Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Economic Morality (or lack thereof).

The Texas Observer
Buy Some Stuff, Enslave Somebody
Josh Rosenblatt reviewing:

Nobodies: Modern American Slave Labor and the Dark Side of the New Global Economy
by John Bowe

Years from now, when the story of our corporate age is told with the clarity of hindsight, I’m guessing one of the phrases scholars will keep coming back to is “plausible deniability.” The tale will capture our era’s wide disparities in wealth, and its almost universal indifference to the rampant mistreatment of workers from countries less fortunate than our own.

After all, when we buy a product—a piece of fruit, a new suit, an iPod—how many of us really comprehend what was required to bring that product to our tables, our backs, or our pockets? The expanding global economy demands that corporations seek out the cheapest possible labor to maximize profit, and stimulate growth and innovation. With free trade has come an explosion of global inequality that has left more than 2.8 billion people living on less than $2 a day. We in the wealthy West, living and dining off the fruits of their labor, can honestly say we are unaware of the devil’s bargain we bought into. Or that if we do know, the problem is simply too great to comprehend and beyond our means to do anything about, save changing our lifestyles entirely. Best, in other words, not to think about it...

.... It’s that “plausible deniability” effect: We didn’t know what was going on, and even if we did, what could we possibly do about it? In his rousing conclusion, Bowe argues that the thing to be done is admit that free-market globalization doesn’t work for the 95 percent of the world’s population living in destitution. The “invisible hand” of the market is neither a wise nor a moral agent, and it needs to be tempered with global labor standards—worldwide minimum wages, 40-hour workweeks, guaranteed health care and education—not so we can sleep at night knowing the wretched of the Earth aren’t wretched because of us, but for a more pressing reason: Social injustice and economic inequality can go on only so long before the people on the bottom of the pyramid grow desperate enough to do something about their situations. Witness the rise of Islamic fundamentalism or the proliferation of prison gangs in Brazil: These ultraviolent groups thrive in areas of blatant disparity, and if the global market continues to ignore them, Bowe argues, these “social pandemics” will become as menacing as global warming. “The issue,” he writes, “will then become one of self-preservation more than justice. Never mind the question, ‘Are you fine with your comfort relying on the misery of billions?’ The question would be, ‘Do you want them to come kill you?’”

I have mentioned this topic before. The secular American culture is not concerned about the economic effects of globalization, but Torah commands us to be. As I have said before, we have laws against child labour, minimum wage and maximum hours laws, laws requiring companies to be responsible for the health and welfare of their employees, laws protecting the social contract between employers and employees, laws that protect the environment and so on and so on because we, as a Judeo-Christian society, have decided these are the moral and ethical requirements for doing business.

Some people thought if we opened our markets to places without such laws, they would decide to make such laws. Instead, by sending billions and billions of dollars to companies that do business in those places and neglecting companies that respect our ethical and moral decisions, we have found ourselves in the position of losing the protections we enacted instead of spreading them to others.

Torah commands us to not oppress people, foreigners, children widows, orphans, the poor, or anyone else for that matter. And yet we're doing it every day - and, for good measure, griping that insurance and retirement and other benefits are vanishing. And, of course, there are employers like Rubashkin who go out of their way to be DIRECTLY involved in exploiting them - hiring illegal aliens specifically because they don't get minimum wages or benefits and can be worked long hours for no additional pay.

And when you buy this stuff, you're defacto supporting oppression and exploitation and even slavery. The truth is, class, that there is no such thing as a free lunch. If the price of something is cheap up front, that just means you're paying the externalized costs through your taxes or lower wages/benefits or lowering of the standard of living and government services available to you. They don't just go away.

We have to make choices that benefit our communities and are ethical and moral when we buy goods or services. It's our responsibility to do this - ourselves alone.

1 comment:

S said...


I wonder if your readers might be interested in our article,
"Hiring Illegal Aliens" at

Please feel free to link to it or excerpt it.

Joseph Ryan
Washington Research Associates, Inc.