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Apr 27 2013

Fortunately for Matt Yglesias, Lindsay Beyerstein only leaves him in a metaphorical smoking crater.

A couple of commenters here have persisted in defending Matthew Yglesias’ odious bleat that life is cheaper in Bangladesh because it ought to be because reasons, and that any anger we Westerners might feel about the horrendous loss of life in the recent factory collapse ought more helpfully be directed to buying clothes made in those collapsing sweatshops so that eventually the people making a few hundred dollars a year will have flat screen televisions just like us.

Yglesias is doubling down. In a followup post, he stands by his conclusion that poor countries need to have less stringent workplace safety standards, and adds, as a prelude to accusing his critics of “poisoning the atmosphere,” [see update at end of post]

I’m not really sure what Americans can constructively do to get better enforcement of building codes in Bangladesh

As it turns out, Lindsay Beyerstein has a possible answer:

A group of Bangladeshi and international trade unionists put forward a bold plan to make the garment industry in Bangladesh safer. A surcharge of 10 cents per garment over 5 years would raise $600 million a year, enough to radically transform the infrastructure of the garment industry in Bangladesh. Walmart and the Gap rejected the proposal in 2011.

So that’s pretty handy: All America has to do to make sweatshops in Bangladesh safer is to stop fucking obstructing their being made safer. It’s win-win!

Oh, and a protip to Yglesias: If you persist in discussing the worker safety aspects of US investment in South Asia, you might want to consider not using “poisoning the atmosphere” as a way to tone-troll your critics. We have a 30th Anniversary coming up late next year that will turn that phrase a bit unfortunate.

Updated: in comments, nialscorva correctly points out that I misread Yglesias’ reference to “poisoning the atmosphere.”  My bad. Leaving the post as it was for transparency’s sake.

136 comments

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  1. 1
    nialscorva

    You misquote him by taking a fraction of his sentence out of context of the paragraph. In full:

    To pivot from this to policy debates that we’re actually having in the United States right now, I think it’s always worth thinking about immigration policy and climate change in this context. The conventional political dialogue in the United States on both of these issues places zero moral weight on the interests of foreigners. Yet that’s clearly incorrect. The interests of potential migrants and potential flood victims matter. And while I’m not really sure what Americans can constructively do to get better enforcement of building codes in Bangladesh, it’s pretty clear that we can do less to poison the atmosphere and more to open our doors to people seeking better opportunities for themselves.
    [bold mine]

    He’s saying that the US should adopt climate control policies to do less to poison the Earth’s atmosphere as a way to benefit poorer countries.

    But at a certain point as a writer, if you feel like everyone’s misreading you, you have to consider the possibility that you’ve miswritten (thanks to Kendall Clark for making the point). I wanted to write about something I know about (the sound basis for globally differentiated regulatory regimes), and people wanted to read about the news (a scandalous breakdown of Bangladeshi law and basic concepts of informed consent), and mixing them up has done no good.

    He doesn’t say “sorry”, but he’s clearly admitting that he failed at using current news to make a point different countries can and should have differing regulatory regimes with regards to safety given that this incident is “[...]quite literally a criminal disaster under the existing laws of Bangladesh. The perpetrators ought to be punished. More broadly: Bangladesh ought to enforce its laws.”

  2. 2
    Andrew West

    I get why people find someone’s ideas objectionable. To then say that therefore all their ideas are objectionable is really pretty stupid.

  3. 3
    wswordsmen

    In Yglesias defense it wasn’t vague reasons it was because people in Bangladesh are poorer, and are therefore more willing to take risks to not die.

    No I don’t think it right either, but his argument is valid, not true or sound, but valid. (The logic works if you grant the assumptions)

  4. 4
    Chris Clarke

    Looks like I did misread that portion of his piece about climate change, ironically enough.

  5. 5
    Chris Clarke

    Andrew West:

    I get why people find someone’s ideas objectionable. To then say that therefore all their ideas are objectionable is really pretty stupid.

    No one here is doing that.

  6. 6
    madscientist

    It’s religious creed that safety standards should be lower in poorer countries; it is not a new concept nor has the idea ever been supported by facts. The idea does appeal to many people because it’s a convenient lazy excuse to screw over and murder people all in the name of profit. Perhaps we need more government regulation: imported goods must be produced in environments which meet some standard for safety etc.

  7. 7
    Andrew West

    That’s pretty disingenuous Chris.

    <blockquote cite="Chris Clarke"It is not exactly news that Matthew Yglesias is a tepid thinker. Poking holes in Yglesias’ vacuous, self-absorbed puffery has long been a popular pastime among bloggers from the progressive left to the hard right. He’s got himself a cushy gig these days, squirting out incontinent posts with no detectable logical or factual value, and as long as people give his outlets page views it’s all good. Eyeballs are eyeballs, and it doesn’t matter much if those eyeballs are rolling upward hard enough to burst blood vessels.

    “Filed under fuckbrained assholes”

  8. 8
    Andrew West

    Meh, well I’d edit that if i could.

  9. 9
    Chris Clarke

    Yes, I do think it’s rare that Yglesias writes things of particular value. No, I haven’t decided that because of this one example.

    It’s not that difficult a concept: As I mentioned in the previous piece, Yglesias has a long-established history of getting things badly wrong.

  10. 10
    Chris Clarke

    And Andrew, I’ll add that calling me a liar in your second post here is not a particularly auspicious way to launch your commenting career here.

  11. 11
    Andrew West

    Chris, it’s almost like I disagreed with one of your ideas and then called you names.

  12. 12
    Andrew West

    And Chris, surely saying “I think that was disingenuous” then adding your own words counts as reasonable discourse.

  13. 13
    Chris Clarke

    And Chris, surely saying “I think that was disingenuous” then adding your own words counts as reasonable discourse.

    “Wrong” would have been fine. “Inconsistent with what you say here” would have been fine. “Disingenuous” means you’re saying I am deliberately spreading untruth. Which I haven’t even alleged of Yglesias. Though I have called him names.

    In any event: Disagree with me, fine. You’ve got an example right above your very first comment of how someone can disagree with me, rather bluntly even, and come away unscathed. But if you insist on holding your current course, well, I just hope you like bunnies.

  14. 14
    SallyStrange

    Bunnies!

  15. 15
    Andrew West

    Filing someone under “fuckbrained assholes” or your “tepid thinker” paragraph is akin to saying all or most of what someone says is wrong. The only distinction here is I suggested you say everything he says is wrong, you are saying that most of what he says is wrong. Fine, we can draw the line there if you prefer.

    Saying you’re going to ban someone for using much more temperate language than is in the OP is kind of strange, but bunny away if you feel compelled.

  16. 16
    ck

    “globally differentiated regulatory regimes”… That’s a nice sterile phrase for the act of shopping around for the cheapest labour market by avoiding “regimes” with regulations that could contribute to increased prices.

  17. 17
    raven

    The people of Bangladesh don’t think their lives are cheap.

    It’s now up to 350 dead. And 6 people who owned or controlled the building are under arrest.

  18. 18
    Chris Clarke

    Andrew, I still think you’re misreading, but I appreciate your actually advancing an argument.

    You used much more temperate language for your insult, but that doesn’t gain people cred around here. And the “fuckbrained assholes” tag was part of the site’s existing taxonomy when I got here. Though I don’t think it undeserved in Yglesias’ case, or I wouldn’t have used it.

    Anyway, I’ve said my piece. I appreciate your focusing on the substantive.

  19. 19
    raven

    There is a big assumption being made here.

    That dangerous workplaces and poorly made buildings are cheaper.

    Are they?

    Look at the present case.

    1. 350 people are dead.
    2. A lot of companies and factories are destroyed. It was an 8 story building.
    3. 6 people involved with the building are under arrest. They may spend decades in prison.

    Was the money they saved by building a substandard building worth it? No.

  20. 20
    Brad Kelley

    Duh. When PZ makes an error, he notes it, doesn’t cover up. Just notes it and leaves the post as is. What if those on the other side did this? What a world it would be. Good job, PZ.

  21. 21
    PZ Myers

    I love getting credit for something Chris Clarke does.

  22. 22
    ck

    raven,

    But will WalMart or GAP pay anything for this loss of life and indifference to the safety of the workers making their products? I’m thinking they probably won’t, which means ignoring safety was entirely worth it to them.

  23. 23
    Ogvorbis: Still failing at being human.

    Was the money they saved by building a substandard building worth it? No.

    Except that, in the time frames used by most publicly owned companies, it is worth it. A CEO is expected to maximize profits NOW, not ten or twenty years down the road. If this building was constructed under a previous CEO, who has now either retired or moved on to a more lucrative position, he did his job in enriching the stockholders and maximizing profits during his tenure. If the building was constructed under the current CEO, then he’s one of the rare ones for whom the chickens come home to roost on the offender’s watch.

  24. 24
    evilDoug

    From Bloomberg

    In April 2011, Wal-Mart officials decided at a meeting of retailers that the world’s biggest company by sales wouldn’t join an industry agreement to pay Bangladeshi factories a higher price so they could afford safety upgrades, Bloomberg News reported in December. Neither did Gap Inc (GPS).

    “We are talking about 4,500 factories, and in most cases very extensive and costly modifications would need to be undertaken,” Wal-Mart said, according to minutes of the meeting. “It is not financially feasible for the brands to make such investments.” Net income at the Bentonville, Arkansas- based company was $17 billion last year.

    (emphasis mine)

    So here we have Walmart bluntly stating that things are horrible, and refusing to help.

    If the government of Bangladesh actually ran the country for the general benefit of its citizens (does ANY country actually do that?), an export tariff could be imposed on garments and used to improve safety for workers.

    Many times I have wished there were some mechanism by which a little extra money paid for an item could be directed to producers or workers, without a bunch of middlemen taking a slice. For example, some years back I heard of tomato pickers who would have benefited greatly from only a couple of cents a pound extra on retail price, if that money made it back to them. Canadian apples retail for between $1 and about $1.80 per pound, yet apple producers get bugger all. Make it twelve cents extra on that Bangladeshi shirt: ten for safety, two for the worker – better working conditions, better pay (though it might sound insulting, two cents extra per item would probably be a very welcome and useful pay increase), and if word were to get to the workers that people in other countries were voluntarily trying to help, I would guess a hell of a lot of good will.

  25. 25
    Azuma Hazuki

    So people won’t even consider a $0.10 surcharge to make life less hellish for the people making their clothes? God damn…and here I am buying from thrift stores and would happily to ten times that much extra per item. People suck.

    Fuck Walmart and the GAP, too. As if i needed another reason never ever to give them my money.

