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December 7, 2005

Their plan for you
Posted by Patrick at 09:56 PM *

Tom DeLay’s House Republicans: the party of slavery.

There’s no more accurate way to put it. More here.

Later, DeLay would tell the Washington Post’s Juliet Eilperin that the low-wage, anti-union conditions of the Marianas constituted “a perfect petri dish of capitalism. It’s like my Galapagos Island.”

“Low-wage, anti-union” doesn’t begin to summarize a situation in which people are locked up behind guarded fences, forced to work 70 hours a week, and in many cases, forced into prostitution. But hey, it sure sounds like the Confederate ideal.

I hope you’re confident that the people now running our country won’t eventually decide this would be an appropriate way to treat you. Please, share your confidence with the rest of us. Use a number 2 pencil. Be convincing.

You know, I didn’t used to think that evil consisted of particular people rolling out of bed every morning, looking at themselves in the mirror, crying out Yar har har, what eeeeeeeevile thing shall I do today, and then setting forth with a spring in their step. I’d like to thank Tom DeLay’s Republican Party for convincing me otherwise.

UPDATE: Interesting and evidently well-informed discussion of recent Marianas political history here, here, and here.

Comments on Their plan for you:
#1 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2005, 11:09 PM:

Patrick Nielsen Hayden wrote: You know, I didn’t used to think that evil consisted of particular people [asking themselves] what eeeeeeeevile thing shall I do today...

I remember when I had that wakeup call about the Republican Party. It was a Tuesday. It was Tuesday, 13 August 1996 to be precise.

I was at the Republican National Convention— not as an honored guest, but as a gatecrasher. I went with a Powerbook and "blogged" it to Usenet. Here is the Google archive of the article I wrote that evening. This one was not one of my better ones that week— and, I must confess, I was well into my third shot of top-shelf tequila when I wrote it, as I recall.

The whole series of these were on my web pages at wetware.com for the longest time. Later this month, I should have the time to give them the editing they've long deserved. (Regrettably, wetware.com has been reorganized due to the distress of its owner, and my pages there are currently in transition to a new site.)

#2 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2005, 11:31 PM:

Y'know, that's a really interesting simile the old [unkind word] picked. Should play really well in Topeka.

#3 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2005, 12:19 AM:

Thank you, Patrick. Folks, go to this address. And then read everything else about this story. I don't know if Patrick has it right about evil people, but this has me raging. This should be the story that brings DeLay down.

http://www.cnn.com/2005/POLITICS/05/09/real.delay/

#4 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2005, 01:07 AM:

j h, either the tequila or the rage pours forth from that article. I look forward to further reports from the ground when they've been freed from captivity.

When I lived on Guam (a US Territory, thus fully covered by US labor law) it was a pretty sleepy place (1969-1970), with the Navy, AF and Marines the big industries. Later on Tumon Bay became a big resort hotel spot filled with Japanese tourists. The Northern Marianas didn't even hit the radar screen for people who lived on Guam unless they had family there. Heck, even the Pacific Daily News didn't cover it.

I'm startled to see that the paper is now owned by Gannett.

#5 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2005, 02:05 AM:

I really wish that I thought that the face we're pointing toward the world wasn't the face of a bunch of frustrated children of privilege saying fuck you because nobody cool thinks they're cool.

Sadly, I don't think that.

I don't think that more and more every day.

#6 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2005, 02:37 AM:

I am truly beginning to wonder whether the words "conservative" and "liberal" have different underlying definitions in the US and here. Possibly in the rest of the world, as well.

Consider. A madman ran amuck with two military-style rifles and a pump shotgun, in Tasmania, some years ago, killing (I think) thirty-four people. He was taken alive, tried, found incompetent and jailed "at the Governor-General's pleasure", ie forever.

The larger outcome was that access to semi- or automatic weapons became very, very restricted here. With full bipartisan support, there was compulsory hand-in and buyout. No civilian can lawfully own such weapons now. Only those with a legitimate need for other weapons - single-shot smallbore weapons and legitimate target pieces - can get a licence. Police and licenced security guards may carry some other weapons on duty. Personally, I don't like seeing beat cops with handguns, but there you are. I'm a conservative, in Australian terms.

A few people objected to this lunatic's incarceration, rather than execution. The death penalty has been defunct here for forty years now. A few other people objected to the firearms ban. They were a tiny minority. Vanishingly small. And here's the thing - they were scorned as unregenerate rednecks by nearly everyone, once the heat died down a bit.

Consider this, also: All states now have variations on free access to termination of pregnancy, practically on demand, with the usual medical benefits. (In some jurisdictions, WA among them, some form of counselling process is mandatory, and providers must supply that service. The purpose of this is mainly to ensure that the patient knows her own mind and is not under some sort of external pressure.) Sure, there's a few people who oppose this. They're a tiny minority.

There has been quite a lot of privatisation - the government wants to sell off its 50.001% share in the main telco, over a lot of opposition - but absolutely no challenge whatsoever to the idea of a universal medical benefits scheme paid for by taxation, and a pharmaceutical benefits scheme as well, ditto.

I understand that these ideas are, to say the least, extremely contentious in the USA.

Now, we've got the usual political scandals here. Just now, the Treasurer's under fire for having appointed to the Board of the Reserve Bank a fellow who, being oleaginously rich, was a bit naughty about certain aspects of his taxation return, incurring the muffled wrath of the Commissioner for Taxation. Muffled, because his lawyers could talk louder and faster than the Department's, so he was let off with a caution.

But sweatshops on offshore islands? Dear God, if the Leader of the House here had anything in the nature of a connection with such a thing, the Opposition would come in its collective pants. Questions in the House? It'd be a feeding frenzy. A total blank denial of any knowledge of the conditions might play, but publicly defending them? Give me a break!

The Prime Minister's an obnoxious cunning slippery little liar with a porous memory and a bite like a rabid ferret, but if such words were anywhere on the public record, he wouldn't hesitate an eyeblink before handing the fellow a shovel and pointing out a suitable plot. He couldn't. He'd be blowing his own brains out if he did. And I'd be in there with the pack, demanding the former, if not the latter.

And I'm a conservative in Australian terms.

#7 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2005, 03:26 AM:

I've conducted a search and found all of my original Usenet posts from RNC '96 in San Diego that were collected by Google.

Prequel, Insert Obvious Lord Of The Rings Metaphor Here

[Unfortunately, it looks like the entry for Sunday, Por Amor De Dios is missing from the Google archive. Alas]

Monday, Hebrews 9:27 and Gozer The Gozerian

Tuesday, They Teach Young Men To Drop Fire From The Sky

Wednesday, Torgo For President: The Master Likes It

Thursday Bad Journalist, No Hot Dogs

The ones from Wednesday and Thursday are my personal favorites. I still have the photograph of the little Buchananite shrine described in Torgo, and the conversation with Governor Wilson in Bad Journalist really did happen— and yes, I swear I paraphrased him accurately.

While hunting for these, I found a rant on a related topic from earlier that year: When Public Floggings Fail To Humiliate. Reading it all these years later, I'm surprised to see how much of my pessimism in those days was well-placed.

These days, when I see what Tom Delay has gotten himself up to doing, I'm reminded of what I saw at RNC '96. I am not at all surprised. Among their own kind, when they think no one is watching them carefully, they have been like this for longer than I have been watching them. I have pictures of delegates wearing T-shirts that read "Intolerance is a Beautiful Thing!" They were given out by the American Family Association. Eight years later, these were the same people who showed up in New York with purple bandages affixed to their chins.

I agree with Rick Perlstein. It was Nixon who did most of this to us. Nixon.

#8 ::: Doug M. ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2005, 03:35 AM:

Patrick, it's a bit more complicated than that.

The Northern Marianas Islands (NMI) are a a US Commonwealth, like Puerto Rico. The people there are US citizens, but they control their own immigration and local laws, including the minimum wage.

It's also one of the few parts of Micronesia that isn't a Third World hellhole. Life expectancy in the Northern Marianas is 71 years, per capita income is around $10,000, and infant mortality is about 5 per 1000. By way of comparison, on the island of Chuuk -- part of independent Micronesia, and just next door by Pacific standards -- life expectancy is 50 years, and infant mortality is 18 per 1000.

Part of the reason for this is the garment industry. It provides about a third of the Northern Marianas' GDP, and is their only export of any significance.

To be clear: there were real abuses in the industry in the 1990s, and some of them were horrific. Most of the garment workers are indeed guest workers (not immigrants... temporary workers, usually staying for between one and three years.) However, by the late 1990s the NMI had embarked on a serious effort to clean up the industry. Reform was halting and piecemeal, but it was happening.

Then the US garment industry decided that the NMI was unfair competition. The NMI sets its own minimum wage, and in the 1990s it was around $2.40 an hour. In a labor-intensive industry, this gave them a significant advantage. So, garment industry lobbyists began asking Congress to shut the NMI industry down. The (very real) human rights violations were a convenient club to beat the NMI with.

I know about this because I lived in the NMI in the 1990s. And we were asking Washington for help. "Help us clean up our act. It's hard to do with local actors alone, because the islands are small, the talent pool is limited, and too many people are deeply in hock to the dominant industry. Send us inspectors to train our inspectors; send us FBI agents and federal prosecutors to help bust offenders; give a firm federal backbone to our struggling reform efforts."

Answer came there none. No ambitious federal bureacrat wants to go to the Northern Marianas Islands; it's a dead-end posting, a trash barge, a Siberia. We had an FBI agent who had a gambling addiction. A federal prosecutor who liked sleeping until noon. And Congress was moving closer and closer to "we'll cure the disease by shooting the patient in the head... take away local control over immigration, send all the Chinese and Filipino guest workers home, and shut down the industry." The fact that this would have destroyed the islands' economy was simply ignored; the NMI has no vote in Congress, and who really cares about 50,000 US citizens twelve hours flight west of LA?

So, in desperation, we turned to Jack Abramoff and Tom DeLay. It was an alliance of convenience; the alternative was having the islands' only industry shut down.

Unsurprisingly, once it was clear that DeLay and friends could defend the NMI, the impetus for local reform slowed way down. Today the NMI is a lot better than it was in the 1990s, but yeah, there are still abuses. It's really hard to run herd on a dominant local industry without outside help. Which it's the federal government's job to give... but that never happened, in the NMI.

But when the alternative was to turn the NMI back into Chuuk...

You can paint Tom DeLay as Satan, and I won't argue with you. But do remember that desperate people make deals with the devil for many reasons, not all of them bad.


Doug M.

#9 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2005, 04:55 AM:

So Doug, when you say "shut down the industry", do you mean the same thing as the linked CNN article when it says :

Murkowski wrote a bill to extend the protection of U.S. labor and minimum-wage laws to the workers in the U.S. territory of the Northern Marianas.

or is it specifically the immigration issue that would close the industry down?

#10 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2005, 05:09 AM:

David, yes, it's a different world in the USA. And "conservative" hasn't meant much of anything since Reagan--this lot in power aren't conservative even by US standards; hence the term "neo-conservative". The only US left with any real influence on policy is the (conservative) left wing of the Democratic party, called "liberal" because "socialist" is a fighting word here; our majority-dominated system marginalizes anything to the left of that.

#11 ::: Sammy B. ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2005, 05:24 AM:

Sorry, but this is not related to the topic.

Over the pask few weeks; a small group including myself have been busy creating a website on the truth about terrorism, democracy, dictatorships, human rights, American imperialism etc from the Arab point of view, with a slightly sarcastic twist. I'd be very grateful if you could perhaps have a look at it- there are some good articles we've written which really emphasise the incredible hypocrisy and double-standards of the U.S. political elite in its foreign policy, the injustice of occupation in Palestine and Iraq, as well as a simple 'solution' to solving terrorism which is a must-see. It is not anti-American, nor does it condone or support violence.

Thanks for your time.

#12 ::: Doug M. ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2005, 06:24 AM:

Niall, good question. The NMI garment industry swears up and down that, yes, the US minimum wage would kill it. The garment industry lies a lot, but in this case they might have a point. The US minimum wage is $5.15; in the NMI, it's $3.05.

Is the US the right comparandum? Most of the garment workers are coming from countries where $2 per hour is a good wage for a skilled workman. And while the NMI is prosperous by Micronesian standards -- it's Switzerland compared to Chuuk -- it's still poorer than the poorest US state.

I got no problem with extending US Labor laws to the NMI. Should have been done years ago. The minimum wage, I'm a lot less sure about. When I was living there, I supported gradual small increases. This was one of those moderate compromises that everyone hated... the industry thought the workers were already getting plenty ("So much more than they could make back in China!") while people like Murkowski wouldn't accept anything short of the US minimum ("It it's labelled made in the US, it should be made with the US minimum wage!").

FWIW, my opinion is that the wage issue is secondary. There are millions of Chinese and Filipinoworkers who'd love to get $3 an hour. Let them... but make sure their rights are protected.


Doug M.

#13 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2005, 07:36 AM:

Doug, I'm not sure that minimum wage laws do any good anywhere, and certainly a wage set as a minimum livable wage in a major US city is going to be way above the going rate in Micronesia.

However, that "Made in USA" label leads people to believe they are buying a product made under US labor laws including the minimum wage, and may be selected specially by people trying to avoid imports made in sweatshop conditions, so it's not an easy one.

#14 ::: shane ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2005, 08:09 AM:

(sammy b: I don't see a link or url in your post. You might want to put one there - if our hosts condone it. If it isn't on topic maybe better put it in an open thread, I dunno the etiquette here).

On topic: Recent experience here in Australia on new Industrial Relations laws/union-busting. The Governments' $40 million ad campaign has been summed up as "To compete with China and India we have to give up our way of life/work". Not much of a sales pitch and it went down like a lead balloon, helped along by the first twitch of life our unions have shown in years.

So, what? So if they want to equate “anti-union” with sweatshops, you just keep handing 'em rope.

Dave Luckett: "The Prime Minister's an obnoxious cunning slippery little liar with a porous memory and a bite like a rabid ferret"

*sigh* what a beautiful description. Even if most of the country seems to think "Yeah, but he's OUR obnoxious cunning slippery little liar with a porous memory and a bite like a rabid ferret"

#15 ::: Jeremy Osner ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2005, 08:09 AM:

Life expectancy in the Northern Marianas is 71 years, per capita income is around $10,000, and infant mortality is about 5 per 1000.

Doug, do your statistics apply to all people living in NMI, including guest workers, or only to citizens of NMI? If a good life for NMI citizens depends on immiseration of a guest worker class I don't reckon that is something I could support.

#16 ::: Francis ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2005, 08:46 AM:

The US minimum wage is $5.15; in the NMI, it's $3.05.

Never mind the minimum wage in the NMI, I'm mildly horrified by the US minimum wage - the UK minimum wage is £5.05 per hour. (£3/hour for 16-17 year olds, £4.10/hour for 18-21 year olds). And I'd far rather have low income British benefits than American ones (even if our government spends less per head on healthcare than yours...)

#17 ::: AliceB ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2005, 09:29 AM:

I read the post and it made me think of the old Doonesbury cartoon (in a different but similar context):

Guilty, guilty, guilty...

