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Hullabaloo


Monday, April 29, 2013

 
Inhumanity

by David Atkins

It's somewhat fascinating to see just how strongly Matt Yglesias' suggestion that Bangladeshis choose more dangerous jobs has bothered so many. After all, Yglesias is just one economist, writing at a not-so-terribly-important online magazine. Everyone is entitled to say a boneheaded thing now and again. So why was I compelled to expound on it? Why did Gaius Publius at Americablog have such an intense reaction, and RJ Eskow at the Huffington Post feel the need to write at length as well?

Why, indeed, since Yglesias' take on the issue is the one currently accepted by modern law and economics? After all, we don't currently have an international regulatory system set up to prevent international corporations from needlessly endangering workers in developing countries.

I think that Tom Sullivan got closest to emotional core of the distress at Scrutiny Hooligans:

What we witness in Yglesias is also present on the pages of The Wall Street Journal, in the comments of bank executives and business moguls, and among an entire class of free-market fanboys and Pete Peterson’s Fix the Debt apostles. It is the unacknowledged, dehumanizing effect of long-term immersion in a business culture that treats every human interaction as an economic transaction first and foremost. Other concerns — moral concerns, human concerns — if they come in for consideration at all, are tertiary.
People everywhere are starting to realize the bill of goods we've been sold for decades now isn't true. Markets left to their own devices do not in fact lead to the greatest good for the greatest number. Free trade doesn't automatically make for free people. Communism was obviously horribly flawed, but the market ascendancy that replaced it has some very obvious shortcomings that have only grown worse as the world has flattened. People know the system isn't working, but it's not clear what the alternative path might be. Some foolishly advocate for pure libertarianism. Others pine for the old days long gone of strong nation-states and rampant protectionism. More forward thinkers see weakened nation-states humbled by strong corporations acting globally, and realize that a supra-national regulatory force must be brought to bear to keep them in check.

It was this idea, not yet fully formed in its details, to create international regulation governing worker safety that caused Yglesias to retreat to the comfort of the current economic model and defend differential safety rules for Bangladesh. That was clearly a cold and inhumane position to take, but it was necessitated by reliance on the economic ideology of the day.

Demanding that corporations not be allowed to manufacture in Bangladesh is obviously unacceptable, and would serve to utterly impoverish that struggling nation. Demanding that large tariffs be placed on goods manufactured there would be economically destructive to all parties. But to fail to control abusive corporate practices that lead to mass deaths, be it in Texas or Bangladesh, is utterly inhumane.

The system is broken. It's inhuman. Its defenders are forced to defend inhuman practices. People know an alternative must be found. And when some people finally start down the right track--namely, international regulation of multinational corporations--and defenders of the economic status quo reject the proper answer out of hand in defense of the inhumane--it's going to strike a nerve.

And I anticipate it will happen more and more often in the future.


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