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Yglesias Destruction
April 25, 2013 9:27 AM   Subscribe

Matthew Yglesias wrote a blog post for Slate the other day titled "Different Places Have Different Safety Rules and That's OK" concerning the Bangladesh building collapse and worldwide safety standards. Mr. Destructo was not pleased.
posted by josher71 (170 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
I just saw this this morning. Absolutely disgusting in every imaginable way. He's defending himself on Twitter saying everyone's misread him, but it's hard to imagine a rephrasing that isn't basically 'rules can be laxer because life there is cheaper'.
posted by Happy Dave at 9:31 AM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Probably the best take I saw on this was this tweet from this morning: 194 people killed, including 16 Brits, as building in New York collapses. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-22289362
posted by Greg Nog at 9:35 AM on April 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


Oh cut Yglesias some slack, would you?

Working yourself up from a third-world sweatshop assembly line to challenge Tom Freidman for the Vapid Punditry Crown is no mean feat.



What's that you say? He went to Dalton and Harvard and then floated on a cloud of privilege into his current position as up-and-coming gasbag?

Fuck off and get back to work, prole.

posted by R. Schlock at 9:38 AM on April 25, 2013 [38 favorites]


Christ, what an asshole.
posted by edheil at 9:39 AM on April 25, 2013 [6 favorites]


Well, at least he's not claiming that physics and material sciences in Bangladesh are different than in the US and that's ok because FREEDOM, which was what I was afraid that blog post was going to end being about.
posted by Iosephus at 9:40 AM on April 25, 2013


Hey, a lot of those Triangle Shirtwaist workers used to complain about how cold their tenements were, also. You can't have it both ways!
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 9:41 AM on April 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


Reminded of '90s controversy over Larry Summers-authored World Bank memo on pollution and waste dumping.
posted by grobstein at 9:41 AM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think his point was, "Standards are lax because the government has more important things on its mind than building codes."

To which I retort, "Government really shouldn't have any other job besides building codes and the day-to-day care of its people. And this is Bangladesh. Bangla-fucking-desh. What is this government doing, exactly? Because it doesn't look like its doing anything."

Corrupt third-world countries make me pine for the days of Victorian imperialism.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:44 AM on April 25, 2013 [5 favorites]


Was Yglesias always this awful or has he gotten worse in the last few years? I remember him as sort of a wonk but not this contemptuously (and contemptibly) disinterested in the real-world consequences of his policy prescriptions.
posted by immlass at 9:44 AM on April 25, 2013 [7 favorites]


Is it just Slate? Like, there's an endumbening field around the editorial bullpen? Something in the commissary? Maybe you don't get on the masthead unless you emerge from 12 weeks of intensive training and slaughter the puppy you were issued on hire?

I think, immlass, he's gotten worse. It's one of two ways you can go: subliming straight up your own bunghole until your inside-out revenant attains Broder-like levels of irrelevance, or contenting yourself to grab a sinecure on a "name" publication and spend your days flattering your audience by gumming Big Ideas and confirming their biases.
posted by mph at 9:46 AM on April 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


Was Yglesias always this awful or has he gotten worse in the last few years?

With the possible exception of Billy Joel, Ted Nugent and Dennis Miller, I don't think anyone suddenly gets awful out of the clear blue sky.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:46 AM on April 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


See also Krugman.

Yglesias is doing some sloppy moral calculus about the value of human life here, that's for sure. That having been said, he makes one very useful point: the alternatives to sweatshop labor for most Bangladeshis are not pleasant. Sweatshop boycotts can involve some sloppy moral calculus as well.
posted by hal incandenza at 9:48 AM on April 25, 2013 [6 favorites]


That Mr. Destructo post is a gorgeous masterwork of the "blogger excoriates paid columnist" genre.
posted by prize bull octorok at 9:48 AM on April 25, 2013 [7 favorites]


The 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake was 6.9 magnitude, and the 2010 Port-au-Prince earthquake was 7.0 magnitude. What's the difference in death? Building codes.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:48 AM on April 25, 2013 [18 favorites]


I think his point was, "Standards are lax because the government has more important things on its mind than building codes."

I think the point was that Bangladesh is so poor that people will reasonably take bigger risks just to make a little bit of money because the alternative is starvation. That's also absolutely true; I have no idea how you get from there to "that's okay."
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 9:49 AM on April 25, 2013 [8 favorites]


Guys, I think the point was that money is good: "The reason is that while having a safe job is good, money is also good."
posted by compartment at 9:50 AM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yglesias is cold but not wrong. Erik Loomis is saying that Americans should tell Bangladesh how to run their economy. That's simple imperialism, with a creamy paternalistic sauce. It reminds me of Mike Daisey lying about Chinese workers being forced into inhumane overtime, when anyone who actually knows anything about Chinese workers knows that their biggest beef with American companies is that they don't allow enough overtime.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 9:51 AM on April 25, 2013 [5 favorites]


Matthew Yglesias—a Norelco marketing experiment to see if a hand-drawn Sharpie beard on a peeled potato could sell men's earrings—...

I've never heard of Mr Destructo, but I love him already.
posted by DU at 9:54 AM on April 25, 2013 [9 favorites]


Erik Loomis is saying that Americans should tell Bangladesh how to run their economy. That's simple imperialism, with a creamy paternalistic sauce.

Loomis is saying that American companies should have to follow American safety standards in the creation of their products if they want to sell those products in America. Not sure how you're leaping from that to "telling Bangladesh how to run their economy."
posted by protocoach at 9:56 AM on April 25, 2013 [30 favorites]


I've been reading Yglesias since he was a wee blogger, some ten years now, and I have not generally found his work to be as oblivious and callous as that post was. It made my jaw drop to read it. I don't remember that happening before.
posted by zjacreman at 9:56 AM on April 25, 2013


zjacreman, he's let the mask slip a few times before, perhaps on issues you don't care as much about. His beliefs about the neoliberalization of education are atrocious, for instance.

This one was pretty bad, though. Amazing what people will sign their names to.
posted by gerryblog at 9:58 AM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]




I'll take this time to point out that Yglesias wrote a book that no one read or took seriously.

As an academic this pleases me.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 9:59 AM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah. I think Yglesias is inviting a lot of criticism by using far too many words to say "It's not our business to tell Bangladesh how to run their country."

If we want to openly share our safety data and engineering knowledge to anybody countries who want to listen, I think that America can and should do that. However, I think that it's a bad precedent and callous demand for Americans to dictate mundane labor laws to other countries.

Some of the supporting arguments that Yglesias makes are appalling, but the underlying argument seems to be completely reasonable.

However, it's possible to tread into murky areas when you consider trade with countries that encourage labor standards that most Americans believe to be deeply immoral (eg. abusive child labor or de-facto slavery), or have significant negative environmental effects that bleed over into other countries.

Also, regarding "worldwide" safety standards, consider Why American Eggs Would Be Illegal In A British Supermarket, And Vice Versa. American and British safety standards for eggs are almost literally polar opposite from each other, and yet both actually make complete sense in the context of their environment.
posted by schmod at 10:00 AM on April 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


Non-mobile Mr. Destructo link, since the mobile Blogger layout is utterly shit.
posted by Rory Marinich at 10:01 AM on April 25, 2013


gerryblog: ""if yglesias was some kind of real ballsy contrarian he'd write a piece called 'west, texas is less safe than NYC and thats how it should be"""

Did Yglesias write the headline, or did his editor? The headline is a lot more incendiary than the article itself is.
posted by schmod at 10:01 AM on April 25, 2013


BBC: 24 found alive in room in rubble:

"The military said at least 12 of the group had since been pulled free."

"Primark, a clothes retailer with a large presence in Britain, confirmed that one of its suppliers was on the second floor of the Rana Plaza, and said it would work with other retailers to review standards.

US discount giant Wal-Mart said it was still trying to establish whether its goods were being produced at the Rana Plaza."
posted by marienbad at 10:03 AM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm surprised by the vitriolic reaction here, since his point seems almost trivially obvious. Of course safety regulations are a trade-off. Everything is a trade-off. What's so shocking about the idea that countries with different constraints and needs would make different choices? Safety practices have a cost, different people have different risk tolerances, different people have different amounts of money, of course different countries are going to manage risk in different ways, and that's not a bad thing.
posted by Mars Saxman at 10:03 AM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Given that the owners of the factory in Bangladesh are currently in hiding, I'm not sure it's safe to assume that the average Bangladeshi is that satisfied with the safety/money tradeoff they made.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 10:05 AM on April 25, 2013 [20 favorites]


Always remember about Yglesias: he supported the War on Iraq. He's an idiot. His only rule is to be the latest "even the liberal" spokepiece.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:06 AM on April 25, 2013 [17 favorites]


Schmod: He actually says "This kind of consideration leads Erik Loomis to the conclusion that we need a unified global standard for safety, by which he does not mean that Bangladeshi levels of workplace safety should be implemented in the United States.

I think that's wrong. Bangladesh may or may not need tougher workplace safety rules, but it's entirely appropriate for Bangladesh to have different—and, indeed, lower—workplace safety standards than the United States."
posted by marienbad at 10:06 AM on April 25, 2013


Scott Lemieux, also of Lawyers, Guns, and Money, brings up something that appears in the Mr. Destructo:
This is the key problem: I don’t see who’s making the “choice” to ignore the basic safety of workers except for the rapacious employer and, by extension, the companies using his exploitative services while looking the other way. This certainly wasn’t the choice of the Bangladeshi state, since the practices of the factory that lead to the deadly collapse were illegal. The workers made a “choice” put their lives at risk in conditions that were known to be appallingly unsafe only according to the kind of logic that led hack Gilded Age jurists to conclude that minimum wage and maximum hours violated the due process rights of not only employers but of workers. The argument for greater intervention on the part of richer liberal democracies to enforce tougher labor standards is not an argument that we should be imposing “our” values on Bangladeshi citizens who don’t value worker safety the way we do. It’s argument that we should be using the greater enforcement capacity and leverage of richer liberal democratic states to enforce values that all evidence suggests are shared between richer and poorer nations.
There isn't actually a different set of values here. Bangladesh has safety rules that would have prohibited this; they are undermined by the lack of viable enforcement mechanisms.
posted by protocoach at 10:06 AM on April 25, 2013 [33 favorites]


Bangladesh is a lot poorer than the United States, and there are very good reasons for Bangladeshi people to make different choices in this regard than Americans

I'm more interested in focusing on the same choices made for the same reasons in both the US and Bangladesh: business owners skimping on safety measures to maximize profits.
posted by audi alteram partem at 10:07 AM on April 25, 2013 [6 favorites]


How does Yglesias explain West, Texas, anyway?

