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March 28 1997 3:30 AM

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Lifeboat Economics

In "In Praise of Cheap Labor," Paul Krugman suggests that because Third World workers are better off working in multinational factories than living off garbage dumps, we should respect the multinationals for their contribution and avoid policies establishing basic labor standards. But the comparison should be between what was done and what should have been done, not what would have occurred otherwise. Consider the following: A boat captain comes upon a drowning woman in a lake, saves her but then rapes her.

Now according to Krugman, since the woman is better off than she would have been otherwise, the boat captain is to be admired and rewarded for what he has done. My complaints about the lack of social justice in this case are simply dismissed by Krugman as lofty self-righteousness.

There are valid concerns as to the potential effectiveness of international labor standards, but Krugman provides no theoretical or empirical proof that they would not improve the lives of Third World workers. The capital owners (and First World consumers) are collecting significant "rents" from these activities. It may be possible to force them to share these more equitably with the workers. Back to the example: If the boat captain is restricted to only charging the woman $20, he may still choose to save her.


--Shelburne Robert

Just Overprice It

I enjoyed Paul Krugman's "In Praise of Cheap Labor," but he seems to miss the point.

American consumers enjoy low prices. That is why there is this boom in foreign manufacturing, and that is why "Dollar Stores" are so popular. When a consumer can walk into a store and, for only one dollar, purchase something that was manufactured in the Third World, most consumers can understand why the person who made that item earns only 60 cents an hour.


The moral questions and outrage arise, however, when a consumer forks over $129 for a pair of sneakers that were assembled cheaply in some Third World country. American sneaker manufacturers, at this point, seem a tad gluttonous.

--Jim Rhodes


I agree with nine-tenths of Paul Krugman's "In Praise of Cheap Labor." We cannot meaningfully compare wages in Indonesia and the United States. Nor can we often comprehend the far bleaker alternatives to these jobs that exist in the industrializing Third World.


But Krugman takes no account of how political violence can factor into this equation. If arrests, imprisonments, and worse prevent workers in Third World countries from making claims for better wages and working conditions, then Krugman's system of global supply and demand starts to come unhinged. The moral component to Krugman's argument is that we should not allow our squeamishness to prevent Third World laborers from deciding that 50 cents a day making Reeboks is better than a deadening, declining rural poverty. No argument here. But if those workers are compelled to work for low wages by extraeconomic threats, then that choice is an illusory one.

--Joshua Micah Marshall

Beat on the Brat

I was enjoying Jacob Weisberg's "Battered-Republican Syndrome" until he equated support for parental rights with support for child abuse. I abhor child abuse and feel that the abusers should be punished, but corporal discipline is different.


When a child continues to behave in a way that can cause harm to himself or to other children, a spanking can be extremely effective. I do support parents who don't believe in corporal punishment--if they can raise their children well without an occasional spanking, more power to them. But I think the most damage is done to children who receive no discipline at all.

Weisberg would have everyone believe that my wife and I are evil or maladjusted because we have spanked our children. But we are highly responsible parents who have very happy, confident, well-behaved children. They know that we love them and they also know that we mean what we say. I'm disappointed in Weisberg's lapse of logic and lack of understanding of what it means to be a good parent.

--Michael Fry

Caucasian Invasion

In "Human Clones: Why Not?" Nathan Myhrvold makes the preposterous assertion that calls for a ban on cloning amount to discrimination against people based on another genetic trait.

Racism is the very thing that makes human cloning insidious. Once human cloning is perfected, as Myhrvold presumes it will be, who will utilize this method of procreation? Those who have access to it. Who will have access to it? Those who live in technologically advanced countries and have the financial resources to afford such a luxury: Caucasian men.

Cloning will merely present nervous Caucasian men with the means to attempt to ensure that they aren't outnumbered by those threatening masses of other races on what they consider their own territory. He defines genocide as "seeking to eliminate that which is different," and argues that bans on cloning fall into that category. But cloning does not produce "that which is different." It produces the same product repeatedly. Bans against human cloning are the only protection the average citizen has against Big Brother social and genetic engineering.

--Marla Caldwell

Frum the Horse's Mouth

In the "Dialogue" on Gay Marriage, David Frum writes that "[c]hildren raised without both biological parents are between two and three times as likely as other children to commit crimes, to drop out of school, to get pregnant in their teens, to be unemployed as young adults." During the welfare-reform debate, he blamed the welfare system for the ills of single-parent families. Now he blames liberalized marriage and divorce laws.

Notice that he doesn't say that these problems are associated with children of divorced parents, only that they're problems of children "raised without both biological parents." That includes many illegitimate children, orphans, and abandoned children. Someone truly interested in understanding the causes might want to know how many of these children are raised in poverty, are born to drug addicts, or had fathers who never married or even lived with their mothers. Someone without such a big ax to grind might also look into a comparison of statistics for children raised by one or two nonbiological parents, such as adoptees and stepparents, and compare them with children raised by two biological parents in deeply unhappy and/or abusive relationships.

But not Frum. He's happy to toss out this statistic that folds in all possible childhood abandonment, and pin the blame entirely on the reforms in the divorce laws: "Only now are we beginning to appreciate the extent of the damage done," he writes. Fine. Let's just see if he remembers this next time the subject of welfare comes up.

--Dan Schwarcz

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