16 January 2009

Sweatshops Are Awesome

What's worse than working in a sweatshop? Try living in a dump.

Hip students who routinely protest Western "imperialism" in Iraq & elsewhere frequently campaign for economic imperialism.

Take, for instance, the protesters outside local low-cost retailer, Primark.

Like so many other liberal causes, their good intentions pave the path to even more suffering by the already-suffering.

Nicholas Kristof, NYT (see, I'm speaking their language), expounds on the manifold goodness of sweatshop jobs in places like Cambodia. There, people aspire to these positions and see them, rightly, as a way out of abject poverty.
Mr. Obama and the Democrats who favor labor standards in trade agreements mean well, for they intend to fight back at oppressive sweatshops abroad. But while it shocks Americans to hear it, the central challenge in the poorest countries is not that sweatshops exploit too many people, but that they don’t exploit enough.

Talk to these families in the dump, and a job in a sweatshop is a cherished dream, an escalator out of poverty, the kind of gauzy if probably unrealistic ambition that parents everywhere often have for their children.

“I’d love to get a job in a factory,” said Pim Srey Rath, a 19-year-old woman scavenging for plastic. “At least that work is in the shade. Here is where it’s hot.”

Another woman, Vath Sam Oeun, hopes her 10-year-old boy, scavenging beside her, grows up to get a factory job, partly because she has seen other children run over by garbage trucks. Her boy has never been to a doctor or a dentist, and last bathed when he was 2, so a sweatshop job by comparison would be far more pleasant and less dangerous.
Meanwhile, the self-congratulatory do-gooders protesting in London & elsewhere pressure policy makers to keep these jobs--which people choose to do--away from those who most need them.

Rather than telling other countries and people's what we think is in their best interest--like not working at a sweatshop--we ought to relax trade standards, making trade free-er and let them choose for themselves.

Remember, one 10-year-old boy's sweatshop is another 10-year-old boy's totally awesome way out of living in a friggin' dump.

(thanks to Scott L.)

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