The Bangladesh incident is remarkably similar. In both cases, the factories ignored safety standards to increase profits, both ignored warnings about the danger of their facilities, and the respective governments did nothing about it.
posted by mokin at 10:08 AM on April 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


I think the reaction is so strong because most advocates of global capitalism have the sense to couch their arguments in abstraction, rather than explicitly argue that Westerners' lives are worth more than non-Westerners' lives.
posted by gerryblog at 10:09 AM on April 25, 2013 [8 favorites]


Also, since I'm over on LGM at the moment: Loomis responds to Yglesias.
posted by protocoach at 10:10 AM on April 25, 2013


The part "that's ok" is that different countries should be able to reach different conclusions about where to situate themselves on the risk-reward spectrum, when it comes to workplace safety regulations. I mean, that's exactly what the headline says in the Yglesias post: "Different places have different safety rules, and that's ok"

I don't think this is a particularly difficult or controversial exegesis. I'll spare you (most of) my thoughts about how twitter has mobilized the internet outrage industrial complex, granting that monolith the capability to invade formerly sacred places like Metafilter.
posted by Kwine at 10:11 AM on April 25, 2013 [5 favorites]


Good on Mr. Destructo, and I hope Mr. Yglesias manages to obtain some perspective from the blowback.

Ever wonder how many stars we would have visited by now, if not for profit motive?
posted by Mooski at 10:11 AM on April 25, 2013


We see the same thing with environmental regulations, labor standards, and all the other baggage that goes along with globalization. I fully get that Bangladesh couldn't adopt the world's strictest workplace safety standards tomorrow, nor could they possibly enforce them if they did so, but what's the path to improvement? If they tighten their laws too much, companies will just drop their Bangladesh operations and move on to the next bunch of suckers willing to look the other way. The theory is supposed to be that a rising tide lifts all boats, but I don't see how we can progress when there's always someone lower.

The shipbreaking yards of Bangladesh and other nearby nations are perhaps the most poignant example. Filled with environmental horrors and human rights violations, but the livelihood of thousands depends on it. Shut it down, and the shipping industry will just find another beach to dump its unwanted monstrosities.
posted by zachlipton at 10:12 AM on April 25, 2013


Yglesias states reality. People hate reality.
posted by 2N2222 at 10:13 AM on April 25, 2013


No one is saying 'shut it down', they're saying 'enforce the laws.'
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 10:14 AM on April 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


The part "that's ok" is that different countries should be able to reach different conclusions about where to situate themselves on the risk-reward spectrum, when it comes to workplace safety regulations. I mean, that's exactly what the headline says in the Yglesias post: "Different places have different safety rules, and that's ok"

Yeah, but they didn't. As pointed out in the Mr. Destructo post. Linked in the FPP. Two countries came to similar conclusions about where to situate themselves on the risk-reward spectrum, and then those decisions were subverted by assholes.

We see the same thing with environmental regulations, labor standards, and all the other baggage that goes along with globalization. I fully get that Bangladesh couldn't adopt the world's strictest workplace safety standards tomorrow, nor could they possibly enforce them if they did so, but what's the path to improvement?

As Loomis suggested: raise our standards. If companies want to sell stuff here, they have to show that their products were produced in situations that meet American safety standards.
posted by protocoach at 10:15 AM on April 25, 2013 [8 favorites]


We see the same thing with environmental regulations, labor standards, and all the other baggage that goes along with globalization. I fully get that Bangladesh couldn't adopt the world's strictest workplace safety standards tomorrow, nor could they possibly enforce them if they did so, but what's the path to improvement?

Socialism. Workers unions. Strikes. Sabotage.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:15 AM on April 25, 2013 [23 favorites]


Yglesias states reality. People hate reality.

A moral stance is not reality or unreality; you're not even wrong.
posted by Greg Nog at 10:16 AM on April 25, 2013 [34 favorites]


The point at which you are forcing your workers to return to a building that has cracked and has been condemned by the government is far beyond "different constraints and needs". This common free market idea that people have choice is limited. Those people had a choice: lose your wages and let your family starve, or go back to live in a building that looks like it's going to collapse.

When corporations run the world, the only choice left to the vulnerable is between slavery and starvation.

The only counterbalance we have to this is government, where people come together to impose on the privileged some standards that are based on social justice, letting people live happy lives, or at least live. The fact that the world is set up such that the Bangladeshi government is not strong enough to make a choice that keeps its citizens safe is, indeed, a bad thing.

And with corporate capture of the US Government almost complete, a similar trend is growing here too. The article is an apology for slavery and oppression. "the same soothing voice as the one you on your dog as your vet is euthanizing him" is apt.
posted by yoz420 at 10:16 AM on April 25, 2013 [39 favorites]


A moral stance is not reality or unreality; you're not even wrong.

There was no moral stance, except for those insisting on shoehorning one in.
posted by 2N2222 at 10:17 AM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah. I think Yglesias is inviting a lot of criticism by using far too many words to say "It's not our business to tell Bangladesh how to run their country."

Our businesses buy things from Bangladesh manufacturing centers. Perhaps "telling them how" is the wrong metaphor, but our business connections (i.e., how much we offer to pay for a given good, how fast we demand it) literally result in the working conditions being what they are.
posted by odinsdream at 10:17 AM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Was Yglesias always this awful or has he gotten worse in the last few years? I remember him as sort of a wonk but not this contemptuously (and contemptibly) disinterested in the real-world consequences of his policy prescriptions.

He's gotten worse at least since moving to Slate, see also "The Koch Brothers Might Be Just What Conservative Journalism Needs" for the proposition that "America would be better off" with the L.A. Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Baltimore Sun, and other newspapers operating as a print version of FOX News, conveniently without a shred of supporting reasoning.

Now instead of being just a faux-branded "lefty" with moneyed interests behind him trumping up his conveniently market-libertarian leaning analysis every-hour-on-the-hour, he's also contractually obligated to shart out one trademarkedly contrarian #slatepitch article per day.

Always remember about Yglesias: he supported the War on Iraq. He's an idiot. His only rule is to be the latest "even the liberal" spokepiece.

This pretty much nails it, he's the print version of Alan Combes for the iPhone set.
posted by T.D. Strange at 10:17 AM on April 25, 2013 [6 favorites]


Everything is a trade-off. What's so shocking about the idea that countries with different constraints and needs would make different choices? Safety practices have a cost, different people have different risk tolerances, different people have different amounts of money, of course different countries are going to manage risk in different ways, and that's not a bad thing.

The problem is that workers and nations aren't just making that trade-off for themselves; they are making it for us. When someone over there is taking that risk so I can buy cheap clothes at Target or Walmart over here, I'm involved in that risk calculus too.
posted by zachlipton at 10:19 AM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


There was no moral stance

I can't tell whether you didn't read the article, or your reading comprehension is just shockingly bad.

it's entirely appropriate for Bangladesh to have different—and, indeed, lower—workplace safety standards than the United States.
The reason is that while having a safe job is good, money is also good.

posted by Greg Nog at 10:21 AM on April 25, 2013 [7 favorites]


Different places have different safety rules, and that's ok

You can only say these things if you completely ignore the history, the context in which these decisions are made, if you live in a cloud cuckoo land in which each country is free to make up its own rules, unhindered by commercial and political pressure coming from the US and EU, when you can ignore the simple fact that the people who make the decision not to enforce safety standards are never ever the people who will die in a factory fire.

It can only be made if you ignore everything about the way the world works, in favour of some theoretical economic wonderland where rational actors make rational decisions about risk and reward.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:22 AM on April 25, 2013 [13 favorites]


it's entirely appropriate for Bangladesh to have different—and, indeed, lower—workplace safety standards than the United States.
The reason is that while having a safe job is good, money is also good.


And that, my friend, is reality.
posted by 2N2222 at 10:22 AM on April 25, 2013


The idea that Bangledeshis rationally weighed the cost and benefits of catastrophic workplace fires and decided freely and democratically to allow [x] more fires in exchange for [y] more wages is a preposterous Econ 101 fantasy. It's a rationalization for a system-wide regime of vicious exploitation that benefits consumers in the West at the expense of Global South. That it looks to some people like simple common sense, or "reality," is a testament to capitalism's ability to brand itself as a law of nature. It's a bummer.
posted by gerryblog at 10:22 AM on April 25, 2013 [43 favorites]


The point he's making is pretty simple:

By and large, regulation adds costs. Added costs generally means less employment (the jobs go somewhere else and/or the cost of the good is increased, which reduces demand). The trade off between added costs and employment is complicated and not amenable to being set on a one-size-fits-all model.

I'm sure there are points in that paragraph that are debatable from an economics point of view, but the overall argument is hardly immoral. There are economic trade-offs between getting people jobs and wages and addressing other goals such as safety and "living wage" types of concerns. It is a pretty standard flaw of unsophisticated left-leaning arguments to ignore those trade-offs.

