The Protectionist Case for Free Trade

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The fight for the Central American Free Trade Agreement, which plugs free trade in name if not in fact, is not going particularly well. Today's Washington Post reports that pro-CAFTA-ites, in addition to buying House votes with pork and sucking up to the sugar industry, are promising that more trade with Central America is the best way to stick it to China. In yesterday's Wash Times, one William R. Hawkins explored the China-CAFTA connection in an anti-China, anti-CAFTA rant:

[House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill] Thomas promised a vote before CAFTA on a bill by Rep. Phil English, Pennsylvania Republican, that includes some "anti-Chinese" provisions. There is to be increased monitoring of Chinese intellectual property theft, a Treasury definition of currency manipulation and the application of countervailing duty law to "nonmarket economies" on a case-by-case basis.

Earlier this week, Jeff Taylor reported on pro-CAFTA forces in North Carolina.

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  1. Does Central America tend to treat its laborerers better or worse than China?

    That is the real moral issue lurking here.

    It is bad enuf that people are suffering in the world. But I become the baddie when I exploit their suffering for my own material gain.

    Everyday low prices, sure, but the wages of sin is death.

  2. Not “exploiting” them is an even worse sin.

  3. No. Not exploiting them is a lesser sins because at least you do not enjoy ill-gotten comforts that way.

    Using our collective leverage as a market to set up the system where they can’t be exploited too badly is the non-sinnin’ way to go here.

  4. But I become the baddie when I exploit their suffering for my own material gain.

    If you think giving someone a job is exploiting their suffering for your own material gain, then you are truly, truly lost.

  5. RCD,
    Slavery is a job, too. Go back to Terra.

  6. Nice scare quotes, MP. I guess there is no way for an employee to actually be exploited.

  7. The scare quotes are meant to combat the notion that conducting trade with a country whose wages are far lower than ours implies exploitation. This is clearly Dave W.’s implication. If you want to talk about a specific instance of employee explotation, then I’ll be happy to address it. But it is a fallacy to infer that open trade with poorer countries implies exploitation.

  8. MP,

    El Salvador, Guatemala, Hondorus, Nicaragua, and other Latin American countries have long histories of using death squads to squash workers’ rights. China…let’s just agree that working conditions in China aren’t what they should be.

    Why would you assume that a lower market-produced local wage scale was the only “moral issue” David W was concerned about?

  9. “Using our collective leverage as a market to set up the system where they can’t be exploited too badly is the non-sinnin’ way to go here.”

    And of course, Dave, by “using our collective leverage” I assume you mean the government telling me what I can buy and who I can buy it from, right?

  10. Hear, hear, joe!

    The issue at hand is the role of authoritarian government in setting the rules for the labor market to the disadvantage of labor, and the extent of Western corporate collusion with such governments.

    Congratulating oneself for “giving” somebody a job under such conditions reminds me of Harry Browne’s quip about government breaking your legs and “giving” you crutches.

    A lot of the unemployment in such countries, by the way, stems from feudal land ownership. Governments collude with landlords in evicting peasants from the means subsistence and forcing them into the labor market, and then the sweatshops are nice enough to “give” them jobs. Work is only something you’re “given” when somebody’s in a position to rope it off and charge access to it.

  11. Good points as usual Kevin.

  12. matt-
    Dave W. can answer for himself, but I think “collective leverage” could mean not buying stuff made in say China. Whether such an effort as a private scale would effect labor practices in a target country is dubious to me. The only immediate effect is I feel better. I’m fine with that.

    I’m don’t have a Boycott Red China sticker on my car, but if I can buy an item made in China and a similar item made in say Malawi for a few bucks more, I go with Malawi because Malawi could use the business more.

  13. If that’s what he means Herman, then I have no problem at all. But often when I see someone advocating “collective leverage” or “collective action” that’s usually code wanting the government to get involved (even more than it already is).

  14. And of course, Dave, by “using our collective leverage” I assume you mean the government telling me what I can buy and who I can buy it from, right?