  26. 26
    craigmcgillivary

    I would point out that Yglesias has acknowledged that in this case the disaster was a result of corruption in which even Bangladeshi laws were not enforced, and he is against that lack of enforcement. He even acknowledged that it is his fault that people are misreading him on this. If you are going to continue to disagree with him on this I think you need to really step up and explain how it would work for all countries to have the same worker safety standards. I think that is totally crazy.

    It isn’t that people who live in Bangladesh are less worthy than the rest of us. Its that they are poorer and are likely to remain so. In that context we have to ask what policies are going to make them less poor. The people of Bangladesh should collectively be allowed to decide that they are going to sacrifice a little worker safety in order to help catch up to the rest of the world economically. Greater safety isn’t totally free, there are trade-offs to be made. I think some safety measures are a good idea even in Bangladesh, so does Yglesias. All he is arguing is that their standards should be different than ours. It’s a banal and obvious point.

  27. 27
    ck

    evilDoug,

    An export tariff wouldn’t have the desired effect. It would simply prompt WalMart and other buyers to choose other countries without the tariffs, and frankly, it amounts to something roughly equivalent to victim blaming. If you want to force changes, an import tariff in the countries the items are being imported into, calculated based on labour safety conditions in the origin country is the only thing that would fix it. Otherwise, there’s always going to be a country poor enough to accept a lousy bargain from a buyer of these kinds of goods.

  28. 28
    Crissa

  29. 29
    ck

    Greater safety isn’t totally free, there are trade-offs to be made.

    Who said anything about safety measures being free? Everyone here has suggested that a small hike in the prices would be worthwhile. The low cost of living in Bangladesh and similar places means that safety measures aren’t going to cost what they would in the United States, so we’re not looking at them suddenly becoming uncompetitive with developed nations.

  30. 30
    suzanner

    Craigmcgillivary,
    I think we all agree that the Bangladeshi life is not less worthy than ours, and that yes, they are poorer than us. But they are imminently more exploitable than us. However, in the context of the horrific factory collapse, we need to ask what policies will keep them safer at work. That is the context we are discussing–a factory collapsing on top of them. That particular context. The Bangladeshi people have taken to the streets–collectively—about their unsafe working conditions. So, it looks like they disagree with you and Matt that less safety isn’t a trade off they willingly take. And bravo to you for thinking some safety measures are a good idea even in a poor country that produces products for highly profitable 1st world companies. And finally, why would someone argue that their safety standards SHOULD be different than ours? Should be? These companies can afford to make these buildings safe. Perhaps the shoulds need to be applied to WalMart et.al., They should be forced to do something. If all their workers were 10 years olds, we’d force them to do something. So, no Matt’s point is hardly banal and obvious to most of us. God help us if it ever is.

  31. 31
    anchor

    “I love getting credit for something Chris Clarke does.”

    Bravo, and that’s good, and everybody here ought to feel exactly the same way – in terms of mutual support.

    I know that I do.

    It isn’t ALWAYS about JUST making sure every last iota is properly emplaced in an impassioned outrage. While we may expect a perfection of statement, we shouldn’t think it cannot be subject to refinement or correction wherever necessary. (Hmmm, that reminds me roughly of how science works). There is such a thing as a preliminary stab at an issue that carries an inertia upon the actual issue that supercedes any mistakes that are made in its expression. And a post that is submitted with all due honesty and sincerity – however faulty it may be on particular points – should be considered upon the whole as well as the points.

    If there be a mistaken claim upon a point, let it by all means be pointed out (SPLENDID!), and let it be so edited. And let everybody absorb it and the correction freely. Chris obviously has no problems with that, as he has indicated. So there really isn’t any necessary deflection of the issue at hand, is there? Or shall we once again wince ourse;ves into another entertaining free-for-all (sp?) distraction upon the finer points of a particular error at the expense of coming to grips with the actual issues that have been raised?

    signed, mud

  32. 32
    chigau (違う)

    anchor #31
    We’ve got lumps of it round the back.

  33. 33
    sadunlap

    The people running multi-billion dollar corporations understand the concept of economies of scale. That 10 cents per garment over time and millions of garments adds up to lots of money. The same with bananas and Jamaica: the UK used to have a deal with Jamaica as reparations for colonialism to pay a few pennies a pound more for bananas. That made the difference between a 90 percent literacy rate and a 10 percent one (as in the Caribbean or Central American countries without this arrangement). In the 90s Dole and Chiquita protested to the Clinton administration which brought the complaint to the WTO, forcing the UK to stop the preferential deal.

    People are willing to pay the extra 10 cents for better conditions for workers, or pennies a pound for bananas to support schools for children. Not so people running corporations. They want that money.

    Given the realities of globalization the only way to deal with the structural problem of companies doing business in the places with the cheapest labor, damn to consequences, is that standards have to be international and enforced. There’s nothing Bangladesh can do by itself, other than impose standards on its own then lose the jobs.

  34. 34
    Ichthyic

    is that standards have to be international and enforced

    WTO… UN…

    nobody WANTS international regulations… especially the US.

    it’s why they deliberately attack and try to play scare tactics with any attempt to do so, and you end up with parrots like Beck screaming “Agenda 21 !!!!eleventy!”

  35. 35
    Ichthyic

    …oh, and I want to know what breed of bunny that little brown one is in the vid.

  36. 36
    left0ver1under

    Yglesias seems to be blithely ignorant of – or deliberately ignoring the fact – that many companies move their production to poor countries because of lower safety standards. They move to such countries because they can get away with bribing politicians, they can get away with saying, “Exempt us from legal standards or we’ll build somewhere else, exempt us from safe and healthy working conditions, exempt us from unions.”

    That’s how Union Carbide did it when they built in Bhopal, India. It’s all about profit margins, and Yglesias either doesn’t get it or he is an apologist for it.

    http://factsanddetails.com/world.php?itemid=2132&catid=57&subcatid=383

  37. 37
    unclefrogy

    this statement
    “”The people of Bangladesh should collectively be allowed to decide that they are going to sacrifice a little worker safety in order to help catch up to the rest of the world economically.”"
    is where the argument leaves the world of reality and transitions to fantasy land.
    The poor people Bangladesh do not choose poverty nor do they choose to be exploited. They are forced to make a choice given to them by rich people to take what little they are offered or starve. The poor by definition do not have much of a choice.
    If slavery was legal they would be slaves!
    Maybe this will spark some more substantial change
    I would not be surprised given what has been happening around the world.
    I hope so

    uncle frogy

  38. 38
    brive1987

    #10. Any definition of “disingenuous” you care to look up will be far more nuanced than “lying”. Ie “not straight forward or candid”.

    And the example you give of “blunt disagreement ” was actually a factual correction of a simple mistake.

    I enjoy the robust conversations here and bunnys are a pest where i come from. Let’s give Andrew a wee more rope … No?

  39. 39
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    Many times I have wished there were some mechanism by which a little extra money paid for an item could be directed to producers or workers, without a bunch of middlemen taking a slice.

    There are such labels that at least remotely ensure such standards with regards to environmental concerns. It would be totally possible to have such labels for decent working conditions.
    Oh, and please a requirement for retailers to display the appropriate label on their items. And by that I’m thinking of a label that says “this item was not made under any standards for environmental and workers’ safety.”
    Aren’t the free market believers always preaching that informed consumers make the decissions? Let them make an informed decission.

  40. 40
    katie

    Sadunlap@33:

    People are willing to pay the extra 10 cents for better conditions for workers, or pennies a pound for bananas to support schools for children.

    Are they really? In the 1997 Frontline episode “Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Prices,” the presenters took a woman who worked in one of the factories used by the company into a Wal-Mart store, where she proceeded to ask consumers shopping there if they would pay a minuscule amount (I believe it was no more than a few pennies, been a while since I watched it), which would allow her to be paid a few more pennies an hour, allowing her to buy decent food and fund her child’s education. Overwhelming answer? No. No, Wal-Mart shoppers -and Gap shoppers, and Primark shoppers, and so on – are not willing to pay an extra 10 cents so Bangladeshi factory workers don’t die horribly in fires and building collapses, or go hungry and uneducated. Because we’re that selfish, I guess, that a few more pennies are worth someone’s life. So yes, companies do understand economies of scale, and they also understand that “competitive advantage” dictates that they supply their goods at the absolute cheapest they can.

  41. 41
    Nick Gotts

    katie,

    Gosh, you can discover the answer to a complex question in social science – how many people, under what circumstances, are prepared to pay a little extra for goods for a humanitarian reason – simply by watching a single episode of a TV show! Who knew? I admit sadunlap produced no evidence for hir claim, but there is, in fact, a significant market for “Fairtrade” goods.

  42. 42
    craigmcgillivary

    Suzanner,

    At this point nobody is arguing that the safety standards in Bangladesh were good enough. My understanding is that the building collapse occurred because existing laws in Bangladesh weren’t enforced. That is very bad! But, I think that Bangladesh should not adapt American safety standards until they have developed more economically. Our standards include many things that would just not be economically practical in Bangladesh. They just can’t afford it.

    I think the most important thing that the US should do in response to this tragedy is to say to anybody in Bangladesh that we will let you come to America, live and work here and become citizens if you want. Second to that we should make sure that there aren’t restrictions on buying goods from Bangladesh. Finally if you are really bothered by third world poverty, consider giving more to effective charities.

  43. 43
    leftwingfox

    katie: There’s a big difference in asking customers whether they want to pay an extra 10 cents, and whether they will make the choice to shop elsewhere because of that extra 10 cents. In many communities, there is little choice when it comes to bargain goods.

    If anything, this is a pretty good example of the failure of voluntary charity to promote meaningful change.

  44. 44
    atheist

    @Andrew West – 27 April 2013 at 6:17 pm (UTC -5)

    Filing someone under “fuckbrained assholes” or your “tepid thinker” paragraph is akin to saying all or most of what someone says is wrong. The only distinction here is I suggested you say everything he says is wrong, you are saying that most of what he says is wrong. Fine, we can draw the line there if you prefer.

    OK, Andrew, if you’re really this butthurt over Chris Clarke’s rude statements, then I will up the ante. Matt Yglesias’s statement, that people in Bangladesh should accept bad safety standards because their nation is poorer, is morally disgusting. His supporting arguments for this assertion are both immoral and glib.

    Yglesias makes arguments, some of which are supported by the facts, others which are not. His writing, even when technically correct, is surprisingly shallow. In general, he is on the side of powerful interests, against the interests of most people. If that is the kind of thing you like to read, then nobody is stopping you.

  45. 45
    atheist

    The jokers at “Et Tu Mr. Destructo?” have a pretty good piece on Yglesias and his fuckbrained assholery.
    Excerpt:

    At best, one could chalk Yglesias’ attitude up to the neoliberal worship of free trade, but ascribing any ideology to Yglesias is like trying to pin a Bad Citizenship medal on fog. …

    [Yglesias] is a process acolyte, who never strays far from the orbit of Beltway centrist think-speak. … Ideas are less important than the formalism of tautologically explaining them, reiterating them, then deforming reality to accommodate them. His job is not to challenge them but hammer out a 500-word explainer detailing how wrong you are, while reassuring you that we’re on the right track. Matthew Yglesias’ voice is the same soothing one you use on your dog while the vet is euthanizing him.

