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Opposing Views: Are Sweatshops Helping The Poor?

In this episode of Opposing Views, I was joined by Benjamin Powell and Jim Keady to discuss third-world sweatshops and working conditions in developing countries. We cover wages, hours, conditions, and employment opportunities. We then discuss the effect of international business, the impact of stable social systems, practical solutions to poverty, and much more.

Benjamin Powell is a professor of economics and executive director of the Free Market Institute. His research focuses on economic development, migration, and political economy. He’s the author of The Economics of Immigration and Out of Poverty.

Jim Keady is an anti-sweatshop activist and human rights advocate who has been exposing Nike’s treatment of overseas workers since the ‘90s. He speaks all around the country on the morality of sweatshops in today’s industry.

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[00:00] Intro

[00:33] Exact definition of a sweatshop

[00:37] “A sweatshop is a factory, usually in a third world country, often engaged in apparel manufacture… with very low wages, poor working conditions, extremely long hours, [and] sometimes child labor” – Benjamin Powell

[01:41] Any arguable benefits?

[01:48] “Sweatshops are part of the process of economic development” – Benjamin Powell

[02:52] “I don’t say sweatshops are good or bad, they are simply a part of the process of economic development – Benjamin Powell

[03:26] Who do sweatshops serve?

[05:11] What activists seem to miss from the moral high ground

[06:14] “When a worker chooses to work [there]… that’s the least bad option on the table”- Benjamin Powell

[06:54] Is having a legal minimum wage a reasonable solution?

[08:18] “A legally binding rate will increase the wage of some workers [but] leads to unemploying others” – Benjamin Powell

[12:05] What is price elasticity in economics?

[14:13] “A lot of the reasons for low productivity have nothing to do with the workers” – Benjamin Powell

[15:24] What are Benjamin Powell’s thoughts on boycotts?

[18:01] “[Take Bono:] there’s a difference in helping poor people and singing about them” – Benjamin Powell

[18:38] “Sweatshops bring in some of the things that are the proximate for economic developmentt” – Benjamin Powell

[19:50] Once all the countries develop, will the price of goods rise enormously?

[22:24] Why don’t sweatshop workers unionize?

[25:29] Are there suicide prevention nets outside of factories?

[28:49] Are there any legislative actions that might help?

[31:48] Why do children work?

[32:24] “You make people better by giving them better alternatives, not taking away already [bad ones]” – Benjamin Powell

[32:39] Would an influx of cheaper workers negatively impact wages and living of American workers?

[35:53] What’s the strongest valid critique of the economic view of sweatshops?

[37:41] Wrapping up with Benjamin Powell

[38:29] Jim Keady’s background

[40:26] “I became and still am the first and only athlete to say no to Nike because of sweatshops” – Jim Keady

[44:35] What’s Jim’s response to the claim that these sweatshops are the best opportunities for those people?

[44:46] “It’s lazy argument—one that lacks imagination” – Jim Keady

[48:06] “I believe we need to challenge the existing reality from the fundamental premise” – Jim Keady

[50:19] Practical Solutions

[55:53] Does it make more sense to start improving the lives of the poor through basic social institutions?

[57:58] “Phil Knight, the founder of Nike, is a psychopath” – Jim Keady

[01:05:44] Is it possible that Nike has become a unique example because of their size and influence in so many small countries?

[01:10:10] “Sweatshops are a gateway drug to questioning the system” – Jim Keady

[01:10:22] When corporations rule the world

[01:15:37] Is there money to be made from treating employees better?

[01:18:15] Wrapping up

[01:19:02] Extras:Keady calls Powell out, &c.


#Wages #BenjaminPowell #JimKeady #Sweatshops #Nike #Unions