For example: adding incremental safety regulations to commercial airlines makes planes safer. It also makes the planes more expensive and hence flying more expensive. Poorer people, at the margin, end up driving rather than flying on trips. Driving is more dangerous. At a certain point, adding incremental safety regulations to planes literally causes incrementally more people to die on the highways.

It's just closing your eyes to reality to pretend that worthy goals like safety are costless. We should be careful about imposing those costs on other people in different economic circumstances than us. I think that's his main point.
posted by Mid at 10:24 AM on April 25, 2013 [5 favorites]


And that, my friend, is reality.

Save it for the radio broadcast, Mr. Galt.
posted by Rory Marinich at 10:24 AM on April 25, 2013 [14 favorites]


The reason for the vitriol directed at Yglesias isn't so much because he's wrong, it's because it's a callous, terrible column. It is terrible is because he pretends that the Bangladeshi people have somehow endorsed the factory-burning, building-collapsing, worker-killing conditions in which they risk their health to make garments for Western retailers.

The executive director of the Bangladeshi Center for Worker Solidarity answered a question about Yglesias' column on Democracy Now this morning. Here is the transcript:
AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you about a comment of Matthew Yglesias, the business and economics correspondent for Slate.com. He wrote a piece Wednesday called "Different Places Have Different Safety Rules and That’s OK." He wrote, quote, "Safety rules that are appropriate for the United States would be unnecessarily immiserating in much poorer Bangladesh. Rules that are appropriate in Bangladesh would be far too flimsy for the richer and more risk-averse United States. Split the difference and you’ll get rules that are appropriate for nobody. The current system of letting different countries have different rules is working fine. American jobs have gotten much safer over the past 20 years, and Bangladesh has gotten a lot richer," unquote. Your response, each of you, before we go to break?

KALPONA AKTER: OK. My response is, in Bangladesh, we really have—we already have some rules and regulation for safety which is not complied, because these factory owners are so strong. Ten percent of our legislators, of them, are the factory owners. So, literally, these laws doesn’t work, which is the reason that we are calling all these retailers to sign the legally binding Bangladeshi—for the Bangladeshi garment factories to sign the fire and building safety code agreement, which already been signed by PVH, like Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein, and also Tchibo from Italy. I know there is differences in terms of the rules and regulation between U.S. and Bangladesh, which is OK. But, you know, whatever rules and regulation we have, that has to be complied.
Yglesias has entirely missed the point.
posted by compartment at 10:24 AM on April 25, 2013 [31 favorites]


No its not.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 10:24 AM on April 25, 2013


Yeah. I think Yglesias is inviting a lot of criticism by using far too many words to say "It's not our business to tell Bangladesh how to run their country."

We're already doing so. GATT, GATS, commercial contracts between western companies and Bangladeshi sub-contractors, American or European pressure in bilateral trade agreements: in a thousand different ways the EU and US are making the world safe for profit, making sure there's nothing standing in its way.

Yet when it's no longer about profit, but lives, this is beyond the pale?
posted by MartinWisse at 10:25 AM on April 25, 2013 [9 favorites]


From the Loomis response on the question of choice:
There’s also the issue of democracy and choice. What are workers actually choosing when they make these theoretical choices to enter the plant? They choice many tried to make was not to work in unsafe conditions. They were threatened with severe pay loss that placed their families’ already precarious economic system in even more danger. Bangladeshi workers have tried to organize into unions. What happened? Their organizers were murdered. The building is owned by a local political elite. What chance did workers have to create change? Workers try to make choices. Those choices are denied them by an international corporate-political alliance. The choices are made for workers by Wal-Mart, by their corrupt elites, by the bullet from a police officer’s gun.
posted by audi alteram partem at 10:26 AM on April 25, 2013 [10 favorites]


marienbad: "Schmod: He actually says "This kind of consideration leads Erik Loomis to the conclusion that we need a unified global standard for safety, by which he does not mean that Bangladeshi levels of workplace safety should be implemented in the United States.

I think that's wrong. Bangladesh may or may not need tougher workplace safety rules, but it's entirely appropriate for Bangladesh to have different—and, indeed, lower—workplace safety standards than the United States."
"

Sorry. I'm not sure where we're in disagreement here...
posted by schmod at 10:28 AM on April 25, 2013


And this is Bangladesh. Bangla-fucking-desh. What is this government doing, exactly? Because it doesn't look like its doing anything.

Hey, they're an important partner in the War on Terror.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 10:28 AM on April 25, 2013


Bangladesh itself has decided that these trade offs aren't worth it, that the situation is fucked up and needs fixing, and that whatever financial benefit accrues from laxer workplaces is simply not worth it.

And Yglesias comes in here and says to them, and to everyone, no, its totally worth it.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 10:28 AM on April 25, 2013 [5 favorites]


BTW I think Yglesias is right.

There is a fundamental global injustice in that Bangladesh is a lot poorer than the United States. Bangladeshi's are a lot poorer than Americans generally through no fault of their own, not just in the wages they are capable of earning but in many, many of the components of a good, secure and healthy life. Generalizing: it is lucky to be born in the US, unlucky to be born in Bangladesh.

We can imagine that each Bangladeshi is born with a tremendous wealth deficit compared to each American, on the order perhaps of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Each Bangladeshi has to pay for this over his or her life, by forgoing things that are available to most Americans: things like food and water security, homes that are safe from floodwaters, education and life possibilities. And yes -- workplaces that are reasonably safe from dangers to life.

Barring Bangladeshi workers from taking jobs in dangerous factories does nothing to solve the basic global injustice, that there are poor countries and rich countries. It doesn't help make up the huge deficit each Bangladeshi has to "pay off" by forgoing life possibilities that are available to most Americans. It just bars them from paying off the deficit in one particular way, because we -- the comfortable overseas news audience -- find that particular way unsightly. Even if they have chosen to pay it off that way, leaving rural poverty for a chance to work in factories. We would rather people suffer in crushing poverty in ways that are slightly less visible to us.

Fortunately, it is not our decision.

To say that poor countries can have lower safety standards is not to say that their lives matter less. In fact they are separate questions. The hard truth is that, no matter the safety standards, the cash value that the world's poor can offer for their lives is less. They can pay less for the food that sustains them, the shelter that protects them, etc., and so they buy less food and worse shelter, and they "buy" less occupational safety protection.

Imagine if you looked at an inadequate home in rural Bangladesh, one likely to be swept away in the floodwaters. And you said: "That home would not meet minimal safety standards for human occupancy in the US, so of course it is not safe! Bangladeshis should be banned from building and buying such shelters!" Until the poor are rich enough to afford better conditions, we do them no favors by banning them from the compromises they need to live.

If there is a solution, it must be one that increases wealth in poor countries. There may be many small injustices, about the political power of the factory owners, the clothes makers, the Walmarts, the unenforced regulations. But fundamentally working in a dangerous factory is a product of and a coping mechanism for the big injustice -- being born in a poor, industrializing country.
posted by grobstein at 10:29 AM on April 25, 2013 [9 favorites]


By and large, regulation adds costs. Added costs generally means less employment (the jobs go somewhere else and/or the cost of the good is increased, which reduced demand). The trade off between added costs and employment is complicated and not amenable to being set on a one-size-fits-all model.

Capitalist realism 101. The idea that there are no alternatives to capitalism as it exists today, that any attempt at improving conditions will run into the iron will of the freemarket and make things worse.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:30 AM on April 25, 2013 [10 favorites]


Once again, as always, you cannot truly have freedom until individuals are afforded the same mobility as capital. Labor market arbitrage = death.
posted by aramaic at 10:31 AM on April 25, 2013 [5 favorites]


The idea that there are no alternatives to capitalism as it exists today

Not sure I follow. Regulation adds cost regardless of how free your market is. The other effects I described follow from that. The same trade-offs exist even in socialism, I'm pretty sure.
posted by Mid at 10:33 AM on April 25, 2013


It's a stupid piece; if you're going to venture into such complex issues you need to do justice to their complexity, which this certainly doesn't. On the other hand, though, a lot of the responses to it are both deliberately misreading it and are also refusing to confront the complexities of the situation. It's all very well to say "every worker deserves a safe working environment"--and as a shorthand statement of moral good intentions it's not a bad starting place; but in practice, no matter where you are in the world, "safety" is a calculated trade off between desirable outcomes and economic practicalities, and it's reasonable to ask the question whether that calculation will be the same in Bangladesh as it is in, say, New York.

When we say "safe workplace" we actually mean "made as safe as we consider reasonable." And among the constraints of "reasonableness" we factor in cost. No one who works in a building in the United States is free of the risk of a building collapse; they are simply at a much reduced risk of collapse than a typical peer in Bangladesh. The threshold events that would bring that building down have to be considerably more severe in the US than in Bangladesh. More money could be spent on building-strengthening in the US, of course, which would make all workers even safer from the already unlikely event of a building collapse. Is it worth spending that money? Well, if it's your loved one who dies when the next building collapses in a major earthquake, your answer will certainly be "yes." Would we all support a law demanding building strengthening to meet these higher thresholds? Probably not; we'd find ourselves getting into the complex moral calculus of whether the hit to the economy of forcing businesses to spend money on retrofitting all commercial structures in the US would do more harm to working people than the risks such retrofitting was designed to mitigate.

And that's just considering one, relatively uncommon and unlikely, safety issue. The same thing applies, obviously, to a myriad of different possible causes of injury at any given workplace. Safety mitigation programs could always be more rigorous and more effective and, in the end, we are always striking a balance between what is possible and what we consider economically practicable.

