In Praise of Cheap Labor RE: WTO the rampage! (fwd)

Ernest Prabhakar (
Tue, 7 Dec 1999 09:38:14 -0800

[Trimming the CC line]

This reminds of my most amusing anecdote concerning free trade. I
was at a Salsa party, and started dancing with a girl one of my
friends use to date (a willowy blonde). She made some comment about
the immorality of corporations moving overseas in search of cheap
labor. I made the counter-point that it was more moral to create
jobs for desperately poor people with no options than to 'hoard' such
jobs here in America. This led to a spirited but good-natured
discussion -- all while we were dancing!

As I told her afterwards, I think most issues would be resolved much
more peacably if the combatants were required to dance with each
other during the debate...

I must admit I am a little leery of "pure free market" arguments,
since a lot of them have amoral overtones (e.g., implicitly assuming
that Pareto optimality is the 'greatest good'). Still, I have to
sympathize with Dan's point about allowing people to market
environmental and political alternatives, rather than enforcing them

After all, which is more immoral: for a company to employ a 12
year old child for a subsistence wage, or for a global entity to
effectively forbid that child from working, even if his family is
starving? Maybe neither is that great, but sometimes you have to
live with the lesser evil.

I'm all in favor of curbing the worst abuses, perhaps even by
forbidding it, though I do agree that labelling (creating a market
for moral choices, effectively) is often sufficient. What bothers
me is that much of modern liberalism seems more focused on supporting
our self-righteousness (rather like modern conservatism :-) rather
than truly helping the poor. After all, the reason poor people in
other countries work in these factories is that it the best option
available to them. Trying to suppress that option, rather than
improve or expand that option, does not seem to be morally
defensible, even if it is politically expedient...

-- Ernie P.

Begin forwarded message:

From: Dan Kohn <>

That said, I disagree with all of Chris's other points. If you want to
alleviate poverty and end child labor in the developing world,
support free
trade and the WTO. If you want to improve the environment here and
support free trade and the WTO. ("Rich" people care about the environment
while poor people care about feeding their children. Free trade and
economic development is the only way anyone knows to make poor
people rich,
as the Japanese, South Koreans, and Chileans can attest.) If you
care about
good jobs at good wages, support free trade and the WTO, since
leads to neither (as demonstrated by India in the 1980's and much of
today). By contrast, if you care about preserving obsolete rust-belt jobs
(the ones that tend to be unionized) at the expense of consumers
and many good new jobs that could be created, oppose the WTO and join the