“Why does everything you know, and everything you’ve learned, confirm you in what you believed before? Whereas in my case, what I grew up with, and what I thought I believed, is chipped away a little and a little, a fragment then a piece and then a piece more. With every month that passes, the corners are knocked off the certainties of this world: and the next world too. Show me where it says, in the Bible, ‘Purgatory.’ Show me where it says ‘relics, monks, nuns.’ Show me where it says ‘Pope.’” –Thomas Cromwell imagines asking Thomas More—Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
Friday, January 8, 2010
Entrepreneurial Sins: Part 2 Cruelty
The typical response of globalization advocates to having their attention called to the working conditions and living quarters of factory workers in countries the US likes to outsource to is that, bad as these workers may have it, their lives working for the factories must be better than their lives back home or else they wouldn’t have left their homes to work for the factories. In fact, the plight of foreign workers is held up as proof that the richer the entrepreneurial get, the better off everyone is.
How much rural workers’ lot improves with their move to factory dorms, however, is hard to determine. And of course the fact that they move is not necessarily proof of that improvement because they may have been motivated by false expectations. But getting into industrialization’s effects on population and standard of living takes us into Malthusian matters that are more distraction than crux. The glaring cruelty of the factory dormitory life of workers in developing countries—those without labor laws—is not that this life is better or worse than before the advent of globalization; it’s the gross discrepancy between conditions in the dorms and the outrageous wealth of those who profit most from the factory products.
If outsourcing makes businesses profitable enough to support million-dollar salaries for executives, then they ought to be profitable enough to support the improvement of working and living conditions for those at the bottom of the hierarchy. Compared to those who grow up poor and ignorant in some village in China or India, any Harvard MBA has to admit his or her progress up the ranks was a pretty short climb. They pretty much stepped into their high-earning paradise, and yet they insist they deserve the earnings. When the day comes that villagers from developing nations have an equal chance of becoming CEO’s, then it will be reasonable to talk about who deserves the billions—as of now it’s ridiculous, callous, and cruel. On a smaller scale, an identical dynamic operates at every business where the execs make millions while the workers make what we in the middle class recognize as reasonable wages.
And this form of cruelty and injustice is benign compared with the most egregious blowback of globalization, the wars fought over resources, the deals cut with dictators and genocidaires, and the ecological destruction and environmental poisoning that effects the voiceless have-nots and leaves the haves plenty of leeway to look the other way—even to hire PR firms to convince everyone else they should be looking the other way too.
It must be borne in mind that the very reason outsourcing is profitable is that the places we outsource to have fewer environmental regulations and worker protections. The dismal life of the factor dorms is not proof of how well deregulation works; they’re proof of how unchecked chasing after the bottom line undermines anything resembling humanity.