#18 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2005, 09:31 AM:

Nrancis, some states and cities set the minimum wage higher than that. IIRC, San Francisco has thiers set at $10/hr (which is sometimes ignored, but it's still there)

#19 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2005, 09:33 AM:

On a related note, De Lay pal Jack Abramoff has bigtime gangland ties

Perhaps if people tie enough weight to this man's chest, he'll cough up some co-conspirators on the hill.

#20 ::: mayakda ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2005, 09:37 AM:

Frequently the Filipino "guest workers" do not actually get to keep any of that wage. One of the problems in the Philippines is that agents will recruit Filipinos for work but require a huge placemenet fee (thousands of dollars). Since the worker cannot pay up front, the agent deducts this from the worker's pay. The worker is left with a pittance, or nothing. It's indentured servitude.
This happens not just to workers (factory, domestic help, caregivers, etc) exported to the Marianas but to other countries, including Canada.
Philippine govt is so corrupt that it is impossible to stop. It would be good if there were protections on the hiring country's side.

#21 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2005, 10:14 AM:

Francis -- do bear in mind that everything generally costs half as much in North America, or the other way around, twice as much in Britain. For food and clothes and things you buy this really is the case, rent varies a lot by place, as it does everywhere. So someone who could scrape by on five quid in Britain, could scrape by on five dollars in the US.

I agree about the US benefits though.

#22 ::: Michael Turyn ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2005, 10:55 AM:

Why are we (and note that unlike the Wicked Son, I say "we") different?

  • There were very long periods when many of our citizens were completely out of touch with our governments, believed that they had done very well without them (ignoring the government's usefulness in prior Indian clearances), and so are less tolerant of its intrusions.
  • There's the "Scotch-Irish as shock troops of colonialism" theory, credible because the history fits (but beware confirmation bias) and because abused children notoriously have a good chance of ending up as abusers. At the same time, this group's cultural heritage should make them as sceptical of government as any American Indian should be, but they seem to have a soft spot for the more violent parts of the government.
  • My old favourites: the doctrines of irreversible election and antinomianism, a combination that makes some of us feel like we're fifty foot high and can do no wrong, no matter how many people we fling bodily into Heaven.
  • A concerted effort to inculcate into our citizens the belief that Government is evil, largely because it keeps very rich men from doing whatever they feel like doing. ("I should be able to run over as many kids as I want!,"---C. Montgomery Burns.)

Add to that an often-deficient educational system, so that people don't know about the rest of the world and can't critically examine our own nation as contingent. I don't blame teachers, I blame a culture that has little use for book learnin', and even less for critical thinking---both of which can make for uncooperative consumers.

#23 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2005, 11:04 AM:

scrape by on five dollars in the US

In one of the poorer states, maybe. I was in a minimum-wage job once; I don't recommend it. My last 'permanent' job paid twice federal minimum wage, but in LA it's still not enough to live on: some of my co-workers needed aid for their kids' medical care.

#24 ::: Adam Rice ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2005, 11:11 AM:

On the plus side, Tom Delay sounds like he is in fact a Darwinist. Well, a Social Darwinist, anyhow.

#25 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2005, 11:39 AM:

But do remember that desperate people make deals with the devil for many reasons, not all of them bad.

The devil makes a better profit off of desperate people. How do you think he got to be the devil?

#27 ::: LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2005, 12:14 PM:

I've heard of a proposal to tie minimum wage to some key indicator of economic growth, such as GDP. I'm no economist, but I thought this was really interesting. Has anyone heard of this? Thoughts?

#28 ::: Michael ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2005, 12:15 PM:

Obsidian Wings has a longish comment on this that talks about how the workers were treated. If true, they were forced to buy food from the company store, etc, etc. So their $3/hr quickly became very little.

http://obsidianwings.blogs.com/obsidian_wings/2005/12/please_let_this.html#more

#29 ::: bellatrys ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2005, 12:37 PM:

Jo Walton, when was the last time you "scraped by" on $5 in this country, unsubsidized? No one who is not doing so at present, nor has done so at a comparative rate for their own year/country, has any qualifications to make such an absurd assertion.

Minimum wage is not a living wage; there is radical opposition in the US to raising the minimum wage even a little, and no one has ever suggested raising it to a living wage that I know of. It would be laughed out of the halls of government: how else could the Corpo paymasters of the congresscritters (state or national) ever make enough to continue in the lifestyle to which they have become accustomed, more times more than their employees make than anywhere else in the developed world? (And how else could they continue to purchase Senators, and thus the continued blessings of the Invisible Hand? Indignant Beltway insiders - judges and elected officials - walked out of the premier, insulted at being told the truth.)

The purpose of humanity - according to capitalism - is to make immense profits for a select few at the cost of the rest of us. Your stake in it, if you are not one of the select few? (whether or not inclined to say "We have no part in David!" and decamp--)

Well, aside from the lottery-like odds (if that) of joining the few in our moneyed aristocracy (the benefits of our subsidized economy - the "bread" part of our bread-and-circuses, made possible by simply exchanging one form of helotry for another, all of them legal, particularly since we have never had the Claudian Law here to even try to rein in the greed of the Senate and stop the inevitable corruption when Plutocrats and Lawgivers are one and the same (not that it worked then any better than anti-corruption laws work without the will to enforce them in the herenow.)

And so long as the helots are far away, pent in ghettos or across the seas, never threatening the gated communities or even the suburbs, exurbs, and brownstones of Middle America - what does it matter what they suffer? We can always tell ourselves that they'd be even worse off if it were not for this pittance we give them, and who's to gainsay us?

(It is later than you think)

#30 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2005, 12:51 PM:

So: Darwinism, slavery, and forced abortion.

Myself I think a country's laws should be intelligently designed.

#31 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2005, 01:00 PM:

I know of no industry or business sector that has not cried bloody tears whenever someone proposes raising the minimum wage for workers. Oddly enough, I've never heard so much as a hiccough over proposals to raise the salaries and benefits of management.

I don't see the wage issue as secondary to the worker abuse issue. Governments can mandate decent conditions year after year, and break their collective arms patting each other on the back for doing so, but enforcement, day to day changes in the work culture, come out of the workers themselves insisting on fair treatment. They can't do that if they aren't paid enough even to live badly.

Labourers in the US are, more and more, minimum-wagers. And every year, they are losing benefits - insurance provisions, health care, overtime pay, guaranteed time off, COL increases - one contract clause at a time. NMI is where DeLay & Co would like to shift the US. They don't the misery as a problem that affects them. They just see money in the bank.

#32 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2005, 01:19 PM:
Saipan has spent millions on Washington lobbyists and given top Republicans in Congress free trips to the beautiful Pacific island, including one over Christmas for House Majority Whip Tom DeLay.

"You represent everything that is good about what we're trying to do in America," he told outgoing Governor Froilan Tenorio, a distant cousin of the current governor, at a dinner in Saipan this past New Year's eve.

DeLay and other Republicans have vowed to fight to keep the laws the way they are on Saipan.

http://www.globalexchange.org/campaigns/sweatshops/saipan/abc040100.html

#33 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2005, 03:00 PM:

you know, as it happens, when I was living in the U.S every morning I rolled out of bed, looked at myself in the mirror and said "What 'evil' thing am I gonna do today" - but with a diabolical grin cause that maniacal laugh shit is irritating. The main reason I did this was of course bastards like the current U.S ruling class.

Being 'evil' was the only way I could stand to do the looking in the mirror thing.

I wonder if their motivations are similar.

#34 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2005, 03:32 PM:

I've been thinking more about Doug M's post. It comes across as an honest report of the situation as viewed from the Northern Marianas. However, that doesn't mean the local view is complete or that the situation is okay. From the inside of a company town a lot of things can seem reasonable that really don't look that way from the outside.

Even it the US garment industry is a lot more powerful than I thought, they're not going to get a bill unanimously passed by the Senate purely on patronage. There had to be some real outrage behind Murkowski's bill. You don't call in people like Abramoff and DeLay to clean up. They were there to stop any cleanup from happening. If the locals really wanted to get things cleaned up, they could have made their case to the Justice Department, Congress and the media in a straightforward way, probably for much less than it cost to deal with Abramoff and DeLay. Supposedly nobody cares about the Marianas, but some people are making a lot of money there, more than enough to buy the very best political juice. As for whatever reforms that have occurred, I'm inclined to give at least some of the credit to the anti-sweatshop movement in the US, putting pressure on the manufacturers. If they can clean up operations in South-East Asia, they can do so in US territory. Finally, I'd like to challenge the idea that paying the minimum wage is not feasible. Essentially the manufacturers are saying that the "Made in the USA" tag is not worth paying $3 an hour. But how do we really know unless we call them on it? My feeling is that their labor costs are already so low that even a large percentage increase in pay would have only a small effect on the overall prices of the clothing, if any. If the workers were paid legal wages, it might reduce some executive bonuses, but I bet the manufacturers would still be profitable. But it could make a huge difference to the workers ability to save up some capital and make a better life for themselves. I think it's worth a try.

#35 ::: Lin Daniel ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2005, 03:39 PM:

If the workers were paid legal wages, it might reduce some executive bonuses,

It appears to me that reducing executive bonuses has been made illegal, considering the lengths those executives will go to prevent that reduction.

#36 ::: Doug M. ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2005, 04:01 PM:

You don't call in people like Abramoff and DeLay to clean up. They were there to stop any cleanup from happening.

The problem here is that Congress wasn't proposing a "cleanup". The proposed solution was to cure the disease by shooting the patient.


If the locals really wanted to get things cleaned up, they could have made their case to the Justice Department, Congress and the media in a straightforward way,

This was tried. As I said, there were strong built-in disincentives for federal bureacracies to get deeply involved in Saipan.

Also, the folks trying to bring the Feds in did not have deep pockets. The folks willing to pay Jack Abramoff did.


As for whatever reforms that have occurred, I'm inclined to give at least some of the credit to the anti-sweatshop movement in the US, putting pressure on the manufacturers.

Some. But the key reforms were accomplished either in court, or by agremeent between the NMI government and the feds.

Here's a court case that was a major milestone in the reform effort. Brought in 1999 IMS, but not resolved until 2002.


If they can clean up operations in South-East Asia, they can do so in US territory.

Work in progress. Here's some testimony before the House of Representatives from 2004.

Key grafs:

In the years since the height of the controversy, the CNMI government, the Federal Government and the garment industry itself have all taken major steps to improve labor conditions in the CNMI and to protect the rights of workers. The CNMI government has enacted several reforms since the mid-1990s and has, especially in recent years, established a very good working relationship with Federal authorities. Last September I was pleased to sign, along with Governor Juan Babauta, an historic agreement whereby the CNMI agreed to cooperate with Federal authorities to combat human trafficking and to establish asylum procedures to protect foreign workers.

The garment industry has also made very substantial improvements. In 2000, the Saipan Garment Manufacturers Association entered into a partnership with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to improve working conditions in the garment industry. OSHA’s Regional Administrator recently reported to me the following: “We believe through our joint efforts with the industry, there has been a marked improvement in the safety and health and living conditions of the workers in Saipan..."

Another factor contributing to the improvement of labor conditions in the CNMI is the increased Federal presence in the islands, initiated largely by Congress through the CNMI Initiative on Immigration, Labor and Law Enforcement. That initiative provided the initial funding for several key Federal agencies, such as OSHA, the Department of Justice and the Department of Labor, to establish a presence in the CNMI, where they work cooperatively with the CNMI government and the business community to address problems. Prior to receiving funding under the initiative, none of these agencies had a major presence in the CNMI... The CNMI Initiative has also funded the Federal Ombudsman, a Federal employee who works with Federal and local authorities to ensure that the rights of foreign workers are protected...

We are heartened by the progress that the CNMI has made in recent years.

-- I note in passing that the "CNMI Initiative" has the NMI paying for federal personnel to come out to the islands. The implicit bargain here was, "Fine -- we'll send some people to Siberia, but don't expect us to find a line in our department's budget. You want the help, you find the money."


Doug M.

#37 ::: mayakda ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2005, 04:40 PM:

Tangentially related to executive bonuses, John Bogle has a new book which essentially a rant against runaway CEO's. It's titled The Battle for the Soul of Capitalism.
Back to sweatshops ...

#38 ::: Nabil ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2005, 04:42 PM:

Doug, you've certainly shed some considerable light about this subject that has really given me pause to think about whether we're becoming just as guilty of witch hunting as "the other side." (I don't want to call them Republicans or Democrats or Liberals or Conservatives, because it's all bullsnarky pigeonholing anyway.)

Don't get me wrong; I strongly disagree with DeLay and his cronies, and hope he's ousted from office for his behavior. This post really does make me feel like we're just looking for an excuse to get outraged again.

#39 ::: Fledgist ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2005, 04:57 PM:

I'm surprised that DeLay and his fellow Texan W haven't appropriated a slogan which first saw the light in 1948:

War is Peace.

Freedom is Slavery.

Ignorance is Strength.

It so clearly summarises their policy objectives.

#40 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2005, 05:18 PM:

Also, the folks trying to bring the Feds in did not have deep pockets. The folks willing to pay Jack Abramoff did.

Thanks, I thought that was probably it, but I wasn't sure.

The challenge is getting the folks with the deep pockets to pay for reforms, even though they are the ones with the greatest stake in the status quo. Basically, I trust reforms pushed through by NGO's like Global Exchange more than I trust voluntary cooperation with OSHA that happens only after OSHA has been taken over by, what do you know, the folks with the deep pockets.

#41 ::: Giacomo ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2005, 05:51 PM:

Doug,
There's been a class-action lawsuit, so I presume NMI people were not so happy to be enslaved. What a surprise. But hey, after all, negro slaves in southern US were very well off when compared to the mexicans; only a few of them caused trouble, and were promptly dealt with...

The garment industry should pay for what they get; if it's Made in USA, then they should pay USA wages and grant USA (ridiculous, btw, by european standards) workers rights. One day, I'd like to see a "workers' rights" chapter in the requirements to join the WTO, so that China and friends would be forced to oblige and we'd finally moved on from Marx.

#42 ::: Giacomo ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2005, 06:02 PM:

And for all those thinking this is a regional problem: Wal-mart, the company locking workers in the building at night, is constantly hauled by the Republican Party as a model of corporate citizenship.

The "Montgomery C. Burns Party", indeed.

#43 ::: Daniel Boone ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2005, 06:20 PM:

Compelling story, not that I needed any more convincing that DeLay is one of the bad 'uns.

But what's with painting this as a specifically Republican evil? One of those links at the top of the thread went to great lengths to point out that the legislation DeLay killed was drafted by another Republican (then-Senator Murkowski) and passed unanimously by the Senate.

Sounds to me like support for a DeLay-is-evil meme, but not so much for the Republicans-are-the-party-of-slavery meme. Story here appears to be "one Republican attempts to right a wrong; another Republican shoots down the effort."

