Blanketing opinions that I'll probably regret soon.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

"Sweatshops" Are Good. Thank God the NY Times Had the Balls to Say It.

I love the Times. Especially because of the occasional article like this one that, in pursuit of truth, isn't afraid to risk making First World liberals whine and shout with outrage.

The author, Nichloas Kristoff, has done excellent work documenting sex slavery in the brothels of Cambodia lately. This is the kind of journalism that makes a difference. I went to Cambodia in 2003 and have seen how rampant the prostitution of underage girls is, but as a passing tourist, you don't really see it. In fact, here's a photo of me after a few drinks walking through the back streets of Cambodia with a few hookers grabbing at my arm:

It all seems relatively harmless and silly when you're there -- all these women clinging and grabbing for a potential john -- until a journalist does the dirty work of finding the true situation. Then regulators and police get embarrassed and hopefully take notice and crack down.

And now, after Kristoff spent time watching the poor gather plastic in a smoking garbage dump in Phnom Penh, the truth is easily accessible:

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.”

I’m glad that many Americans are repulsed by the idea of importing products made by barely paid, barely legal workers in dangerous factories. Yet sweatshops are only a symptom of poverty, not a cause, and banning them closes off one route out of poverty. At a time of tremendous economic distress and protectionist pressures, there’s a special danger that tighter labor standards will be used as an excuse to curb trade.

I figured this out the first time I visited the Third World in Peru. It's one of those things that you can't understand unless you experience it. The depth of the poverty weighs on you, even if you stay only two weeks. The whole time I was in Peru, I couldn't believe such widespread poverty and unemployment could exist without violent revolt. But it did.

Many First World liberals have this perception of the Third World as run by top-hat-wearing, cackling capitalist caricatures, cracking whips for factories that make clothes for Wal-Mart. Mostly, this is not the case. People in poor countries do shitty-ass jobs that don't exist in the rich countries. I remember when I was in Myanmar watching people break big rocks with sledgehammers on the side of a scorching, dusty highway. That was their job: just breaking massive boulders all day long in 110 degree heat.

The day I came back from Peru was the day I started my drift toward the political center. Thank god the Times agrees with me. And make sure you watch the video that goes with the article, you milk-fed liberal. DO IT.

NYT: "Where Sweatshops are a Dream"
Spot on!
"Sweatshop Warriors" by Miriam Louie is a revealing read, especially for those who think that sweatshops disappeared long ago from the US workplace.
you are ignoring that it has helped to ruin our economy. we need to start making things at home. fair trade not free trade.
The US needs to focus on what US workers can do better or cheaper than anyone else in the world. Sewing T-shirts isn't one of them.

Or even least bad. It's the law of comparative advantage.
i fully agree with this article im only 15 and have lived in Singapore for just about all of my life then when i moved back to Australia i realized how bad it was and Singapore is not even that bad! then i went to the Philippians for a holiday and i was astonished by how bad they lived, when you fly in you see the slums made out off cardboard and in the sewers but how better off they are working in these sweatshops :(
good point
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