  46. 46
    Nick Gotts

    craigmcgillivary,

    I think the most important thing that the US should do in response to this tragedy is to say to anybody in Bangladesh that we will let you come to America, live and work here and become citizens if you want.

    It’s very easy to make recommendations that are completely impractical: if the USA, or any rich country, removed all restrictions on immigration while the current gross economic inequalities between countries exist, its facilities for housing, educating and employing the immigrants would be swamped in short order.

    Second to that we should make sure that there aren’t restrictions on buying goods from Bangladesh.

    IOW, encourage imports from the countries which have the very lowest wages and standards – spoken like a true glibertarian arsehole.

    Finally if you are really bothered by third world poverty, consider giving more to effective charities.

    I do give to such charities, but this is only ever going to be a drop in the ocean. What is needed is reform of the international economic system to reduce inequalities – but of course, glibertarians never support measures that would do that.

  47. 47
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    There’s a big difference in asking customers whether they want to pay an extra 10 cents, and whether they will make the choice to shop elsewhere because of that extra 10 cents. In many communities, there is little choice when it comes to bargain goods.

    There’s also a fucking big difference between shopping for yourself, reading labels, thinking and making a decission and people being stopped with a camera in a way that is quite accusing (oh, and who cut that tape how?). People get defensive. But they’re quite willing to chip in a few chips for charity *yuck* so they get a clear conscience.

  48. 48
    Jerry

    One of the more morally reprehensible events leading to the high number of deaths in Bangladesh was a quote stating that managers told workers to keep working, even after cracks appeared in the building which collapsed. If you think “I’m glad that can’t happen here”, then you’d be wrong. Google “Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire”. 146 people died in New York City in the early 1910s, partly because exit doors were locked. This led to the formation of garment workers’ unions and eventually OSHA. Now we have apologists like Yglesias who say that a very little money is more important than lives, a morally bankrupt position. Even worse, we have Tea Baggers and glibertarians who want to get rid of unions and regulations.

  49. 49
    mnb0

    What poor countries like Bangladesh need is rich countries like the USA abandoning their import tariffs. For some unknown reason right wing free market fans never think that a good idea.

  50. 50
    atheist

    @mnb0 – 28 April 2013 at 10:46 am (UTC -5)

    What poor countries like Bangladesh need is rich countries like the USA abandoning their import tariffs. For some unknown reason right wing free market fans never think that a good idea.

    Right wing free market fans are so selective. They never support opening the medical or legal professions to global competition, either.

  51. 51
    suzanner

    CraigMcGillivary,

    “But, I think that Bangladesh should not adapt American safety standards until they have developed more economically.”
    Translation: When they earn more money and become more humanlike, because we all know it is money that makes people more like us. Not their love for family, or their desire to live and not be crushed to death at work and have a better life. No, we don’t recognize them as fully human until they earn a bit more. For now, they have to just accept they are one of the poorest people on the planet and we can exploit them however we please. It’s called freedom.

    “Our standards include many things that would just not be economically practical in Bangladesh. They just can’t afford it.”
    Translation: Our corporations can afford it, they just CHOOSE not to spend some of their profits. Walmart could have made that factory safer with what would amount to pocket change for one of their offspring. If they could put these people in gestation-like crates and get ALEC to pass Garment-Gag laws making it a felony for anyone to photograph or report on horrific working conditions and label them eco-terrorists, they would.

    “I think the most important thing that the US should do in response to this tragedy is to say to anybody in Bangladesh that we will let you come to America, live and work here and become citizens if you want.”
    Translation: I choose not to focus on the real solution, making US retailers and manufacturers increase worker safety at their contracted facilities, which is much easier to implement, but would involve lower corporate profits, so I will throw out this really whacky idea that has about as good a chance as being reality as Ted Cruz vacationing with the Kennedys. I also choose not to focus on the idea that perhaps some Bangladeshis actually prefer to live in their own country with their own people, because why would they not want to be Americans?

    “Second to that we should make sure that there aren’t restrictions on buying goods from Bangladesh.” Translation: Under no circumstances should any penalties be incurred by US Exploiters, but I’ll word it to sound like I actually care about the Bangladeshi people instead.

    “Finally if you are really bothered by third world poverty, consider giving more to effective charities.” Translation: This is what I do when that pesky conscience of mine disturbs me once in a while. It sure beats making the indentured servant corporate owners liable or the American consumer accountable.

    Make our retailers and garment manufacturers label the clothes as cruelty free and made in humane conditions. If those clothes cost a bit more, so be it. That is really how the free market works. It gives the market a choice. Right now neither the workers, nor the consumers, have much of a choice at all. Have Walmart have a frownie face label on their products made in substandard, dangerous conditions.

  52. 52
    OptimalCynic

    What poor countries like Bangladesh need is rich countries like the USA abandoning their import tariffs. For some unknown reason right wing free market fans never think that a good idea.

    Are you kidding? Free market fans are tremendously against import tariffs. Look at the furore over Bush’s steel tariffs.

    On the economics of worker safety, I think this guy makes some good points:

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/timworstall/2013/04/28/sadly-bangladesh-simply-cannot-afford-rich-world-safety-and-working-standards/

  53. 53
    unclefrogy

    I will go out on a limb here and say that the main reason we have higher and higher safety standards here and in the developing world generally are the result of Unionization. In the trade agreements we have with foreign countries are clauses that forbid promoting unionization. As far as I know there are no governments that do not support by agreement the suppression of international unionization.
    The main driver of “out sourcing” is in effect union busting.
    the thing about fighting paying higher wages that I do not understand is how extremely short sighted it is.
    If it succeeds in driving down wages to the lowest possible subsistence level the market for the products that are made will shrink until it will be impractical to even make and sell the goods.
    It is true in the developed world and even more true in places like Bangladesh where it is very unlikely that without increasing pay and other associated costs of production the internal market of the country will not grow which is the primary measure of prosperity we use.
    in short a slave wages economy does not increase the prosperity of a country it only increases the wealth of the already rich and powerful who ever they may be; the landed gentry, rich powerful oligarchs, top 1% or members of the communist party elite.
    uncle frogy

  54. 54
    unclefrogy

    higher wages and higher safety standards
    uncle frogy

  55. 55
    OptimalCynic

    As far as I know there are no governments that do not support by agreement the suppression of international unionization.

    I doubt that. How many ruling parties are in the Socialist International? About 30 if Wikipedia is to be believed (not counting junior coalition parties).

    If it succeeds in driving down wages to the lowest possible subsistence level the market for the products that are made will shrink until it will be impractical to even make and sell the goods.

    But that’s simply not true. If you reduce costs, you increase the purchasing power of your wage. The whole point of the economy is to serve the consumer, not the supplier. Lower manufacturing costs make everyone wealthier.

  56. 56
    atheist

    @OptimalCynic – 28 April 2013 at 12:54 pm (UTC -5)

    As far as I know there are no governments that do not support by agreement the suppression of international unionization.

    I doubt that. How many ruling parties are in the Socialist International? About 30 if Wikipedia is to be believed (not counting junior coalition parties).

    There’s a huge difference between what governments claim they support, in theory – and what they would actually support, in practice. For merely one example, compare US public statements on human rights with actual US policy in Guantanomo. In reality, I suspect that Uncle Froggy is correct: just about every government in existence opposes international unionization.

  57. 57
    atheist

    @OptimalCynic – 28 April 2013 at 12:54 pm (UTC -5)

    If it succeeds in driving down wages to the lowest possible subsistence level the market for the products that are made will shrink until it will be impractical to even make and sell the goods.

    But that’s simply not true. If you reduce costs, you increase the purchasing power of your wage. The whole point of the economy is to serve the consumer, not the supplier. Lower manufacturing costs make everyone wealthier.

    You’re taking a tendentious economic argument about the relationship between consumers and producers within one nation and you are trying to apply it to international trade. The result is that you’re not even half-right.

  58. 58
    OptimalCynic

    How is that not right, atheist?

  59. 59
    atheist

    @OptimalCynic – 28 April 2013 at 1:12 pm (UTC -5)

    How is that not right, atheist?

    Because you are using an argument that applies to the economy of a single nation, where the producers and consumers are mostly the same people. Even in that case, the argument is tendentious for several reasons. First, there is no good reason to assume that cutting the wages of laborers would actually result in lower prices for the goods produced. The more likely outcome would be that the profits of the owners would just increase. If these owners colluded with each other – which is not difficult for wealthy, politically-connected people to do – they could keep their prices at the same level and enrich themselves. Second, reducing the wages of laborers would tend to have a depressive effect on the macro-economy, as the workers would have less excess cash to spend. Remember, in a single nation’s economy, you generally assume that producers and consumers are the same people. This means that their actions feed back.

    Finally, you are taking this economic argument – a tendentious argument used by wealthy owners to argue for paying their employees less – and applying it to a situation where the producers and consumers are not in the same nation. In this situation, there is no way that lower prices – even if they were the outcome of lower wages – could possibly result in better livelihood for the laborers, because they are not in the market that buys the goods! So there is no way it could increase the purchasing power of the worker’s wages.

  60. 60
    Kagehi

    I think the most important thing that the US should do in response to this tragedy is to say to anybody in Bangladesh that we will let you come to America, live and work here and become citizens if you want.

    Oh yes, great idea, “Come to America, where we will pay you almost as badly, as per the cost of living, as you where there, but at least, as long as you don’t move to some place like Texas, where you might be working next to a fertilizer depot/plant, with poor safety conditions, the building, probably, won’t fall on you!” Yeah.. not impressing me. lol

  61. 61
    OptimalCynic

    OK, that’s a good point about them being in different markets. I should tell you why I’m interested in this stuff – poverty horrifies me. The way the global poor have to live and the lengths they have to go to to feed and clothe their families is morally disgusting. I think it’s the responsibility of humanity to solve that problem, and to do so in the most expeditious way possible.

    The thing with the Bangladeshi garment industry is that it has to operate in a global market. If their costs are too high they won’t sell anything, because the retailers will go elsewhere. But the more money that flows into Bangladesh, even at these low wages, the better off the country will be. As the factories expand, more workers will be earning their t-shirt pittance. They’ll spend that pittance which will force other wages up (service jobs, for instance). Those other jobs start to look like better alternatives to the factory jobs. The factory owners will be forced to increase their wages to attract new staff.

    This isn’t a justification, it’s backed by empirical evidence. Look at the Japanese and Korean economies. They started out after the 50s as low-wage, low cost manufacturers and see where they ended up.