#44 ::: aboulic ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2005, 06:34 PM:

This is relevent the Garment Industry and the minimum wage, since we're talking about it. (But it isn't relevent to the Marianas, so feel free skip it if you want to stay on topic)

I used to work in the garment industry (two years ago), for a UK wholesaler of blank t-shirts, sweatshirts, polo shirts (I should say they weren't bought by polo players, but schools and companies looking for a cheap uniform. According to the import catalogues americans call polo shirts 'sports shirts'), stuff like that, mainly Hanes and Fruit of the Loom. We sold them to screenprinters, embrioderers and a few independent retailers across britain.

I was their Marketing Manager.

I got paid national Minimum Wage (then less than £5 per hour).

This was despite living in the county with the pretty much the highest cost of living in Britain.

My bosses kept complaining about my poor motivation.

#45 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2005, 06:35 PM:

j h woodyatt:

"I've conducted a search and found all of my original Usenet posts from RNC '96 in San Diego that were collected by Google. ...

Wednesday, Torgo For President: The Master Likes It

Thursday Bad Journalist, No Hot Dogs"

That was you! I thought those were great! -- Aside from the way they left me incoherently depressed, of course.

#46 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2005, 07:01 PM:

Avram: "Don't forget about the pregnant women told they must have abortions to keep their jobs."

Guys like DeLay aren't opposed to abortion because they care about the babies. They want pregnancy to be a constant possibility because it's an extraordinarily effective mechanism for social control. Women have to constantly worry that they'll be caught out. Women and men who are caught out often wind up doing low-paid drudge work because they have to support their kid(s) and they have no maneuvering space.

It's much the same as their opposition to rights for gays. If you can attach enough opprobrium to being gay, you can scare and constrain the rest of the population into artificially "straight" behavior in order to avoid any suspicion that they're gay.

#47 ::: aphrael ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2005, 07:08 PM:

Doug - at least one of the links I read while following Patrick's links above suggested that DeLay had, in essence, bribed members of the NMI House of Representatives into voting for a particular candidate for Speaker, using the promise of federal money to do so.

I find that to be ... incredible, if true. Not to mention outrageous. For an officer of the federal government to be interfering in legislative elections in a territory (or, for that matter, in a state) is unethical at best; and for it to continue to go on would threaten the foundations of our political system.

I really hope that it isn't true.

#48 ::: Nancy C ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2005, 08:07 PM:

j h woodyatt:

I think "Por Amor de Dios" is here

#49 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2005, 08:47 PM:

Yeah, but Teresa, holy cow: "GOP supports forced abortions!" Imagine seeing that as a week's mass news talking point, sometime between now and the '06 elections.

Lots of Democrats have been talking about trying to find middle ground they can share with people who aren't comfortable with legal abortions. Here it is, on a platter, and we don't even have to compromise on abortion rights to take advantage of it. It's pro-life and pro-choice in one package.

#50 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2005, 09:05 PM:

Shane, hover over sammy b's name in the post header.

#51 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2005, 10:08 PM:

Nancy C, thanks for finding that for me. Now, I can link to the Google archives of the originals and post new versions with the formatting and editorial issues fixed.

Teresa, my thanks for your praise. I've been told they were a little overwrought and too thick with navel-gazing. It was probably the tequila— that's my story, and I'm not ashamed of it. Next time, I'll be a better writer.

They were never properly edited, as should be pretty clear from a cursory reading. (I really did write those on a Powerbook 5300 and posted them immediately to Usenet every night from the motel room over a 28 kbps modem by long-distance telephone to a server in the SF Bay Area.) I really should make the time to scan the photographs to go along with those articles. Mojo made a very nice collage of them for me, and they're hanging in my basement study.

I'd like to do this sort of thing again. I went to DNC 2000 in Los Angeles, but I didn't make the RNC that year. I chickened out on 2004. I suspect I will recover my intestinal fortitude and go to the RNC in 2008— assuming they have one.

One thing I learned from RNC 1996: nothing interesting happens inside the perimeter of the conference. All the interesting stuff happens in the bars and restaurants outside the hall. Or in private hospitality suites in the hotels. You get to see a lot of interesting street theatre, that's for sure. If I go to RNC 2008, I will be absolutely sure to avoid "Blogger Row" at all costs. (Gawd, what a bad idea that was...)

[I'm still trying to integrate Doug M's comment above with what I think about Tom Delay, Jack Abramoff and the NMI story. I'm inclined to commiserate with Patrick in the sentiment from the title of his post: This Is The GOP Plan For You. Oh yes, tender lumplings— yes, they really do have a vision for how capital accounts for the costs of labor. The phrase "Did The Mules Get Out?" is the one that comes to mind when I think about it.]

#52 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2005, 10:12 PM:

Doug M, the point is not that good people in NMI are struggling with scant resources (and making some headway even so) to create an economy that's not dependent on sweatshop conditions and corruption in high, middle and low places. The point is that the Speaker of the US House spearheaded efforts to keep those sweatshops sweating, purely for personal gain. Had he failed at the time, this would still be awful; that he was successful is worse, for values of 'worse' where the only appropriate response is 'a terrible, swift sword'.

#53 ::: Nancy C ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2005, 11:17 PM:

j h,
You're welcome. I must admit, I'm surprised I had such good google-fu!

#54 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 02:03 AM:

I wonder just how much of the money passing through those garment manufacturering company towns actually sticks in the NMI?

#55 ::: Carlos ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 03:32 AM:

Uff da. People -- fen! -- are trying to tell Doug what the point is about the Northern Marianas. You folks. You folksy folksy folks.

Dave Bell, there's a very simple calculation you can make. Doug used Chuuk -- the island formerly known as Truk -- as a comparandum. It's part of the Federated States of Micronesia, which has an average per capita income of about $3000, high-ball estimate. (The currency is US dollars.) Chuuk is probably significantly lower, but as my co-blogger would say, let that bide.

The NMI has an average per capita income of $10000, low-ball estimate.

The difference is $7000 per capita.

There are eighty thousand people in the NMI.

That's 560 million dollars. Per year.

Giacomo, I have a box of hair that makes better historical analogies than you. I have named it Bruce.

#56 ::: Doug M. ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 04:44 AM:

Doug, you've certainly shed some considerable light about this subject that has really given me pause to think about whether we're becoming just as guilty of witch hunting as "the other side."

Well, thank you.

Again, I hold no brief for Tom DeLay, and there's no question that horrible stuff happened in the NMI in the '90s.

But the NMI resorted to an alliance with DeLay out of desperation -- not wanting to be turned back into Chuuk -- and meanwhile, things have gotten a lot better there. Largely because of boring, non-sexy grunt work by people at the level of local government, with help from the federal courts.

This post really does make me feel like we're just looking for an excuse to get outraged again.

Compare and contrast: Hilzoy over at Obsidian Wings posted on this exact same issue. I made much the same points in the comments threads, providing links as I have here.

Hilzoy posted an update noting that things had indeed improved in the NMI, and that her outrage was directed at DeLay's defense of sweatshop conditions back in the '90s.

Somehow, I don't think that's going to happen over here.

There are people on both sides of the aisle who've become outrage junkies. Saying "it's more complicated than that" to those people -- on either side -- just annoys them; they don't want things to be complicated, they want their hit of indignation and rage.


Doug M.

#57 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 05:13 AM:

Carlos: Per the CIA Factbook, the population of 80,362 breaks down as follows in terms of age:

0–14 years: 19.9% (male 8,332/female 7,646)
15–64 years: 78.5% (male 26,121/female 36,982)
65 years and over: 1.6% (male 646/female 635) (2005 est.)

So that's only 80% who are able-bodied workers (assuming that most in the middle group are).

So I'd take off about 20% from that figure.

(There are other factors I don't know about; I'm going to assume that there is not a small but rich elite that makes the average income considerably different from the median. Also, it's not clear how many foreign gastarbeiters are included in that figure.)

#58 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 07:00 AM:

Carlos, there's a difference between "income" and whatr money sticks at the end of the day.

The figures suggest those sweatshop workers earn aroung $10,000 per year, but they buy from a company store to eat -- how do those prices compare -- and are paying off huge fees to employment agencies.

Which is better? $10000 for a year of 70-hour weeks, or $5700 for a year of 40-hour weeks?

The sweatshop makes the per capita figure look better. So what?

#59 ::: Carlos ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 07:02 AM:

Robert L, I'm aware of the difference between "per capita" and "per worker". My rough calculation calls for the former, since it's about the overall benefit to the NMI, which includes children.

Also, as a general note, don't rely on the CIA Factbook as a single source. It's not very good.

#60 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 07:03 AM:

Perhaps slightly at a tangent, but this is what Harold Pinter has to say about writing plays, and about how the USA behaves.

Harold Pinter's address to the Swedish Academy

#61 ::: Carlos ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 07:04 AM:

Ugh. I'm arguing economics with fen again. Time to go. Maybe the horse will learn to sing.

#62 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 08:15 AM:

Carlos, You might search Making Light's archives for earlier posts about addressing posts to "you people."

I do know that at least one sometime poster here is a professor of economics.

I do appreciate your tip about the CIA Factbook. As it happens, I do a lot of fact-checking in my work, and evaluating reliability of sources is frequently a problem. I did figure that since their population figure agreed with yours, they might be reasonably reliable in this case.

As far as I am aware, there is much controversy over just how minimum-wage laws operate on the general economy. I wouldn't presume to say definitively how they do without studying the subject more.

But since you seem to feel that you have superior knowledge in this matter, and in fact probably do, perhaps you can enlighten me: If only a maximum of 80% of the population is working (that's presuming full employment, which I doubt NMI has), and their wages are all raised by X amount, then how is that going to also cost their employers X times the other 20%? I mean, if those workers were getting benefits, sure, because their dependents would be covered. But somehow I don't figure the sweatshop workers are signed up with Blue Cross.

Perhaps you can also tell me how foreign workers, working on foreign materials, and (correct me if I'm wrong here) sending a large portion of what remains of their income home to their families, are going to particularly benefit the local economy. Yes, they have to eat, but that's about it.

#63 ::: Carlos ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 09:24 AM:

I'm well aware of Making Light's past posts about "you people" and "you folks". Hence the "folksy folksy folks" above.

If I think of most fen as "ill-educated, gullible, overly dramatic, and/or actively malign", it's not because I haven't interacted with them. Hell, recently an SF pro with strong fannish ties decided to use his fan group to cyberstalk me, posting what he thought was my private home information on the Internet, accusing me of posting negative reviews of his books on Amazon, and in one particularly bizarre move, discussing with his fanboy minions putting my name on al-Qaeda websites as a Zionist agent.

So, yeah, I have a low opinion of your people's subculture, yup. This thread ain't raising it.

For me, liking SF and having to deal with fen is a little like liking the Oakland Raiders and having to deal with the Raiders' associated baggage. It's despite, not because.

And I know Brad DeLong posts here, thank you very much. Soon, I will have a DeLong number of three.

Anyway. Doug's comparandum is Chuuk. Look it up. It's not a nice place.

#64 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 10:53 AM:

Daniel Boone: Sounds to me like support for a DeLay-is-evil meme, but not so much for the Republicans-are-the-party-of-slavery meme.

Daniel, note that the original post specifies, "Tom DeLay’s House Republicans" at the beginning and "Tom DeLay’s Republican Party" at the end.

#65 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 11:01 AM:

Carlos: I think part of the problem is that you don't understand that we can concede that the economic conditions on Chuuk are worse than on Marianas and still believe it's unacceptable to lock people into factories, force them to work 70-hour weeks, force women to have abortions to keep their jobs, and force workers to buy from the company store--and then present that system as a praiseworthy system.

That the conditions on Chuuk are worse is hellish. That does not make conditions on Marianas acceptable.

#66 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 11:22 AM:

"ill-educated, gullible, overly dramatic, and/or actively malign"

How do fen differ from non-fen, then?

#67 ::: Magenta Griffith ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 11:27 AM:

Caveat - I know almost nothing about NMI.

However, I know that in a number of places, cash income for the year is not the only factor in how well one lives. Is this still an area where gardening, gathering and fishing can provide a substantial amount of food? What are the shelter/heating requirements of the area? (Probably a lot less than here in Minnesota.) What other expenses do people need to have cash to pay for? And how much time do they have to expend to get the necessities of life?

I saw a paper, years ago, that stated that people in hunter/gatherer societies actually work a whole lot less than in agricultural societies, and implied Things Have Been Going Downhill Since.

We tend to emphasise cash income without regard to costs (Dave Bell noted the "company store" problem) and needs. I have to pay $100+ a month to keep from freezing, someone in the tropics does not.

Personally, I would prefer to work fewer hours, under better conditions. I would prefer less cash income, but a better life.

#68 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 11:48 AM:

Doug:

I appreciate the information you provide to those ignorant of the situation in NMI, or learning about it for the first time. My rage at DeLay, assuming he was accurately quoted (he hasn't denied any of this) was at his arrogance in assuming, Commonwealth status on not, that he, as the Congressman from Texas, should make crucial economic and social decisions about the lives of people on NMI, with or without the invitation of some of these people. You say in your post, "We turned to Jack Abramoff and Tom DeLay." I wonder who "we" is. Were you, personally, making minimum wage, and working at one of these garment factories? Were you a labor organizer? Please don't get mad; I'm not questioning your honesty or integrity, only your perspective. The issue may look different from the sweatshop floor. Nor am I questioning your assertion that calling upon the Fixer and the Hammer worked. I expect it did, and it even may have made some things better for some of the people of NMI. But this is not how I want my government to function. Yes, I know, corruption happens, and on both sides. Hell, on all sides. But when it appears that the ONLY way for conditions to improve is through paying the Fixer and begging assistance of the Hammer, I get very angry. My taxes pays DeLay's salary, and the level of power he has and many of the ways he exercises it is unacceptable to me. I want DeLay to lose his job; I want a lot of the Congressfolk to go home for the holidays and not come back. I want Congress to take its responsibilities to the nation seriously again. I want them all to put their grubby begging hands back in their pockets.

#69 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 11:49 AM:

I saw a paper, years ago, that stated that people in hunter/gatherer societies actually work a whole lot less than in agricultural societies, and implied Things Have Been Going Downhill Since.

The book The Paleolithic Prescription also goes into that at some length.

Ah, the Golden Age . . .

#70 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 11:52 AM:

FWIW, I think Doug M is making some good points, and, being on the ground and in a position to see, might well be able to answer the questions about company stores and "Forced abortions" (Only in quotes because I haven't looked at the source material to confirm this one) and give us a better perspective. In fact, Doug M, please do. We're interested. we're listening. I like that you've been discussing this in polite terms, and showing your sources.

On the other hand, Carlos has done nothing but wander in and insult a large portion of the local population of the site. I'm wondering if he wants to support Doug M, or if this kind of making-supporters-of-this-view-look-like-rude-generalizing-idiots is a subtle way to undermine Doug M's efforts.

#71 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 11:54 AM:

Maybe people in hunter/gatherer societies worked less than in agricultural societies. I'll assume that they also worked less than in computer-using societies. But I'll stick with where I am because of two words:

dental care

#72 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 11:56 AM:

Lizzy L: And why they feel the need to have their grubby hands out for money, when they're paid quite well for holding their elected offices (they're well above average income, all of them), is a question which none of them are willing to answer. 'Campaign costs' is not an answer, since they do it year round, and they get publicity fairly frequently in their districts: some of them even send out newsletters pushing their records ... not that they'll ever mention what they've done for NMI, or the tradeoffs they've made in return for favors.

