Tuesday, August 02, 2005What's controversial about that? Apparently a lot. In response to an article on international labor activist Charles Kernaghan, Matt Yglesias suggests that 3rd world sweat shops really aren't so bad, at least in comparison to the other work they might be doing. Josh Marshall argues that the wage levels & working conditions in the 3rd world might be better without union-busting and other forms of intimidation, which is probably true. But I'd like to take another angle in criticizing Yglesias's piece.
Matt's certainly correct in arguing that working in a 3rd world sweatshop is certainly better than working on a 3rd world farm, but I would argue that Yglesias is committing the fallacy of the false dilemma (or the fallacy of binary opposition). He is asserting that the alternatives are 1) sweatshops or 2) farms. But surely Kernaghan's entire campaign is based around the premise that manufacturing work need not be so horrible? These factories are dangerous, abusive, and low-paying not out of any inherent market logic, but because the owners of these companies have chosen to make them duhumanizing in order to extract a few more pennies of profit. Yglesias is inadvertently accepting the prevailing orthodoxy that the business managers should be solely concerned with maximizing profit, even at the expense of their employees and customers, and that they may do anything they like in the process. He is also falling into the trap of assuming that which exists now is all that could exist.
But there are other, better alternatives out there. The world could in fact be a better place than it is. That's sort of the whole point of liberalism.