    To get back to my passion for eradicating poverty, the increase in globalisation and free trade has coincided with the greatest decrease in absolute poverty and global inequality in human history. I’m ok with a few capitalists getting filthy rich to achieve that end.

    One other thing – I completely agree with you on collusion, it’s a very bad thing for the poor and disadvantaged. But “The more likely outcome would be that the profits of the owners would just increase.” – that doesn’t happen that often. It only occurs if the barriers to entry in that industry are high. If you can start a t-shirt seller and undercut Wal-Mart, then they’ll be forced to reduce their prices. I also disagree that reducing wages in one industry makes us worse off, because everyone consumes t-shirts and only a few are involved in producing them, which reduces the feedback.

  62. 62
    OptimalCynic

    Just to clarify, I’m fully aware that ” the increase in globalisation and free trade has coincided with the greatest decrease in absolute poverty and global inequality in human history” could just be a coincidence. I’m happy to be shown how trade barriers can help the world’s poorest people.

  63. 63
    Pteryxx

    Further responses to Yglesias from Lawyers, Guns & Money:

    http://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2013/04/gilded-age-conceptions-of-labor-contracts-wrong-then-wrong-now

    This is the key problem: I don’t see who’s making the “choice” to ignore the basic safety of workers except for the rapacious employer and, by extension, the companies using his exploitative services while looking the other way. This certainly wasn’t the choice of the Bangladeshi state, since the practices of the factory that lead to the deadly collapse were illegal. The workers made a “choice” put their lives at risk in conditions that were known to be appallingly unsafe only according to the kind of logic that led hack Gilded Age jurists to conclude that minimum wage and maximum hours violated the due process rights of not only employers but of workers.

    http://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2013/04/workplace-safety-and-the-gilded-age-theory-of-risk

    Yglesias deploys a Gilded Age theory of risk and work. This I found remarkable and it suggests just how far unregulated capitalism has come back in the minds of even people on the left side of the political spectrum. In saying that workers agree to take on risk when they choose a particular job, Yglesias is fundamentally following the decision of the Massachusetts Supreme Court in Farwell v. The Boston and Worcester Rail Road Corporation. In 1842, Massachusetts decided that employers were not liable for workers’ getting hurt or dying on the job because workers personally assumed a risk when they agreed to work. Farwell set the standard for Gilded Age assumptions of risk on the job that led to a legal system granting workers no rights at work throughout the 19th century.

    I know that Yglesias doesn’t go this far, but assuming that people agree to take risks by working dangerous jobs places the onus for safety on workers and not the corporations who could easily grant workers safe working conditions. It rationalizes away antisocial corporate behavior. By deploying a fatalistic history of the Industrial Revolution that countries must go through periods where their workers have no safety before they advance, Yglesias provides a structure to justify the death of 200 workers yesterday.

    and specifically on labor standards and international trade:

    http://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2013/04/the-fair-labor-standards-act-of-1938-and-entrenched-inequality-between-nations

    The Roosevelt Administration made sure the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 would not cover foreign manufacturers importing goods to the United States. There was a fight over which version of the FLSA would pass. The Roosevelt Administration’s bill, originally sponsored by Senator Hugo Black before his Supreme Court appointment, applied it domestically only, but a House bill introduced by William Connery of Massachusetts eliminated the word “state” from the bill, which would have opened the door to international standards on any product imported into the United States.

    Roosevelt pushed hard to squelch Connery’s bill because his administration saw a Latin America developing under U.S. corporate leadership as a good long-term strategy to rebuilding the American economy coming out of the Great Depression. The administration saw inequality as an inherent part of the international economy necessary for profit and thus had no problem writing legislation that encouraged the production of consumer goods for the American market overseas, even if they were produced in conditions that could lead to violent worker revolts. In fact, the exporting of violent worker revolt was a central administration strategy of the FLSA.

    Ironically, today is the 42nd anniversary of the founding of OSHA.

    http://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2013/04/this-day-in-labor-history-april-28-1971

    On April 28, 1971, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration opened its doors. The creation of OSHA proved to be one the greatest victory in American history for workplace health. Unfortunately, OSHA could never live up to its potential to revolutionize the workplace due to the organized resistance of corporations, the conservative movement that would transform American politics beginning in the late 1970s, and regulatory capture that limited the agency’s effectiveness. That said, OSHA has done a tremendous amount to improve workers’ lives.

  64. 64
    atheist

    @OptimalCynic – 28 April 2013 at 2:03 pm (UTC -5)

    I should tell you why I’m interested in this stuff – poverty horrifies me. The way the global poor have to live and the lengths they have to go to to feed and clothe their families is morally disgusting. I think it’s the responsibility of humanity to solve that problem, and to do so in the most expeditious way possible.

    The thing with the Bangladeshi garment industry is that it has to operate in a global market. If their costs are too high they won’t sell anything, because the retailers will go elsewhere. But the more money that flows into Bangladesh, even at these low wages, the better off the country will be. As the factories expand, more workers will be earning their t-shirt pittance. They’ll spend that pittance which will force other wages up (service jobs, for instance). Those other jobs start to look like better alternatives to the factory jobs. The factory owners will be forced to increase their wages to attract new staff.

    This isn’t a justification, it’s backed by empirical evidence. Look at the Japanese and Korean economies. They started out after the 50s as low-wage, low cost manufacturers and see where they ended up.

    One other thing – I completely agree with you on collusion, it’s a very bad thing for the poor and disadvantaged. But “The more likely outcome would be that the profits of the owners would just increase.” – that doesn’t happen that often.

    I appreciate your concern for people living in poverty. You and I may have different views on how best to alleviate global poverty, but that is fine. I’m certainly not an economic expert.

    A couple of points. First, the Korean and Japanese manufacturing success stories were the result of those governments engaging in massive government investment in their manufacturing base, a practice that mainstream economists strenuously oppose. It’s lucky for everyone involved that the Japanese and Koreans tuned them out. Second, as Matt Taibbi has shown, collusion is not merely common at the top of the economy, it is the rule. So I disagree that it doesn’t happen often. Especially in an economic system like ours, increasingly dominated by a few juggernaut corporations, I think it’s continual.

  65. 65
    Maureen Brian

    If poverty distresses you so, OptimalCynic, then why are you not railing against the global retailers who are perfectly happy to set aside vast sums in order to bribe people into giving them phoney fire certificates, phoney building permits and to use their wealth both against the government of Bangladesh and against the garment industry’s 2011 plan to improve safety?

    This magical free market thingie is supposed to offer the seller the true cost of the item plus, some of the time at least, a modest profit. Huge imbalances in power and wealth distort that relationship and do not allow the “true cost of production” to include keeping the workers alive until the garment is finished.

    As unclefrogy has said more than once, the only known and proven remedy is unions. The retailers fight those, too.

    See you at the barricades, eh?

  66. 66
    OptimalCynic

    Mat Taibbi isn’t talking about retail price fixing, he’s talking about LIBOR and ICAP. In the first case, the Libor rate was artificially depressed… which actually made mortgages cheaper and was better for the consumer. Also, Libor wasn’t actually fixing rates, it was lying about forecasts. The actual rate that they borrowed the money for wasn’t affected. Not only that, when it was being fixed was at the height of the financial crisis, when there wasn’t any interbank lending going on anyway, so the rate made no difference. The forecasts did artificially increase confidence in mortgage securities though, so it was worth prosecuting. It’s just interesting that the collusion led to decreased bank profits and more money in the pockets of the home owners.

    The ICAP probe is worse, it’s relating to information which sets actual security prices. That’s something that definitely needs to be more transparent. Don’t get me wrong, I have no love for big business. The bigger the business the more power they have over legislators and that’s always a dangerous thing. That’s one of the things I like about capitalism, that when it’s allowed to run free it reaps the businesses that don’t make it and redistributes their resources. Big business tries to buy government assistance in avoiding that, and that makes the whole system worse.

    Good point on the Japanese and Korean government investment. China is going through the same process at the moment, and there’s an interesting experiment that we can observe. Some areas are getting a lot of government subsidy and some are getting almost none. It will be fascinating to see which approach works better. Personally I have no idea, I can see good arguments both ways and as a scientist I like to see actual evidence make the determination.

  67. 67
    Jadehawk

    Second, as Matt Taibbi has shown, collusion is not merely common at the top of the economy, it is the rule. So I disagree that it doesn’t happen often. Especially in an economic system like ours, increasingly dominated by a few juggernaut corporations, I think it’s continual.

    a few juggernaut corporations with Interlocking Directorates, no less. The large corporations don’t compete against each other.

  68. 68
    Nick Gotts

    Optimal Cynic,

    Actually, up to 2005, the vast majority of both the decrease in absolute poverty and in global inequality was due to the economic rise of the Peoples’ Republic of China. That was not due to globalization, but to the changes in Chinese domestic policy dating from 1979. Similarly, it’s primarily China that has enabled the global economy to go on growing despite the 2008 financial crash. So, rather than the nebulous “globalization”, we can thank the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (which still directly controls over 50% of the Chinese economy). The paper referred to in the above-linked article notes that for the period 2005-2015:

    However, the bulk of the fall in global poverty can be attributed to the two developing giants, India and China.They alone are responsible for three-quarters of the reduction in the world’s poor expected over the 10-year period.

    China, of course, is now sucking in vast amounts of raw materials, and investing on a huge scale in the infrastructure needed in producing countries for their delivery; that is probably contributing very considerably. Another big change is the halving of the growth rate of global population since the 1960s, making it a lot easier for governments to reduce the numbers of poor people by keeping unemployment down, and allowing parents to invest more in the education of each child.

    I’m happy to be shown how trade barriers can help the world’s poorest people.

    No country has ever industrialised without imposing import tariffs to protect its infant industries; and no non-industrialised country with a large population has ever come close to abolishing extreme poverty.

  69. 69
    Jadehawk

    Good point on the Japanese and Korean government investment.

    that’s… a misunderstanding, to put it mildly. What these two countries have been practicing is known as (one form of) State Capitalism

  70. 70
    OptimalCynic

    If poverty distresses you so, OptimalCynic, then why are you not railing against the global retailers who are perfectly happy to set aside vast sums in order to bribe people into giving them phoney fire certificates, phoney building permits and to use their wealth both against the government of Bangladesh and against the garment industry’s 2011 plan to improve safety?

    Quite simply because without those retailers the Bangladeshi factory workers would be wading in rice paddies to feed their families. Even with this kind of tragedy, the factory workers live longer and have better lives than land-bound peasants. I think it’s awful that it happened, and I think that the Bangladesh government needs to be more rigorous in enforcing its occupational health and safety laws. I applaud consumer action aimed at getting those retailers to insist on that enforcement. I’m wary of counterproductive approaches though.