#73 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 12:06 PM:

Lizzy L: Hear, hear!

Lenora Rose: Hear, hear!

Serge: Humph, I guess you're right. *grumble* I guess the invention of agriculture wasn't OVERALL a bad thing. But it sure had some huge costs. And "more people can live that way" isn't really sounding like such a good argument any more.

#74 ::: Carlos ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 12:10 PM:

Aconite, who the hell is praising? Strawmen are in aisle four.

Laura R., from everything I have seen, fen have a markedly poorer ability to judge evidence critically than a similar cohort of non-fen. My guess is, you folks have internalized the reading strategies necessary to make sense of SF and consistently apply them to areas where they don't work. Related to, but not necessarily the same as the Brain Eater. That takes care of the first two.

The DRAMA and the malignity come out of the lower than average socialization of the average fan.

Then there's that slack-witted "fans are slans" balderdash that just won't die. Despite busloads of evidence to the contrary.

Lenora, Doug has some tolerance for y'all left. I have hit my tipping point. To translate it into terms some of you might understand better, fan association is now a -3 modifier for intelligence and reason in my book.

#75 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 12:12 PM:

Maybe, Xopher, but I'll stick with where I am. By the way - and I know this is drifting off topic - did agricultural societies show an increase in longevity compared to hunter/gatherer societies? Of course, having a bunch of people together in one spot must have had some interesting side-effects where diseases are concerned.

#76 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 12:24 PM:

Serge - me too, and I don't know. That would be fascinating to learn.

Remember also that a longer life is not necessarily a better one overall. Taken to extremes, that's why some people sign living wills.

#77 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 12:27 PM:

Adding to the topic drift, on dental care:

Some people claim that a "natural" diet prevents tooth decay. This boils down to avoiding white sugar (which I think everyone knows is bad for your teeth) and avoiding white flour (which might be lacking in essential nutrients).

#78 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 12:28 PM:

Carlos - then why don't you go away and let us fester in our ignorance, stupidity, and malignance? I don't understand why you keep commenting here, even though you keep saying you're done. Or are you only done with any attempt at serious argument, but still here to sling insults? IME that's a sign of having LOST the argument, not won it...and yes, I HAVE seen people say "that's it, I'm outta here" and actually mean it.

I repeat: if you're so done with us as you claim, why don't you GO AWAY?

#79 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 12:44 PM:

Carlos: Aconite, who the hell is praising?

Quoted from the initial topic post at the top of the page:

Later, DeLay would tell the Washington Post’s Juliet Eilperin that the low-wage, anti-union conditions of the Marianas constituted “a perfect petri dish of capitalism. It’s like my Galapagos Island.”

The praising of the system as the last straw was incidental to the point of my post, anyway, which I suspect you chose to ignore because it made it much easier to paint me as one of those overemotional, brainless, unfair fen.

#80 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 01:06 PM:

Serge: I have to recommend Guns, Germs and Steel -- it has a lot about exactly what and how agriculture is related to the creation of diseases -- and the resistance to disease.

Carlos: If you have any interest in making a real point, or discussing real economic issues (and the quality-of-life issues that go with them), then you might want to rethink coming at your opponents with an attitude that guarantees they'll dismiss you, your point, and everyone and everything you agree with.

If, on the other hand, you're here to insult the prevailing culture, well, I leave you to Teresa's tender mercies.

(Incidentally, "fans are slans" is complete and utter crap. I think the agreement on this site was virtually unanimous on that point the last time it was brought up. And nobody here now has mentioned it -- or any other generalizations about fandom -- but you. Don't complain about others' possible straw men while building your own.)

#81 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 01:11 PM:

Doug M writes:

Also, the folks trying to bring the Feds in did not have deep pockets. The folks willing to pay Jack Abramoff did.

Hmmm. Sounds to me like the folks willing to pay Jack Abramoff could have used their "deep pockets" to help bring in the Feds. Let me guess— there were powerful "disincentives" for them to do that. Disincentives that were highly correlated to their having deep pockets, which— as we've noted— the people who wanted to bring in the Feds did not.

Doug M writes:

Hilzoy posted an update noting that things had indeed improved in the NMI, and that her outrage was directed at DeLay's defense of sweatshop conditions back in the '90s.

Somehow, I don't think that's going to happen over here.

Well, you know— the thread started with people outraged by Delay's defense of slave labor conditions. We certainly seem to have no shortage of outrage for Tom Delay's nonsense— and why, exactly, should that be a problem? The man's politics are monstrous.

Gee, it's nice to know that life in the NMI is oh-so-much less harsh than in the rest of Micronesia. Given what I know about the region (I've traveled some), I'd say Chuuk is probably a garden spot compared to, say, Easter Island, but I've never been to either place.

Was there anybody here trying to challenge your claim that things have not improved in the NMI, or that the Murkowski bill would not have been an economic disaster for the NMI if it had passed? If there was, I didn't see it.

Is there any reason to believe that the methods Abramoff used to stop the Murkowski bill and dick around with the CNMI were necessary and sufficient to address the economic problems of the NMI? I'm very doubtful about that, but I'm willing to hear you out.

Somehow, I think your expectations of what should happen here after you've made your contribution to the discussion might be in need of readjustment.

#82 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 01:13 PM:

Thanks, Laura... My wife Susan (as opposed to what other wife?) had read the book when it first came out. There was a mini-series based on it a few months ago, but we missed half of it. I was bummed.

#83 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 01:14 PM:

Teresa's tender mercies...

Must refrain... from... making bad... jokes... Must resist...

#84 ::: Carlos ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 01:17 PM:

[shrug] I was wondering where the hits on my blog (which I share with Doug) were coming from.

Lenora, I got plenty of interest in discussing economic issues. Just not with fen. Word games, sure! What's the shortest word in English that has all five vowels?

By the way, Guns, Germs, and Steel is riddled with tendentious arguments. Have you ever tried tracking some of Diamond's sources down? I have. Many of them do not quite say what he says they say.

#85 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 01:17 PM:

Serge, that's what the nonrestrictive apposite comma is for. "My wife, Susan, had read the book" means you are naming this literate person twice. "My wife Susan had read the book" implies that your other wives had not!

#86 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 01:23 PM:

Those darn missing commas... Reminds me of sitcom Married, With Children. It seems like people kept dropping the pause that separated the title's two elements. The implications of who they were married with were, to say the least, interesting.

#87 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 01:58 PM:

Carlos, there are no word games here. In case it wasn't clear, my question was an implied request. You have nothing of interest (or even topicality) to contribute to this thread. Please go away. Contribute to the wordplay threads, if you can do so without insulting everyone.

And if you think "fen have a markedly poorer ability to judge evidence critically than a similar cohort of non-fen," my hypothesis is that you are living in the ivory tower of academia. Certainly you have not lived in the business world, where the ability to judge, or even recognize, evidence is virtually unknown. Fans are BETTER at this than the average person on the street, an entity with whom you are apparently entirely unfamiliar.

If you think so little of fannish culture, why don't you go away from Making Light entirely? Don't let the door hit you on the ass on the way out. Good riddance. Oddly, you've played nice on a number of occasions. One would think you wouldn't care to do that if you thought so little of us. In any case, since you've now made your position clear, I suggest that you stop visiting this little branch of fandom, since you dislike it so much. If you have anything to contribute to the present conversation, tell it to Doug, and he'll couch it in civil terms. But it seems to me you ran out of relevant content some time back, your denunciation of GG&S notwithstanding.

#88 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 02:31 PM:

Carlos: So, yeah, I have a low opinion of your people's subculture, yup.

Carlos, I believe I've been polite to you, and in return I've gotten only snark. Dude, you know nothing about me, "my people," my level of education, or whatever subculture they may have. I asked you some questions, but you seem to just be too patronizing to answer them.

Maybe you ought to reread those "you people" posts, because they really seem to apply to you.

#89 ::: Carlos ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 03:44 PM:
And if you think "fen have a markedly poorer ability to judge evidence critically than a similar cohort of non-fen," my hypothesis is that you are living in the ivory tower of academia. Certainly you have not lived in the business world, where the ability to judge, or even recognize, evidence is virtually unknown. Fans are BETTER at this than the average person on the street, an entity with whom you are apparently entirely unfamiliar.

Hm. Hilarious hypothesis about me #5271009, with a side of Slandom Roolz. Probably the only thing you have in common with S.M. Stirling, Xopher.

See, I am giving you folks as much respect as you're giving the people of the Northern Marianas. (I had to do the same thing with fen regarding the people of Botswana recently elsewhere.)

It's rather belittling to talk this way about the hard choices a small group of people has to make in a world that doesn't particularly care for them, no? As if they were objects only there to be manipulated, and that some smug bastard who barely knows them knows them better than they do themselves.

[pause to wait for clue-stick to hit]

I also get the sense that people on this thread want an anti-DeLay loyalty oath before they listen to anyone. Screw that.

I don't know, maybe if Ursula LeGuin wrote a story about it? But with copper-colored imperialists and a hermaphrodite lobbyist from Old Hain. The Chuukese could be indigo and the Chamorros blue. The people living in the boxcars can be from Earth. Maybe then it will make sense.

And Robert L, um, you do know your link goes to your LiveJournal?

#90 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 03:55 PM:

Goodness. It's like "Vox Day" spawned.

#91 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 03:58 PM:

It's rather belittling to talk this way about the hard choices a small group of people has to make in a world that doesn't particularly care for them, no?

'Carlos' (there's no one of that name visible at the URL you're using): So why are you belittling fen? Are we somehow less likely to be dealing with hard choices than, say, a typical mundane? Your posts are, um, not connecting well with the reality of, frex, my life as a contract technical worker (12 months on, 6 months off), or some of my friends who have been out of work intermittently for more than ten years, mostly because the wonderful people who actually make hiring decisions don't really want to hire middle-aged people and can always find a 'legal' reason not to hire. Sure, I'd like the people in NMI to get paid US minimum wage - it's well below the US continental poverty line - but I see DeLay and his buddies trying to make the rest of us live like that too: stuck with the system because we're too poor either to change it or to leave it. And the people who could have made a difference, didn't even notice.

#92 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 04:00 PM:

Ignore 'it', P J. Otherwise it'll believe it exists.

#93 ::: Renee ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 04:06 PM:

Shortest word with all five vowels: eunoia.

There. 'Fen' rule.

What the heck is 'slan'?

Incidently, I accuse Carlos of either being Norwegian or associating with Norwegians--not that it means anything.

On topic? Not even close. Mea culpa.

#94 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 04:12 PM:

Carlos, I raised the question of whether per capita income was a suficiently useful measure, without taking into account local differences in living costs.

You immediately switched to attacking the people; switching from intellect to emotion as your field of battle.

I infer that you choose not to answer the question. Why you should do that, I could speculate on, but that would be pointless. Neither is it worth the effort of taunting you.

Goodbye.

#95 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 04:17 PM:

I'll answer what might be the only useful thing Carlos has said.

"By the way, Guns, Germs, and Steel is riddled with tendentious arguments. Have you ever tried tracking some of Diamond's sources down? I have. Many of them do not quite say what he says they say."

That may be - it is a pop. science book, which are notorious for being fuzzier than the drier reading. But it should still give Serge some fodder for his curiosity about the effects of agricultural life re: hunter-gather societies and re: germs. And both Serge and I can do the rest of the research from there if there's more to look into. And since Diamond does provide sources, it's the easiest route to further reading on the subject.

But I'd rather you expanded on your comment here, or gave specific examples, before I go off hunting corroboration for every detail.

#96 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 04:26 PM:

What the heck is 'slan'?

#97 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 04:31 PM:

'Slan', Laura? In a nutshell? That's the title of A.E. van Vogt's SF novel about a race of telepaths who are hounded by the normals.

#98 ::: Carlos ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 04:38 PM:

Three icons, three people. I'm the coffee mug. C.O.Yu.

Why fen? Because so many of you think you're more capable than the average person on the street in terms of understanding the world because you read science fiction, when in reality... well. Not so much.

What's really annoying about this thread is how the complex situation in the NMI -- a place where people I know have lived -- has been turned into the background for a cheap morality play so that people who need their daily dose of indignation can get their subculture-approved fix.

You know how you fen loathe the thirty-second clip on the TV news of the four-hundred-pound guy dressed up as Captain Kirk, and a talking head who knows absolutely nothing about your subculture confidently rattles off inanities about it? And you call up the station to complain, and no one there is interested?

That's how I feel when I read a thread like this.

#99 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 04:47 PM:

Thanks, Serge. Renee asked the same question.

So, Carlos claims to read science fiction, but he's got nothing good to say about anybody else who does. I guess self-loathing is not limited to homosexuals.

(I read The Charioteer recently. Carlos sounds just like those guys.)

#100 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 04:49 PM:

Incidentally, NMI isn't the only place where some garment workers are slaves in all but name. There has been at least one case in the LA area where one or more workers escaped and the factory was raided, finding people who were, literally, locked in the building, with no communications that weren't inspected by the management. The business was shut down; the workers (from southeast Asia, IIRC) were allowed to stay in the US for the legal proceedings. They were being paid much less than federal minimum, also.

#101 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 04:50 PM:

And yet you keep posting. Obviously you're lying.

#102 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 04:51 PM:

My comment was directed to the last line of Carlos' post three up, in case that wasn't clear.

#103 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 04:52 PM:

I see. So we're not allowed to think that people deserve better just because things could be worse for them? Delay praised a place where the workers are locked up and work 70-hour weeks as "a perfect petri dish of capitalism," and I'm not allowed to think that these people shouldn't have better lives than that because there were hard choices involved? IOW, I should just think that this way of life is good enough for them because it could have been even shittier? No, thanks. My position is that all human beings deserve dignity and decent living and working conditions, and these people may be slightly closer to that than some others, but they're not there yet.

#104 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 04:54 PM:

That should have been, "should have better lives"

Blast eyestrain.

#105 ::: Crls ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 04:54 PM:

Xphr, gt lf.

#106 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 04:55 PM:

Carlos: What's really annoying about this thread is how the complex situation in the NMI -- a place where people I know have lived -- has been turned into the background for a cheap morality play

If you really want to counter this trend, provide facts. Discuss actual examples. Rather than wandering around telling us we're all sub-social idiots.

This has been the problem with your approach from the start. You say you have facts, you know people who've been there, but your examples are hugeley generalized when provided at all. You spend most of your time and typing running down our supposed subculture, and our sources for information (Example: The CIA factbook), and doing all this running down, once again, with sweeping generalizations rather than concrete details. You've spent very little time providing logical, reasoned commentary, or clear examples that might actually persuade us you know what you're talking about.

#107 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 05:00 PM:

Lenora Rose, ignore it. It will be gone soon. And until then, its only objective is to annoy. I'm surprised the Bridge Crew haven't been through here with a can of SNERT-b-Gone already.