    The gov’t already says that you cannot buy things made by domestic slaves. Same principle. Or are you another one of those secret slavery sympathizers?

  15. Slavery is a job, too.

    Not in my book. A job is something for which you are paid. You can look it up! (www.dictionary.com)

    The issue at hand is the role of authoritarian government in setting the rules for the labor market to the disadvantage of labor, and the extent of Western corporate collusion with such governments.

    As a good lib, I of course decry authoritarian meddling in markets.

    I question, however, whether the people who live under such governments are made better off if we refuse to do business with them. Is refusing to invest in their country or hire them better than the only real alternative?

    By real alternative, of course, I mean continuing to live under the same authoritarian government, only with fewer economic opportunities. If someone can give me an example of an authoritarian brought low by an embargo, I would love to hear about it.

    With the examples of Cuba and (until recently) Iraq in mind, refusing to do business in authoritarian countries apparently does little to hurt the bad guys, while increasing the misery of the masses.

    While nothing is absolute in human affairs, I would be willing to defend the proposition that more trade, like lower taxes, is always a good thing.

  16. Oh, and I was using “exploit” in the economic sense. It is a shame that this useful value-neutral word lost its value neutral status along the way. All employtment is exploitation and there ain’t nuttin’ wring w/ that. Hopefully economists can fashion a replacement word for me to use in these contexts.

  17. RCD: where do you think slaves got their food and shelter from? Whatta dumb argument.

  18. RCD’s genius loophole:

    Give Zutroy a shiny penny each week and he is magically no longer a slave.

  19. Herman, I suspect it’s impossible to find alternatives to some Chinese products. Too many electric/electronic parts come from there, like your computer components, so good luck finding non-Chinese widgets at Radio Shack.

    Brooks Bros still makes their clothes in the US (Queens?), though, as I learned on Made in America with John Ratzenberger.

  20. poco-
    It’s very tricky to find not made in China alternatives to some products. I make a small effort and felt good this past winter when I bought a pair of headphones made in the Phillipines instead of the many made in the PRC.

    Yeah, it’s rather self-righteous, but I just think of the spreading business and encouraging competition.

    RCDean-
    Apartheid era South Africa is sometimes cited as a case of a successful boycott target, though I don’t think they were authoritarian as much as they were a discriminatory republic. Then again, lots of people were claiming during Apartheid that the embargo wasn’t well enforced.

    Would love to take the time to see if any of the “see embargo beat SA” people were the same as the “it’s not being enforced” people.

  21. unexploited columbian child works 14 hours picking coffee beans (if we’re lucky) by hand for just enough to get a couple of bananas and maybe one coke a month.

    exploited columbian child works in a steamy ass factory 10 hours a day for $2/hour, has hope of some variety in diet, and possibly a couple more hours a day to teach himself something here or there. body is less stressed, so general health is better, and he may be able to save enough for a new 16″ TV after a few months.

    unexploited columbian’s kids? in the fields picking coffee beans.

    exploited columbian’s kids? probably go to school.

    i think i’m in favor of exploitation.

  22. I realize that hardcore libertarians aren’t really concerned about minor, non-market issues like U.S. sovereignty, but here are some interesting links:

    “CAFTA Should Be Rejected Just Like The EU Constitution”

    “CAFTA: More Bureaucracy, Less Free Trade”

  23. sucks that a trade off (get it?) has to made here. shouldn’t be that way. but we’re all better off with overregulated trade than in its absence.

  24. which, btw, doesn’t mean ron paul’s not right – just that from a pragmatist point of view, that’s what we are presented with.

  25. rox_publius,

    Are you certain the “unexploited” child isn’t in fact working for Folgers or Maxwell House? My point is, we don’t really know what labor is like in any of the countries that we buy stuff from, and most of us don’t care.

  26. rox, please re-read Kevin Carson’s comments. Then read some Hernando De Soto. Then let us know “unexploited” rural laborers are in Columbia.

    matt, the problem with “let the people who don’t want to do business with China boycott them, and let everyone else buy what they will” is that the exploitation of workers by the Chinese government drives prices so low that those who buy their goods have a huge competitive advantage, which corporations can use to leverage their more ethical competitors out of the market, and which will simply keep the Beijing government’s exploitation so profitable. Because of this, the only trade practices that stand a chance of having an impact on China are those that don’t allow the least responsible lead a chargeo to the bottom.

