There is no such thing as a free lunch.

Humanitarians for Sweatshops

I just read a great article about sweatshops from the liberal Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist Nicholas Kristof.  Humanitarians generally believe that sweatshops are deplorable places and that Americans should boycott companies whose products are manufactured in sweatshops.  The truth is, that by American standards, sweatshops are in many cases downright deplorable.  But in actuality the working conditions and pay in a third-world country sweatshop are far better than in alternative lines of available work – agriculture, crime, prostitution, etc.  Sweatshop jobs are in high-demand and are a way out of poverty for much of the world’s poor.  As sweatshops become more productive, wages increase and conditions improve.  As wages increase, workers have more disposable income and access to better education.  As incomes and education increase, workers gain access to better jobs, and the process goes on.  It may take generation or two, but countries like South Korea and Taiwan that opened their labor markets early on are now considerably farther ahead economically than countries like China and India, which did so much later.  So, ironically, the best way to improve working conditions at sweatshops, is to buy more stuff produced in sweatshops.


1 Dan { 11.19.08 at 12:24 am }

Columbia University’s Jeffrey Sachs,one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world agrees in his 2005 book, “The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities of Our Time.” Essentially he argues that it is hypocritical of idealists from the developed world to argue against sweatshops and child labor in developing economies; that the same standards cannot apply. Holding developing economies to the same labor standards that apply in the developed world actually slows the development and lowers the standard of living for those who actually live it, as opposed to those who argue against it from their comfortable homes in developed economies. I would argue it is a similar argument to holding developing economies to the same environmental standards as developed countries, but both arguments clearly have boundaries and can be slippery slopes if not considered in context. Anyways, it’s a great book and I highly recommend it, it’ll make you think.

2 msg { 11.19.08 at 7:30 am }

Cool, I’ll check it out. But too bad that the two presidential candidates for whom you voted have poor records on free trade, especially compared to John McCain:

3 msg { 11.19.08 at 7:50 am }

Here’s actually a cool site from Cato where you can view each Congressperson’s free trade votes:

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