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« Strange Reasoning | Main | The Final Word »

September 20, 2004

Comments

owukori

Whist I agree with your statement on the poor of Africa desiring "the opportunity to be "exploited" by Taiwanese "sweatshops" might actually seem like the chance of a lifetime" that doesn’t mean that we should sit back and condone this kind of modern day slavery. Yes sure it is better to eat than starve which is a choice many Africans do not have so when they get such a choice, it is obvious what they will choose no matter what and rightly so. But it seems you are missing the point. If some activists in the west want to effect changes that will bring better working conditions to those sweatshop workers in the Africa and Asia then more power to them. One cannot make a sweeping statement that condemns such people as "privileged, ignorant brats" who have no idea of Third World realities. The use of child labour is widespread in both Asia and Africa - they get paid a pittance and the money usually goes to their families. Does this mean we should condone child labour because it feeds their families? What we should be working towards is changing the socioeconomic structures that prevent people from earning a living wage without having to resort to selling their children or themselves.

Lets take Nigeria as an example. We have many Indian and Lebanese with factory, transport businesses, shops and so on and they employ lots of Nigerian workers. Have you ever experienced the way some of these people treat their workers? are we so say that because they have jobs in a highly competitive labour market then they should simply put up and shut up? Or should we be helping those people achieve union rights as workers and if someone in the west has the time and money to assist in accomplishing this - why should we insult them. People are entitled to a fair wage and working conditions. People in the west have the benefit of a fair wage and working conditions. These were not achieved by people sitting on their backsides accepting low wages and poor working conditions they had to struggle for change. Even here workers rights are not universal and there is still much work to be done but at least people are making the effort to bring about change.

Abiola Lapite

I haven't the time to compose an in-depth response, but I have to say that your understanding of economics is, to be frank, nonexistent. The following statement is simply an absurdity:
"People are entitled to a fair wage and working conditions."This makes as much sense as me saying I have a "right" to a Maserati and a home in Beverly Hills. No, people aren't "entitled" to anything in this world, beyond the freedom to do as they please without harming anyone else: they have to earn their pay. Do you think it's an accident that the West in which you're residing is rich, or that the Japanese, Korean and Taiwanese sweatshops of yesteryear gave way to the wealth those countries enjoy today? Do you think it's meaningless agitation for abstract "rights" that lifted South Korea from a worse economic position than Nigeria in 1965 to an industrialized country in the space of 30 years? What "rights" do you suppose have lifted hundreds of millions of Chinese out of poverty since 1979?

Talking about "workers rights" as if they were some sort of absolute good, without considering that people picking through the slums of Nairobi or Ajegunle, who lack the skills to produce anything others might think valuable, would perhaps be better off without such "rights" is simply emotion-based rhetoric ungrounded in the slightest trace of knowledge about economic history or theory. Why should you or some do-gooder get to decide for them whether or not they get to take such opportunities, and if you succeed in depriving them of these "undignified" jobs, how exactly do you expect them to make a living? By begging, or living off handouts from the West?

I don't want to sound condescending, but you clearly have a lot of learning to do on economics, and I highly suggest you work through an introductory volume on the subject. This sort of good-intentioned but economically-uninformed rhetoric is precisely the kind of thing that has done so much damage in Africa over the last 40 years, and against which I've been warning about only recently.

owukori

From your response it is clear you have simply skimmed my comment rather than actually read it. Having the right to a fair wage and working conditions is most definitely not the same as having the right to a car or whatever. If people are employed then they have a right to a living wage and the right to work in an environment that is safe and secure. That is part of one’s human rights which clearly you are not concerned with. Maybe because you reside in the west and enjoy the privileges and lifestyle available therein that these things are not important to you. I know exactly why the west is rich and why the sweatshops of Japan have created wealth for that country. Because they were both built on the exploitation of human labour. Korea might be this great industrial nation and rich like countries in the west but there is a price to pay whether it be the poverty in the Third World or the poverty in the those countries themselves. You might ask what happened to the people who were previously employed by the Taiwanese that have now moved to Lesotho? And what will happen to the Lesotho labour force when the company decides to pack up lock stock and barrel and move somewhere else.

Your sentence “Talking about "workers rights" as if they were some sort of absolute good, without considering that people picking through the slums of Nairobi or Ajegunle, who lack the skills to produce anything others might think valuable, would perhaps be better off without such "rights" does not make sense as it doesn’t respond to anything I said. I am in no way suggesting that “some do-gooder” as you call them decide on what any one anywhere should or should not do. Nor do I suggest that people should refuse to do work because it is undignified or poorly paid, that would be ridiculous. People do what they have to do to survive no matter how awful it is or how badly paid it is. Maybe if you have the time one day you could read my comment again this time more carefully.