    It is a thorny problem, but the eager glee with which most libertarians throw their hands in the air, declare it unsolvable, and keep putting profits in the hands of the Beijing government’s friends makes it clear that you don’t really want to solve it.

  27. i think i’m in favor of exploitation.

    In your hypothetical, I am in favor of the exploitation as well.

    It is just that I want a more solid evidentiary basis that things are really are as you describe. Or, more preferably, we should write rules into CAFTA to *ensure* that things are as you describe. the conditions of the exploitation to the laborer should be significantly better than her life absent any exploitation. Otherwise, it is making money off the poor and vulnerable and that ain’t right.

  28. Dave, your desire for solid evidence is admirable, but it again seems that you are incapapble of any action or position without having 100% full knowledge.

    We don’t have perfect “proof”. We can’t force things to work the way we want them. In general, I have to believe that a foreign child working for an American company is better off than a kid who isn’t working.

  29. Because of this, the only trade practices that stand a chance of having an impact on China are those that don’t allow the least responsible lead a chargeo to the bottom.

    And, yet, we don’t see a charge to the bottom. We never see a charge to the bottom.

    When the United States started “exploiting” workers in Taiwan, it was a dictatorship. It is now a thriving liberal democracy. When the United States started “exploiting” workers in South Korea, it was a dictatorship. It is now a thriving liberal democracy. When the United States started “exploiting” workers in Cuba, it… um… scratch that one.

  30. Rox:
    So when said Colombian is fed up with bad working conditions and tries to organize with his fellow employees, and the company invites/encourages/turns a blind eye to the right wing paramilitary thugs murduring/threatening/torturing anyone daring to organize … would that be considered exploitation?

  31. Stretch,

    I don’t even think we are curious. that is a problem. I understand the little game that if we make the laborer’s life one iota better, then we have done her a favor in some sense.

    I think that is a moral trap for the unwary. I think we need, as a matter of morality, to normalize that iota against the margins that the kid’s labor kicks back to fatcat shareholders and middle class WalMart shoppers.

    Obviously we will never have perfect data on this, and I certainly don’t have accptable minimum numerical thresholds for:

    (utility to laborer) / (utility to shareholders + utility to US customers)

    However, there are people right here on this thread basically refusing to acknowledge the moral issue or aggressively trying to minimize. Bad attitude. Evil. Not what St. Peter will want to hear from you on that day.

  32. makes it clear that you don’t really want to solve it

    You’re right. I don’t. And I don’t want to personally take responsibility for solving the women’s rights and democracy issues in the middle east. That doesn’t mean I approve of them. And that doesn’t mean that I will intentionally act in ways that encourages moral views I disagree with. But I also believe that on balance, freer trade tends to empower the individual to solve these issues on their own.

    Of course, my allegiance to free trade shouldn’t blindly lead me to accept anything labled as free trade, as lonewacko points out. But Dave W. does not appear to be attacking specifics in CAFTA, but simply the general idea of expanding trade with the CAFTA nations.

    And Dave W., no amount of treaty rules are going to ensure the existence of a fair and open marketplace in third world countries. The more rules, the less likely that anything will be accomplished.

  33. “In general, I have to believe that a foreign child working for an American company is better off than a kid who isn’t working.”

    So that’s the standard – anything better than a Brazilian street kid who huffs glue to fight off the hunger pangs?

    Mike P, what makes you so certain American companies were exploiting workers in Taiwan? You seem to be working awfully hard to ignore the difference between paying workers a decent (local) wage for working a decent job, and paying them crap wages under the watchful eye of a guy with a stick.

    I would suggest that the different practices of employers in South Korea, Japan, and Tawain vs. those of employers in El Salvador, Hondorus, and Guatemala, have resulted in much more favorable economic, political, and social conditions in the former (more decent, more regulated) countries than in the latter.

