Congressional Protectionists Don’t Want People In Poor Countries To Succeed

by Rob Port | October 13, 2007 10:29 am

North Dakota Democrat Byron Dorgan, and South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham, are backing a bit of legislation[1] that would ban the sale of goods in the United States made in what they define as “sweat shops.” They’re masking the initiative in terms of wanting to help exploited international workers, but really this is all about protectionism and economic isolationism. Put simply, Byron Dorgan and Lindsey Graham don’t want union workers to have competition from foreign workers.

WASHINGTON[2] – A bipartisan group of senators introduced legislation Tuesday aimed at preventing American companies from profiting from the use of foreign sweatshops and other unfair labor practices abroad.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, joined four Democrats and independent Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont in sponsoring a bill that would allow U.S. firms to sue competitors that they believe are selling imported products made in overseas sweatshops.

“Believe it or not, ladies and gentlemen, there’s a world out there where people are exploited – sometimes literally to the point of death – just to make a buck,” Graham said at a news conference in the Capitol.

Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., said free-trade agreements between the United States and other countries have fueled the growth of sweatshop production in recent years.

Dorgan cited China and Jordan as major offenders, saying their factories employ workers as young as 5, often in long shifts, brutal conditions and for little or no pay. In many cases, he said, the foreign countries violate their own poorly enforced labor laws.

“There is no reason for the United States of America to allow the sale of products made in slave-labor-like conditions,” Dorgan said.

The problem, of course, is that these anti-free market fools are trying to apply our labor standards to third world factories, and that’s really not fair. For people working in these “sweatshops,” what is the alternative? Subsistence farming? Trying to scratch a living out of the dirt with grandpa’s femur (as I once heard a free-trader put it)?

What people like Dorgan and Graham seldom do before self-righteously marching to the podium to denounce “sweat shops” with an air of high moral dudgeon is find out what the alternatives are for people working in sweatshops. Because for most sweatshop workers, as others have shown[3], the alternative is almost literally nothing. Begging on the streets, perhaps. Or crime. Or prostitution.

So ask yourself: What is better, a fourteen hour shift making televisions or being a hooker? Or a criminal? Or trying to grow enough food to live?

All nations move through periods of economic evolution. At one point, America’s economy was mostly agrarian in nature. Then we moved through a manufacturing phase (during which many of our own factories could be deemed sweatshops) and on into the modern era. Nations like China and Indonesia are behind us on that ladder of evolution. But should we deny them the possibility of evolving by refusing to buy the goods they produce? Something that not only hurts them, but also hurts us by forcing us to by more expensively manufactured merchandise?

How many American poor are able to stretch their dollars further by purchasing products manufactured cheaply overseas? And how many poor overseas are supported by those purchases?

And, most importantly, why do people like Dorgan and Graham care more for union workers than the aforementioned poor people?

This post originally published at[4]

  1. backing a bit of legislation:
  3. others have shown:

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