Category Archives: Musings
This article originally appeared at C4SS.org on November 17, 2011. It was the last in a series, the fallout from which led me to end my brief flirtation with “market anarchism.” There’s no room for genuine discussion in an echo chamber, and arguments over intellectual purity get boring pretty quickly. They’re still probably over at C4SS and Strike-the-root, churning out articles from the ideological vending machine.
Sweatshops and Social Justice: Can Compassionate Libertarians Agree?
In the past several months, Matt Zwolinski and Ben Powell took to the pages of the Journal of Business Ethics, as well as the Bleeding Heart Libertarians blog, to defend what they consider to be the mainstream libertarian position on sweatshops: that sweatshops represent a positive good in developing economies.
Citing Kevin Carson and I as representative of the “left-libertarian” position against sweatshops, Matt Zwolinski took us to task in his recent article, “Answering the Left-Libertarian Critique of Sweatshops.” I cannot speak for Mr. Carson, but I do not consider my opposition to sweatshops a “left wing” position; I consider it the only sensible position for libertarians and other champions of a free market to take.
First, let’s be clear about the definition of a sweatshop. A sweatshop is not any working environment in a developing economy; it is a working environment that is considered to be unreasonably difficult or dangerous. Many factors might contribute to a factory being labeled a “sweatshop,” including long hours without breaks, low pay, overcrowding, poor lighting and ventilation, unsanitary conditions, and few to zero considerations for employee safety. Low pay is just one of these factors and may not even be the chief factor in determining whether a particular place of employment can be called a sweatshop.
The argument in favor of sweatshops, as laid out by libertarians like Matt Zwolinski and Ben Powell (as well as neo-liberals like Paul Krugman and Nicholas Kristof), is essentially an economic argument. Sweatshop labor, they argue, is often the best (or only) option individuals in the developing world have for improving their lot in life. Therefore, it would be immoral to oppose sweatshops because their absence would take away a crucial option for economic improvement.
On a beautiful autumn day at the end of October 2010, an estimated 210,000 people gathered in the National Mall to watch television for four hours. At least, that’s what it felt like from my position behind the sound stage in front of a giant flat screen TV flanking the main stage at the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear.
As the crowd filtered onto sections of lawn separated by short metal fences, the jumbotrons played clips from episodes of the Daily Show and the Colbert Report in the run up to the rally. As the morning wore on, the crowd grew until it stretched all the way back to the Washington Monument and spilled into the parkway at the edges of the Mall.
It felt like the buildup to a momentous occasion, and for many people there (some of my friends included), it felt like we were witnessing an important event, a statement, or the birth of a new political movement.
This article originally appeared at C4SS.org on April 2, 2011. It was the second in a series, the fallout from which led me to end my brief flirtation with “market anarchism.” There’s no room for genuine discussion in an echo chamber, and arguments over intellectual purity get boring pretty quickly. They’re still probably over at C4SS and Strike-the-root, churning out articles from the ideological vending machine.
More on Sweatshops and Free Markets
When Paul Krugman defended sweatshops in the pages of the New York Times and Slate Magazine in 1997, he understandably raised a chorus of criticism, so when I wrote “Do Sweatshops Belong in a Free Market?” I expected at least some cognitive dissonance. After all, sweatshops are an issue that many feel passionately about. However, I was surprised at the level of the resistance that greeted what I thought was not a very controversial position. This article is an attempt to clarify my argument and respond to some of this criticism.
In my opinion, a sweatshop is an antiquated form of wage slavery that does not belong in a free society any more than conscription or the Atlantic slave trade. Economists like Paul Krugman have provided an ideological foundation for sweatshops because they are an integral part of the globalist worldview, but that is a worldview libertarians, anarcho-capitalists, and other like-minded individuals oppose. It is in our interest to not only distance ourselves from this exploitative form of labor, but to repudiate it entirely.
Force and aggression do not always involve the threat of immediate physical harm. A person may be coerced into surrendering their property (or their labor) under a variety of conditions. For example, being tricked into signing a contract he or she cannot read or understand, having the welfare of his or her family threatened, or being required to rent equipment essential to the job while being paid barely enough to cover those expenses. All of these are common practices at sweatshops.