  34. And Dave W., no amount of treaty rules are going to ensure the existence of a fair and open marketplace in third world countries. The more rules, the less likely that anything will be accomplished.

    I disagree. here is a practical way to change things with regulation:

    red tags go on all merch from countries that treat labor worst

    yellow tags for merch from countries that treat labor somewhat good

    Green tags for countries that do at least okay vis-a-vis labor.

    Then let the market decide. I guarantee you that third world countries will respond by doing whatever it takes to maximize sales in a world where consumers have this basic, low threshold level of info.

  35. whoops, errrr, maximize “profits” of course I meant

  36. And who designates the tag color? Oh, I know, the great omniscient impartial bureaucrat who is never going to succumb to political influences.

  37. MP,
    None of the cynical ones on this thread get a say in designating color. I nominate Joe because he seems to have more decency. He also probly wouldn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good here.

  38. When the United States started “exploiting” workers in Cuba, it… um… scratch that one.

    No, don’t scratch that. Things haven’t changed in Cuba because of a stupid trade embargo. We encouraged trade with the other countries you listed. All because they tried to help another country blow us off the face of the earth 40 years ago. Pretty silly, huh? (Okay, not that silly, but it should still be lifted.)

  39. Free trade stops wars! Everything else is bullshit.

  40. Of course, the worst red tag countries will probably be motivated to get worse and worse each compliance period. But that just means that RCD will die with that many more toys.

  41. Funny. I was going to write a sarcastic post along the lines of:

    Oh, but David W., making such distinctions would entail a degree of subjectivity. Sigh, I can only, with great regret (because I really, really care about the working conditions of my fellow human beings) conclude that there’s just no way to solve this problem, as much I really, really would like to see it solved. And since I care so very much about workers in Myanmar, I’m going to go buy the cheapest yard rake I can find, so that their parents can afford the bandages for their lash marks.

    But, as usual, no matter how cynical I get, I can’t keep up.

  42. Joe:

    all regs entail a degree of subjectivity. Why so problemmatic here? Fuck that rake.

  43. Don’t you see, David, that just proves that there shouldn’t be any regulations at all.

  44. that just proves that there shouldn’t be any regulations at all.

    Now we’re getting somewhere.

  45. joe:

    It’s a fucked up situation, no doubt. But I don’t think more laws restricting the flow of goods will solve the problem. I would enthusiastically favor repealing current laws and ending corporate welfare that helps fuel “western corporate collusion with authoritarian governments” (to borrow a phrase from Kevin Carson upthread).

  46. Geez, I tried to keep the granularity (3 levels) and consequences (wooooooo! COLORED tags) at low levels so that the plan is reasonably do-able and with some integrity.

  47. I would suggest that the different practices of employers in South Korea, Japan, and Tawain vs. those of employers in El Salvador, Hondorus, and Guatemala, have resulted in much more favorable economic, political, and social conditions in the former (more decent, more regulated) countries than in the latter.

    I would suggest that, too. I would further suggest that, in general, societies where there is more economic freedom and less coercion are wealthier. I would suggest that the employers in those societies are better off as well.

    But I would also claim that restricting the opportunities for trade with those nations doesn’t help anyone. In particular, decreasing the available capital dollars — especially dollars from first world companies whose investors and customers care about working conditions — doesn’t make any worker better off.

  48. matt, it is surely fucked up. And it’s just as irritating to hear certain unionists throw up their hands and say that, regrettably, there just isn’t any solution that allows American capital to go into China and grow that desperately poor country’s economy, as much as they’d really, really love to see that happen.

    But just buying the goods produced there is “western collusion.” If you get to buy a tote bag really, really cheap because it, ah, fell off a truck, yeah that’s it, then you’re colluding with the theives.

  49. “I would suggest that the employers in those societies are better off as well.” That’s absolutely not true, MikeP. Whether we’re talking about United Fruit or textile tranzis, the “employers” in Central American countries, the ones who turned the death squads loose, were among the wealthiest and most powerful people in the world.

