Saturday, September 30, 2006

To Test For 'Exploitation' Ask: 'compared to what?

From a comment on Harry’s Place (a political Blog) in a discussion on globalisation and attitudes among ‘white liberals’:

Johan Norberg's book In Defense of Global Capitalism is very good (and readable) on this. His basic argument is distilled here:

Ten years ago, when Nike was established in Vietnam, the workers had to walk to the factories, often for many miles. After three years on Nike wages, they could afford bicycles. Another three years later, they could afford scooters, so they all take the scooters to work (and if you go there, beware; they haven´t really decided on which side of the road to drive). Today, the first workers can afford to buy a car.

But when I talk to a young Vietnamese woman, Tsi-Chi, at the factory, it is not the wages she is most happy about. Sure, she makes five times more than she did, she earns more than her husband, and she can now afford to build an extension to her house. But the most important thing, she says, is that she doesn´t have to work outdoors on a farm any more. For me, a Swede with only three months of summer, this sounds bizarre. Surely working conditions under the blue sky must be superior to those in a sweatshop? But then I am naively Eurocentric. Farming means 10 to 14 hours a day in the burning sun or the intensive rain, in rice fields with water up to your ankles and insects in your face.

Globalisation excites many people and the debate stays stuck at the macro-level. It sometimes helps to get down to the micro-level to get perspective – a device that Smith used throughout Wealth of Nations and against which many neo-classical economists complain, ‘divergences’, etc.
Our predecessors did the same throughout the 19th century – ‘dark satanic mills,’ etc.

They sometimes talks as if, before the factories came, the families of common labourers and servants, spent their short lives as an idyllic life in the sunshine, feasting on nature’s bounty, drinking beer and dancing round May poles, or playing the bagpipes.

Before the factories in India, etc., the lives of the exploited children was as likely to be one of prostitution (hetro and homo), of long days in the fields and of no schooling whatsoever. The well-healed, well-fed, well-educated demonstrators in the West, who spend more to get to G8 summits to vent their spleen against globalisation than the wages of the recently globalised workforces they wish to return to their pre-factory work lives, though they have never worked on a peasant farm or in a factory to understand the differences such developments mean to the 'victims'.

Read the entire piece and the debate at: under ‘Bad to the Bone’ posted by ‘Graham’.


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