As for your comments on my lack of understanding of economics. There is not only one theory of economics and there is no need to put someone down because they have a different opinion to yours. Your blog and mine are forums for discussion and exchange of ideas and it seems to me that it is not in the spirit of either to be so condescending and frankly rude in your response.

Abiola Lapite

"From your response it is clear you have simply skimmed my comment rather than actually read it."

Sorry to disillusion you, but you're wrong. I did read it, I just happen to thoroughly disagree with it.

"Having the right to a fair wage and working conditions is most definitely not the same as having the right to a car or whatever."

Yes it is. Both are nonsensical claims, for the exact same economic reasons.

"If people are employed then they have a right to a living wage and the right to work in an environment that is safe and secure."

From where does this "right" spring from, and if we're free to pluck rights out of the ether, why don't I have the "right" to a Maserati and a Malibu beach-house? If the choice is between starvation and one of those jobs without what you consider a "living wage" and "an environment that is safe and secure", should anyone be able to enforce this "right" for the world's poor even if they don't want it protected? What if such "rights" are enforced and the businessmen decide the profit margins are simply no longer worth it, and simply fold up shop? Whose lives are bettered as a result - those who are left starving while waiting in vain for a job with a "living wage" and "safe and secure" conditions to come along, even though they have no skills?

Please give substantive answers to these questions, rather than deflect my questioning by accusing me of condescension.

"Maybe because you reside in the west and enjoy the privileges and lifestyle available therein that these things are not important to you."

Bullshit. Don't pull that crap with someone who grew up in Surulere, and whose relatives still reside in Mushin.

"I know exactly why the west is rich and why the sweatshops of Japan have created wealth for that country. Because they were both built on the exploitation of human labour."

From which textbooks did you get this information, if I may ask? If you knew anything at all about Japanese economic history, you would never have said something so patently absurd, and I won't refrain from pointing out the economic equivalent of a statment saying "the Earth is flat" even if you find it "rude" of me to do so.

"Korea might be this great industrial nation and rich like countries in the west but there is a price to pay whether it be the poverty in the Third World or the poverty in the those countries themselves."

Oh really? Try telling that to the Koreans who were poorer than Nigerians in 1965, and who now have a standard of living more than 30 times as high as Nigerians do. You want to compare Korean poverty to Nigeria's? Go ahead, be my guest: I'm sure the UNICEF, UNDP and WHO websites will give you all the statistics you need. While you're at it, tell me what countries Korea has ruthlessly exploited: last I heard, they weren't exactly known for imperialist adventures.

"You might ask what happened to the people who were previously employed by the Taiwanese that have now moved to Lesotho?"

Oh, you mean like the Taiwanese themselves, or the Thais? They're now making semiconductors and manufacturing Apple computers. I've heard it tends to pay a little bit better than stitching t-shirts ...

And what will happen to the Lesotho labour force when the company decides to pack up lock stock and barrel and move somewhere else.

The citizens of Lesotho will hopefully be intelligent enough to have learnt how the business works from their former employers, and get into it themselves. That is how the Bangladeshi textile business was born: first the Koreans came, then they gave local workers skills that were eventually used to compete against them, and now Koreans are no longer in the textile business.

"I am in no way suggesting that “some do-gooder” as you call them decide on what any one anywhere should or should not do. Nor do I suggest that people should refuse to do work because it is undignified or poorly paid, that would be ridiculous. People do what they have to do to survive no matter how awful it is or how badly paid it is. Maybe if you have the time one day you could read my comment again this time more carefully."

What exactly does it mean to say that people have a "right" to something if you have no desire to see it enforced? The implication of your own words is crystal clear, and if you mean something else, perhaps you should use language other than that of "rights".

"There is not only one theory of economics and there is no need to put someone down because they have a different opinion to yours."

What might these different versions of economics be? Yours doesn't seem to be amongst any I know of (I don't count Marxist dogma as "economics"). References?

"it seems to me that it is not in the spirit of either to be so condescending and frankly rude in your response."

Call it "condescending" or "rude" if you like, but I don't consider it an obligation to pretend that nonsense is anything other than what it is: would you consider it "condescending" or "rude" if you went to a doctor with your homegrown theories on how to cure cancer and were dismissed? If someone saying something to me doesn't know what he or she is talking about, I will say so directly, especially when it is being said to me with an air of authority - and that is very much the case here. That the "race to the bottom" theory is silly would be obvious by looking at any handbook of long-term global economic statistics.

Rather than waste more energy on rhetoric, I suggest you begin by reading here, that you also look here for some hard information on globalization and its benefits, and on the assumption that you're truly serious about learning about the subject of economic development in depth, there are tons of references on economic history to be found here. You might also want to carefully read this book. Whether or not you make use of the references I've provided is up to you: what I won't do is pretend that warmed-up Marxism is worth taking seriously.

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