    “But I would also claim that restricting the opportunities for trade with those nations doesn’t help anyone.” You make it sound as if something in the Chinese water makes the incapable of treating their workers decently, even if they wanted to. As if a carrot and stick trading system that openned markets in response to improvements, and thus made more humane conditions more profitable, would be doomed to failure because employers in the developing world are incapable of pursuing profits when doing so includes treating people humanely.

  50. Dave W.,

    Do you remember “Made in the USA!”? Do you remember the problems with that? They couldn’t even decide what was “Made in the USA”! Did it have to be manufactured here? What % of the parts/material had to be made here? Did all workers have to be US citizens? Red, yellow, & green tags…uh-huh…give me a break.

  51. Sigh, figuring out whether workers are allowed to organize, have potty breaks, and breath healthy air is HARD! There’s no way for the government to do that. As much I’d really, really like to see it done.

    But oh, by the way, individual consumers are pefectly capable of doing so on their own, and that’s the solution you bleeding hearts should be pursuing.

  52. You’re right joe. We should forcefully impose our OSHA led regulatory machine (which does such a fine job here *cough cough*) on every country in the world. And we should do this without acting as an imperialist state. Uh-huh.

  53. Do you remember “Made in the USA!”? Do you remember the problems with that? They couldn’t even decide what was “Made in the USA”! Did it have to be manufactured here? What % of the parts/material had to be made here? Did all workers have to be US citizens? Red, yellow, & green tags…uh-huh…give me a break.

    Don’t remember, except for the pen I had. I am sure they did a crappy job. They had the luxury of making mistakes because there was not a burning moral issue in the background. Now there is, so its different.

    On to the more important issue of how to handle the issues you helpfully flag:

    1. The product gets the tag based on the worst nation that contributed a component, labor or raw material in any quantity no matter how small.

    2. Citizenship doesn’t matter at all in my scheme. The situs of raw materials and assembly do. We already know where this stuf comes from. That is why the embargoes of disfavored nations are so effective.

    3. By default, every mfgr in a nation gets the same color tag. That way mfgr’s will have an incentive to petition their fellow mfgr’s or gov’ts (as applicable) to improve things in time for the next evaluation period.

    Your objections are trivial, but let’s keep going til we have answered them all.

  54. And besides, if you think the whole thing is a subjective sham when it gets implemented, then you can easily opt out thru colorblind shopping.

    It is not like I am suggesting that any trading be stopped or slowed. that is a bigg part of the beauty of my scheme. It is completely free trade.

  55. MP,

    I’ve used the term “local” throughout this thread when discussing working conditions, and explicitly distinguished lower wages resulting from lower market-based wage ranges and lower wages resulting from government-facilitated wage supression, throughout this thread.

    Sigh, I’d really like to see improvements in working conditions around the world, but you can’t just impose the workplace standards of advanced post-industrial economies on developing nations. I’m forced to conclude, therefore, that there can’t possibly be any standards at all that could be incorporated into trade deals, because as much as I honestly try to answer the question, I just can’t come up with any possible way to establish any locally-appopriate workplace and wage protections.

  56. Another integrity enhancing measure is to make sure that the people who assign tag color do not know the true identities of the nations they are ranking. Double blind. Like a scientific study!

  57. Sorry, joe/Dave W., it appears that the thread has become exclusively a statist vs. laissez-faire argument. I’ll simply have to agree to disagree and bow out now.

  58. Joe,

    Why can’t you just normalize the local average wage against the local price of a decent meal?

    As far as less-directly-economic stuf like potty breaks and gentler beatings, I do not think local conditions, however abyssmal, should matter.

  59. MO,
    Color tagging is a pretty weak form of statism. Or am I the laissez-faire voice here?

  60. Why can’t you just normalize the local average wage against the local price of a decent meal?

    I mean, if your wages (and benefits) can buy way more food than you can consume, then this stat probly don’t mean much. However, if most of a laborers wages would be expected to be used to to buy food, then this seems like a pretty reasonable way to evaluate a nation’s labor sitch.