The same calculus, obviously, would have to be made by any reasonable and responsible person setting workplace safety and building construction regulations in Bangladesh--and it is not inherently obvious to me (although I'm open to being persuaded otherwise) that an ideal actor in that role in Bangladesh would necessarily arrive at the same outcomes from those calculations as would an ideal actor in New York of California.
posted by yoink at 10:35 AM on April 25, 2013 [5 favorites]


The neoliberal framing of Bangladeshi industry as "risk and reward" is the cold heart of Yglesias's callousness. As others have mentioned, there is little "choice" offered Bengladeshi workers when the choice is between "take a job which offers a high chance of injury or death" and "starve your whole family." There's no cushy Taco Bell cashier job waiting around the corner if they'd rather make less and live.

And, of course, the "risk" they face is wholly a product of Western consumerism: that's what makes the comments about Bangladeshi's "corrupt third-world government" particularly cynical: as if North America isn't directly responsible for increasing the risk to foreign workers' lives every time we buy a cheap piece of clothing from Joe Fresh or H&M or whatever. The employer is offering workers the choice between precarious life and nothing, but we are offering the employer bags of money to do it -- or nothing if he don't.

Capitalism: you're part of it, man.
posted by Catchfire at 10:35 AM on April 25, 2013 [5 favorites]


Not sure I follow. Regulation adds cost regardless of how free your market is. The other effects I described follow from that. The same trade-offs exist even in socialism, I'm pretty sure.

Yes. I would add that when socialism, trade unionism, etc., have historically done away with the worst working conditions, they have done it with a silent partner: vast increases in wealth.

When the economy is doubling every couple decades, very quickly regulatory costs that would have been extravagant become affordable. To tell the story of improved working conditions without noting the tremendous economic growth that happened at the same time is to miss most of the point.
posted by grobstein at 10:37 AM on April 25, 2013 [5 favorites]


you cannot truly have freedom until individuals are afforded the same mobility as capital.

True, but that's a whole 'nother ball of wax. In the mean time, however, it's counterproductive to insist, either on the labor mobility issue, or the comparative advantage issue of the op, that the perfect become the enemy of the good.
posted by 2N2222 at 10:42 AM on April 25, 2013


"And that, my friend, is reality."

Well, no, it's a moral stance written in the language of unassailable fact, like pointing out that your glib dismissals are idiotic is both a factual and value judgment.

If you still don't understand how whenever you use the word "good," you're implying a morality, you should avoid politics and stick to needlepoint.
posted by klangklangston at 10:43 AM on April 25, 2013 [22 favorites]


That Yglesias article contains some dreadful writing and analysis, no question. There are points in there worthy of discussion, but this was a hamfisted and lazy attempt. However, it doesn't automatically mean he's always been useless or a phony or a hack etc. I've enjoyed the majority of his articles I've read over the years. There's virtually noone online whose writing/arguments I agree with all the time, but I don't think cranking out this undedifying lump of coal does anything more than remind me to read everyone critically. He's human, he made a mistake. I hope he does a follow up. He'd better do a follow up to better explain his thoughts.
posted by peacay at 10:43 AM on April 25, 2013


"True, but that's a whole 'nother ball of wax. In the mean time, however, it's counterproductive to insist, either on the labor mobility issue, or the comparative advantage issue of the op, that the perfect become the enemy of the good."

No one is insisting that. Yglasias is wrong on the facts of the incident, and has used that to cobble together a vague weltanschauung that flatters your biases to the extent that you seem to be incapable of actually addressing the text as written and instead retreat to Randian platitudes.
posted by klangklangston at 10:45 AM on April 25, 2013 [5 favorites]


It is okay for different countries to freely choose, via a democratic process, to set their own safety standards. That is not how the real world works, in that the wealthy west coerces, through money if it can, and through violence, if it must, lower safety, wage and environmental standards on a populace which is powerless to stand up for its own rights against a corrupt government.

Slate should fire him, of they had any integrity.
posted by empath at 10:50 AM on April 25, 2013 [6 favorites]


Yes. I would add that when socialism, trade unionism, etc., have historically done away with the worst working conditions, they have done it with a silent partner: vast increases in wealth.

No, not really. That's the whig view of history as inevitable progress, when in fact people had to fight hard to gain their rights, weren't granted them by benevolent overlords. Nobody was tracking the wealth of society as a whole and granting workers rights and protection according to it: these were gained through hard fights and opposed fiercely.

Furthermore, the "vast increases in wealth" came after these rights and protections were worn; not before.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:51 AM on April 25, 2013 [14 favorites]


"money is good" in the same way that jobs are good, security is good, shelter is good, food and water are good. In practical terms.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 10:52 AM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well, no, it's a moral stance written in the language of unassailable fact, like pointing out that your glib dismissals are idiotic is both a factual and value judgment.

If you still don't understand how whenever you use the word "good," you're implying a morality, you should avoid politics and stick to needlepoint.


Personal attacks always welcomed!

Once again, shoehorning your morality into this argument doesn't make the reality of the situation disappear.

No one is insisting that.

It seems that is exactly what's being argued by people taking exception to Yglesias, when one argues that factories in Bangladesh, or wherever, need to comply to whatever standards they actually cannot realistically comply with, and stay competitive.
posted by 2N2222 at 10:55 AM on April 25, 2013


So everybody saying that Yglesias's take that this is a question of "different societies making different risk-reward choices" is "reality" are aware that the owner of the building had illegally added three stories to the building and that factory foremen forced workers into the obviously-crumbling building, right?
posted by junco at 10:56 AM on April 25, 2013 [9 favorites]


Yglesias' response only makes sense if you totally ignore every fact about this particular situation.

The building was not up to code. Additional stories had been illegally built. It had been closed, by law. The workers were under duress to work regardless of these dangers. These workers' rights had been systematically undermined with violence. The workers' ability to make a risk/reward choice only makes sense when viewed as one made under economic threats while those in power were flouting the law.

Suppose someone held Matt Yglesias' mother hostage and demanded that Yglesias wrote a column that demonstrated an ounce of moral perspective, for which he would be paid one dollar. While technically Yglesias would be making a 'choice' in the existential sense (we are all condemned to be irreducibly free, yadda yadda), it would not make sense to say that in such a circumstance Yglesias would be making a free, rational economic decision. One might even say that the kidnapper broke the law in order to force Yglesias to make the decision, because we know that given a reasonable set of choices, Matt Yglesias would not write a column that demonstrated an ounce of moral perspective.
posted by daveliepmann at 10:58 AM on April 25, 2013 [25 favorites]


"Personal attacks always welcomed!

Once again, shoehorning your morality into this argument doesn't make the reality of the situation disappear.
"

Ignoring the moral dimension of a question of political good is pretty much the perfect application of the word "idiotic." That's not shoe-horning, it's recognizing that political questions — of which this is one — are inherently questions about public goods, and goods necessarily imply morality. Sorry, duder, you're firing blanks into 2000 years of political writing.

"It seems that is exactly what's being argued by people taking exception to Yglesias, when one argues that factories in Bangladesh, or wherever, need to comply to whatever standards they actually cannot realistically comply with, and stay competitive."

See, and this is what I mean about not reading the articles. Bangladesh polity has already made the decision that they can remain competitive while recognizing worker safety as a concern — they've actually passed laws to ensure just that, laws that the factory was violating. Ignoring that to stroke your free-market hardon just makes you look like a dishonest interlocutor, more concerned with maintaining your stiff ideology than actually engaging with the facts as we know them. That's idiotic too.
posted by klangklangston at 11:00 AM on April 25, 2013 [6 favorites]


FWIW, framing your argument in the way that says something like, "I have divined the only true way to see how the world as it really is, i.e. reality, and if you don't agree with me then you are just willfully blind and foolish", and then continue to attempt to support your claims by just averring again and again that you see reality without any filters is really fucking off putting.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 11:00 AM on April 25, 2013 [6 favorites]


For me the major crime is that he jumped on this so fast to make a point he must have known was going to be incendiary, to the point where he mistook the nature of the destruction (fire v. Collapse) and then spent like two paragraphs explaining it. You couldn't wait like a week and write it? Dana Stevens movie reviews are like three times as long.
posted by angrycat at 11:01 AM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


But he's the only one with the courage to call it as it actually is! Us poor benighted liberals just don't understand facts, man!
posted by klangklangston at 11:02 AM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


So everybody saying that Yglesias's take that this is a question of "different societies making different risk-reward choices" is "reality" are aware that the owner of the building had illegally added three stories to the building and that factory foremen forced workers into the obviously-crumbling building, right?

Yes. That's exactly what we're saying!

Or not.

Criminal negligence is something that has to be dealt with. Which is a separate issue from comparative advantage.
posted by 2N2222 at 11:02 AM on April 25, 2013


"Criminal negligence is something that has to be dealt with. Which is a separate issue from comparative advantage."

Well, so you can see why since this case is one of criminal negligence, it's obnoxious to insist that competitive advantage is the real crux of the issue in reality, right?
posted by klangklangston at 11:03 AM on April 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


But comparative advantage was the whole point of the Yglesias post. Which outrageaholics insisted on making into a morality play.
posted by 2N2222 at 11:04 AM on April 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


marienbad, quoting BBC: "Primark, a clothes retailer with a large presence in Britain, confirmed that one of its suppliers was on the second floor of the Rana Plaza, and said it would work with other retailers to review standards.

US discount giant Wal-Mart said it was still trying to establish whether its goods were being produced at the Rana Plaza."


Holy shit Wal-Mart, who cares? How about instead you establish whether any of your goods are currently being produced at buildings that could potentially fall/burn down, in plants with intrinsically unsafe conditions, etc?
posted by monocyte at 11:04 AM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Criminal negligence is something that has to be dealt with. Which is a separate issue from comparative advantage.

No it isn't. A factory located in a jurisdiction without building codes and laws against coercing workers to work in unsafe conditions has an advantage over one with stricter protections.
posted by junco at 11:05 AM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


For me the major crime is that he jumped on this so fast to make a point he must have known was going to be incendiary

Also, as somebody else already noted, that he didn't write this about the Texas explosion, when that in fact fitted his message much better...
posted by MartinWisse at 11:05 AM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


"But comparative advantage was the whole point of the Yglesias post. Which outrageaholics insisted on making into a morality play."