    I can give you an example of that. Are you familiar with the coltan issue? The one where tantalum (used in electronic devices like smartphones and computers) was being dug by slave labour and funding warlords in the Congo. The US government stepped in with a big set of regulations to ban companies from using material sourced from those mines.

    What had actually happened was that dealing with warlords turned out to be poor business. Bad PR, unreliable, that sort of thing. So the electronics manufacturers insisted that the tantalum refiners only get the mineral from non-dodgy suppliers. There’s so few refiners in the world that they worked together (collusion) to develop an ore tracing scheme. By looking at the trace elements you can tell what mine the ore came from before it’s refined, and they wouldn’t accept shipments from the warlord-controlled mines. Problem solved.

    Then the US government brought in its regulation (Dodd Frank) to achieve the same thing, but it added a layer of paperwork to the system. If you were buying from a conflict area you had to show a continuous shipping chain. The ore tracing method wasn’t considered enough. The result was that the refineries stopped buying from Congo entirely. The 50% of legal, government controlled mines that didn’t use slave labour all went out of business almost overnight. Those miners went back to subsistence farming. Now you might say it’s good that they don’t have to do a dirty, dangerous job but they obviously considered it better than subsistence farming! With mining, one person can support a family. With the peasant life, the whole family has to chip in. Kids don’t go to school because they have to work on the farm. That’s a generation that’s lost their educational opportunities, because of good intentions. I think that’s very sad.

    As unclefrogy has said more than once, the only known and proven remedy is unions. The retailers fight those, too.

    I’d like to see some evidence for that. And your caricature of free markets smells a bit of straw. That’s not how it works – a market is just a calculating engine for working out the intersection of everyone’s preferences.

  71. 71
    Jadehawk

    I’m happy to be shown how trade barriers can help the world’s poorest people.

    How about a history lesson, then? Protectionism was essential to the development of pretty much every Industrialized nation, while those who had their protected industrices dismantled (usually by demands from WB or IMF) have seen their HDI scores plummet. Example: Costa Rica’s crash from #28 to #47 since 1990

  72. 72
    Nick Gotts

    That’s one of the things I like about capitalism, that when it’s allowed to run free it reaps the businesses that don’t make it and redistributes their resources. Big business tries to buy government assistance in avoiding that, and that makes the whole system worse. – OptimalCynic

    You really don’t have the slightest idea what capitalism is, do you? Typical glibertarian ignorance. When allowed to “run free” – that is, when large businesses are not restrained by law and state policy, it produces ever-increasing monopolies or oligopolies, and hugely destructive boom-slump cycles.

  73. 73
    Nick Gotts

    a market is just a calculating engine for working out the intersection of everyone’s preferences.

    Bless!

  74. 74
    Jadehawk

    That’s not how it works – a market is just a calculating engine for working out the intersection of everyone’s preferences.

    only in 100-level economics textbooks is that actually true. “preferences”. jesus fuck.

  75. 75
    vaiyt

    If you reduce costs, you increase the purchasing power of your wage.

    If we extrapolate this logic, as wages approach zero the purchasing power should approach a maximum.

    Sorry, if you reduce costs by reducing the wages themselves, you end up with less wage to increase the purchasing power thereof. Find me a real-life example of a country where people have low standards of living because wages are too high. In all cases I know of, increasing wages ends up compensating the increased cost of living.

  76. 76
    Nick Gotts

    OptimalCynic,

    Up until 1865, the southern states of the USA had a market in slaves. How exactly did that market work out the intersection of the slaves’ preferences with the owners’?

  77. 77
    raven

    That’s not how it works – a market is just a calculating engine for working out the intersection of everyone’s preferences.

    It’s our preference and that of most people that the market(s) not impoverish and kill billions of people.

    And that is why Gibbertarianism has a small following of sociopaths and kooks and will never have any other types.

  78. 78
    atheist

    @OptimalCynic – 28 April 2013 at 3:07 pm (UTC -5)

    That’s one of the things I like about capitalism, that when it’s allowed to run free it reaps the businesses that don’t make it and redistributes their resources.

    Capitalism is never allowed to run free over powerful corporations. It is only allowed to run free over weak groups & individuals. If you expect Capitalism to punish entrenched interests, then I suggest that this hope is naive.

  79. 79
    OptimalCynic

    No country has ever industrialised without imposing import tariffs to protect its infant industries;

    But import tariffs have the same effect as wage cuts. They make things more expensive inside the country for everybody except for the small fraction who are in the protected industry. How can you be for a higher wage for some if it reduces everyone else’s spending power? Doesn’t that increase inequality?

    Actually, up to 2005, the vast majority of both the decrease in absolute poverty and in global inequality was due to the economic rise of the Peoples’ Republic of China. That was not due to globalization, but to the changes in Chinese domestic policy dating from 1979.

    What change in policy was that? Wasn’t that when they decided to move to state-owned capitalism and freer markets? And sub-Saharan Africa has seen an astounding drop in poverty which coincides with capitalist pillaging of their resources.

    Just as an aside, it feels like people are assuming bad faith on my part, I’m not sure why. For what it’s worth, I think that it’s an absolute duty of government to fund healthcare and education. I’m all in favour of taxing the rich to pay for that. Eliminating poverty is great, reducing inequality is good if it doesn’t make the poor poorer, and without proper government funded healthcare and education you can’t do either of those. I think my only point of difference with the general consensus here is the best way to achieve that reduction of human suffering and misery, and I want to apply the same standards of evidence to social policy as we do to science (as far as is possible).

    Just to cl

  80. 80
    OptimalCynic

    Up until 1865, the southern states of the USA had a market in slaves. How exactly did that market work out the intersection of the slaves’ preferences with the owners’?

    It didn’t. It treated the slaves as goods who had no say in what was happening to them. That was unequivocally morally wrong.

  81. 81
    Nick Gotts

    OptimalCynic,

    Another example for you. The current global market is producing, as an unintended byproduct, vast quantities of greenhouse gases, which are changing the climate. The costs of this are largely going to be paid by people who are currently too young to play any significant part in that market, or else are not even born yet. Tell me, how is the market taking the preferences they will have into consideration?

  82. 82
    Chris Clarke

    OptimalCynic:

    Quite simply because without those retailers the Bangladeshi factory workers would be wading in rice paddies to feed their families. Even with this kind of tragedy, the factory workers live longer and have better lives than land-bound peasants

    Your next comment will consist, in its entirety, of a citation that backs up the above-quoted pronouncement.

  83. 83
    Pteryxx

    Mat Taibbi isn’t talking about retail price fixing, he’s talking about LIBOR and ICAP. In the first case, the Libor rate was artificially depressed… which actually made mortgages cheaper and was better for the consumer. [...] It’s just interesting that the collusion led to decreased bank profits and more money in the pockets of the home owners.

    . . .

    You mean these cheap mortgages here, that were so good for homeowners at the banks’ expense?

    Since these mortgage-backed securities paid much higher returns than other AAA investments like treasury notes or corporate bonds, the banks had no trouble attracting investors, foreign and domestic, from pension funds to insurance companies to trade unions. The demand was so great, in fact, that they often sold mortgages they didn’t even have yet, prompting big warehouse lenders like Countrywide and New Century to rush out into the world to find more warm bodies to lend to.

    In their extreme haste to get thousands and thousands of mortgages they could resell to the banks, the lenders committed an astonishing variety of fraud, from falsifying income statements to making grossly inflated appraisals to misrepresenting properties to home buyers. Most crucially, they gave tons and tons of credit to people who probably didn’t deserve it, and why not? These fly-by-night mortgage companies weren’t going to hold on to these loans, not even for 10 minutes. They were issuing this credit specifically to sell the loans off to the big banks right away, in furtherance of the larger scheme to dump fraudulent AAA-rated mortgage-backed securities on investors. If you had a pulse, they had a house to sell you.

    Taibbi – 2010

    How are you such a darn fool, anyway?

  84. 84
    OptimalCynic

    Capitalism is never allowed to run free over powerful corporations. It is only allowed to run free over weak groups & individuals. If you expect Capitalism to punish entrenched interests, then I suggest that this hope is naive.

    Right, and that needs to be fixed.

    Find me a real-life example of a country where people have low standards of living because wages are too high. In all cases I know of, increasing wages ends up compensating the increased cost of living.

    The USA, especially LA and New York. People in certain industries earn so much that it pushes up prices for everyone, which means that people outside those privileged industries have an absolutely crappy standard of living despite earning decent wages for the rest of the country. Nigeria and other resource-rich countries have a similar thing happening as well.

    Did you know that part of the rise in German living standards after reunification was a result of a deliberate bargain between unions and government to keep wages low, to avoid that problem?

  85. 85
    OptimalCynic

    Another example for you. The current global market is producing, as an unintended byproduct, vast quantities of greenhouse gases, which are changing the climate. The costs of this are largely going to be paid by people who are currently too young to play any significant part in that market, or else are not even born yet. Tell me, how is the market taking the preferences they will have into consideration?

    Hopefully by putting some kind of carbon tax or cap and trade system in place, which brings the costs of climate change directly into the market equation. Unfortunately political will is lacking here, which is a damned disgrace in my opinion.

  86. 86
    Nick Gotts

    It didn’t. It treated the slaves as goods who had no say in what was happening to them. That was unequivocally morally wrong.

    Good, perhaps we’re getting somewhere: markets, however free, can operate in ways that are fundamentally morally wrong, because they treat some people in grossly unfair ways. Now,is it really beyond your imagination to recognise that this is likely to happen whenever there are large differences in the power and resources available to participants in the market? If you are dependent on your weekly or monthly wage to feed yourself and your family, especially if you can’t afford to miss a single wage, while those you are dealing with – your employers – have much greater resources, you are very likely to be grossly exploited. That’s what happened to these factory workers – they were threatened with losing a month’s pay if they did not go back into the building.

  87. 87
    OptimalCynic

    Your next comment will consist, in its entirety, of a citation that backs up the above-quoted pronouncement.

    http://www.economist.com/news/briefing/21565617-bangladesh-has-dysfunctional-politics-and-stunted-private-sector-yet-it-has-been-surprisingly

    A socially responsible government that is trying to move people off the land and into industry has resulted in life expectancy rising as agricultural employment has fallen. Those industries will not exist without customers, and because Bangladesh doesn’t have the resources to be an autarky those customers must come from outside its borders.

  88. 88
    Jadehawk

    But import tariffs have the same effect as wage cuts.

    what crap.
    it’s as if libertarians exist in an universe in which poverty is measured by lack of gadgets.

    They make things more expensive inside the country for everybody except for the small fraction who are in the protected industry.

    it also keeps money circulating in a local economy, employing more people directly and indirectly; overall, the effect is positive for a young industry.

    I want to apply the same standards of evidence to social policy as we do to science (as far as is possible).

