I agree that America has a stain on it, with regards to labor relations. Nobody is denying that. But, just because it was wrong and happened once, that doesn't mean we should let it happen someplace else.
First, it's not just America, it's the UK, it's Germany, it's France, it's Japan, it's South Korea, it's Taiwan, it's Singapore. Every rich country went through a period such as we're seeing in the Cambodias and Chinas of the world today, and with luck that we'll be seeing in the Nigerias and Kenyas and Zimbabwes of tomorrow. Frankly, many African countries WISH they could have the problems of Cambodia or Indonesia. Besides, Look at it another way, and what you're demanding is to dictate to others what their standards will be. That only breeds resentment. Workers in developed countries need to fight their own fight, not have others' mores shoved down their throats. In that era, there wasn't this mass of affluent people who could demand change with their pocketbooks.
And there aren't now. Then as now, the number of people willing to pay more for the same product but made by workers under better conditions is minute. Moreover, I'm entirely unconvinced that working against market forces is a good thing. As Kristof noted regarding clothing standards -- and this is important because there are two types of goods that have started every rich country on the path to modernity, textiles and war materiel -- what that means is that factories won't get built in a lot of places, instead going to more mature developing countries such as Malaysia. I don't want to sound like a protectionist, JoeG. I'm willing to pay more for my clothes, if it means that workers overseas have better working conditions.Sometimes, I think the money companies save with their lower labor costs, they use it to give bigger bonuses to management.
This is true, and management pay in America is completely insane. (One of your better presidential candidates, General Wes Clark, recently said that as a 4-star general he earned about 12x more than the lowest-paid private, and that pay scale was a good model for the corporate world. That said, it's safe to say that the robber barons were never hurting for bonuses, either. Also, I'm not entirely against protectionism, for good reasons and limited amount of times. If anyone thinks that Dr. Mathahir's short-term capital controls didn't greatly limit the impact of the Asian crisis on Malaysia, s/he has probably not seen the data. Over the long term, those controls would have been ruinous, but employed for a short time and revoked when the danger passed they worked wonders to shield his country from the worst of the Asian flu. I'm sorry but how can the UN really regulate multinational corporations. If you disagree or agree with the Iraq war, we must all admit that the UN was powerless to stop this war.
It's a tough point, I agree, especially with the relentless and puerile demagoguery coming out of one particular rich country about any form of international cooperation. However, a broad global consensus is starting to emerge for the notion that if companies an ignore borders, regulation must, too. Also, remember that thanks to your wanker-in-chief the world is increasingly holding America by the balls. (Who do you think finances your now seven trillion dollar national debt?) America may soon be in the position of having the most bombs and having its economic policy dictated to it by its creditors, the same way the IMF dictates to other countries with unsustainable debt loads. And, all the economic books say what JoeG is saying. But, I wonder if that's still true with globalism today.
Functionally, the world is little different now than it was pre-WWI. If workers even begin to demand better treatment, these companies can ship their manufacturing to a even more cheaper country. There is now a unlimited supply of cheap labor. I believe that's what WalMart is doing.
Truth be told, I welcome that move. Let's get jobs out of East Asia and into Africa. Bring it on.
But realistically, workers are going to realize that many of those threats are empty. Moving production assets, et. al. is often quite expensive, and the costs of better treatment for workers is lower. The path to higher standards for workers around the world is going to be messy, it's going to be bloody in parts, it's going to be too damn slow, but fortunately it's also going to be inevitable. Also, for conditions to improve in the third world, they need capital. But, it seems that the capital the elites accumulate, they never reinvest in their own country. Instead, they go off to Europe to live a ghetto-fabulous lifestyle.
As a Nigerian living in Brussels and fairly decently at that, I say ouch.
However, it's not entirely true. In my case, while I'm working in Europe (for the news division of a Nigerian television station), I'm also building contacts, especially with European hybrid seed companies. (First, we have to raise our agricultural yield.) Still, it's also something with which my wife (an Austrian) and I have been struggling. Amazingly, I think she wants to move back more than I do. As a future doctor, she feels she can do much more good there than she can in Europe (the thought of moving to an America without universal health care repulses her, so we'd never move back to the country in which we first met). I think chances are very high that we will move in that direction within the next four or five years. Africa might be the richest continent in terms of natural resources, yet its level of poverty is beyond the grasp of most Americans.
Which is true. The American standard for total destitution is less than US$5000 in total assets. A Senegalese with US$5000 in assets would feel quite comfortable. It is also true that Africa would be much, much, much better off if it were dotted with sweatshops rather than subsistence farms. Peace, JG