#108 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 05:30 PM:

I know, Xopher - I just can't help hoping that, when I see someone who seems to have something useful and interesting to say, he can be persuaded to say *that* instead of the verbal spewage thus far provided.


(I'm an optimist.)

#109 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 06:04 PM:

P J Evans, a minor quibble: Congresspeople have to maintain a home in the place they represent and the cost of living near DC is pretty high. There are Congressmen who have slept on the floor of their offices so they could afford to keep their family at home.

Carlos, the Chamorro don't fit your example. Guam is primarily a tourist economy these days, and that doesn't compare to the NMI. I was such a brown child --that's my eighth birthday -- that many Chamorro thought I was one of them.

Serendipitiously, we're reading Slan for the book group this month. While all of us read SF, only about half are fans and the others had never heard of slans or read the book, so this will be interesting.

"Fans are slans" comes from the book: a superior human race starts to be born and they have to hide to keep from being killed by the regular homo sap. In the early days of fandom, many fen actually believed that fans were slans, better than the non-fans. These days it's usually used sarcastically.

#110 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 06:14 PM:

Lenora Rose - I've been there, and done that. But now you've done that and been met with only derision by the SNERT. The benefit of the doubt only applies where doubt exists. Time to ignore it completely.

In sharp contrast, I regret to observe that Doug M - who really was teaching me (and others) things we hadn't known or hadn't realized - appears to have bailed.

#111 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 06:17 PM:

Marilee: The problem I have is not so much their salary - I know they have to have a second place to live, but some of them seem to go overboard - as their (apparently cheerful) assumption that they are not, in any way, different from those of us who are one or two paychecks from living in a car. (And their remarks about the 'media elite' or the 'Hollywood elite', as though the 535 people in DC theoretically representing 280 million of us are not elite, are possibly ingenuous.)

Sorry, I get tired of elected officials trying to claim they're powerful people and ordinary people at the same time.

#112 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 07:37 PM:

It's interesting that slavers like Carlos hate Jared Diamond just because he's a pinko subversive commie, since if you actually read "Guns, Germs and Steel" you learn that Diamond thinks:

Life for humans in the "wild", in their natural, chimplike tribal state is violent and short: most men die in murders or wars, and:

Most of the native population of America died from disease without ever meeting a European, diseases which the Europeans were immune to because of their agricultural civilization, which in turn was what allowed them to cross the Atlantic in the first place.

Men are sinful, and it wasn't Whitey's fault: it's stuff the US Republican Party could print up and distribute as election bumf, but slavers like Carlos still hate him because he isn't one of them.

Just like Carlos hates all of us, without bothering to find out if we'd agree with his actual opinions or not.

#113 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 08:06 PM:

OK, first we have to stop talking TO Carlos, then we have to stop talking ABOUT Carlos. Not that I don't agree with you, Niall.

And Delay does want us all to live in a two-tier society, made up of Owners and Slaves. Duhh, you will say.

#114 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 08:35 PM:

Gosh wow, I guess I should have more appreciation for my privileged status as a science fiction fan. I know that the mundanes resent our domination, but I always felt that they could build their own heat rays, orbital mind-control satellites, and armies of giant robots, if they really wanted to. I should have had more sympathy for their plight. Unfortunately, because they cannot get past the lurid covers, hackneyed plots and purple prose of our favorite literature, they cannot gain the secret knowledge that enables us to occupy space and time. Unaware, they attempt to console themselves with their pathetic games of wealth, power, and social status. But we know who the true elite are. Bwa ha ha.

#115 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 09:21 PM:

You mean, TomB, that you have built your own giant robot? Me, I want Will Robinson's Robot. Morbius's Robbie would be nice too.

#116 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 09:47 PM:

For me, at least, the outrage of it is the tone of DeLay's response. I entered 2000 thinking that the Republican leadership was on the whole simply not very interested in the poor and needy. (And therefore in this regard not wildly different from a lot of Democratic leaders, who are willing to use the poor as issues and fodder, and not much else. Different rhetoric and details, not much difference in broad strokes.) The lesson of the last five years for me has been that, no, in fact a significant fraction of the Republican leadership likes people in poverty and need - they prefer a social order in which everyone else underwrites the wealthiest, and those who do the labor are kept worried, afraid to take independent action, amenable to being pitted against their peers. A percentage of profit is much more interesting and real to them than the suffering of a thousand people, or a million, or a billion, and insofar as doing anything about the suffering would hurt the profit, it's the relief that's the dangerous evil to be stomped down. It seems particularly important to them, too, that there never be a legitimate claim on any of their resources. If they want to give largesse, fine. If they want to provide good treatment for reasons like Henry Ford's or Bismarck's, that's okay. But they go to great lengths to attack anything that would impose an external claim apart from their desire.

Which is to say, basically, that the ruling class is much as it's always been. That's a big part of why a bunch of the ex-libertarians I know gave up on libertarianism after 2000 - we'd assumed that business had actually learned from its experiences, only to find that the only lesson they'd learned was "we've got to get more power so that they can't rein us in again". (Exactly what a lot of non-libertarians told us was the case all along, too. They were right and we were wrong.)

But this is an unusually blatant reminder of the whole thing. There's no regret in DeLay, no sense of awful choices being made, no sense that perhaps anything could usefully improve things for those under our govenrment's authority. He likes it. He doesn't want to stop it, or interfere with it. He speaks of it as the sort of thing he'd like to see more of, and it suggests an overall agenda behind a lot of the policy he's pushed here.

I'm comfortable witht he moral foundations for my outrage at all this. I think it's worth a lot of inconvenience and reduced profit to make part of the world work better than that.

#117 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 10:09 PM:

Doug M.: Compare and contrast: Hilzoy over at Obsidian Wings posted on this exact same issue. I made much the same points in the comments threads, providing links as I have here.

Using much the same text. Had you provided links, rather than simply repeating yourself in isolation, you might have enriched the discussion here with ideas from the commentary on the similar OW post. You're reading both, after all, and forming your own responses based on doing so. However, without such links, your contributions in this thread lack context.

Hilzoy posted an update noting that things had indeed improved in the NMI, and that her outrage was directed at DeLay's defense of sweatshop conditions back in the '90s.

Somehow, I don't think that's going to happen over here.

Indeed she did (here's a link to her post). Her initial essay included a good deal of material describing working conditions in Marianas garment factories, and she updated in response to your comments, asserting positively that the time frame at issue was the mid to late 1990's.

Patrick's post, being somewhat shorter and more tightly focused than hilzoy's, contains no specific assertions as regards NMI's economy. For Patrick to provide the kind of clarification you appear to demand of him would require him first to re-write his initial post so as to supply the lacks of which you complain.

Supposing my own reading comprehension needs work, and I've missed essential subtleties that you're picking up on (wouldn't be the first time, either), your apparent expectation that anyone posting on a personal weblog should respond to commentary on an invisible timeline monitored only by you is, frankly, foolish. You are setting yourself up for a great deal of unnecessary disappointment. You might want to consider that other people may have calls on their time that preclude interacting with you until those obligations are satisfied.

There are people on both sides of the aisle who've become outrage junkies. Saying "it's more complicated than that" to those people -- on either side -- just annoys them; they don't want things to be complicated, they want their hit of indignation and rage.

Global climate change is complicated. Tom DeLay using his position and influence to strongarm the political and economic development of an underrepresented US commonwealth into a state that suits both his philosophy and his pocketbook is not complicated. It's just sordid.

#118 ::: Ayse Sercan ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 10:35 PM:

This seems to have gone unanswered, so I will offer one bit of response:

Magenta Griffith wrote: However, I know that in a number of places, cash income for the year is not the only factor in how well one lives. Is this still an area where gardening, gathering and fishing can provide a substantial amount of food? What are the shelter/heating requirements of the area?

"Guest workers" in the NMI rent housing from The Company, and that housing does not come with space for small-scale agriculture. Nor is there easy hunting or fishing nearby, available to them. Nor, for that matter, do they have time, working a 70-hour week, to participate in that sort of food-gathering activity, even if they had the energy after a day of hard work in a factory on an insufficient diet.

Shelter in the NMI is not a huge ordeal: a simple shack, provided it is well-ventilated (one of the big problems in the Pacific islands is unventilated spaces, where mildew grows), is usually sufficient. The workers spend very little waking time in their homes, anyway. It's not too comfortable, but it's not like they're out in the rain, either.

The big issue that "guest workers" run into is that it doesn't matter how much you're paid, if all of it is accounted for before you get the necessities out of the way, and there are no options for reducing the cost of those necessities. NMI is better than some places, but this is hardly the best they could expect.

Tangentially, but still on topic, one of the reasons (given to me by a factory owner) that an American minimum wage is supposed to be so horrible is that it makes working in the factory more appealing than working in the fields, and the country needs the local food production. I'm not a huge supporter of minimum wage, but it seems to me that with their increased wages, workers could pay more money for food (this is the crux of my problem with minimum wage; it only raises the number of the abstract counter of wealth, rather then evening out comparative wealth).

I don't buy it, personally. I think the reason an American minimum wage is so terrifying is that it would raise the cost of the goods made there, and customers (Americans) are unwilling to pay what it takes for everybody to make a living wage. So production would be moved somewhere less controlled (cheaper) and there would be no net improvement for the world as a whole, and a net loss for the specific place with the new controls on labour.

#119 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2005, 12:31 AM:

Ayse, you said:I think the reason an American minimum wage is so terrifying is that it would raise the cost of the goods made there, and customers (Americans) are unwilling to pay what it takes for everybody to make a living wage. So production would be moved somewhere less controlled (cheaper) and there would be no net improvement for the world as a whole, and a net loss for the specific place with the new controls on labour. The aspect of this you do not mention is the degree of profit made by the folks who are running the factories and not paying minimum wage. I don't object to profit (and even if I did, that's too bad, we don't live in fantasyland) but surely how much the owners are making from this venture is relevant. IMO, it is a moral obligation, an economic good, and an act of political wisdom to forgo some of those profits to make the lives of your workers better. I don't know what kind of profits were being made by the people who own the garment factories in NMI, but I do wonder what the ratio was, say, of the salary of the CEO to the wages of a factory worker.

#120 ::: Ayse Sercan ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2005, 01:21 AM:

Lizzy, I would agree that there is a moral obligation to forgo profits when they are gained at the expense of humane behaviour. On the other hand, I think that is an unlikely scenario in the absence of regulation on a worldwide scale. Given that The Owners are unwilling to give up any profit they can grasp (and stockholders are as much to blame as CEOs), and buyers are unwilling to spend more than they have to, the ones who suffer are the workers.

#121 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2005, 01:24 AM:

Here we have clear evidence that labour conditions imposed on garment workers in the Northern Marianas were inhumane. This inhumanity did not not simply consist of the wages paid, which were low but possibly defensible were it not for the misleading labelling of the garments produced, but in the other conditions - locked barrack-style compounds, 70 hour working weeks, separation of families, indentures, refusal of access to redress, advocacy or organisation, forced use of "company" stores and so on. These were conditions - it would appear that the past tense is applicable, at least to the worst of them - that amounted to sweated labour, almost to bonded servitude.

This is defended on the grounds that matters are improving, and not as bad as they are elsewhere. This is perhaps a partial mitigation, though by no means a complete defence, since it really amounts only to saying that bad treatment of human beings is defensible if others do worse. Nevertheless, those arguments were put in a civil fashion, and were discussed the same way.

The other argument put is that these conditions produced monetary benefit, the beneficiaries being specifically said to be the population of the Marianas rather than the workers themselves. This argument is both inaccurate and incomplete. The main beneficiaries were the people running the sweatshops. It is also shameful to argue that monetary benefits excuse the callous mistreatment of human beings, but I don't expect people who can argue that to feel shame, any more than I expect anything other than the usual vile cascade of taunts and insults when confronting them.

#122 ::: Jonathan Shaw ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2005, 02:10 AM:

Off topic, but on tangent comment: I've been reding science fiction and fantasy since I was 13, and have my notes from 1961 to prove it. However, I don't think I would pass as a genuine fan. I came to Making Light by way of Neil Gaiman's recommendation of Slushkiller in particular and Teresa in general as one who is endlessly knowledgeable about publishing. I had found Neil Gaiman's blog because he's a children's writer, and until recently I was the editor of a children's literary magazine. I've stayed because I find this place to be a reliable source of interesting conversation, and of information. I've been pointed in the direction of some terrific books, science fiction certaionly but also classic mainstream works that I had missed. It's also the only place I know apart from my former workplace where people get furious over questions of usage.

Sorry for going on so much. All I really wanted to say was that Carlos's name-calling was very instructive to me. I realised that if you go into a conversation convinced that all particuipants have an immovably idiotic mindset anad are immune to rational argument, you are likely to come off sounding like that yourself. I also learned about Slan and a new (to me) meaning of the word "fen". So I'm glad he dropped in, even though he did derail a potentially very interesting argument from Doug M. I'm also glad that/if he's taken Xopher's gentle hints and gone away.

#123 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2005, 02:16 AM:

We can only hope that this is really what happened, Jonathan. By the way, when people throw names or titles or terms and you feel the need for clarification, don't hesitate to ask.

#124 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2005, 07:21 AM:

Serge--

I'd pass up Will Robinson's Robot in a heartbeat for either Huey or Dewey. (Or little Louie, who isn't with us anymore...)

#125 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2005, 07:47 AM:

True, Bruce, true... The robots from Silent Running were cool, but, if you were still in high-school, those shorties wouldn't have struck fear in the heart of the local bullies. The lightining bolts shooting out of the claws of Will Robinson's steel-plated buddy, now, THAT...

Back to Silent Running, did you ever notice who wrote the script? Steven Bochco and Michael Cimino. Yes, that Bochco and that Cimino.

#126 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2005, 08:12 AM:

I remember that Trumbull had a go-around with the WGAW over that: he rewrote the script but the Guild rules wouldn't allow his name on it because it was a rewrite. WGAW's rules are rather strict to prevent producers and directors from grabbing credits and Trumbull's case wasn't clear cut enough to get him the credit even though he maintained he'd supplied at least 51% new material.

#127 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2005, 08:16 AM:

I've also heard that the original Bochco/Cimino script was quite different, Bruce. Say, since you know that much about Silent Running's writing background, you probably already know how they got the three robots to amble around, right?

#128 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2005, 09:06 AM:

Bruce,we forgot to bring up Tweekie, the robot from the late Seventies's Buck Rogers. How could we commit such an omission? (Easily, very easily.)

#129 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2005, 10:52 AM:

Carlos: You know, I've seen trolls operate, but I've never really had much interaction with one myself. Thanks for letting me see how it feels. If you ever decide to stop snarking, you might actually have something interesting to say. Till then, it would seem not.

Thanks for reading my LJ. See ya.

#130 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2005, 11:25 AM:

Ayse Sercan writes: I think the reason an American minimum wage is so terrifying is that it would raise the cost of the goods made there, and customers (Americans) are unwilling to pay what it takes for everybody to make a living wage.

