2 Responses to Shutting Down the Slumdog to Save Him

  • John Henry says:

    This is the classic sweatshop dilemma: people wouldn’t take these jobs unless they were better than the alternative, but they are awful jobs nonetheless. My first inclination is to say: ‘regulate them out of existence!’ But, as you note, taking away people’s only opportunity for employment is an odd way to go about helping them.

    At the same time, I think it’s morally unacceptable to turn a blind eye and say ‘the market will sort it out…eventually’. I think the best answer, as Blackadder would say, is ‘first, do no harm’. It’s not enough to want to make people’s lives better if in fact they are harmed by our actions. But, as the post suggests, there are a lot of prudential questions raised by these type of situations that don’t lend themselves to easy answers. I favor a via media between job-destroying regulation and a dogmatic trust in markets, but in the end this is a very fact-specific inquiry in any individual case, with plenty of room for honest disagreement.

  • The rationalist side of my mind would say, “Regulate the jobs away, and make assistance available if necessary. After all, a little money goes so far with these people.” But I think there’s a human cost to taking away someone’s livelihood which goes beyond the amount of money involved.

    In many ways, we’re very lucky in the US that there wasn’t some much richer country to come in and look at us as we struggled with these kinds of conditions 100+ years ago. It left our dignity intact, and that’s worth a lot. Sometimes more than a life.

    I suppose my ideal situation would be getting hold of the money to put real factories with real safety regimes into the slums _right now_ doing the same work, so that those people could have better jobs doing the same work. But it’s not that simple because that kind of systematization would create more efficiency, which would mean not as many people would get a piece of the pie. Though I suppose with more efficiency would come the money to buy more goods and services.

    Which circles back to: It’s complex and I’m glad there was no one watching as we went through these stages.

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