Uh, but since 1) it's wrong about the facts, and 2) how that trade-off between labor standards and costs is decided within a society is a moral question, you're kinda just doubling down on bullshit that was dumb the first time you typed it.
posted by klangklangston at 11:06 AM on April 25, 2013 [9 favorites]


outrageaholics

164 workers died due to criminal negligence supported and affirmed by Western appetite for cheap shitty sweaters. Sorry for getting a little uppity when someone suggests "it's all in the game, yo."
posted by Catchfire at 11:07 AM on April 25, 2013 [23 favorites]


2N2222: "But comparative advantage was the whole point of the Yglesias post. Which outrageaholics insisted on making into a morality play."

Did you miss the part where 244 human beings died horribly because their employer forced them to work in an unsafe building?
posted by octothorpe at 11:11 AM on April 25, 2013 [5 favorites]


ok now how many people died?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 11:13 AM on April 25, 2013


There is a very different way to write a piece that examines different worldwide building standards and how that fits into global capitalism.

But, let's remember who we're dealing with here. I think he was well described in the linked rebuttal:

a talentless hack who makes money by shamelessly propagating the highly remunerative Washington neoliberal consensus

The Yglesias piece is the definition of hacksterism- get all the facts wrong, and tie it to some theoretically relevant larger point that you've been pushing for years.
posted by cell divide at 11:15 AM on April 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


The death toll keeps going up as they dig through the rubble. As of 11:26 AM EDT, CNN says 244.
posted by octothorpe at 11:15 AM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


250 people, according to the report on the Dutch news just playing.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:18 AM on April 25, 2013


Uh, but since 1) it's wrong about the facts, and 2) how that trade-off between labor standards and costs is decided within a society is a moral question, you're kinda just doubling down on bullshit that was dumb the first time you typed it.

None of this actually negates his point. If you want to argue about how Bangladesh is positioned to be a producing country, then that's something you, I and Yglesias can argue over. If you want to make it a moral question, well, that's where I'll bow out.
posted by 2N2222 at 11:19 AM on April 25, 2013


What's so shocking about the idea that countries with different constraints and needs would make different choices?

Because when it comes to squiggly lines on a map ... physics ain't care.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:21 AM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


If you want to make it a moral question, well, that's where I'll bow out.

Right, because in "reality" there's no such thing as morality (apart from legislation).
posted by junco at 11:22 AM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


The fact that he's wrong about the facts doesn't his negate his point?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 11:23 AM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Articles and discussions like this just make me so tired, where people dying isn't important because "well he's not TECHNICALLY incorrect, they DID choose to work there" or "Well, sociopathy DOES exists, so whatevs" or "Hey, people die, shit happens, those chinos aren't going to stitch themselves" and so much semantic bullshit.

It'd be cool if more people acted like citizens of the world instead of The College Debate Club At The End Of The Universe.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 11:27 AM on April 25, 2013 [26 favorites]


mattyglesias: stroking your free-market hardon
posted by ennui.bz at 11:30 AM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Uh, but since 1) it's wrong about the facts, and 2) how that trade-off between labor standards and costs is decided within a society is a moral question, you're kinda just doubling down on bullshit that was dumb the first time you typed it.

None of this actually negates his point. If you want to argue about how Bangladesh is positioned to be a producing country, then that's something you, I and Yglesias can argue over. If you want to make it a moral question, well, that's where I'll bow out.


It all negates his point, because you see, to be a fucking human being on this planet means there's a fucking moral dimension to every aspect of human enterprise. Life isn't reducible to a spread sheet, it doesn't work that way as much as 'rational' thinkers may say otherwise.

On preview I agree with Uther Bentrazor just above.
posted by Phlegmco(tm) at 11:43 AM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


The fact that he's wrong about the facts doesn't his negate his point?

It negates the persuasive value of his opinion piece and it makes Yglesias look like a callous idiot, not to mention incompetent at reading the news: a sad failure for an editorial writer.
posted by immlass at 11:46 AM on April 25, 2013 [5 favorites]


Slate should fire him, [if] they had any integrity.

I think Slate is sort of a strategic hamlet of shitty opinionating. It is in our interests to relocate Yglesias and others of his ilk to Slate, where they can remain. At the very least, we can more easily monitor their comings and goings to their assorted talking head appearances and guest spots on podcasts.

Optimally, we can eventually fence them all in and occasionally drop boxes of army peanut butter, wet-wipes, and fluoride pills. If they weaken and start writing stuff that isn't cheaply contrarian, or if we break them of their taste for "everything you know is wrong" counterfactualism, we can send in a small team to extract them from their mud hovels in the dead of night, get them a hot meal and a shower, and maybe relocate them to midwestern middle schools, where they can teach English or home ec.

So no ... Slate should absolutely keep him.
posted by mph at 11:51 AM on April 25, 2013 [7 favorites]


I'm simply appalled.

Some hard facts here.

1. The cost of reasonable safety is tiny, tiny, tiny.

2. No one is "choosing" to work in dangerous conditions - there are simply a lot of desperate people who will take any job at all.

3. There is a huge difference between, "Working long hours for small pay," and "Working in toxic or dangerous conditions for small pay."

4. Preying on the desperate is one of those areas where economics and morality sharply diverge. Economics says the most logical thing to do is to take as much advantage of other people as you possibly can, as long as you get the work you need out of them. Morally this is abhorrent.

5. So it simply astonishes me how many people say, "Because it's economically profitable to take advantage of desperate people, it's also ethically correct to do so."

6. If you walked into a store and there were slaves in chains, you'd never buy there. Heck, if you walked into clothing stores and they had closed-circuit TV into the sweatshop factories, you'd never buy. The reason they get away with treating their workers so badly is exactly because affluent Americans never get to see the workers.

7. Acting as if exploitation is OK because it happens somewhere that you don't see it is ethically bankrupt.

tl; dr: Using someone's poverty to get hard work out of them is morally acceptable; using their desperation to force them to pointlessly risk their lives to save literally pennies is not.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 12:17 PM on April 25, 2013 [26 favorites]


> If you want to make it a moral question, well, that's where I'll bow out.

The fact that so many Americans are so very willing to discuss the economics of any given deal but almost never its morality is precisely why America and Americans do so many immoral and destructive things.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 12:21 PM on April 25, 2013 [7 favorites]


I think Slate is sort of a strategic hamlet of shitty opinionating.

As far as I'm concerned, Slate is a raft with Fred Kaplan, Dana Stevens, and Doonesbury floating in an ocean of stanky contrarian bullshit.
posted by COBRA! at 12:24 PM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Christ, is there nowhere I can go to escape liberals whining about Matthew Yglesias?
posted by aaronetc at 12:34 PM on April 25, 2013


who is whining?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 12:37 PM on April 25, 2013


> Christ, is there nowhere I can go to escape liberals whining about Matthew Yglesias?

I often ask myself the reverse question - is there nowhere I can go to escape conservatives gloating over how badly the poor are treated?

(By the way, your comment doesn't have anything particularly to do with the issue we're discussing. Care to address it?)
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 12:38 PM on April 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


[Folks. no one is making you be in this thread, please have a discussion with the other people here in this thread or feel free to flag and move on to a place that is more to your liking.]
posted by jessamyn at 12:50 PM on April 25, 2013


So it simply astonishes me how many people say, "Because it's economically profitable to take advantage of desperate people, it's also ethically correct to do so."

Who said that?
posted by brain_drain at 12:55 PM on April 25, 2013


1. The cost of reasonable safety is tiny, tiny, tiny.
...
3. There is a huge difference between, "Working long hours for small pay," and "Working in toxic or dangerous conditions for small pay."


I think these are huge, huge points. The comparative advantage that Bangladesh has in low-tech manufacturing is not due to lax safety standards: it's due to the relatively low cost of living (and low standard of living) that makes Banglaldeshi labor cheaper than, say, American labor. With this difference as a driving force, international trade has a great potential to lift people out of poverty. Look at the examples of China and South Korea, for instance.

My concern is that as China transitions from labor-intensive manufacturing to a more technology-based economy, there will be a race to the bottom among smaller nations to take its place. This is where lax safety and environmental standards are a real risk, I think.

The thing is, I don't think the people of any of these countries want dangerous workplaces, as willing as they are to work long hours for low wages. It should be our goal as the consumers to support the people of, for instance, Bangladesh in this goal.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:57 PM on April 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


brain drain: Well, Matthew Yglesias did, for starters.
posted by jennaratrix at 12:58 PM on April 25, 2013


Iglesias has the right answer to the wrong question.

He asks himself whether export-focused industries, encouraged in part by lower safety standards, are a good thing for Bangladesh. His answer is "absolutely." I might even agree, with the above cited Krugman article a good explanation of why that is.

But Iglesias somehow forgets that this is about much more than Bangladesh. We are talking about international trade, so the questions we ask should also be international.

When one country can get ahead by reducing standards- at the expense of jobs in other countries- we have a strong incentive for everyone to lower their standards. The Nash Equilibrium in such a system is at a low level of regulation.

This race to the bottom is the reason that China, now industrialized, will have huge challenges in improving quality of life further. It is the reason that- even now- relatively high-wage factory jobs are moving from Guangdong in the east to Sichuan and Chongqing in the west. It is the reason that if China tries to implement standards that are too high, these jobs can eventually move to Cambodia, Laos, Bangladesh and East Africa. In a system where shipping is cheap and employers are allowed to seek out the most exploitative possible system, few workers will win in the long run.