It's reasonable to ask whether that's really true. By how much would it raise the cost? How much more will customers pay for a label that fairly means "made by workers who get paid a living wage?"

Let me see the numbers, and I'll comment.

#131 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2005, 11:25 AM:

Serge--

you probably already know how they got the three robots to amble around, right?

Yes I do, but not for any reason you'd come up with: off and on since college I've been working on a small bipedal robot design (stair-climbing even!) based on a rejected and long-forgotten alternative to Lunakhod, and have scaled it to approximately fit a Drone body--assuming I could get access to one for long enough to take pictures and make measurements. (I'm a sad case. By definition anyone that can tell you that Huey's bottom pan is 2" deep and with another three minutes racking his brain could tell you what plastic was used to vacu-form the Drone bodies is a sad case.)

Unfortunately, I was sick last month when the SF Museum brought Trumbull to town with a print of Silent Running or I'd have gone and asked if he knew where any of them ended up--I saw an article once where an interviewer visited Trumbull's old offices and claimed the CE3K Mothership was balanced on top of Dewey, but haven't been able to substantiate this anywhere else.

Want a cute, bipedal robot that can climb stairs wandering around the Seattle area? Help me get some good photos of a Drone body with a tape measure in the shots.

Bruce,we forgot to bring up Tweekie...How could we commit such an omission?

Because we'd need to bring up Dr. Theopolis, and the mind tends to block unpleasant details?

#132 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2005, 12:27 PM:

Actually I spelled it wrong. It's really Twikki, but it's still a stupid Glen larson piece of junk.

As for Trumbull's robots... In an old interview, he said he got a kick out of people trying to figure out how the heck he did that. Of course, how often does one think of finding legless kids inside a robot?

#133 ::: Ayse Sercan ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2005, 03:21 PM:

It's reasonable to ask whether that's really true. By how much would it raise the cost? How much more will customers pay for a label that fairly means "made by workers who get paid a living wage?"

Let me see the numbers, and I'll comment.

How on earth is any reasonable person going to get actual numbers for a hypothetical situation that would require worldwide enforcement of American-style labour laws? Don't be silly.

I'll show you what I've seen, though, in building up my understanding of the issue over the last several years. I think overall behaviours are more useful in determining future behaviour than some numbers generated out of thin air.

We have one piece of evidence: people will shop at a place like Wal-Mart in order to save money on the things they buy. How much on average? $1000 a year, according to CNN, and they have every reasonable cause to believe that everything they buy there was made under inhumane conditions. So people are willing to sacrifice the knowledge that the goods they buy were made under humane conditions for $1000 a year.

The "Made in USA" sticker adds value, but American consumers seem not to care about it when choosing an item -- it just makes them feel better about it after they made the choice. My evidence for this is the "Support Our Troops" magnets -- there was a bit of a scandal when some reporters pointed out that they were made in China in sweatshops. Wal-Mart switched to having them made in NMI by slave labour -- sorry, "guest workers" -- with the "Made in USA" sticker, and kept the price the same. If they were really made under US labour laws, the cost would be somewhat more than twice what Wal-Mart charges for them.

Another bit of evidence: "factory outlets." These are places where designer labels can sell shoddy, made-in-sweatshops clothing and accessories under a special for-FO-only label at lower prices (because they are inferior goods rather than real factory seconds). The savings are up to 70 precent of the retail designer goods, although you can't usually get the same things in the outlets as you can get at the department stores. They're wildly popular, because American consumers (and visitors from Asia, oddly) want the label, but are of course unwilling to pay full retail for designer goods. The goods are all marked with the place of manufacture, and yet nobody cares. Nobody sees "Made in Micronesia" as a warning sign. Because in general, American consumers (and I keep saying it so specifically because I haven't done any research on non-American consumers, not because they're any better) make decisions on price rather than ethics.

If we double the wages of sweatshop workers, and provide the benefits they would be entitled to under US labour law, the owners still need to make their profit (well, they still want to make their profit), so the cost of goods would go up at least as much as the increase in cost of production. If not more. Which would raise the cost to retailers, who would, of course, take their own profit out and pass the cost on to consumers.

As long as there are places in the world where sweatshops can go, they will go there, because they make enough money on it to make it worth their while to leave any place where the protection of workers gets too strong. That was the "horrible choice" NMI faced when they called in Delay.

#134 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2005, 05:25 PM:

Bruce, you said that "...since college I've been working on a small bipedal robot design (stair-climbing even!) based on a rejected and long-forgotten alternative to Lunakhod, and have scaled it to approximately fit a Drone body..."

What do you do for a living? Besides breathing and eating, that is.

#135 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2005, 06:18 PM:

The Sunday LA Times is running a story about another law the conservatives want to ram through Congress. It would prevent children of illegal immigrants getting birthright US citizenship (the kind most of us have). The idea apparently is that this will remove the incentive for illegal immigration (that illegals come for jobs is apparently lost on these people).

What isn't said on the front page is that this could be a first step to making the granting of citizenship a reward for supporters and its revocation a punishment for opponents; if birthright citizenship can be restricted by law, there isn't much protection for the rest of us either.

#136 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2005, 08:07 PM:

As to comparative cost of making minimum wage, I can say that the clothes and underclothes I buy made in CONUS (Cotati, CA; Seattle, WA) are about twice the price of roughly similar items made overseas. I think the local items are also better-made, in general.

#137 ::: Renee ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2005, 08:25 PM:

PJ Evans: I read some time ago about pregnant Mexican nationals (and possibly other nationals) taking day trips into Texas and other border states with the hopes of going into labor while in the States and having their child there, all so that the baby would have US citizenship and be allowed to immigrate, legally, at some point in their future.

There was opinion expressed in the piece by locals (whether conservative or otherwise is a detail I don't recall) that this constituted a cheesy end-run around the immigration laws, and that it ought to be illegal. This may be where some of the impetus for the current conservative law is coming from.

#138 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2005, 09:47 PM:

Renee: I know that happens; there are also some (not necessarily poor) people who cross the border to take advantage of 'free' medical care. I can see wanting to stop it, but I can't see a way to keep illegals from having kids born here who become citizens, without making it a potential hazard for the rest of us (first you have to be able to prove you're a citizen - and it isn't always easy!).

As far as getting naturalized, I work with a couple of people who are in the process, and they have to do the same set of paperwork about every year, because the INS is so slow that the paperwork expires before it gets processed, and these are people coming in legally from nominally friendly countries!

#139 ::: Lin Daniel ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2005, 10:12 PM:

If you want an example of what happens when someone born in a country is not considered a citizen, take a look at Japan. There are people there, born in Japan, who are not citizens because their parents weren't citizens, and possible more generations back than that. These people have no rights of citizenship; they were born in Japan, so there is no other country to send them to (especially when their parents were also non-citizens born in Japan); they can't leave Japan because they can't get visas or passports because they aren't citizens, and they can't get them from another country because they' aren't citizens there, either; the list goes on. Every country who has tried the "born here but not a citizen" thing ends up with this non-class of people. They may have changed this since I last researched it, so if I'm wrong, please correct me.

One way to handle the "born here of illegal parents" is send the parents home, telling them "take the kid with you or we'll put him in foster care here; send him back when he's 18." Which then adds the burden onto an already burdened foster care system. But, hey, no system is trouble free.

#140 ::: Lydy Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2005, 10:24 PM:

I think we should raise the minimum wage, and high enough that a single mother can support herself and two children working, say, 50 hours a week. What is the point of a minimum wage that isn't even a living wage? Not that I want to get rid of the ridiculously low one we have. Something is often better than nothing. We tried "trickle-down" economics, and it didn't work worth a damn. Let's try trickle-up economics. Seems to me that demand doesn't increase supply if the people have no money with which to drive their demands, whereas demand does increase supply if the people have the where witht hall to get the stuff they demand. No point in producing stuff people can't afford to buy, is what I'm thinking.

In the third world, we've found that money poured in by the millions and billions to the top of the food chain doesn't make much difference. However, extremely modest amounts of money invested down at the bottom make significant positive changes to the whole economy. If that's true for the third world, I don't see how it could be different for us.

The objection I'm familiar with re: minimum wage is that it will drive factory jobs overseas. Dunno about that, seems like it's not the minimum wage so much as the health and safety regulations, as well as paying for the benefits and the taxes involved. Drop the minimum wage, and it would still be more expensive to produce things here. What I'd like is to open the borders, permit any and all comers to immigrate. Look, if I have to compete with a Micronesian seamstress, I sure would prefer to fight for a job that pays $15 and hour with benefits than compete with her for a slave labor job at $3.00 an hour and company store prices. Bring 'em on, is what I say.

The companies could, you know, not pass the increased cost on to the consumer. That's a choice they make. They could just as well accept a lower profit margin -- well, except it's against the law. We have to get rid of the laws that require corporations to behave like psychopaths.

The other big reason to ship production over seas, especially to places like Indonesia, is that unions are either illegal, or extremely dangerous to join. I don't think that corporations should be allowed to re-import anything made in conditions where unions cannot function freely. It gives the corporation an unacceptably large advantage over the workers. It is not unreasonable, in my opinion, for my government to require that items being imported by American corporations, to meet reasonable health and safety requirements, and certain legal protections for its workers. The problem with this, I'm sure, is that it drives corporations themselves overseas. But does it, really? If it did, wouldn't they mostly already have gone? I don't understand that part of business at all, so maybe they really are on the line between staying and going and this could tip the scale. What are the advantages of being a corporation registered in the US, anyway?

I appreciate the informaion Doug has provided about the Marianas. I'm working on understanding it. That Delay is an evil motherfucker I have no doubt, and the Marianas is, alas, a small part of why I think so, but I also understand making a deal with the devil because he's the only one offering any deal at all. Do I blame Delay for the unfairness of the agreement? You damn betcha. Do I blame NMI for making the deal? Absolutely not. Did Delay do it out of the kindness of his heart? Don't make me laugh. Was it the best deal NMI could get? I don't know, but it sounds like it. I think we call this real-world politics.

If this were easy, we'd already have solved it.

#141 ::: Lin Daniel ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2005, 10:37 PM:

I don't shop at Wal-Mart because I don't like their policies, I don't like how they treat their employees, and I don't like how they treat me (all around here treat me like I should be grateful they have a store I can shop in). Having not shopped in Wal-Mart in several years, their policy towards customers may have changed. I will probably never know.

I will buy a "made in America" labeled product over others as they are often much better made and last longer. The short term expense vs. the long term expense, and I expect to live longer than the current fashions. When buying clothes, I check fabric and seams. I believe in frugality, not how inexpensively I can get something.

However, being as prices have risen while my paycheck hasn't nearly as much, I am finding myself doing without. Or shopping at thrift stores. Or making it myself. It is interesting to note to all home sew-ers, the fabric selveges these days also say "made in China." I also have no children, so I don't have to try to explain a political statement to a six-year-old who wants to know why everybody else has one and he doesn't.

#142 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2005, 11:47 PM:

"Let's try trickle-up economics."

Damn straight.

Right now the way that the American capitalist system keeps people spending is credit.

So, to higher wages, I'd add: Tighter credit, and incentives to save.

#143 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2005, 12:57 AM:

Ayse Sercan writes: My evidence for this is the "Support Our Troops" magnets -- there was a bit of a scandal when some reporters pointed out that they were made in China in sweatshops. Wal-Mart switched to having them made in NMI by slave labour -- sorry, "guest workers" -- with the "Made in USA" sticker, and kept the price the same. If they were really made under US labour laws, the cost would be somewhat more than twice what Wal-Mart charges for them.

Wow. More than twice the retail price for each magnet.

I just went to the Wal-Mart website, and the price they were quoting for those magnets is $9.35. You're telling me that if the workers making those magnets were paid U.S. minimum wages, the price would more than double?

That would imply that the labor involved in making one magnet is a little under two man-hours. I never knew how much skilled craftwork was involved in making those pieces of shit. I have new found respect for their owners— they clearly understand the value of fine workmanship!

#144 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2005, 01:26 AM:

Ooops. Wrong product. Apparently, Wal-Mart is selling a book called "Support Our Troops" and the cover is just an image of the damned magnet. I quoted the wrong price. Wal-Mart does not currently sell the magnets through their online store.

Here is someone claiming to sell the "original" Support Our Troops magnets. Their price is $1.50, but I've seen other stores quote prices up to $5.00.

The Wal-Mart web site doesn't appear to list the product, and I am not burning the gas to drive into fscking Daly City to go find out what is the current price on their in-store stock.

Nevertheless, I think the corrected price comes out to around six or seven magnets per man-hour. Still quite an impressive amount of labor, and I would never have guessed it could be such a labor intensive process.

Ayse Sercan has definitely convinced me of something here...

#145 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2005, 01:31 AM:

What do you do for a living? Besides breathing and eating, that is.

Well, after three years of unemployment I've just gotten a job doing phone support for wireless digital devices--cellphones, data cards, and the like. Not quite what I thought I'd be getting after a BA in History, a second BA in English, and an AA in Network Engineering, but honest work is honest work. Before that there were stretches as the manager of a one-hour photo lab, a bed-and-breakfast, purchasing agent and product researcher for a computer dealer, magazine editor (a surreal job since I did three issues before the co-owner disappeared with all the camera originals before publication and two weeks before Christmas) and so on...

#146 ::: Ayse Sercan ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2005, 02:12 AM:

I had a local printer price them out for me, and he quoted me $3 each for them to be made, in bulk (I asked him for the lowest possible price per unit, and how many units that would require me to buy; number of units was around 2000, if I recall correctly), and unbagged.

Wal-Mart in the Central Valley of California was selling them for $1; the clerk who I talked to claimed they were selling them at cost. Information from store clerks is notoriously wrong, though, so grab the salt shaker.

Yes, I'm aware that the difference between the prices is 200% and not 100%. I also didn't account for the bagging machine or manual bagging, boxing, or shipping. That's where I figure it evens out, because my local printer only has to deliver the stuff across town, and the sweatshop in the Marianas has to get the boxes on a container ship to Oakland and thence to the store.

#147 ::: aboulic ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2005, 05:43 AM:

Ayse Sercan wrote: people will shop at a place like Wal-Mart in order to save money on the things they buy. How much on average? $1000 a year, according to CNN, and they have every reasonable cause to believe that everything they buy there was made under inhumane conditions. So people are willing to sacrifice the knowledge that the goods they buy were made under humane conditions for $1000 a year.

I think there's a flaw in this statement. It assumes a choice.

I shop at Tesco/Sainsbury's and pretty eclusively buy from the white label, own brand, value/basics lines. (I don't have access to a Wal-mart, but I should think this is the closest UK equivalent, at least pricewise)

I do this becuase it's all I can afford. Nobody I know who has anything that could reasonably be defined as choices buys these products. Yet these value/basics ranges cover a huge proportion of types of products. Surely this must be because a lot of people have no choice but to buy the cheapest thing available?

After all, isn't 'buying the cheapest thing available' what the amounts of minimum wages, just-plain-low wages, welfare benefits, state pensions, student loans, etc, calculated on?