    I see no evidence for that, given your general state of ignorance about the real effects of “free” markets on peripheral and semi-peripheral nations.

  89. 89
    atheist

    @OptimalCynic – 28 April 2013 at 3:41 pm (UTC -5)

    Capitalism is never allowed to run free over powerful corporations. It is only allowed to run free over weak groups & individuals. If you expect Capitalism to punish entrenched interests, then I suggest that this hope is naive.

    Right, and that needs to be fixed.

    I suggest that there is no fix for that under Capitalism as it is currently understood. I’m convinced that Capitalism is designed precisely to keep entrenched interests in power. It seems to me that the only way this situation could be helped is through political action, and through alternate economic systems.

  90. 90
    Jadehawk

    omfg. links to the economist. I’m going to cure my headache with coffee and chinese food now, i think

  91. 91
    Rutee Katreya

    Right, and that needs to be fixed.

    You ‘fix’ that by not making it market capitalism.

    The USA, especially LA and New York. People in certain industries earn so much that it pushes up prices for everyone, which means that people outside those privileged industries have an absolutely crappy standard of living despite earning decent wages for the rest of the country. Nigeria and other resource-rich countries have a similar thing happening as well.

    Uneven distribution of resources is not identical to increased wages.

    Hopefully by putting some kind of carbon tax or cap and trade system in place, which brings the costs of climate change directly into the market equation. Unfortunately political will is lacking here, which is a damned disgrace in my opinion.

    wtf? Why would your optimal goal be a carbon tax? They’re a poor compromise that is accepted because they’re better than nothing – the actual planet’s weather patterns don’t care about your economic bottom line, they only care about how much they’re affected.

    economist.com

    Do you know what an actual source is, and how it differs from journalism?

  92. 92
    OptimalCynic

    Nick – the point about the slaves was that they weren’t being treated as people at all. They had no involvement in the market, they’d been kidnapped and treated as animals. That’s fundamentally different to people with differing economic power.

    If you are dependent on your weekly or monthly wage to feed yourself and your family, especially if you can’t afford to miss a single wage, while those you are dealing with – your employers – have much greater resources, you are very likely to be grossly exploited. That’s what happened to these factory workers – they were threatened with losing a month’s pay if they did not go back into the building.

    I agree completely! That’s a very bad thing indeed. It should be illegal and the laws should be enforced. Look, I’m all in favour of regulated markets because (like the scientific method) the market is amoral. It’s simply the revealed preferences of all of the people who participates in it (but not those who aren’t treated as people, which is an entirely separate problem). Some people can only choose between “bad” and “worse” because of their situation. That’s exactly the situation that I want fixed, it’s the reason that poverty is so bad. But what if there’s no way to fix that instantaneously? Isn’t it better to make small steps in the right direction that, over time, add up to the desired result than to demand instant perfection and not be able to get it?

    This is the gist of what I’m trying to say – let’s concentrate on figuring out what works, without letting ideology get in the way. And yes, I think that libertarians are in general total fuckwits because they let their ideology get in the way of proven methods that show good results. Publically funded education and healthcare in particular.

  93. 93
    Nick Gotts

    Hopefully by putting some kind of carbon tax or cap and trade system in place, which brings the costs of climate change directly into the market equation. – OptimalCynic

    So, you admit that the market is not doing so at present, and will not do so if allowed to “run free”.

    Unfortunately political will is lacking here, which is a damned disgrace in my opinion

    Now, why would that be? Could it possibly have anything to do with the rash of business-funded “free market think tanks” such as the Cato Institute, American Enterprise Institute, Heartland Institute, etc., which have been pumping out lies about climate science – and other scientific issues that demonstrate the need for – at the least – large-scale intervention in the market – for decades? (On this, see Oreskes and Conway’s Merchants of Doubt.)

  94. 94
    OptimalCynic

    wtf? Why would your optimal goal be a carbon tax? They’re a poor compromise that is accepted because they’re better than nothing – the actual planet’s weather patterns don’t care about your economic bottom line, they only care about how much they’re affected.

    If you make it more expensive to emit carbon, people will emit less carbon, either by scaling back what they’re doing or finding more carbon-efficient ways to do it.

  95. 95
    Jadehawk

    Hopefully by putting some kind of carbon tax or cap and trade system in place

    which is being opposed by corporations, incidentally, because externalizing costs works really well for them and in economics terms, it is definitely rational for them to do everything in their (very extensive) power to make sure that a)as many costs as possible stay externalized, and b)a sufficient number of people can be trained to think that’s ok/good/unavoidable/whathaveyou

    “free” markets produce highly unethical and damaging results because by definition they bend towards the interests of those with the most power

  96. 96
    Rutee Katreya

    and I want to apply the same standards of evidence to social policy as we do to science (as far as is possible).

    Then why would you propose capitalism needs to be more ‘free’?

  97. 97
    Amphiox

    Hopefully by putting some kind of carbon tax or cap and trade system in place, which brings the costs of climate change directly into the market equation. Unfortunately political will is lacking here, which is a damned disgrace in my opinion.

    But wait! According to libertarian market theory, the market should be doing this all on its own. Political will is not required for anything, because the market will always self-regulate in the most ideal manner if only it is left alone.

    So, why isn’t it?

  98. 98
    Rutee Katreya

    If you make it more expensive to emit carbon, people will emit less carbon, either by scaling back what they’re doing or finding more carbon-efficient ways to do it.

    Or they’ll just eat the cost, or pass it to consumers, or…

  99. 99
    OptimalCynic

    Now, why would that be? Could it possibly have anything to do with the rash of business-funded “free market think tanks” such as the Cato Institute, American Enterprise Institute, Heartland Institute, etc., which have been pumping out lies about climate science – and other scientific issues that demonstrate the need for – at the least – large-scale intervention in the market – for decades? (On this, see Oreskes and Conway’s Merchants of Doubt.)

    Yes, that’s a big part of it, and like I said it’s a damned disgrace. They’re lying their heads off and it’s working. I disagree that we need large scale intervention – what we need to do is work out the amount of carbon we can safely emit (zero is not an achievable goal), err on the safe side, and then put an appropriate charge on the stuff so that the emissions drop to that level. Pricing signals change behaviour, it’s been demonstrated over and over again. If you want to do it by quotas then fine, but again – I’d like to see some evidence that that’s more effective than a Pigou tax.

  100. 100
    Rutee Katreya

    Seriously, if the goal is to limit carbon usage, just fucking limit carbon usage. This is just bending over backwards to maintain your theology. The MARKET must do it, not you? What total crap.

  101. 101
    OptimalCynic

    Or they’ll just eat the cost, or pass it to consumers, or…

    If they eat the cost it cuts into their profits. If they pass it onto consumers it reduces their sales or allows a more carbon efficient competitor to undercut them. It amazes me that people think that capitalists are so greedy that they’ll let people die for a few extra dollars, but not greedy enough to put some solar panels up to avoid the price of their coal electricity going up due to a carbon tax. It’s logically inconsistent.

  102. 102
    Jadehawk

    Nick – the point about the slaves was that they weren’t being treated as people at all. They had no involvement in the market, they’d been kidnapped and treated as animals. That’s fundamentally different to people with differing economic power.

    no, it’s not fundamentally different; it’s quantitatively different, in that the power distribution was 0%:100%, but ultimately that’s what power imbalances do: they make it increasingly more difficult for some to act according to their “preferences”, and at the same time they make it increasingly easy for others to impose their “preferences” on others.

  103. 103
    Amphiox

    Quite simply because without those retailers the Bangladeshi factory workers would be wading in rice paddies to feed their families. Even with this kind of tragedy, the factory workers live longer and have better lives than land-bound peasants

    Are you seriously suggesting that if those retailers were required to be just a little bit more responsible with the safety of their workers, that they wouldn’t be in Bangladesh anymore? That they’d just get up and go? Uproot all the infrastructure and investments they’ve already committed, and eat a loss on all of that? That they would willfully choose to make $0 profit instead of $97 profit just because a few additional government regulations prevent them from making $100?

  104. 104
    Nick Gotts

    OptimalCynic,

    That’s a very bad thing indeed. It should be illegal and the laws should be enforced.

    But then capitalism is not being allowed to “run free”, is it?

    (like the scientific method) the market is amoral

    Actually, the scientific method depends fundamentally on a moral value – the respect for truth.

    It’s [the market's] simply the revealed preferences of all of the people who participates in it

    First, putting it this way suggests that all participants are equal – and they are not. Second, no, it isn’t, both because the manipulation of preferences has been important for centuries, and is more so now than ever, and because any market depends on an institutional framework and that framework is contested because its nature determines the relative power of different participants.

    let’s concentrate on figuring out what works, without letting ideology get in the way

    Er, that’s an ideology.

  105. 105
    OptimalCynic

    All right, back to lurking. I can see that people here are too happy bashing libertarians (which, in case it’s not clear, I’m not) to discuss this. And about that Economist article, I suggest ignoring the analysis and looking at the raw data. They might have an ideological bias but numbers are the same for everybody.

  106. 106
    Rutee Katreya

    If they eat the cost it cuts into their profits.

    Which can, and often is, preferable to conducting original research. Corporations piggyback on basic research, they don’t fund it.

    If they pass it onto consumers it reduces their sales or allows a more carbon efficient competitor to undercut them.

    Only if a cost-efficient solution exists, and is found, and is then acted upon. You’re dodging the question: Why are you bending over backwards to accomplish your goal via your theology?

    It amazes me that people think that capitalists are so greedy that they’ll let people die for a few extra dollars, but not greedy enough to put some solar panels up to avoid the price of their coal electricity going up due to a carbon tax. It’s logically inconsistent.

    Maximizing short term profit demonstrably leads to deaths, is the difference.

  107. 107
    Rutee Katreya

    They might have an ideological bias but numbers are the same for everybody.

    No they ain’t. PPP vs. Per Capita GDP is the obvious example.

  108. 108
    Jadehawk

    It amazes me that people think that capitalists are so greedy that they’ll let people die for a few extra dollars, but not greedy enough to put some solar panels up to avoid the price of their coal electricity going up due to a carbon tax. It’s logically inconsistent.

    no, it just a position that remembers that capitalists are people. which is why they’ll harm their profits to conform to their biases (hence persistent racism, sexism, etc.); drug testing is one such example. The self-harming killoff of the EV1 is another.

  109. 109
    Nick Gotts

    OptimalCynic@99,

    I suggest you look at what has happened in the EU: the carbon price has collapsed, and is no longer operating as any constraint at all. I’m not saying price mechanisms can’t be used (they were used with some success with regard to acid rain), but there is simply no way round massive intervention, internationally coordinated and involving state investment on a huge scale in low-carbon energy and constraining demand, and sanctions on states that refuse to limit their emissions, if disastrous climate change is to be avoided. Either capitalism is – at the least – drastically reformed and constrained by political action – or it destroys our civilization.