The use of cheap, dangerous overseas labour has eliminated tens of millions of safe, well-paying jobs in the developed world. We all know this. In response, wages in these nations have stagnated while working hours have increased. Income per hour worked has dropped. Worker protections are under attack. Here in Canada, environmental regulations are being rolled way back.

If the most the Chinese or the Bangladeshis can hope for is this- a polluted, low-wage world with collapsing buildings, then international trade has only fulfilled half of its promise. And if this improvement (and it is an improvement) from near-starvation rural drudgery to Dickensian slums is the ruin of the developed world's middle class, we should take pause.

One solution, discussed seriously in the free trade debates of the 1980s and since all-but forgotten, is to have free trade with equal standards, and tariffs to account for lower standards. Of course, there is a danger that such a scheme would be used by rich nations with spurious complaints about labour and environmental standards to limit imports. That problem of protectionism is why we have trade laws. It is why we have arbitrators. It is why we had the GATT and now the WTO. This would be a flawed, technocratic system, but could be better than the one we have now.

The question isn't whether we want international trade- of course we do. The question is whether we want an international trade that brings everyone up, or one in which we race to the bottom. Should international trade undermine the worker protections that a small portion of the globe has won through generations of blood, sweat and tears, or should it raise everyone else up?

In the long run, we all know that high-paying, clean, safe, and secure jobs in developed countries are not sustainable in the face of low-paying, 'flexible,' dangerous and polluting jobs from billions of talented, hard-working people in the rest of the world. It is also clear that high-paying, secure jobs for a large proportion of people in the developing world are unthinkable in the face of such competition.

Let's compete on skills, talent, hard work, and infrastructure. Not on pollution, worker safety, real (PPP) wages, and job security.
posted by the thing about it at 1:05 PM on April 25, 2013 [15 favorites]


This isn't Bhopal where the industrial risk would have been fairly big even in a rich country. This is light, low-tech manufacturing, where you have ergonomic and mutilation risks for the individual workers, but where you only need a basic building that won't collapse. For Bangladesh, letting promoters build unsafe building is counter-productive: the ones that collapse destroy a huge amount of value in the form of human lives, and the ones that stay standing create a large long-term liability that will come back to haunt them eventually.

Discounting basic building safety is just the kind of risk that's stupid to take, since if you have a large stock of similarly unsafe buildings + a big event that make them collapse, you'll erase any savings you made in the first place, and worse. And even if you address the situation before you become the next Haiti, the rehabilitation costs are going to be huge.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 1:28 PM on April 25, 2013


Poor countries can keep workers safe and still escape poverty

(Read the whole thing, but these are some of the answers I found most interesting/pertinent to the Bangladesh / free trade discussion.)
So why don't companies do it, if it's so cheap?

I think, at that level, the competition is so fierce that there is a collective action problem where the owners aren't willing to bear even the smallest costs. There's also a collective action problem on the other side, with the buyers, who are looking for the cheapest possible price for the product and aren't willing to raise that price a bit if their competitors aren't. It feeds into a vicious cycle. That's why I think you need some kind of external intervention in terms of unions, technical assistance for a stronger inspectorate, a stronger ILO, as, on their own, the companies aren't going to be able to overcome that competitive collective action problem.

Is there a difference in the character of complaints depending of who's making them? Are the unions more concerned with protecting U.S. industries?

Obviously it's hard to draw out very much statistically, but we tried to do an assessment as to whether there was a positive outcome in each of these cases. There might have been somewhat more likelihood of getting a positive outcome if the petitioner was a human rights group than a union, but we also had a second finding which we think explains that: technical standards around wages or safety were more likely to see improvement than cases around freedom of association, which were more likely to be brought by unions but also politically more difficult for developing companies to address. By contrast, they can raise the minimum wage pretty easily to get the U.S. off their back.

Just to circle back, you said it's easy for these countries to raise their minimum wage. What level do those minimums tend to be at?

Bangladesh is barely over a dollar a day. The number I saw was $37 a month, but it's a very poor country. It's going to vary very widely.

The thing about it is in other export sectors, the wages tend to be higher than the minimum, if there is a legal minimum, and than the prevailing wage. It really is in apparel, where labor is such a big part of the costs, that they tend to be very very low. There's a paper by Anne Harrison on Indonesia, which was one of the countries back in the 90s that was targeted by the sweatshop activists. It was targeted by one of these GSP cases and raised their minimum wage, and Harrison found this external pressure did appear to contribute to raising conditions and did not appear to increase unemployment or decrease exports.

What exactly do the ILO standards expect of countries? It's not like they're asking for a $9 an hour minimum wage or something in Bangladesh, but what are they asking for?

That's one of the points that I wanted to make having read the Slate piece. It's a little bit tricky having talked about health and safety, but there's a distinction between core and cash standards. The idea is that core standards like freedom of association, nondiscrimination, child labor, or forced labor are both fundamental rights, and they're also framework rights in terms of having a well-functioning rule of law system in place for your economy. Those rights they can vary in the details but, and this is what the 1998 ILO declaration said, all countries, regardless of level of development, should respect these core rights.

Then you have all these other standards like health and safety, like wages, that will necessarily differ by a country's level of development and, as Matt Yglesias says, by their choices. I wouldn't go so far as Yglesias to say that therefore it's only up to them. In a lot of these cases the workers aren't making a fully informed choice to take these risks. They don't know the chemicals are toxic. They don't know that the building's unsafe. These still need to be addressed and the question is "How do you do that?"


posted by tonycpsu at 2:16 PM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Is it okay to sort of ironically like Yglesias because of how he embodies the notion of #slatepitches, going so far as to write about how Amazon's stock price is up after hours when really it's down about 5%? The endless uncorrected typos in all of his articles are sort of fun, too.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 2:31 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


It seems pretty evident that this isn't a story about differing safety standards, but of endemic corruption and crony lawlessness. The Yglesias article has such a profound disconnection with the facts of the case that the actual substance of the article isn't really worth discussing -- why argue over bed conclusions from bad facts -- but instead the crassness, the lack of tact, the breezy unconcern for tragedy if it happens to somebody else, and the sheer moral hideousness of creating a public apologia for mass death when there is still blood on the ground.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 2:56 PM on April 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


(Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates: "The endless uncorrected typos in all of his articles are sort of fun, too."

"Amazon Stock Soares On Announcement of Falling Profits and Future Losses"

I think at this point Slate realizes that the typos are part of Yglesias' folksy appeal, or they would have hired a copy editor by now.
posted by tonycpsu at 3:01 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]




The same calculus, obviously, would have to be made by any reasonable and responsible person setting workplace safety and building construction regulations in Bangladesh--and it is not inherently obvious to me (although I'm open to being persuaded otherwise) that an ideal actor in that role in Bangladesh would necessarily arrive at the same outcomes from those calculations as would an ideal actor in New York of California.

I enforce and write building codes for a living and there are degrees of codes. My understanding is the building just fell down. Buildings not falling down are a pretty basic one and really ANY country can afford that, really you can't afford NOT to have that level of code. I agree that they can't afford things like ADA or fancy HVAC codes or maybe even the very extensive flood and earthquake related building codes the US has. However the building NOT KILLING PEOPLE under normal conditions is really pretty basic.
posted by bartonlong at 4:48 PM on April 25, 2013 [8 favorites]


I read Matt back when he blogged for the Center for American Progress. Among other things, he (1) once proposed turning Detroit into a sort of third world "special opportunity zone" complete with lowered labor and environmental standards, (2) confused "interior designers" with "interior decorators", and (3) demonstrated that he had no idea how payscales or other aspects of union negotiated contracts actually work.

On the one hand, if I had to crank out a column or post every day I'd eventually say something stupid or commit a factual error. On the other hand, I'd like to think that I would at least try to be a little more careful when I am commenting on topics that are literally life and death.

As far as I can tell, Matt's chief use to the world is basically parroting Krugman on issues of deficit and stimulus. Other than that, his sophomoric attempts to fuse progressivism and libertarianism are laughably shallow and simplistic, demonstrating merely a facile understanding of both movements.

It was easy to see that his career would eventually land him at Slate though. There is a certain type of manchild to whom pseudointellectual contrarianism that allows one to feel as if they are the cool reasoned intellectual in a discussion has an irresistible appeal. He certainly doesn't do it for the money considering his background.
posted by eagles123 at 4:52 PM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm thinking Yglesias and McArdle would look great together on CNN.
posted by notyou at 5:37 PM on April 25, 2013


I'm thinking Yglesias and McArdle would look great together on CNN

... which might be like wanting Bruce Wayne and Batman to appear on the same stage.

Think about it.

I know, right?
posted by mph at 6:06 PM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


The Current, on CBC radio, is interviewing a surviving worker tonight. Apparently workers concerned for their safety earlier in the day that the building collapsed were prevented from leaving work. Also, with the owners gone, she's concerned that she and other survivors won't get paid their wages. Some "choice".
posted by eviemath at 6:46 PM on April 25, 2013


The fact that he's wrong about the facts doesn't his negate his point?

No, because his point is not about the Bangladesh incident. This entire rage fest is attacking a straw man. He explicitly says he knows nothing about Bangladesh's safety regulations or whether they should be made more stringent. What he is taking issue with is a specific claim which has been advanced in response to the incident in Bangladesh that all nations should be held to universal workplace safety standards. He is not claiming that it doesn't matter that all these people died. He is not claiming that it's o.k. that the building collapsed on them "because MONEY!"

He was foolish to write this piece because he should have been able to foresee that people would leap on this misreading--and because it's callous to even reference such a recent and unfolding tragedy if you're not going to address it with some moral earnestness--but that really doesn't make it o.k. to just pretend that he's making the most morally odious claims imaginable when it is utterly clear that this is simply false.
posted by yoink at 6:57 PM on April 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


What he is taking issue with is a specific claim which has been advanced in response to the incident in Bangladesh that all nations should be held to universal workplace safety standards

Who's been advancing that claim? The only thing close to this that I've read was a call for American companies operating abroad to be held to standards, but that's a totally different thing from holding nations to those standards. The pressure can be put on the companies that operate in these countries, not the countries themselves. Why is that too much to ask?
posted by tonycpsu at 7:09 PM on April 25, 2013


What he is taking issue with is a specific claim which has been advanced in response to the incident in Bangladesh that all nations should be held to universal workplace safety standards.

