Monday, December 17, 2007

Economists like Lott...

...love to tout the fable of "comparative advantage" as a justification for globalization, without ever really explaining just what that means via-a-vis the disappearance of American manufacturing jobs. The reason they don't explain this clearly is because doing so is rather embarassing - the reason places like China have an "advantage" in manufacturing is that they engage in practices that are illegal in this country for good reasons.

Wal-Mart is one of the most well-known examples of globalization run amok, which ironically would make Sam Walton turn in his grave if he knew about it, since "buy American" was one of his slogans when he was alive and running things. His heirs, though, have apparently been listening too much to Lott and not enough to people who understand the deeper dysfunctions of globalization.

Woe Christmas Tree: Wal-Mart Buys Ornaments From a Chinese Sweatshop
News: Just in time for the holidays, teenage whistleblowers expose the factory where kids make tree-trimmings on the cheap.
By Celia Perry December 14, 2007

...Turns out the Guangzhou Huanya ornaments factory in Guangdong, where the high school students worked, employs children as young as 12, who are forced to work 15 hour days, 7 days a week to make Wal-Mart's Christmas ornaments in time for the holiday season. It might come as no surprise that the wages paid by the big box behemoth's manufacturers are paltry, but these kids earn only half of China's minimum wage—just 26 cents an hour...

...workers at the factory have been exposed to dangerous chemicals that cause skin rashes and sores. But the management of the factory doesn't pay for medical bills or allow sick days and docks workers who quit unexpectedly an entire month's pay...

..."This case makes it clear that hiring young workers is an institutionalized practice," she said when we spoke today after the release of the group's investigative report. "This is the way Wal-Mart is doing business. It's not an anomaly, and this factory isn't just a hole in the wall." Indeed, the Guangzhou Huanya factory in Guangdong employs 8,000 workers and is among the top three Christmas ornament makers in mainland China...

...Reports of dangerous working conditions and labor abuses in China are not new. The country, long condemned for its human rights abuses, has become the world's most prolific manufacturer in the last quarter century....


Not that I care a bit about christmas ornaments, but they don't just make ornaments in China - they make just about everything sold at Wal-Mart and other discount stores in China.

Now, class - think about this. Why is it illegal in the United States for the Robber Baron CEO's to allow this behavior here?

Why do we have laws forbidding companies from working you till you drop every week?

Why do we have minimum wage laws?

Why do we have laws against directly exposing workers and the environment to hazardous chemicals?

Why do we have child labour laws?

Because we, as a society, have decided that it is immoral, unethical, and just plain wrong for workers and ourselves to be subjected to these conditions.

The only reason that China and other regimes have a "comparative advantage" is that they chose to allow immoral, unethical, dangerous, and just plain wrong conditions to persist in their factories and businesses.

That's not a "comparative advantage" - in fact, by definition they are not "comparable" because when one society has laws to protect basic human decency and the environment and one does not, they are by definition NOT comparable. The whole theory of "comparative advantage" is a farce pushed by the Robber Barons to justify getting away with conditions and practices that would never fly in the US, because we have basic standards of decency, as a Judeo-Christian Western nation, that other cultures simply do not have.

They take advantage of this mis-match of standards to make themselves rich at the expense of the workers, who, lacking Western protections, must work in a job market whose government doesn't dare insist on protections for labourers because then the Robber Baron CEO's would just pack up and move to some other third world backwater that lacks them.

Meanwhile, here in America, our workers lose jobs, because they can't and won't work for Twenty-Six cents an hour starting at middle school age in dangerous conditions for over 15 hours a day with no medical care, sick leave, sabbaths or holiday breaks.

Now, class - here's where it gets difficult.

EVERY TIME YOU BUY SOMETHING FROM WAL-MART or something made in China or some other inhumane backwater, YOU ARE AGREEING THAT IT IS PERFECTLY OK to only pay people twenty-six cents and hour and make them work for over 15 hours a day starting at middle school age in dangerous toxic conditions.

YOU have caused this by AGREEING to buy the stuff made that way. IF YOU DIDN'T buy stuff made that way, they COULDN'T continue to make stuff that way. They can only sell WHAT YOU WILL BUY.

This means you are going to have to impose some standards on them. That means you are, gasp, going to have to buy less. Instead of buying cheap junk made by unethical Robber Barons, you are going to have to buy more expensive stuff made in America and Europe where we have laws enforcing moral and humane working conditions and living wages.

If you refuse to do so, then you will have only yourself to blame when minimum wage wall-mart jobs are the only jobs available for your kids. YOU will have caused every decent paying producer of American artifacts, crafts, goods, furniture and products to go out of business. YOU will have guaranteed that the only jobs out there are mowing other people's lawns and doing other people's laundry, because manufacturing jobs are fast disappearing from these shores because of the STUPID choices you have ALREADY made while out shopping.

It's time to stop blaming others for our economy and put the blame where it belongs - on us. We bought into the "more is more" consumer society, insisted that we needed more and more cheaper and cheaper stuff that we really didn't need, and refused to support American businesses because their prices were "too high."

Well, they are not "too high." They pay exactly what they need to pay to insure safe, humane, reasonable wages and working conditions. The reason the imported stuff is cheaper is because both their products and their labour practices are SUBSTANDARD.

We must throw off the tyranny of the race to the bottom - globalization is a fantasy of unattainable promises based on false premises. Buy local. Buy American. Shun products made by Robber Baron CEO's living in luxury off the backs of the poor and ignorant in backwater countries. It is a VIOLATION of Torah to exploit workers, and we should not patronize any company or manufacturer that does so. When we do, WE ARE EXPLOITING those workers just as surely as their unethical employers are. WE ARE ENSLAVING THEM. WE ARE PAYING THEIR TASKMASTERS TO SUBJUGATE THEM.

So it's our fault, class. We made those children work in dangerous conditions 7 days a week, 15+ hours a day, for a quarter an hour. And we need to stop it.

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