#148 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2005, 07:27 AM:

Thanks, Bruce... I guess I'll take the robots off the thread since it's back to real talk about economics now as opposed to defending the F/SF subculture. Thank goodness for that.

#149 ::: Juli Thompson ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2005, 10:55 AM:

On "This American Life" this weekend there is a segment about the Cambodian garment industry. It is the only one in the third world that has first world labor standards: paid overtime, maternity leave, medical care, etc. This has produced incredible benefits for the country. Each garment worker supports and entire extended family, pays school fees for relatives, etc.

Unfortunately, this was only true while Cambodian goods were getting preferential treatment as imports to the US. That treaty expired, and Congress is in no hurry to renew it. As a result, factories are moving to Vietnam, laying off workers, cutting back on benefits, etc. It was eye-opening and sad. Labor standards mean nothing in the international market. Price rules.

#150 ::: Daniel Boone ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2005, 12:05 PM:

Lydy asks: What is the point of a minimum wage that isn't even a living wage?

I don't know the answer to that (not being a minimum wage partisan) but the question seems to contain a buried assumption that all wage earners are heads-of-household or otherwise dependent on the wage earned. In actual fact, a great many minimum-wage employees are using their wage to supplement support from other sources (parents, family, etc.) while they learn job skills with which to command higher wages. One of the reasons not to set minimum wages "too high" is that when you do so, you price many new employees (who aren't looking for a primary income source and who lack the job skills to justify a higher wage, but who could really use an entry-level position where they'll be trained) right out of the market.

It's my impression that high unemployment rates among young adults in part of Europe are caused, in part, by wage standards that deter hiring inexperienced workers. If true, one reason for having a minimum wage that's not a living wage would be to avoid that particular social problem.

#151 ::: Ayse Sercan ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2005, 02:06 PM:

I do this becuase it's all I can afford. Nobody I know who has anything that could reasonably be defined as choices buys these products. Yet these value/basics ranges cover a huge proportion of types of products. Surely this must be because a lot of people have no choice but to buy the cheapest thing available?

My choice, when I was in the same position, was not to buy.

We're talking about cheap clothing, cheap household goods, so forth. When I was at or below minimum wage (in the US non-profits are exempt from minimum wage), I just did without. I find that even now that I have more money I can do without most of that most of the time; more expensive clothes provide a better value per dollar, and I don't really need anything more for the kitchen or household.

Back in those days, my family gave me cast-offs of some things, and I bought the rest of the things I wanted from the Salvation Army store. Most of those items survived just fine until a couple of years ago, when I got married and people gave me fancy new things, so I gave away the old ones. Some of the things I still have. (Of course, until about five years ago, some time after my last low-end job, I lived nowhere near a Wal-Mart, so this was less a personal moral choice than the only choice.)

But it was a choice. Not an easy one, but a choice. Sorry to sound unsympathetic, but I don't see why anybody has to buy household goods anywhere, much less at Wal-Mart.

#152 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2005, 02:07 PM:

Daniel, how many employers will provide training?

#153 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2005, 02:22 PM:

One of the reasons not to set minimum wages "too high" is that when you do so, you price many new employees (who aren't looking for a primary income source and who lack the job skills to justify a higher wage, but who could really use an entry-level position where they'll be trained) right out of the market.

Minimum wage is supposed to be the amount paid to an unskilled labourer. Dead rock bottom. Workers with job skills are theoretically supposed to command more than minimum. This should include those who gain those skills on the job.

If the job market in a region is such that skilled workers are offered no better than minimum, the problem cannot be solved by lowering or abolishing minimum standards. It's bigger than that.

We have minimum standards for quality of work performed and goods produced; I don't think it's a market-smashing monkey wrench to also set a base level of compensation tied to the amount needed to feed, house and clothe that worker.

#154 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2005, 03:25 PM:

It's so comforting to tell oneself that the people making ominimum wage aren't really supporting themselves on that. It's so comforting to tell oneself that people making minimum wage are on a lifetime ladder that will take them out of that category of jobs and into something more lucrative, something more respectable because clearly if one is comforted by this kind of thing one doesn't repect the work done by the people who grow the food that we eat, cook it in restaurants and private homes, wait on us, make many of the things we use, keep the restaurants and hotels and homes clean . . . yes, I'm aware there are places where people make more doing these jobs, but thwen they do, it's because of union or government action, not market forces.

Consider this: you go to a florist and you buy a bouquet. It's hard to buy one for under 30 dollars. The flowers were grown, harvested, and put into the bouquet by people making minimum wage or not much more -- or even, in the case of the farm workers, significantly less, sometimes. Consider this, too: each of those workers handles an immense number of flowers each day. There's a lot of money moving around, but where it isn't going is into the hands of the people who actually made your bouquet possible.

(why a bouquet? Because I'm bored with always using strawberries for my example. Maybe I'll do some other local crop next time)

The idea that these folks are not supporting themselves on this money is maybe one-third right. Because they tend to moonlight to the extent of childcare crisis, and they tend to be supporting more than themselves.

I've heard that priced-out-of-the-market crap before too, but you know, no matter how much 5you have to pay people, berries have to be grown, flowers have to be cut, apples have to be picked, floors have got to be washed, toilets have to be cleaned.

#155 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2005, 04:18 PM:

aboulic,

Wal-Mart own Asda. Ironically, however, Asdas are generally out of town, and therefore only accessible to people wealthy enough to drive there. Tesco's and Sainsbury's are competing with Asda on price, but have the edge in geography.

So yes, the analogy holds, but Wal-Mart is part of the equation too.

Daniel,

It's my impression that high unemployment rates among young adults in part of Europe are caused, in part, by wage standards that deter hiring inexperienced workers.

Any facts to back up the impression? Otherwise, it comes across as just another flavour of "commie Europe bad bad," which is the usual staple of free-market fans arguing against a social model they don't understand. (I'm not saying you're one of them - I don't know - but it's poor company you're keeping with that argument.)

#156 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2005, 04:42 PM:

Or another example: my first job was in electronics assembly, building LED displays for the early 4-function calculators (back when they were $200 machines), and getting $2.20 an hour (minimum wage was, IIRC, $1.80). At first, each digit had seven chips, plus one for the decimal point: an average worker could, using a pair of tweezers and a low-power microscope, build one calculator display an hour. A few months after I started, we started using chips which had all of the number except the decimal point on them, and production went up to ten displays an hour. (We didn't get a pay raise.) This was a job which paid decently well at the time, but it was dead-end. Now these jobs are in Asia, and they might still be getting $2.20 an hour.

#157 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2005, 08:16 PM:

Ayse Sercan: Yes, I'm aware that the difference between the prices is 200% and not 100%. I also didn't account for the bagging machine or manual bagging, boxing, or shipping. That's where I figure it evens out, because my local printer only has to deliver the stuff across town, and the sweatshop in the Marianas has to get the boxes on a container ship to Oakland and thence to the store.

Shipping is unbelievably cheap. I did the NESFA Press etc. load to Glasgow and back last summer; I was quoted prices as low as $70 per cubic meter dock to dock. Granted, some of that is probably rotten wages paid to shiphands -- but that was the rate for a fraction of one container, not for a serious load. I won't claim Wal-Mart's shipping costs disappear into noise level, but I expect they approach it.

#158 ::: Don Fitch ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2005, 11:14 PM:


[I don't think discussion of word usage is ever quite off-topic in this venue.]

Jonathan Shaw wrote "[...] I also learned about Slan and a new (to me) meaning of the word 'fen'".

Keep in mind, however, that "Carlos" (as so often happens when people attempt an alien jargon) might have been just a little off-pitch in his usage of "fen".

It was coined on the basis of "The plural of 'man' is 'men', therefore the plural of 'fan' is 'fen', right?" That seemed clever, if you were a reasonably bright teen-ager in the early 1940s. [As it happens, I was (for some mild flavor of "reasonably"), though I didn't discover Fandom, or this particular usage, until the late '50s.]

It may still have a slight bit of wry amusement value if used lightly and glancingly, and deserves a place in FanSpeak, but I don't think I know any long-time fans who use it regularly or when they're saying anything serious about fans. ("Fen are Slen" could not, in my considered opinion, readily be described as "serious".)

And this "Carlos" person was producing some seriously negative generalizations about fans. As with Sharyn McCrumb's _Bimbos of the Death Sun_, yes, I've encountered fans -- one or two of them -- who possess and display each of the negative characteristics mentioned. but as an ethnic/cultural stereotype it's so far from reality as to be silly. (Now, if "Carlos" had complained that fans are remarkably prone to express vigorous -- though not always firm, perfectly-founded, or permanent -- opinions on almost any topic, I'd have had to agree with him. Many of us tend, I think, to talk/write as part of the _process_ of learning, rather than reserving our words for expressing what we consider The Ultimate Truth.) Some people understand these things; some don't and probably never will.


#159 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2005, 03:24 AM:

Lucy: out of curiosity, would you know how much closer the revenue at (so-called?) farmers' markets comes to placing the means of production in the hands of the workers, so to speak? The prices aren't nec'ly lower than at the large chains, though at least the selection is almost all fresh seasonal local(ish) produce.

I suppose that even if the stalls are run by the owners of the farms/orchards rather than a direct crop-pickers' collective, at least the owners would (theoretically) be able to apply some of the increased profits to improve the wages and working conditions. On the other hand, if random people can just buy small truckloads of produce at wholesale prices, then that's very entrepreneurial of them but doesn't help as much.

#160 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2005, 03:49 AM:

Lucy, Kevin Drum write a piece a couple weeks ago that talks about a related concept. He notes that one outcome of the Minutemen taking their pseudo-fascist freak show to the Mexican border is that it's dramatically reduced the availability of farm laborers to the local ag businesses.

[...] As a PR exercise it worked great, and although the Minutemen themselves didn't accomplish much, the pressure they've put on the Border Patrol for the past year seems to have paid off: vegetable growers say they're likely to get only 22,000 workers for their fields this year, compared to the 54,000 they need. Tom Nassif, president of the Western Growers Association, explains why:
"There are just some jobs people don't want to do," Nassif said. "It's the most developed nation in the world using a foreign workforce, and people need to recognize that. We need to make them legal."

Jack Vessey [who runs a vegetable farm near El Centro] said he listed openings for 300 laborers at the state office of employment last week to prepare the lettuce fields for harvest. "We got one person," he said. "He showed up and said, 'I'm not going to do that.' "

Now that's an odd thing, isn't it? Immigration foes like Gilchrist insist that if we only cut down on the supply of Mexican farm workers, wages and benefits would go up and plenty of Americans would be available for harvesting our leafy greens. And yet, despite this year's severe shortage of Mexican labor, Vessey is apparently offering the same backbreaking work, brutal conditions, low pay, and nonexistent benefits that he always has. Likewise, Ed Curry, a chili farmer who has given up on employing legal workers because the H2A program has "too many snafus," says only that he would be willing to pay legal workers "a bit more" than he does now.
[...]

I think it's telling that farmers are telling reporters that they will let crops go unharvested before they will pay farm laborers a higher wage. It's probably true. They have to compete against farmers south of the border who can ship their products to U.S. markets. There's an upper boundary on the price they can charge for the harvested crop. At the same time, they apparently can't afford to pay the wages for laborers who live year-round in El Norte.

Sounds to me like homer planted the wrong crop, and ought to have to take it in the shorts. I could be persuaded otherwise, though...

#161 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2005, 04:19 AM:

It's happening here in the UK that thriving vegetable crops are not being harvested because the price the supermarkets are willing to pay is less than the cost of harvesting them.

It also happens that the supermarkets take a couple of months after delivery before they pay, and unsold stock is not paid for. Since the shelf-life is a couple of weeks, the farmer is paying (or losing) six weeks of bank interest.

And the supermarkets buy direct, not through the open markets.

They also seem to do an enormous amount of barely legal bribery ("campaign contributions") to fend off anti-trust investigations.

When I got out of farming, I sold my combine harvester. It ended up being exported to Cyprus. I don't know if it was broken for spares or overhauled for use there. Either way, the lower labour costs must pay for the shipping.

#162 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2005, 04:36 AM:

Dave Bell -- there's a similar story here in Oz. We have two major retailers (Woolworths & Coles-Myer, tho' both now own a large number of other brand-names of stores) who hold over 80% of the retail sales market.
The Big Two can "negotiate" extremely favourable supply agreements for themselves with primary producers, and if a food-maker (primary or 'value-added') tries to get better conditions, they will black-ban him/her, leaving very little chance for them to sell their goods at all. It's the Free Market, y'know.

#163 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2005, 06:17 AM:

I can't say anything general about farmers' markets because the structures of the kinds of small farms that do their business there vary so wildly. At the two I go to from time to time, I happen to know that there's one union farm (Swanton Berry Farm, which also grows artichokes and cole crops) -- it's not big, but in manages to grow especially excellent stuff and have union wages and conditions and still sell its product at a price just above the absolute middle. In other words, the premium for union conditions is low. The UFW puts it at 5 cents a basket, for strawberries.

Then there's a few collective farms, a lot of family farms -- and then "fanily farm" ranges from some old guys who've been scratching out a mess of green beans and a box of apples for fifty years on a pocket ranch at the edge of the Valley, to big outfits that employ in the range of a hundred guys and truck their stuff to farmer's markets all over the state. I don't know how they pay, comparitively.

As to the labor shortage caused by the Minutemen: my friend who works at a famous local "microbakery" says that he's heard of a labor shortage of undocumented workers, but he's not seen the slightest sign of it. From his observation, there's always a superfluity of people willing to work at minimum wage.

You're going to see a lot of planted and manipulated stories about labor shortages right now, because with the new bankruptcy law, the cuts in government services, etc. of the last few years, and twenty years of job exportation and "efficiency-enhancing" layoffs, there's not much more that can be squeezed out of the working class either legislatively (notice the Social Security thing went away: instead of privatizing it, they're having to settle for looting it) or through these other methods. They're also looking at a general aging of the citizen population -- if it weren't for immigrants and their children, by the way, California at least would have negative population growth right now -- and it's important to beef up the pool of people without rights or expectations. One, it's another way to pay less to have the work done: two, it's a way to defend against any possible resurgence of the labor movement (of which there are lots of tiny signs) or any other move to attempt to get a share of profits to the people who do the work.

But the whole thing is stupid: you harrass and starve your working class, and you end up with cheap labor, but a diminishing market . . .to srick with the agricultural sector, there's a term for it: eating your seed corn.

#164 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2005, 10:18 AM:

Is it my imagination or have people stopped referring to our system as an Information Economy?

#165 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2005, 10:25 AM:

Serge --

It's stopped being viewable as one, even through a thick haze of optimism.

Information economies bias towards measures of efficiency involving how difficult it is to find out what you ought to do. (A bunch of truck farmers who have rapid, accurate access to up-to-the-minute information on best practices, ecological tradeoffs, etc. are in an information economy every bit as much as the folks writing flight control software.)

The present economy biases towards wealth concentration. Efficiency is more or less defined as maximizing short term profit, which is not so much perverse as actively harmful.