Speaking of straw men, the claims that I have seen have been that American businesses should be held to American safety standards, even when building factories abroad. So not only did he not know that actual details of the event, but he didn't know the actual proposals put forward in response to it.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 7:09 PM on April 25, 2013


freddie de boer, on the subject of the fpp-
To me, what Yglesias said constitutes no-bullshit sociopathy, and in fact racist sociopathy, as "Different Places Have Different Safety Rules and That's Okay" is the way that decent, Harvard-educated types say that some human lives are worth less than other human lives, based on their race and country of origin. To me, it's clear that if that was published on National Review's The Corner, there would be dozens of anguished blog posts and essays calling them out, Chris Hayes would lead with it on his show, The Atlantic would publish a piece asking if Republicans are beyond saving, etc.

The fact that, instead, so many are defending him suggests that there literally is no line whatsoever once you're in, that Yglesias could dig up and re-murder Medgar Evers and if Jacob Bacharach criticized him, the Tweeters would complain about it being ad hominem. But, then, you've heard that argument from me before, and those self-same people make fun of me about it, and so I guess I'm a little silly. I write silly things, sometimes. Meanwhile, Matt Yglesias sometimes writes pieces where he justifies the conditions that kill hundreds of people through explicit reference to their national difference.
also, eagles123
There is a certain type of manchild to whom pseudointellectual contrarianism that allows one to feel as if they are the cool reasoned intellectual in a discussion has an irresistible appeal.
Well said. And it does get fucking old, but hey, at least it keeps the comments lively, right?

Yglesias... I dunno, never thought he was that interesting. Back when he was a, what, actual sophomore? It was like, aw, look, that kid sure is excited about poli-sci! Good for him! But now it looks like his long game has curdled into something like 'become the poor man's Thomas Friedman' or something. For some ridiculous beltway-centric value of poor, that is...
posted by hap_hazard at 7:22 PM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


What he is taking issue with is a specific claim which has been advanced in response to the incident in Bangladesh that all nations should be held to universal workplace safety standards.

I actually think that:
1. work not directly killing hundreds of people is a pretty basic workplace safety standard that is generally considered a basic, universal human right, around the world (*);
2. workers in every country, when given the chance to state an opinion on the matter, agree;
3. almost all governments around the world also agree, as evidenced by the numerous countries that are signatories to various UN human rights conventions; and
4. anyone who thinks otherwise is exhibiting sociopathic behavior.

(*) Seriously. What sort of hypocritical, deranged moral psuedo-relativism does it take to claim on the one hand that some bizarre Randian version of not interfering with people's "free" choices should be a universally respected moral certitude; but ensuring that the normal course of a normal work day does not entail high risk of death and that people aren't subject to coerced "choices" regarding how they obtain the means of daily survival for themselves and their families is up for grabs?


But as tonycpsu and Bunny Ultramod noted, all that is above and beyond the question of what sort of workplace safety standards suppliers and subsidiaries of US companies selling products in US markets should be held to. Arguing that setting such standards places unwanted constraints on the choices available to workers in other countries is an uninformed, ignorant argument at the least, considering that it's only due to US markets and market/business pressures that those criminally unsafe workplaces exist in the first place. The moral relativism in that argument is not based on what other moralities people in other countries apply to their actions amongst themselves, it's those of us in the US applying different moral standards in our own actions to different groups of people.
posted by eviemath at 7:29 PM on April 25, 2013 [5 favorites]


Just for some global perspective, not to be a smartass: as an Australian, the lax worker safety standards, low minimum wage, poor worker protection, minimal job security, and low consumer protection standards of the USA frankly horrify me. We would find them intolerable.

Over the last few days, John Oliver of the Daily Show has been doing some interviews with Australian politicians over the matter of gun control, and the comparison is instructive, because it holds true for these issues as well.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 9:40 PM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


On the one hand, if I had to crank out a column or post every day I'd eventually say something stupid or commit a factual error. On the other hand, I'd like to think that I would at least try to be a little more careful when I am commenting on topics that are literally life and death.

I've always enjoyed reading the vapid little climber's work as a sort of game. I like to figure out what advantage he thinks he will accrue from his latest morally bankrupt and vacuous stance.

His work is made yet more charming because he apparently types his articles by mashing the keyboard with his forehead while wearing a blindfold, taking care to press the submit button before even glancing at it. Bless his heart!
posted by winna at 11:05 PM on April 25, 2013


If Yglesias' editors are reading this thread, I've got a data point for them:

As a consumer of online content, I have absolutely no interest in ever paying money or clicking on ads in order to read anything written by Matt Yglesias.

I would, however, willingly pay several dollars to watch a video of a big, mean-looking guy punching Matt Yglesias in the face and neck, several times, really hard.

Let the market decide!
posted by Nat "King" Cole Porter Wagoner at 11:53 PM on April 25, 2013


Washington, D.C. is where young liberals go to die become Libertarian assholes.
posted by bardic at 1:37 AM on April 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yglesias waves the white flag.
posted by Rangeboy at 6:38 AM on April 26, 2013


Further Thoughts on the Bangladesh Factory Disaster
Here's what I did. I read a guy who pivoted from the tragedy to a call for the US government or US consumers to try to impose US safety standards on all US-supplying factories around the world. I did not have detailed information about the situation in Bangladesh, but I did—and continue to—have good reason to believe that this call was mistaken. So I wrote a post trying to outline why I think it's appropriate for rich countries to have more stringent standards than poor ones, and I absolutely stand by that conclusion.

But at a certain point as a writer if you feel like everyone's misreading you, you have to consider the possibility that you've miswritten (thanks to Kendall Clark for making the point). I wanted to write about something I know about (the sound basis for globally differentiated regulatory regimes) and people wanted to read about the news (a scandalous breakdown of Bangladeshi law and basic concepts of informed consent) and mixing them up has done no good.
posted by zombieflanders at 6:39 AM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well that's a bullshit walkback.
posted by notyou at 6:50 AM on April 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


Well that's a bullshit walkback.

Can you expand?
posted by josher71 at 6:57 AM on April 26, 2013


One additional reason that this thing is making me angry (his bullshit walkback is sort of like some accidental racist bullshit, meaning that it tries to paper over bullshit with more bullshit) is that there are many Slate people I admire greatly. John Dickerson. Dahlia Lithwick. Dana Stevens. Hannah Rosen. I listen to the political and culture gabfests religiously, and sometimes the Double X podcast too.

So I guess that what I'm saying is that Iglesias is sort of stinking up the joint, and it would be nice if on their next live gabfest if the audience questioners are basically like fuck this guy, here are twenty points as to why this was Bad Journalism.
posted by angrycat at 6:58 AM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Expand?

It'a also horseshit.

"I understand now that you all misunderstood because I misunderstood that this was a hot button issue and the wrong time to trot out a post about comparative advantage" doesn't come close evincing any understanding about why comparative advantage in the context of poor's people's lives and limbs is a horror, although it may be efficient and profitable.
posted by notyou at 7:08 AM on April 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


The bullshit part of the walkback is how Yglesias frames his non-apology apology in terms of how he wrote one thing while readers wanted to read another thing, as if somehow this was all just a case of mismatched expectations.

In reality, what most readers have reacted viscerally to is the ridiculous notion that you can take the politics out of this equation and just talk about this tragedy as if there's some technocratic defense of the status quo that trumps any political/ethical concerns. How the U.S. regulates American companies that operate overseas is an inherently political issue, and you can take the politics out of it no more easily than you could take them out of the Bangladeshi decision to not prioritize enforcement of worker safety standards, something Yglesias leans on heavily in his post.

If you acknowledge that Bangladesh should be able to decide what laws to enforce in Bangladesh, you can't object when someone else points out that it might be a good idea for the U.S. to flex its muscle and demand more from foreign contractors that make the shit we buy.
posted by tonycpsu at 7:44 AM on April 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


He said that US rules on workplace safety should not be imposed across the board in other countries. There are sound reasons to believe that is true - including that it is not always beneficial to poor people to impose regulation that has the net effect of reducing employment. He nowhere argued that you should "take the politics out" of the issue or that deaths and injuries are somehow good or happy things.

It's the easiest thing in the world to argue that everyone should be safe at all times, and that people getting killed in accidents is a bad thing. The point that Yglesias was making is that stricter safety requirements impose costs - including costs that can end up making poor people poorer - and that we can do more harm than good by ignoring the cost/benefit calculus might be different in different parts of the world, especially parts of the world where people are literally dying and starving for better economic means.
posted by Mid at 7:59 AM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wow, he just outright admitted he's the sort of hack who attaches his hobby horse to whatever news comes along, regardless of appropriateness, didn't he? And then he got annoyed at the internet for not responding to the article he wanted to write, instead of the one he actually wrote.

If I hadn't filed Yglesias mentally under "never take him seriously again" before, I would have after reading that.
posted by immlass at 8:00 AM on April 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm sure there are points in that paragraph that are debatable from an economics point of view, but the overall argument is hardly immoral.

Reading a few of the sources, it appears that the root problem isn't economics at all, or even the economic choices made by one nation or another, but rather corruption and greed that has subverted the rational economic choices one country has made.

We're not asking outside countries and corporations to impose some kind of unreasonable safety standards on the country.

Rather, we're asking outside countries and corporations to stop supporting the corruption and bribery that circumvents the country's existing safety regulations and that directly endangers workers.