  110. 110
    OptimalCynic

    Actually, the scientific method depends fundamentally on a moral value – the respect for truth.

    Thank you for correcting me there, I had the concept right in my head but it came out wrong. That’s what I want to see applied to social policy, the driving desire to get the outcome desired and the hell with ideological wars over the “right” way to do it. I personally think that markets are not sacred, they’re just a useful tool to get those outcomes a lot of the time. The same with capitalism, the same with unions, the same with wealth redistribution (which I’m also in favour of). I want to see evidence-based policy that picks the right way of achieving something and gets on with it. If it turns out that quotas are the right way to handle climate change, let’s get quotas, but let’s get some evidence first that quotas work better than a consumption tax on an environmental issue.

    I guess that sums up what I’ve tried, and obviously failed to get across here. I’ve learned a bit from those who actually responded to me with useful content – thank you very much to those people. I read Pharyngula precisely because I always learn things here.

    In summary – let’s fix the problems that we have without insisting that it must be done a particular way just because it feels right.

    Anway

  111. 111
    OptimalCynic

    Ugh, have to respond to this one because it’s getting thrown at me a lot and it’s simply untrue.

    Only if a cost-efficient solution exists, and is found, and is then acted upon. You’re dodging the question: Why are you bending over backwards to accomplish your goal via your theology?

    I am NOT! I happen to think that a carbon tax is the best way to deal with climate change. I am delighted to be wrong on that. If it’s shown that a different way of dealing with the problem is better then I will champion that way just as strongly. That goes for all of this stuff, and I don’t see how I can make it more clear.

  112. 112
    atheist

    @Rutee Katreya – 28 April 2013 at 3:58 pm (UTC -5)

    Seriously, if the goal is to limit carbon usage, just fucking limit carbon usage. This is just bending over backwards to maintain your theology.

    But, how can one “just fucking limit carbon usage” in a society where almost everything we do involves carbon in some way? Wouldn’t a carbon tax be the best way to start limiting carbon usage? There is nothing wrong with using the market for things that markets are designed to do. Indeed, short of an all-out ban, how could one limit carbon usage without using markets?

  113. 113
    atheist

    @OptimalCynic – 28 April 2013 at 4:12 pm (UTC -5)

    Ugh, have to respond to this one because it’s getting thrown at me a lot and it’s simply untrue.

    Only if a cost-efficient solution exists, and is found, and is then acted upon. You’re dodging the question: Why are you bending over backwards to accomplish your goal via your theology?

    I am NOT! I happen to think that a carbon tax is the best way to deal with climate change.

    Actually, a lot of greens are carbon-tax proponents as well. Here is a link to a debate at Grist Magazine showcasing different arguments for and against them.

  114. 114
    Jadehawk

    the driving desire to get the outcome desired and the hell with ideological wars over the “right” way to do it.

    fine then. stop proposing “free market” methods that have shown not to work.

  115. 115
    Rutee Katreya

    But, how can one “just fucking limit carbon usage” in a society where almost everything we do involves carbon in some way? Wouldn’t a carbon tax be the best way to start limiting carbon usage? There is nothing wrong with using the market for things that markets are designed to do. Indeed, short of an all-out ban, how could one limit carbon usage without using markets?

    You do realize it is within the power of governments to outright bar needlessly wasteful things, right? Off the top of my head, preventing the sale, at all, of cars over X miles per gallon – heck, that one’s even legal in the USA. Some things actually can be brute forced. They just won’t be, because they’re unpopular.

  116. 116
    Rutee Katreya

    Actually, a lot of greens are carbon-tax proponents as well. Here is a link to a debate at Grist Magazine showcasing different arguments for and against them.

    Those aren’t actually conflicting. Meriken whine enough about gubmint as is. I’m aware there’s no chance in hell of getting anything else, with the political climate being what it is. That doesn’t mean they’re the best way to handle it, but I recognize a political reality when I see it.

  117. 117
    katie

    @nickgotts: There’s plenty of actual research about this topic, actually. That’s just an example I like to use because it a) is accessible to most people (never behind a paywall and I think, still online) and b) is fairly straightforward. And yes, there is a good market for Fairtrade, though it’s not as good as it might be – apparently, we’re not all that selfish, though a lot of people are unclear on what Fairtrade actually means. However, Fairtrade goods are noticeably absent from the shelves of Wal-mart and most fashion fashion retailers.

  118. 118
    Jadehawk

    In summary – let’s fix the problems that we have without insisting that it must be done a particular way just because it feels right.

    your condescension has been duly noted; however, as people noted, strengthening worker’s rights and protectionism of young industry has been the way countries have managed to become industrialized and wealthy, while dismantling of public industries, opening up to imports (esp. when the wealthy places STILL won’t do that, AND subsidize its exports on top of that), and trying to follow other mandated of WB and IMF have a tendency to ruin local economies (example: Jamaica) and keep others poor to continue the flow of cheap, often useless goods onto the ever-faster turning treadmills of production and consumption. Neoliberalism is fucking countries over left right and center, but let’s trust the market to fix Bangladesh, eh?

  119. 119
    atheist

    @Rutee Katreya – 28 April 2013 at 4:20 pm (UTC -5)

    You do realize it is within the power of governments to outright bar needlessly wasteful things, right? Off the top of my head, preventing the sale, at all, of cars over X miles per gallon – heck, that one’s even legal in the USA. Some things actually can be brute forced. They just won’t be, because they’re unpopular.

    I suppose that is the lot of people who care about the environment today, isn’t it? We argue passionately between policies, none of which will actually be implemented. I am looking at the Grist magazine link I posted just now, trying to get a handle on what could actually be done. You are certainly right that banning vehicles getting less than a certain amount of miles per gallon would help, if it were politically feasible to do so.

  120. 120
    Amphiox

    It amazes me that people think that capitalists are so greedy that they’ll let people die for a few extra dollars, but not greedy enough to put some solar panels up to avoid the price of their coal electricity going up due to a carbon tax. It’s logically inconsistent.

    Not if

    1. the cost of staying with coal electricity is still lower than solar panels even with the carbon tax

    or

    2. the cost of lobbying politicians to lower/eliminate the carbon tax while continuing to use coal electricity is still lower than the cost of the solar panels

    or

    3. the cost savings accrued from switching to solar panels is delayed sufficiently far into the future that it does not enter into current budget calculations

    or

    4. the cost differential that accrues from staying with coal electricity can be successfully offloaded to some other entity ala Tragedy of the Commons

  121. 121
    Amphiox

    You do realize it is within the power of governments to outright bar needlessly wasteful things, right? Off the top of my head, preventing the sale, at all, of cars over X miles per gallon – heck, that one’s even legal in the USA. Some things actually can be brute forced. They just won’t be, because they’re unpopular.

    If a policy is too unpopular, people will not comply with it. If too many people willfully refuse to comply with it, enforcement becomes impossible, even with a police state.

    And then the government “barring” something becomes nothing but empty words on paper. Witness what happened with prohibition.

    For example, if there is truly a big market for cars that for whatever reason need poorer fuel efficiency over X miles per gallon, then trying to bar them will only produce a black market of aftermarket modifications that will result in the cars on the road being over X, even if they start out being sold as under X.

    The current relatively modest restrictions in law concerning fuel efficiency only work because opposition to them is not, in fact, high enough to encourage such a black market.

  122. 122
    unclefrogy

    “Isn’t it better to make small steps in the right direction that, over time, add up to the desired result than to demand instant perfection and not be able to get it?”

    I am sure that the gradualism that that sentiment suggests applies to others rights and interests and not your own.

    uncle frogy

  123. 123
    Pteryxx

    In the UK, ActionAid is collecting voluntary donations from people who’ve bought T-shirts.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/apr/28/tshirt-tax-campaign-bangladesh-factory-victims

    Butler-Cole said shoppers should consider donating the difference between what they paid for a T-shirt – and what it would cost if it had been produced by workers treated property. For example, if a T-shirt produced in Bangladesh cost £3, a £3 donation would be fair, she said.

    On Saturday demonstrators gathered outside cut-price retailer Primark’s flagship store in Oxford Street. A petition has been launched calling for Primark and other brands, including Matalan and Mango, which used businesses based inside the Dhaka building, to compensate the families of workers killed or injured.

    Butler-Cole acknowledged struggling families wouldn’t be able to pay a T-shirt tax, and often relied on cut-price clothes. But she said others should consider it. The tax was better than a high-street boycott, which could lead to Bangladeshi workers losing their livelihoods, she added.

    Butler-Cole’s sister Imogen, who lived in Bangladesh, has launched a Facebook page and Twitter campaign with the hashtag #TShirtTax.

    The hashtag is in use; I haven’t been able to find any FB page yet.

    “It can be as simple as changing the culture. The only reason there were workers in that building was because management told them they would be docked pay if they did not go to work,” he said. Mr Price-Jones said consumers had the power to “hold brands to account”.

    An action plan by the Bangladeshi government following last year’s tragedy has done little to improve conditions, Scott Nova of the Washington-based Workers Rights Consortium said.

    Campaigners are urging companies to sign up instead to the Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Agreement (BFBSA) which would require signatories to fit out their suppliers’ premises to full safety standards. So far only PVH, owner of Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger, and German retailer Tchibo have signed up. Mr Nova said it was estimated regulation would add 6p to the cost of an item of clothing.

    “Change will only happen when major brands and retailers including those in the UK say that there is such a risk to their reputations that they will finally take the step of protecting the lives of their workers. This is not an industry driven by moral considerations but the bottom line,” he said.

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/290-dead-as-high-street-fashion-chains-told-to-put-lives-before-profits-after-bangladeshi-factory-collapse-8585698.html

  124. 124
    sadunlap

    41 Nick Gotts

    I admit sadunlap produced no evidence for hir claim,

    Actually I did: you can view the documentary Life and Debt by way of a citation. That the UK had an agreement to purchase bananas and other produce from its former colonies for a small margin above “market price” is well documented, together with the Clinton Administration’s role in destroying that arrangement. Thank you for mentioning the fair trade consumer movement. Not all of us are Walmart shoppers.

    Speaking of The High cost of low price as evidence that no one will pay the extra tiny amount to support workers (@ Katie #40), not meaning to be obnoxious as I go all pompous and pedantic: the first principle of demographic research is that self-selecting samples are invalid. Showing up at Walmart is the act of self-selection – the person chooses to shop at Walmart.

    @ #55 OptimalCynic

    . If you reduce costs, you increase the purchasing power of your wage. The whole point of the economy is to serve the consumer, not the supplier. Lower manufacturing costs make everyone wealthier.

