RE: "New Age Racists"? (was Re: leftist bullies)

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From: Lisa Dusseault (
Date: Mon Nov 27 2000 - 14:33:23 PST

Although the China Post article had some things to complain about, this
criticism of the article had even more.

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Matt Jensen []
> Sent: Monday, November 27, 2000 12:50 PM
> Subject: "New Age Racists"? (was Re: leftist bullies)
> 1. While some protesters were principally concerned with keeping U.S.
> incomes high, some others were principally concerned with raising Third
> World incomes to prevent a race to the bottom. The first group tended to
> be old school labor unions. The second group tended to be more progressive
> unions and peace/justice groups. But in both cases, the groups were
> pushing for minimum living wage standards for trading partners.

I found the union groups to be quite disingenuous when they claimed to be
protecting third-world workers. I prefer it when they come right out and
claim that they want to preserve American jobs, when by "American" they mean
those in their union. Protectionism, while it may not benefit the country
as a whole, can at least protect American workers in a low-worker-education
industry like garment-making from having to find other jobs. To be clear,
forcing minimum living wage standards on another country is protectionism,
because it could (may well be intended to!) price those workers out of
competition in the labour market. It's a very clever marketing stunt on the
part of the unions.

The peace/justice groups are more likely sincere, but they're just
wrong-minded when they claim to protect third-world workers by these
methods. Note first that these third-world workers are not clamouring to be
protected. I wouldn't cite the South China Morning Post for unbiased
journalism, but even in countries with rather free presses, nobody is
encouraging these American protesters. If that's the case, how can the
peace/justice groups claim to be working on their behalf?

The point here is that it's PRECISELY the fact that third-world workers are
willing to work for wages you or I would not and under conditions that you
or I would not that makes globalization desirable. Mandating improved
salaries and working conditions has the inevitable result that their labor
will be more expensive. Some will lose their jobs. Now, it may seem to you
that the loss of what you consider a bad job is no great loss, but realize
that even these bad jobs are better than the alternatives (largely
subsistence farming). The evidence of this is that the workers in question
CHOSE these jobs over the alternatives.

Krugman ( regularly comments on this, and
has explained the philosophy of both sides of the position quite well here:

The final argument against the position of the peace/justice corps is the
pure economic reasoning argument. Economists agree(!) on a simple model of
comparative advantage. When there is no trade between two countries (called
East and West), each obviously has its own GDP, average wage, and product
prices. When there is free trade, EVEN IF West is more efficient at
producing EVERY product than East, both countries have increased buying
power, mostly due to lower prices all around. East has a _comparative_
advantage in at least some products, because by producing those products,
East frees up workers in West to work at things at which West is _most_

The principle of comparative advantage can be mathematically proven, but the
most approachable argument is a simple illustration, with the two countries
and two products to compare. E.g. the loss of garment jobs from West to
East drives more workers in West into web-page production which means both
garments and web-pages are cheaper for everyone in East and West. See
"Peddling Prosperity", (Krugman again), ch 10. The example is extremely
simple and compelling, and I encourage anybody who cares about free trade or
globalization to read it through.

Now Matt, you may be well aware of the economic principles that prove the
peace/justice groups to be misguided. You didn't say if they were right or
wrong, but your email implied that they were at least trying to do the right
thing. However, when one's head in the sand, one is unlikely have things
the right way up.

> Exactly how is that racist again? It's certainly not racist on its face.

Personally I've never argued that they were racist, but it's not hard to see
racism if you're Chinese, and continually told that Americans are looking
out for your best interests (we know what's best for you), and also that
American jobs must be protected from Chinese workers. I assume a country
unused to the press freedoms we have here would see these arguments as all
coming from Americans thus presenting one monolithic almagamated position.
If that were the case, the position Americans seem to hold would be so
inconsistent as to be explicable only through invoking something like

> Were all the protesters in on a conspiracy,

Not really, except that they conveniently ignored their MAJOR differences of
opinion in order to increase pressure on the WTO. I was in Seattle & talked
to people who participated, and they were of all stripes:
pro-US-sovereignty (anti-world-government), unions, anarchists (differently
anti-world-government), environmentalists. You can't even say that all
these groups are anti-free-trade, or that they are all concerned primarily
about third-world workers. Although normally these groups would be lobbying
for quite different things, the main thing they were lobbying for was for
the WTO to allow them all to participate more. Alternatively, the main
thing they were activating for was press coverage. They all "conspired",
naturally, to get a maximum of that.

And, I would also say that although the sincere world-welfare people aren't
conspiring with anybody, the protectionists _are_ taking advantage of their
sincerity in order to put a moral gloss on protectionist stands. If it
weren't for those truly concerned that having American clothing made in
Phillipines was bad for the Phillipine workers, it would be more obvious
that the unionists and other protectionists were cloaking their selfishness
with concern.

> or were they just in denial of
> their true feelings? These 50,000+ people came to Seattle because they
> felt so strongly that Third World workers need to be kept in their place?

No, some want genuinely to restrict free-market behaviour in order to
protect those that they feel to be less fortunate. But they don't
understand economics, and they don't understand the consequences of the
rules they want to have. This is the type well known to history that wants
to legislate away poverty, inequality, and all unhappiness. They are
certainly in denial, because they conveniently ignore evidence that they
will not be able to accomplish this.


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