This seems to me to be a very reasonable request. Your opinion may differ.
posted by flug at 8:26 AM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


That's a fine request for you to make, but that isn't what he was writing about. Again, he was writing that U.S. safety standards should not be automatically applied to other countries. You can argue that he is missing the point - which is a fine argument - but you can't say that he was writing that we should support corruption and bribery, because he wasn't. Nobody is arguing for corruption and bribery.
posted by Mid at 8:33 AM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


He said that US rules on workplace safety should not be imposed across the board in other countries.

Why shouldn't they be? Specificity may be a problem, but generally? Why not?

If there were a universal standard (which was the notion WhyGlesias was responding to), the impact on employment in any given nation or region would be nil, because there'd be nowhere else to go to seek health and safety cost savings. Worker life and limb is no longer a basis of comparative advantage. In that environment, manufacturing firms and governments would have to find other advantages and capital would have to tolerate reduced profitability.

He nowhere argued that you should "take the politics out" of the issue or that deaths and injuries are somehow good or happy things.

He doesn't have to make the politics argument because it is implied in his assumptions about the inviolability of comparative advantage and the inability poor nations and people to lift themselves out of poverty without enhanced risk tolerance. He views the problem via Capital's framework, not Labor's, which is a fundamental political decision.
posted by notyou at 8:34 AM on April 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


Why shouldn't they be? Specificity may be a problem, but generally? Why not?

Because Bangladeshis really, really don't want it to be, and Bangladeshis have some right to decide what their country's safety standards are.

Would you be interested in knowing why Bangladeshis don't want US safety standards? It's because they're well aware that they don't have the training or technology of Western manufacturers, and therefore their strongest advantage is a willingness to take risks and cut prices. If they were not allowed to do that, their industry would dry up. They don't want that.

A very close friend does a lot of international development and international human rights work, and he encounters this constantly---well-meaning Westerners demanding that a foreign country do something just like the West, the people of that country saying they don't want that and it would mean ruin if they did, and said well-meaning Westerner deciding that those particular foreigners must not be real representatives as they aren't saying what said well-meaning Westerner wants to hear.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 8:40 AM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Specificity may be a problem, but generally? Why not?
posted by notyou at 8:52 AM on April 26, 2013


There's a political dimension buried in your response, too, ThatFuzzyBastard (others have noted it above), which is that poor nations must accept one set of Western standards and norms (price, profit margin, product quality, contract enforcement -- things important to Capital), but they do not have to accept another set of Western standards and norms (worker health and safety).

Why the one and not the other?
posted by notyou at 9:08 AM on April 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


Who's been advancing that claim?

Well, you could read Yglesias's actual post. I know that's a really radical suggestion, but occasionally reading the thing you're violently objecting to actually helps you, you know, "understand" what it actually says. As in, for example, the bit where he directly names the person who is making the argument he is objecting to and links to the very argument they have made:
This kind of consideration leads Erik Loomis to the conclusion that we need a unified global standard for safety, by which he does not mean that Bangladeshi levels of workplace safety should be implemented in the United States.
If you really want to get radical you could actually read the piece by Loomis where he specifically makes this claim:
I argue that we should apply U.S. labor law to all American corporations, no matter where they site their factory.
I actually think that:
1. work not directly killing hundreds of people is a pretty basic workplace safety standard that is generally considered a basic, universal human right, around the world (*);
2. workers in every country, when given the chance to state an opinion on the matter, agree;
3. almost all governments around the world also agree, as evidenced by the numerous countries that are signatories to various UN human rights conventions; and
4. anyone who thinks otherwise is exhibiting sociopathic behavior.


And, again, it is simply a straw man to suggest that Yglesias is arguing against any of those points. Once again, while it was deeply stupid and offensive of him to reference the Bangladesh building collapse at all in connection to his argument he was not instancing that incident as an example of something that is acceptable. He was taking issue with a claim that was made in response to that tragedy.

The pile on in this thread is following exactly the same logic as the Fox News tactic that gets trotted out every time there's a terrorist incident. If they propose torture or rounding up Muslims or whatever in response to the incident and someone from Sane America says "hang on, that's not a good response to that horrible thing that happened" their response is "so you obviously are in favor of terrorism, huh?" Yglesias wrote a ham-fisted piece, but you're all accusing him of justifying that tragedy in Bangladesh when he makes no such argument; he merely takes issue with one proposed response to that tragic event which he considers to be impracticable.
posted by yoink at 9:16 AM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Corrupt third-world countries make me pine for the days of Victorian imperialism.

Wow this is an offensive comment. Do you want to read us some Kipling? I mean WTF.
posted by sweetkid at 9:29 AM on April 26, 2013


yoink: "Well, you could read Yglesias's actual post. I know that's a really radical suggestion, but occasionally reading the thing you're violently objecting to actually helps you, you know, "understand" what it actually says."

Classy response, pal. Real classy.

This is your original assertion:

What he is taking issue with is a specific claim which has been advanced in response to the incident in Bangladesh that all nations should be held to universal workplace safety standards

My original response (not just your truncated quote), which you may have read, but clearly didn't comprehend:

Who's been advancing that claim? The only thing close to this that I've read was a call for American companies operating abroad to be held to standards, but that's a totally different thing from holding nations to those standards.

Do you not get that there are ways of putting pressure on American companies operating in foreign countries that would neither threaten the sovereignty of those countries nor impose any global standards that all countries must follow? This is about what American companies do, not what Bangladesh does.
posted by tonycpsu at 9:33 AM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


(And yes, I read Loomis' original post well before Yglesias responded to it. I read both blogs consistently and comment somewhat frequently at LGM.)
posted by tonycpsu at 9:37 AM on April 26, 2013


Fuzzbastard-

I assume you haven't talked to the Bangledeshi workers who are now protesting as a result of the disaster. I assume you haven't talked to the Bangledeshi lawmakers who passed the laws that the owners of the collapsed building circumvented. I assume you haven't talked to the inspectors who actually condemned the building in accordane with the aformentioned Bangledeshi laws.

But you talked to "some people involved in development" who you insist speak for the entire Bangledeshi populace on the issue of whether or not they would like the "choice" of having the option of being forced into a crumbling building on pain of the loss of whatever meager wages they are given to support their family.

I'm sure you could find high level North Koreans who would say their government is awesome. That doesn't make it so.

But you'll undoubtedly say that I'm erecting a strawman. That you are referencing some other nebulous unspecified set of standards that you won't mention, yet feel the need to defend in the context of this tragedy.

My question: If we can't fucking agree that laws against forcing workers into condemned, crumbling buildings on pain of job loss, laws that were already passed by the country in question, should be universal, then what can we agree on?

If North Korea signed a deal to produce Iphones, would that be okay?
Would slavery be okay?
posted by eagles123 at 12:35 PM on April 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


Basically, what part of U.S. safety standards, which aren't all that stringent all things considered, would be so onerous that they would justifying condeming workers in Bangledesh and other developing countries to a higher risk of death and dismemberment?

And who exactly is it that is saying that they don't want these standards? The factory owners who broke the laws? The corrupt officials who aren't enforcing the laws on the books? The people who shoot union organizers in the night? The people protesting now? Who?
posted by eagles123 at 12:43 PM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, for the nth time:

Yglesias: This kind of consideration leads Erik Loomis to the conclusion that we need a unified global standard for safety, by which he does not mean that Bangladeshi levels of workplace safety should be implemented in the United States.

Loomis: I argue that we should apply U.S. labor law to all American corporations, no matter where they site their factory.

The reading comprehension that Yglesias demonstrates here is of very poor quality. This quote from Loomis calls for a unified national standard for production of products sold in one nation. That is slightly different from a unified national standard for production of products produced in one nation (the current global scheme), it is true. But a unified global standard for production of products produced in every nation it is not.
posted by eviemath at 2:41 PM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Some more data on what actual Bangladeshis think of the labor safety standards in their country: Bangladeshis Burn Factories to Protest Unsafe Conditions
posted by eviemath at 2:43 PM on April 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


eagles: It's quite clear that the bosses of this factory were in violation of Bangladeshi laws, and should be punished accordingly. Should Bangladeshi laws therefore be "universal"? Of course not. Very few laws are.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 6:19 PM on April 26, 2013




Weaksauce. Which side are ya on boys?
posted by eagles12 at 10:09 PM on April 26, 2013


No one is suggesting that Bangladesh be forced to change their laws. That is an absolute straw man.
posted by empath at 1:20 AM on April 27, 2013 [1 favorite]




From my link:
Why did most workers reluctantly return to the building despite the dangers? The industry pays probably the lowest industrial wages in the world. Most were owed several weeks wage arrears and were threatened with the sack if they refused to return. Once workers are sacked it becomes difficult to recover unpaid wages – this is a one of the most common sources of conflict in the garment industry. Some workers were also routinely docked three day’s wages for missing a day’s work.

In contrast, the management of a local bank branch housed in the ground floor shopping mall had taken note of the safety concerns and evacuated the branch, so avoiding injuries.
posted by eviemath at 8:43 AM on April 27, 2013


BBC: Factory owners arrested:

"Mahbubur Rahman Tapas and Balzul Samad Adnan are suspected of forcing staff to work in the eight-storey building, ignoring warnings about cracks.

At least 336 people are known to have died after the Rana Plaza in the suburb of Savar collapsed on Wednesday.

On Saturday morning, at least 24 more people were rescued from the rubble.

Rescuers and volunteers, who worked through the night, cheered as they were brought to safety."
posted by marienbad at 10:19 AM on April 27, 2013 [1 favorite]








Survivors Of Factory Collapse Speak Out
As survivors came to and began to speak out, they reported that management personnel had ignored recommendations by engineers to keep factories shut on April 24, going so far as to threaten workers with dismissal if they failed to report for duty as usual.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:22 AM on May 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


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