  61. 1. The product gets the tag based on the worst nation that contributed a component, labor or raw material in any quantity no matter how small.

    I have in mind a nation that mistreats its poorest workers so badly that scores die every year trying to evade the national police who are forcibly keeping them away from their jobs. Poor workers are forbidden to earn a living wage if it is below a preset minimum set by the national authorities.

    Furthermore, in this country the wealthiest agricultural interests are actually paid by the government to throw perfectly good crops away to keep food prices higher than they would otherwise be for its poorest citizens. In fact, industrial interests in this country have made it such that something as basic as sugar costs workers twice what it costs in other nations.

    What color tag should this country receive?

    Also, since this country is the wealthiest country in the world, it makes capital contributions to the components of a great many products throughout the world. Does its tag color accrue to all those other products too?

  62. In other words, if a nation is so desparately poor that mfgrs can get away with paying laborers only enough for food and shelter, the foreign capital isn’t really helping the poor in the long run — it is just perpetuating a slave class. By normalizing wages against food and shelter, we can figure out whether we are in a range where the foreign capital would actually be helping.

    As wages shoot way past nutritional and shelter requirements, we would only then look at other things, like maybe cost of medicine (if we still even needed to look at all once things got that good internationally and the moral issues correspondingly reduced in urgency).

  63. I have in mind a nation that mistreats its poorest workers so badly that scores die every year trying to evade the national police who are forcibly keeping them away from their jobs. Poor workers are forbidden to earn a living wage if it is below a preset minimum set by the national authorities.

    It is the people who own the mfgr plant that have the money. That is who the police should be focussing on and negotiating with, rather than pursuing this kittens in a blender approach. Mfgrs can be fined and restitution can be made, so long as there is sufficient incentive for a gov’t to appraoch the problem in that sensible way.

    These employee-baiting, employer-coddling nations can be red tagged until they learn this important lesson. More importantly, this is the only way that these nations will learn that lesson.

  64. Tag color follows raw materials and components, not the manipulable vagaries of corporate entities.

    That is one of those don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good things.

  65. “I have in mind a nation that mistreats its poorest workers so badly that scores die every year trying to evade the national police who are forcibly keeping them away from their jobs.”

    Cute, but complete bullshit. The differences we’re talking about in the case of wagers for workers in developing nationa are on the order of a dime or two per hour per worker, if that. Nike’s not going to significantly reduce its workforce over that, any more than the first minimum wage laws produced the massive unemployment your Progressive Era double confidently asserted they would. Their labor costs are a small fraction of their overall costs, and the marginal increases we’re talking about would barely be a ripple.

  66. David W., Mike’s example draws on illegal sweatshops in the United States. He’s pretending that impressed workers paying off debts to snakeheads, who cannot seek even minimum-wage jobs under threat of murder, imprisonment, or deportation, are a relevant proxy for employees in legal businesses in the developing world.

  67. impressed workers paying off debts to snakeheads, who cannot seek even minimum-wage jobs under threat of murder, imprisonment, or deportation

    Whatever that means:
    1. If it doesn’t happen then no problem; and
    2. If it does happen, color tagging can help incentize the private and/or gov’t sectors to fix it to the extent it is fairly considered as an employment conditions problem.

  68. “I have in mind a nation that mistreats its poorest workers so badly that scores die every year trying to evade the national police who are forcibly keeping them away from their jobs.”

    Cute, but complete bullshit.

    Yes, the order of magnitude of my examples is lower than that of the examples you are bringing up. Nonetheless, it does matter to the Guatemalan who does not have the alternative of freely coming to the US and getting paid higher wages by people who want to employ him here.

    But another point is that my four examples were all produced by the political system of the US. Those were put there either to protect middle class workers from their poorer and more disadvantaged brethren or to protect wealthy industrial interests outright.

    How will this tagging scheme — or indeed any scheme for nationally recognizing poor working conditions — not be shaped and twisted by the same political processes? It seems to me that, in any event, market and labor conditions will change much faster than any distant political or regulatory process can track.