    If this were actually true in the U.S. then real wages for everyone would be rising. Real wages have been declining for the majority of people in the U.S. (the bottom 3 quintiles) for the last 25 years or so. See Historical Statistics of the United States (Part B-Work and Welfare > Chapter Ba-Labor) “According to these data, the median annual earnings of men were lower in 1997 than in 1973 when adjusted for changes in the price level.”

    #62

    I’m happy to be shown how trade barriers can help the world’s poorest people.

    See Bad Samaritans by Ha-Joon Chang. In the first chapter he describes how South Korea rose from the devastation of the Korean War using various protectionist policies. I have noticed in your posts that you point out the initial higher prices that people pay in countries that use protectionist measures. This is a short-term hardship which the South Korean example demonstrates yields big long-term benefits. I can not cogently summarize Chang’s entire thesis and all of the evidence he presents in a blog comment. If you are interested, this economist may challenge your views on economics in constructive manner. I have noticed a pattern of neocon arguments which focus on the short-term results while ignoring the fact that all industrialized countries have used various protectionist policies during their economic development and only adopt “free-trade” once they have reached a point of development that enables that policy to give them an advantage.

  125. 125
    OptimalCynic

    If you are interested, this economist may challenge your views on economics in constructive manner.

    Thank you, I will look that up. It sounds like just the sort of thing I’m looking for.

  126. 126
    aluchko

    What is the cost per garment currently? I definitely don’t support the companies opposing something like the agency proposed just because they want cheaper garments. But if the proposal would incentivize retailers to outsource to cheaper countries without the surcharge it could be counter-productive.

    Everyone is talking about how the companies don’t care about the workers, but at the end of the day they don’t care because consumers don’t care. The linked article says

    Wal-Mart last year began requiring regular audits of factories, fire drills and mandated fire safety training for all levels of factory management. It also announced in January it would immediately cut ties with any factory that failed an inspection, instead of giving warnings first as before.

    So do they have safe factories or is it just a PR show? Should I buy garments from there? If not where? I haven’t a damn clue.

    We don’t need a system for making factories in Bangladesh safer, we need a system so that when I walk into a store and look at an item I have an easy way of determining the conditions under which it was manufactured. If not I’ll just buy the cheapest and end up punishing any ethical manufacturer who paid a little more for safety. If the consumer has the ability to make an informed ethical choice I think that will make a bigger difference.

  127. 127
    Pteryxx

    aluchko @126, here’s part of the rest of the article you’re quoting from. The link in the OP is a shortened version.

    Wal-Mart last year began requiring regular audits of factories, fire drills and mandated fire safety training for all levels of factory management. It also announced in January it would immediately cut ties with any factory that failed an inspection, instead of giving warnings first as before.

    And the Gap has hired its own chief fire inspector to oversee factories that produce its clothing in Bangladesh.

    But many insist such measures are not enough to overhaul an industry that employs 3 million workers.

    “No matter how much training you have, you can’t walk through flames or escape a collapsed building,” said Ineke Zeldenrust of the Amsterdam-based Clean Clothes Campaign, which lobbies for garment workers’ rights.

    Private audits also have their failings, she said. Because audits are confidential, even if one company pulls its business from a supplier over safety issues, it won’t tell its competitors, who will continue to place orders — allowing the unsafe factory to stay open.

    http://www.cnn.com/2013/04/25/opinion/bangladesh-factory-collapse-opinion/index.html?hpt=hp_c2

    So what can be done? Many western brands rely on audits and in-house checks to monitor whether conditions in their factories are up to scratch. In a country where a little hand shake and a small exchange of money gets the job done, this process often fails to give an accurate picture of factory conditions, building and fire safety.
    The brands, not the consumer, are the ones who must take responsibility for the endemic problems that this industry faces.

    It is common for fire extinguishers to be borrowed for inspection day, for workers to be schooled in what answers they have to give when asked questions.

    In the previous thread, I paraphrased Kalpona Akter of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity. Speaking on CBC radio she said that inspections are announced beforehand, the workers are coached on what to say to auditors, and they’re not allowed to say anything about violations, mistreatment, or feeling unsafe.

    In my earlier cite on the previous thread, the workers’ org reps are asking for fair compensation, independent auditors, and the right to organize unions without getting attacked by thugs. The first article, the one you quoted, described a proposal for independent auditing that the clothing companies rejected. (Also described in, y’know, the OP.)

    You’re claiming

    Everyone is talking about how the companies don’t care about the workers, but at the end of the day they don’t care because consumers don’t care.

    but consumers care enough that companies hide their labeling, disclaim responsibility, and do half-assed audits so they can tell the customers to blame someone else.

  128. 128
    aluchko

    @Pteryxx

    In the previous thread, I paraphrased Kalpona Akter of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity. Speaking on CBC radio she said that inspections are announced beforehand, the workers are coached on what to say to auditors, and they’re not allowed to say anything about violations, mistreatment, or feeling unsafe.

    In my earlier cite on the previous thread, the workers’ org reps are asking for fair compensation, independent auditors, and the right to organize unions without getting attacked by thugs. The first article, the one you quoted, described a proposal for independent auditing that the clothing companies rejected. (Also described in, y’know, the OP.)

    Do all companies do this? Are some better? How do we know which is which? The problem is we’re asking companies to do something that costs them money, and the better they do it the most money it costs them. As long as the incentives are this poorly designed we’re going to have to fight them every step of the way.

    but consumers care enough that companies hide their labeling, disclaim responsibility, and do half-assed audits so they can tell the customers to blame someone else.

    So make it something they can’t fake with a PR effort. Either some certification org like organics or fair trade that says the supply chain is verified and fulfills some safety requirements. Or make sure they have to keep stringent publicly available records on aspects of the supply chain so journalists can come around and shame the legitimately bad companies.

    I think as long as you give the consumer the ability to get some kind of objective measure of plant safety than retailers suddenly have a huge incentive to improve plant safety instead of the current method which is like pulling teeth.

  129. 129
    aluchko

    @Pteryxx

    To re-iterate I’m not saying that consumers don’t care about safety, I’m saying they have no way to evaluate safety so they act as if they don’t care.

  130. 130
    Nick Gotts

    Everyone is talking about how the companies don’t care about the workers, but at the end of the day they don’t care because consumers don’t care. – aluchko

    Well, top management in those companies could actually take responsibility for their own actions. What they actually do is fight against any initiative to improve their workers’ conditions.

  131. 131
    Maureen Brian

    aluchko,

    There are plenty of ways to evaluate safety and there are proven ways to identify for the purchaser goods produced to a particular standard or in a safe environment.

    The factory owners and managers in Bangladesh do, of course, bear some of the blame but the real bar to a nationwide step change in safety levels is, as has been shown repeatedly, the major clothing companies whose short-term thinking leaves the costs for others to pick up while they turn a blind eye.

    The fact that you have got to this stage in life and are unaware of staged inspections and fire exits locked the minute the inspector leaves is worrying, given that industrialisation has been going on somewhere or other for 250 years now and there are plenty of examples.

    There’s one just up the hill from me as I write this – the children of workers at a long closed asbestos works are still dying of mesothelioma at the rate of 3 or 4 a year. Why? Because the factory inspections were a pantomime and the safety rules were never enforced. And that’s in England.

    Try also West, Texas.

  132. 132
    Pteryxx

    Found the T Shirt Tax FB page: https://www.facebook.com/TShirtTax

  133. 133
    Kagehi

    that doesn’t happen that often. It only occurs if the barriers to entry in that industry are high. If you can start a t-shirt seller and undercut Wal-Mart, then they’ll be forced to reduce their prices.

    That’s rich.. You take a company that has put damn near everyone else out of business, by undercutting everyone else’s prices, and paying their workers shit, and claim, “They would have to lower their prices even more, if someone could come along and undercut them!” Hint: Economies of scale. Wal-Mart can still make huge profits, even if some small company comes along, and does somehow sell a shirt for less money. Why? Because that small company doesn’t have hundreds of stores. But, even if it was a threat, they could just cut more hours, price match, and then **still** end up making huge ass profits for the people that don’t do one damn bit of the actual work involved. And, just to make things worse, ***everyone*** has decided this is a winning model, so, with very few exceptions, **all** of them are doing it.

  134. 134
    Kagehi

    That’s one of the things I like about capitalism, that when it’s allowed to run free it reaps the businesses that don’t make it and redistributes their resources.

    Usually to companies with more resources, lawyers, looser concepts of what their workers deserve, and who make products that are a) cheaper, because they are b) adequate enough that all the rubes think they are getting a real bargain. The end result is, generally, slower innovation, screwed up patent systems, continual extensions to IP rights, such that “public” access is lost, **and** a willingness of said companies to bribe anyone and everyone they can, to keep making things easier for them, and harder for anyone to compete with them (never mind even just open a business, if its in the same industry). Its interesting that if you talk to a tech about getting a new product to market, most of the honest ones will tell you that half of their entire initial investment isn’t in figuring out if the product is even possible, but in paying off every single company that *might* have a patent on the technology involved, so they don’t get sued out of existence, before they even have a prototype. The same is, unfortunately, often true in software too, but in that case you are dealing with stuff like MS continually tacking on stuff to protocols, and/or modifying how their documents get written, all, of course, patented, whenever possible, so that no one else can read them. 3D software is even worse. Want to use a model from one package in another.. Sure, there are “limited” export support, but.. not as a plugin, you have to actually *buy* a $900 piece of software, in order to take a completely free model, and convert it into something that the program “you” have, which also cost $900+, will read. Why? Not because the model is “owned” by the company, or isn’t really given away for free, or isn’t the IP of the person that created it. No, its all because the company wants to force you, even if the “product” in this case isn’t even their own, to buy their product, to use it. Its like buying a book, and finding out that you need a special pair of glasses to read them. Not, mind you, a special pair you can pick up any place, but a special $900 pair, which “only” lets you read their books.

    Your “free market” can kiss my ass. Without someone/something, at least trying to make all parties play fair, this sort of thing wouldn’t just be in the 3D model market, or, say, the whole “region coding” nonsense of the DVD industry, or other “digital” places, you would have whole freaking towns in which wearing the wrong brand of t-shirt would get you arrested for, “Breaching local dress codes.”, and similar idiocies. Well, OK, that might be a bit far for even the most assholish company to go, but.. this is the direction this madness is headed, for anything, and everything, where someone can flip a switch, or just make sure you have to buy the switch, to turn something on/off.

  135. 135
    unclefrogy

    I have to laugh when I hear some one praising the free market or how capitalism is the best when it is free of regulation. It has never ever been free in any prosperous mainstream country that I am aware of.
    The only ones that were ever really free capitalism free market were like Somalia now or Port Royal in the 1655. What passes for free markets are markets that only favor the established power structure. and are regulated to protect the established order always.
    what they are really saying is they do not want themselves to be controlled only what they define as unfair competition.

    uncle frogy

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