legally work, the court deeming the move unconstitutional, her case of Ritchie vs. The People was the rallying cry the Progressives of the early twenty-first century needed to force sweatshops out. In conjunction with unions, Progressives made business owners move their factories, and thereby those thousands of jobs to the Far East. The Sewing District that granted Milton Friedman’s mother a first step on the rung of prosperity is now a shell of its former glory. What was once miles of factories now takes up a single street block.
An example of the Progressive mindset of that time, can be found even now in the 2013 speech of the newly elected Seattle Council member and self-proclaimed Socialist, Kshama Sawant to the Union Workers of Boeing. While demanding a hike in wages and other benefits from Boeing, Sawant said, “The workers should take over the factories and shut down Boeing’s profit making machine.”
Terry Gou, the Chairman and founder of Foxconn may have just donated $454 million to the YongLin Biomedical Engineering Center in hopes of curing cancer, but the suicide nets that adorn the Shenzhen landscape of Foxconn, hanging off the roofs of each factory building, still stick in the minds of the Western public. Was it the harsh and fast-paced working conditions brought on by the West’s need for 90 million iPhones that drove fourteen factory workers to end their lives in 2010? That narrative was splashed all over global media, but unfortunately vital facts where left out of the headlines.
The fact that Foxconn employs more than one million people, making the total suicide rate come out to .000014, or .0014% was nowhere to be find in the nightly news reports. In comparison, American college students, whom by far and away have better living conditions and less of a workload, commit suicide at four times that rate. Furthermore, according to a Wired Magazine article in 2011, Foxconn even had a lower rate of suicide when compared to other Chinese regions, both rural and urban, which would allow for the possibility that having steady employment in a factory, as opposed to traditional Chinese occupations, actually produces a less fatalistic populace.
Apart from media forcing a cultural connection between Nikes and suicide nets, the low wages offered at most factories are another point the West finds hard to swallow. Progressives will tell you that surely someone making 80 cents an hour for 12 hours a day being spent hunched over a sewing machine is a crime against humanity. Again, such numbers need context.
While a living wage in the United States might come out to $10 an hour, in the developing world lower sums of money can go much further, especially in countries with little to no inflation. In Bangladesh, where the sweatshop fire in questioned occurred, 77% of the population lives on less than $2 a day, while sweatshop wages in that country average to be even higher than that. Though the sticker shock of $2.50 an hour feels horrendous in the eyes of Westerns, the alternative is far worse.
We’ll pause here for now, but check back with us next week for Part 2: The Case For Sweatshops.