  69. “Yes, the order of magnitude of my examples is lower than that of the examples you are bringing up. Nonetheless, it does matter to the Guatemalan who does not have the alternative of freely coming to the US and getting paid higher wages by people who want to employ him here.”

    If I didn’t know any better, I’d say that you were admitting that the wages being paid to the workers in a factory actually could be tracked, and that you’re “impossibility” objection is a smokescreen for your objection to having wage standards. Good thing I know better.

    “It seems to me that, in any event, market and labor conditions will change much faster than any distant political or regulatory process can track.” Why distant? We’re talking about inspectors in the shops, looking around and asking questions.

    Building codes can’t keep up with building practices, either. Nonetheless, a building inspector is perfectly capable to deciding when a structure is sound, when it’s going to need work soon, and when he needs to order everybody out.

  70. joe,

    Do you own your residence? I’ve never met a property owner who has anything but contempt for local building inspectors.

  71. I do. I’ve also worked with a lot of building inspectors.

    Homeowners who get caught doing work without a permit tend to have contempt for building inspectors, but it really has nothing to do with the inspectors’ knowledge of construction.

  72. it really has nothing to do with the inspectors’ knowledge of construction

    Very true. The inspectors are normally simply enforcers of the overbearing zoning boards that they work for. I just found it humourous that you would use building codes as your comparative model for good regulations in action. My anecdotal experience does not leave me with a high (or even a kinda ok, or even only slightly icky) impression of building regs.

  73. No, no! Not building codes – building inspectors, checking for structural integrety.

    Gad, don’t get me started on building codes.

  74. How will this tagging scheme — or indeed any scheme for nationally recognizing poor working conditions — not be shaped and twisted by the same political processes?

    Of course, you could make the same objection to the pre-emptive war doctrine. Since the US voter is behind that, I don’t see why they would perceive this as a problem when we are talking tags rather than body bags. Also, unlike Iraq in the Iraq War, every country would get an effective do-over every year or two as they clean up (or don’t) their respective acts.

    However, the BEST, BEST, BEST feature of my scheme is that it does not forbid any conduct on either the mfgr or the customer side.* How un-FDR-like! How un-OSHA! Consumer choice kept perfectly intact, while consumer information is enhanced! If that don’t blow yer libertarian mind ya better make sure its still there. In view of this, so what if the scheme suffers some imperfections? — you can still run out to WalMart and get your red tag stuf, unless and until you personally perceive the rankings to be fair. One dollar, one vote in the ongoing referendum on the quality of the rankings.

    You compare my scheme to some corrupt union project implemented by some corrupt union in the malaise of the 70s. Hogwash. The close analog is the requirement that ingredients be printed on food. Sure, those requirements aren’t perfect, but: (1) people know they are important; and (2) people keep this system honest, at least to the degree that it helps more than it hurts.

    HThere is also an important secondary advantage of my plan. Once the tags come into existenz, then we can have a dialog, as a society, about whether they are correct. Specific ways in which the rankings are unfair. Specific knowledge about the real conditions, rather than a buncha idle speculation. As of the right now we all seem to be content to be a buncha Scarlett O’Hara’s livin’ large on Tera, oblivious to our moral positioning. I want to preserve the freedom, but nix the obliviousness. My plan does this.

    FOOTNOTE:

    * Well, it forbids tagless sales, but thats trivial.

  75. I think building codes would be better if they merely tagged buildings, at least with respect to the more minor “violations.” The the parking lot maker can make his poorly graded and spaced lot, get his red tag and I the driver can decide whether to park there (or in the more expensive green lot across the street).

  76. Ladies and gentlemen, Dave W’s posts have been determined to be red-tag-worthy.

  77. btw. the restaurants in Los Angeles use this tagging system. Grades A, B or C depending on cleanliness. My perception is that the system, while I am sure it is subject to some abuses, is on the whole a good thing and does create some competition in cleanliness that would not otherwise exist.

    My wife says that the system is good, except that the cleanliness-performance threshold for each grade is not set high enough.

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