Category Archives: Musings

Sweatshops and Social Justice: Can Compassionate Libertarians Agree?

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.

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Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear

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.

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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.

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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.

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More on Sweatshops and Free Markets

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.

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Do Sweatshops Belong in a Free Market?

This article originally appeared at C4SS.org on March 18, 2011. It was the first 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.

Do Sweatshops Belong in a Free Market?

Libertarians and market-anarchists often cite the non-aggression principle (no force, no fraud) when summarizing their philosophy, so I am perplexed when I hear support for sweatshops in conversations with individuals who self-identify as libertarians or market anarchists. In fact, sweatshops, those citadels of cheap labor associated with laissez-faire capitalism and industrialization, perpetuate both force and fraud against the people employed there, so they are incompatible with a free or libertarian society.

By supporting this form of economic exploitation, many libertarians and market anarchists both undermine their philosophy and alienate potential supporters among the working class.

Sweatshops are generally considered to be factories or workshops in which employees, often children, work over nine to ten hours a day for wages that barely cover basic necessities. The working conditions at these factories or workshops are often considered to be hazardous or unsafe. Sweatshops do not provide their employees any benefits, such as health insurance or worker’s compensation, and employees do not enjoy any form of job security. Today, sweatshops can be found all over the world, but they are most common in developing nations, such as India, China, and Mexico.

Most arguments in favor of sweatshops, which are common to every socioeconomic theory (libertarian or otherwise), consist of two general propositions: “workers are better off in the sweatshop than they would have been otherwise,” and “no one forces them to work there.”

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What Mika Brzezinski Fears Most

joe-mika-e1487810787284Last week, I wrote about the news media’s obsession with President Trump’s tweets. In one sense, it comes down to a lazy business model. Reporters love Twitter because it allows them to write news stories without ever leaving the office. Controversy over the latest tweet fuels link clicks and website visits, attracting coveted web traffic that drives advertising sales. It’s the same business model that leads local newspapers to slash employees and fill their pages with Associated Press wire stories.

On a deeper level, however, their (I’m talking about the major news networks) anxiety over the president’s 25.8 million Twitter followers comes down to fear of losing editorial control. They want to filter and interpret Trump’s comments through their editorial lens. They want to control what information the public receives and interpret it for them. If Trump can just bypass those filters and tweet directly to the public, they lose that control.

Just the other day, Mika Brzezinski, co-host of MSNBC’s ‘Morning Joe’, made my point for me. In a moment of frank honesty (or a Freudian slip), she said:

Well, I think that the dangerous, you know, edges here are that he is trying to undermine the media and trying to make up his own facts. And it could be that while unemployment and the economy worsens, he could have undermined the messaging so much that he can actually control exactly what people think. And that, that is our job.

Brzezinski later went on Twitter and tried to walk back her comments, but it’s clear from the video and transcripts what she meant. Trump is trying to undermine the media to push his own narrative, which will degrade MSNBC (etc.)’s ability to control the conversation.

But Donald Trump didn’t start eroding public confidence in the media, it has been in the gutter for quite some time. In 2003, according to a Gallup poll, only 36 percent of those surveyed believed news organizations “get the facts straight.” That percentage fell to 29 percent in 2009 (Pew Research Center), while in the same year, only 19 percent felt that the press “dealt fairly with all sides.”

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CNN’s Trump Twitter Obsession

There’s no question Donald Trump has used controversial statements to build a powerful social media following. His Twitter account in particular has attracted much consternation and hang-wringing, particularly among media outlets like CNN and the New York Times. Reporters love Twitter because it allows them to write news stories without ever leaving the office. Water cooler controversy over the latest tweet fuels link clicks and website visits, attracting coveted web traffic that drives advertising sales.

It started during the presidential primary, when CNN in particular salivated over now-President Trump’s social media faux pas. I imagined a CNN reporter exclusively monitoring @realDonaldTrump, waiting to pounce on any misspelling or provocative statement. Within minutes of a controversial tweet, an article popped up at CNN.com. “Ah HAH! THIS is the tweet that will finally undo Trump’s candidacy!” the reporter shouts, rubbing his hands. I wondered how much this guy got paid.

Fast forward to February 2017. Trump won the election and is now in the White House. The outrage continues. Admittedly, I follow both @realDonaldTrump and @CNN, and I’m amused when I see a tweet from Trump immediately followed by a tweet from CNN telling me what he just said. For people who are so outraged by his public pronouncements, they sure love spreading them far and wide.

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