Saturday, January 24, 2009




By Jack Random

“Mr. Obama and the Democrats who favor labor standards in trade agreements mean well, for they intend to fight back at oppressive sweatshops abroad. But while it shocks Americans to hear it, the central challenge in the poorest countries is not that sweatshops exploit too many people, but that they don’t exploit enough.”

Nicolas Kristof, NY Times, “Where Sweatshops are a Dream,” January 14, 2009.

Nicolas Kristof’s support of sweatshops in a recent Times commentary smacks of the same moral compromise that has historically been employed to justify a vast array of exploitations, indignities and inhuman treatment of the common laborer by the ruling elite.

Beneath the reputation of the Times and the writer, himself, echoes of past rationalizations of apartheid, slavery and even genocide are masked but distinct.

It was once accepted in polite company for a gentleperson to suggest that tribal Africans abducted from their homes and villages were better off as slaves in America than they would have been as free men and women in Africa.

It was once common for the defenders of South African apartheid to argue with shocking conviction that native blacks owed a debt of eternal gratitude to the white ruling elite for lifting that nation out of dire poverty.

It was white liberal legislators who perpetrated the greatest act of cultural genocide in American history with the Dawes General Allotment Act resulting in the Oklahoma Land Rush and the decimation of tribal communities. Further, I have heard liberal minded and otherwise thoughtful beings suggest that the slaughter of the buffalo and the policies of extermination were essentially inconsequential because the indigenous peoples would have died in any case owing to the white man’s disease.

They were wrong then and Nicolas Kristof is wrong now.

In Kristof’s world, “sweatshop” becomes a euphemism for slave labor and yes the slave would tell the master he or she preferred slavery to starvation but the greater truth is there is always a better way.

Developing micro-economies has shown great promise and success in third world nations without the indignity of slave labor. A garden based subsistence with a bartering economy is infinitely preferable to slave labor. Direct aid for government subsidies to create art and crafts colonies, green communities and other experiments in sustainable living is preferable and ultimately less costly than corporate exploitation.

Never mind the rape of the land, the loss of natural resources, the environmental degradation and toxic pools of waste left behind, anyone who cannot think beyond a rationalization of labor exploitation as a model for developing economies is both morally and intellectually challenged. It is the kind of foggy thinking we grew accustomed to in the days of Clinton (all those deliberations over the term “genocide” to justify action in Kosovo and inaction in Rwanda).

A nation welcomes a labor exploitation model only because its leaders are corrupt and seek personal gain. Take away corruption and no nation on earth would accede to such an indignity imposed on its people in the name of hope. Better to be isolated from the world than to volunteer as its perpetual victim.

Nations throughout Latin America have already rejected the exploitation model served up by the Neocon brain trusts of the Bush administration (the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, etc.). They learned that it is a deception and a trap. Far from rescuing the people from poverty, it is a self-perpetuating form of permanent poverty. It is a road to debt and a scheme of the master nations to enslave the underdeveloped world.

It is frankly shocking that a voice known for its compassion and worldview should stoop so low as to justify global exploitation at its most basic level.

Come out with it then. Say it clearly and without compromise: There is no principle or moral ground that cannot be sacrificed to expediency.


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