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

Ernest Prabhakar (
Tue, 7 Dec 1999 17:17:06 -0800

I hear you, and I think you are right that it wouldn't kill
companies to do more. I am sympathetic to the idea of a 'living
wage', particularly one that wouldn't eliminate comparative advantage
(though I suspect the AFL-CIO would not be:). And I am certainly in
favor of humane working conditions.

I guess my real problem with the virulence of anti-WTO sentiment is
a vauge notion of separation of powers. The charter of the WTO is
to help free trade flourish. I guess I would prefer to see moral
issues handled in parallel, rather than as part of the same mandate.
Perhaps that's my conservative leanings, or some vague concerns
about imposing Western morality everywhere (though admittedly I do
believe there are universal moral absolutes). My idealistic solution
would be the sort of voluntary standards coupled with advertising
that the tuna industry adopted.

Perhaps I'm just listening to the wrong liberals. The talk I hear
is rhetoric about the loss of U.S. jobs, or how ridiculously low
wages are in U.S. terms. But I don't really care about the former
(I'm not that politico-centric), and the latter doesn't seem to mean
anything (my fiancee makes $1/day, plus room & board, which is
actually reasonable for a student in India).

If you have some web sites from thoughtful critics that actually
reflect the realities of the situation, and don't just want to make
the WTO a super-bureacracy to solve everyone's problems, I would
actually like to see them.


-- Ernie P.

From: "Robert S. Thau" <>
Date: Dec 07, 1999 03:35:20 PM US/Pacific

> 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...

I've heard a fair bit of radio coverage of the views of the Seattle
protestors. Many of their spokes-folks were talking about improving
conditions in third-world factories; none were talking about shutting
them down. If you heard them saying "let them eat cake", I'd
appreciate a reference, but I don't think that's really representative
of the majority view of the Seattle anti-WTO groups.

In the meantime, what talk I've heard talk about shutting up factories
has come from the other side, as doom-and-gloom predictions of what
would happen if the third world had to deal with higher labor
standards. And I inevitably wind up filtering that through my
first-world experience, which is this: whenever a law or regulation is
floated which is going to cost businesses real money, whether it has
to do with, say, recycling (this was supposedly going to bankrupt
every company in Germany a few years ago), labor laws (every
U.S. minimum wage increase for the past few decades), or just plain
decent business practices (again from the U.S., parental and family
leave), the same litany is trotted out every time: "If this bill is
passed, we won't be able to stay in business. Jobs will be lost, and
innocent people will be hurt". You hear it from the companies. You
hear it from friendly regulators who are planning to "retire" into
high-paying jobs in the industries they are supposed to regulate. You
hear it from legislators the companies have bought. Then, if the law
gets passed anyway, somehow, miraculously, the companies manage to
still make money in bushels.

Maybe things are different in India, but here in the States, I've
learned to be skeptical about these sorts of pronouncements.