#166 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2005, 10:30 AM:

So it wasn't my imagination, Graydon. Being a computer programmer, I always thought that this 'Information Economy' had the glow of BS to it - if I may mix my metaphor. I mean, information is great, but it has to relate to something tangible in the real world, and I never got the sense of that when this was the Big Thing.

#167 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2005, 11:05 AM:

Serge --

Well, no; the old-style cybernetics idea of building society a nervous system would certainly revolutionize the economy, but that's not what anyone with money was actually trying to do when "Information Economy" was a buzzword.

That buzzword was one of a bunch of things running cover for the idea of converting the economy from a machine to enable to the general prosperity to a machine to concentrate wealth.

#168 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2005, 11:12 AM:

'buzzword' sounds so much nicer than 'BS', eh, Graydon?

#169 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2005, 11:20 AM:

More that, having shoveled vast quantities of the literal article at an impressionable age, I don't find it a plausibly metaphorical substance.

Nor is actual bovine byproduct mendacious or useless, two characteristics I associate with buzzwords.

#170 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2005, 11:25 AM:

Speaking of the metaphorical BS as opposed to the useful one, and taking us back to DeLay, I read the following on CNN's site this morning:

"The Supreme Court said Monday it would consider the constitutionality of a Texas congressional map engineered by Rep. Tom DeLay that helped Republicans gain seats in Congress."

Could it be that the sh*t is finally hitting the fan for the Hammer?

#171 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2005, 11:29 AM:

Doubt it; if that Supreme Court that hears that case is the one with Scalito on it, it will more likely result in gutting the Voting Rights Act.

#172 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2005, 11:32 AM:

yeah, probably... I must have been having one of my episodes of optimism when I wrote that earlier post. Time to up my med's dosage.

#173 ::: Michael Bernstein ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2005, 03:03 PM:

Serge, you might find Varian and Shapiro's book 'Information Rules' informative and/or interesting. It's a somewhat pop-sci treatment of the economics of information from '99, and has aged rather well.

#174 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2005, 03:07 PM:

Thanks, Michael...

Ah, 1999... That year, I wasn't partying like it was 1999. Y2K was such fun. I can't wait for people to start worrying about what will happen when 2049 turns into 2050. Not.

#175 ::: Barry@yahoo.com ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2005, 03:33 PM:

Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 07:00 AM:

"Carlos, there's a difference between "income" and whatr money sticks at the end of the day."

"The figures suggest those sweatshop workers earn aroung $10,000 per year, but they buy from a company store to eat -- how do those prices compare -- and are paying off huge fees to employment agencies.

Which is better? $10000 for a year of 70-hour weeks, or $5700 for a year of 40-hour weeks?

The sweatshop makes the per capita figure look better. So what?"

Actually those figures imply nothing of the kind, any more than antebellum USA slave state per capita figures said much about the lives of slaves. And presumably with locked compounds, these workers were not exactly participating in a free market, except as property.


Not to mention how company stores and other trick can make one's paycheck turn negative, when all is said and done.

#176 ::: Michael Bernstein ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2005, 03:57 PM:

Serge, the next date people are starting to worry about is Tuesday, January 19th, 2038. That's when 32 bits will no longer be sufficient to store the number of seconds from noon on January 1st, 1970. Google '2038' for more info.

#177 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2005, 04:08 PM:

Oh yeah, Michael... Not to worry though. I'm SURE that the powers-that-be will assign all necessary resources to fix that built-in problem. (My sarcasm subroutine just ran out of memory.)

#178 ::: Michael Bernstein ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2005, 05:49 PM:

Meh.

Thankfully, Serge, this is less of a "programmer who wrote application code in a future-incompatible way to optimize use of memory" problem than y2k was. More precisely, the limitation is in operating systems and system libraries instead, not in the applications running on top of those systems, so I have every expectation that the epoch bug will be eradicated long before the deadline, as part of the normal transition to 64-bit and (eventually) 128-bit systems.

Also, note that this is not as widespread of a *storage* problem, as y2k was, since most date-related data is already stored as strings like '2005-12-12T00:39:57Z', which aren't really subject to this bug directly (although there is still an implicit y10k problem). Rather, this is a date/time recording and manipulation problem, which cases are easier to catch.

#179 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2005, 06:00 PM:

Ooo, I'm going to worry about Y10K!!!! What fun!

(By the time Y10K rolls around, I suspect our nanobiocomputers will have developed a culture of their own, and will be debating whether they "just evolved" or whether we, if we existed, intelligently designed them before destroying ourselves with unimaginable weapons...which, of course, turn out to be them. Hey, that's a story idea! If you steal it let me know, so I won't write it too.)

#180 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2005, 06:21 PM:

Switching from the year 2049 to 2050 is going to be q bit fun. For those who don't know, lots of mainframe programs dealt with Y2K without changing the date being stored. They kept the 2-digit year and assumed that, if the year is greater than 50, then the year's first 2 digits are 19, otherwise they're 20. And don't tell me we'll have ditched mainframe applications by the end of 2049. That's how we got into the Y2K situation in the previous century.

#181 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2005, 06:36 PM:

Unfortunately, Xopher, I don't think anybody would want anything that smacks of Y2K's nailbiting. Things could have been worse in 1999. We could have had robot maids to deal with.

#182 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2005, 10:47 PM:

I WANT MY ROBOT MAID NOW!

Actually, after the Glasgow worldcon we acquired a live-in computer tech/artist/domestic in a friend who was looking for a place to live. He's a fan, he does security for the celebrities at things like GenCon, he's very personable and efficient (he's whipping the household into a a much more efficient model...). And in our neighborhood it is a Good Thing to have a somewhat scary looking large man dressed all in black step out onto the porch in a way that even a casual observer knows He Lives Here.

He cooks good too. Not that we needed a fourth chef, but when the three of us that work 5/40, having someone go 'oh I'll cook tonight" (and you know it will be tasty, nutritious and plentiful) is a big added plus.

#183 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2005, 11:08 PM:

They have to compete against farmers south of the border who can ship their products to U.S. markets. There's an upper boundary on the price they can charge for the harvested crop.

According to the economics that rocketed up gasoline prices last summer, this should be nonsense; Mexico doesn't have the resources to radically increase production, so any loss of supply \should/ result in a higher price for the remainder, which should allow the farmers to offer better wages/conditions. Of course, that assumes that the words "free market" are more meaningful here than Dave Bell tells us they are in the UK.

I have some sympathy for people who actually own the land they work; but I understand they're decreasing in number. I have a smaller amount of sympathy for someone who manages land for someone else; it's his job if he lets costs exceed a low level. (Isn't absentee capitalism wonderful?)

wrt the Minutemen reducing labor availability: there was a story in today's paper that they've started photographing everyone who shows up at a certain Los Angeles street corner which has been a center for no-questions-asked day labor hiring, then posting the results on web sites; reportedly the hirers leave when they see the cameras. One hirer was quoted with the usual cliche about "work Americans wouldn't do". (Yes, that's not PC, but it's the way anyone who comes up with that line says it.)

#184 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2005, 11:59 PM:

a certain Los Angeles street corner which has been a center for no-questions-asked day labor hiring

Could be any corner in the neighborhood of (a) Home Depot; (b) Lowe's; (c) a lumberyard; (d) a concrete/masonry retailer. And at least some of those who hire a manuel can't afford to pay union scale, but can meet US minimum wage. The Minutemen might do more real good if they set up their cameras where the fake-ID vendors like to set up their contact locations.

#185 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2005, 11:59 PM:

"Mexico" doesn't control the Mexican produce that comes into US markets: US agribusiness does. Likewise, Chilean produce, Guatemalan berries, and so on.

Especially since NAFTA, but really before as well, the borders are completely permeable to corporations. It's not Latin Americans setting low wages, lousy conditions, bad environmental protections, and skimpy rights for workers in Latin America.

When Latin American governments decide it's time to enact a few labor laws, they have to expect major interference from the US: invasions, coups, harbors mined, disinformation campaigns, bribery, assassinations, even full-scale massacres from time to time . . .

#186 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2005, 01:13 AM:

For one earlier example of what happened when 20th-Century Americans attemped to rebel against an oppressive regime, read through the dozen or so pars starting with "The tragedy of Nicaragua was a highly significant case." about a quarter through Harold Pinter's Nobel Prize Lecture from last Saturday: Art, Truth & Politics

It didn't get any coverage at all in the reports of the prize-giving that I saw. They were mostly taken up with the Australian pair who'd established that stomach ulcers were bacterial in origin.

#187 ::: DaveL ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2005, 12:51 PM:

I'm SURE that the powers-that-be will assign all necessary resources to fix that built-in problem.

This seems over-the-top even for sarcasm. After all, "the powers-that-be" did manage to do the Y2K thing successfully, or was there a collapse of civilization I missed?

#188 ::: Per Chr. J. ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2005, 08:04 AM:

Lin Daniel wrote:

Every country who has tried the "born here but not a citizen" thing ends up with this non-class of people. They may have changed this since I last researched it, so if I'm wrong, please correct me.

I am not sure of the "every country" bit. My country, Norway, does (like a lot of European countries, but unlike the US) not have the general rule that all children born here become Norwegian citizens. The two main categories of citizenship cases are either being born to one or two parents with Norwegian citizenship, or applying as an adult for Norwegian citizenship (after turning 18) and after having lived for some years here (time spent as a minor counts) and filled certain other requirements. Additionally, we also have rules that children born in Norway and who have lived here ever since, have parents here who are eligible for permanent residence permit and cannot get their parents' citizenship because they do not live in their parents' country of origin, may receive Norwegian citizenship, because otherwise they would be stateless.

Admittedly, this is rather different from what I gather is the Japanese situation, in which I believe you have non-citizen minorities that span generations.

#189 ::: Malthus ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2005, 08:50 AM:

If we double the wages of sweatshop workers, and provide the benefits they would be entitled to under US labour law, the owners still need to make their profit (well, they still want to make their profit), so the cost of goods would go up at least as much as the increase in cost of production. If not more. Which would raise the cost to retailers, who would, of course, take their own profit out and pass the cost on to consumers.

- from Ayse's comment

The companies could, you know, not pass the increased cost on to the consumer. That's a choice they make. They could just as well accept a lower profit margin -- well, except it's against the law. We have to get rid of the laws that require corporations to behave like psychopaths.

- from Lydy's comment

Just wanted to say that, at least according to Microeconomics 101, the cost of goods would not increase as much as the cost of production. If the cost of goods goes up, the quantity sold goes down, and the net profit will decrease (well, assuming that the seller was at the market-dictated optimal price point for maximizing profits, before this sudden increase in expenses).

Basically, if your expenses go up, you can't suddenly start making more money if you were doing everything right to begin with.

What would happen would be that the prices would increase -- but not as much as the costs. The quantity sold would decrease, and the effect on the three sets of people in question (workers, sellers/ factory-owners and consumers) would be the following:

a) Workers get paid more, and have better conditions, but possibly the owners won't be willing to employ as many workers (to the extent that if it isn't profitable enough, they may simply close their factories -- for the Marianas, this would be very bad). On the other hand, they may still employ just as many workers, if previously, they were at max capacity for one reason or another.

b) Sellers get less profit, and are moving fewer units. They are also possibly employing fewer workers. Also, while they are "accepting a lower profit margin", it's not a matter of choice -- they are legally bound to pay their workers more, and then find the new optimal price point.

c) Consumers buy fewer units, and at a higher cost. N.B. This may have secondary social effects, as detailed in the Wal-Mart discussion above.

This is a very simplistic analysis, and really, it should be done with math and a decent set of data on the garment industry, but I think it's right. Anyone care to dispute me?

Warning: IANAE(conomist).

#190 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2005, 12:35 PM:

Yeah, Malthus, I care to dispute you. You're treating real-world labor conditions as spherical cows. And that's what all the right-wing economists do, and that's why they can construct these elegant theories and do beautiful math and come up with predictions that don't predict anything but their own cozy niche in society.

What actually happens when worker's wages rise and conditions are improved is quite variable and depends on a lot of extrinsic factors. I can think of some examples. When all the at-that-time industrialized world was in an uproar because vast armies of workers everywhere were demanding improvements in an organized and forceful fashion, rising wages and improving conditions came along with a huge increase in general prosperity and modernization. You canb argue about causation there, but I don't think it's simple, and I do think the two trends reinforced each other greatly.

Companies made tremendous profit during those years despite having lost several battles in the class war (the eight-hour day, the child labor laws, the occupational safety and health laws, early anti-discrimination laws, the minimum wage, pensions . . . I could go on and on).

In other situations other things happen.

Wal-Mart, by the way, is not performing as well as it was promised to do (in terms of profits). Costco, which treats its workers decently and has been making environmental and fair-trade adjustments, has great profits. As of the last I knew about it, which is maybe five months ago.

The real world isn't a tight little chain of logical consequences -- it's a vast, complex field of self-propelled actors and interacting forces and effects.

#191 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2005, 12:45 PM:

Wal-Mart, by the way, is not performing as well as it was promised to do (in terms of profits).

I saw it described as a choice between two Wal-Mart stores each with revenues of US$100 million, versus three stores each with revenues of US$80 million: the stockholders and management think that all three stores (in the same general area and thus all pulling from one set of shoppers) should all have the higher revenue. It doesn't work that way in the real world. And when they're competing against Costco and Target (and K-Mart) in an urban area, where Wal-mart is the new kid on the block, they will come up short.

#192 ::: Malthus ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 04:54 PM:

The real world isn't a tight little chain of logical consequences -- it's a vast, complex field of self-propelled actors and interacting forces and effects.

So... are you arguing that you actually can't make any statistical statements about the ensemble behavior of populations? Or is it simply economics that you have a problem with?

Addressing your specific comments: You are right. In the presence of a labor movement popular enough to actually change people's buying patterns, popular enough that a vast segment of the US population is actively concerned with workers' rights, yes, microeconomics can make no predictions.

Much as, say, PV = nRT does not apply to a gas which is not in thermal equilibrium (to make a strained analogy -- gas molecules are not "self-propelled actors").

However, several of the comments above have pointed out that this is presently not the case in the U.S. Apparently, concern over working conditions does not significantly affect buyer preference.

Under such situations and all else being equal, I stand by my statements above.

Wal-Mart falls specifically outside the realm of applicability, by the way. There currently is a large popular movement against Wal-Mart -- but there is not such a large movement against labor abuses in the Marianas. (And, IMHO, I do not see one developing. Whereas the average US citizen probably knows someone who worked in a WalMart, they most likely do not know someone from the Marianas, much less someone forced to work in a sweatshop there).

Finally, "all the right-wing economists" tend to make statements about more macro- than micro- economics (all the left-wing economists do it too). Regimes where there are a lot more variables in play. I am talking about a specific market, my only variables are cost-per-item to produce, number of items produced and sold (I am assuming wastage is relatively insignificant), and cost-per-item to buy.

All I am saying is that, in this specific market, if an external influence increases the cost-to-produce (for example, by forcing an improvement to worker conditions and/or salaries), then the cost-to-buy will go up -- but not as much. In addition, the number of items produced and sold will drop.

And this all holds true if and only if we assume the system is in a rough equilibrium.

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