Friday, April 26, 2013

Too Sad Not to Write About This

If you're one of those robust all-American free spirits who thinks "government is the problem," why don't you ask this Bangladeshi garment worker what she thinks about the virtues of an unregulated free market economy.

The day before this happened, apologists for global capitalism would have told her she was "lucky to have" her $37-a-month job, making fancy clothes for the likes of us in a building we wouldn't let our dogs wander into.

The free enterprise system does a wonderful job of serving up stylish resort wear to our favorite big box stores at tasty prices, but it doesn't voluntarily lift a finger to protect the people who make the stuff, whoever or wherever they may be.

Nor should it.

What should have stood between this person and a "workplace" that was actually a known deathtrap should have been her union and her government. In Bangladesh, those guardians are either scared off, paid off, can't be bothered or don't even exist.

Of course the people who run the businesses whose orders put impoverished people in front of sewing machines under a collapsing roof on the other side of the world are wringing their hands now and saying they feel just terrible about what happened.

But I'm sure they still sleep soundly at night, knowing that it's not their job to police the practices of their suppliers and their manufacturing contractors and subcontractors, as long as the products are delivered up to spec at the agreed price.

Nor should they be losing sleep.

The job of business is to keep sales revenue as high and costs as low as possible and to resist anything that tries to get in the way. Human values and human needs only enter the picture to the extent they drive demand for product or affect the reputation of the brand.

If there are people anywhere who are so desperate that they're willing and able to make satisfactory products for starvation wages in crumbling tinderbox buildings, it is the job of business to find them and hire them before a competitor does.

And if a government regulator or union negotiator tries to interfere, it's the job of business to take whatever lawful measures it can to turn aside any such attempt to raise cost by introducing humane considerations into straightforward "free market" transactions.

Of course those defensive measures certainly would include complaining that "government is the problem."

But I'm grateful that I've always been able to live and work in a place where business has to deal with that problem. And I wouldn't claim any right to complain if I had to pay more for my t-shirts so people in Bangladesh could too.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for posting this. Over, 1,000 now known to be dead in this building collapse, the worst ever in the garment industry (the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire caused "only" 146 deaths in NYC in 1911).