For you have nothing, if you have no rights

25 04 2013

The joys of neo-liberalism, courtesy of Matt Yglesias:

Bangladesh may or may not need tougher workplace safety rules, but it’s entirely appropriate for Bangladesh to have different—and, indeed, lower—workplace safety standards than the United States.

The reason is that while having a safe job is good, money is also good. Jobs that are unusually dangerous—in the contemporary United States that’s primarily fishing, logging, and trucking—pay a premium over other working-class occupations precisely because people are reluctant to risk death or maiming at work. And in a free society it’s good that different people are able to make different choices on the risk–reward spectrum. There are also some good reasons to want to avoid a world of unlimited choice and see this as a sphere in which collective action is appropriate (I’ll gesture at arguments offered in Robert Frank’s The Darwin Economy and Tom Slee’s No One Makes You Shop At Walmart if you’re interested), but that still leaves us with the question of “which collective” should make the collective choice.

Bangladesh is a lot poorer than the United States, and there are very good reasons for Bangladeshi people to make different choices in this regard than Americans. That’s true whether you’re talking about an individual calculus or a collective calculus. Safety rules that are appropriate for the United States would be unnecessarily immiserating in much poorer Bangladesh. Rules that are appropriate in Bangladesh would be far too flimsy for the richer and more risk-averse United States. Split the difference and you’ll get rules that are appropriate for nobody. The current system of letting different countries have different rules is working fine. American jobs have gotten much safer over the past 20 years, and Bangladesh has gotten a lot richer.

Bangladesh, a free society! Who knew?!

In any case, here’s the neo-lib calculus:  Bangladeshis—your money or your life; Americans—quit thinking Bangladeshi lives matter as much as yours.




7 responses

25 04 2013

Yikes. Didn’t Michael Kinsley (or was it Summers?) write the early version of this? Something along the lines of “poor African countries should be glad to accept our toxic waste because we give them $$$”. Hooray for the race to the bottom.

25 04 2013

yes the Invisible Hand will settle all accounts

25 04 2013

It falls squarely under the same logic of making goods in China because the cost of human labor there is less than the cost of machine labor here. You’re either the cheapest or you’re useless.

26 04 2013
26 04 2013
27 04 2013

@satanicpanic: Yeah, it was Summers—comparative advantage and all that. So rational, doncha know.

@gh: Tyler Cowen calls those folks ZMPs—zero marginal productivity (non-) workers, i.e., useless.

@dmf: Jean Foucault Lacan award: nice touch!

28 04 2013

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