Apparently, Mr. Daisey is an actor, author, commentator and playright. Perhaps I should have heard of him too.
He’s getting shouty about this, saying that I’m a racist neoliberal who knows nothing about the issue and therefore I should shut up.
Just as a little stylistic note:
We have no idea what the actual suicide rate is at Foxconn—we only know a large number of people were throwing themselves off of the roof of the workplace, again and again.
People who throw themselves off a roof again and again are not commiting suicide, they are bungee jumping. Suicide by leap is a one time deal not something repeated: perhaps this is why I have not heard of Mr. Daisey as an author or playright.
Now let us take his arguments in order:
Yes, conditions are terrible across the entire Special Economic Zone.
Are they? Isn’t that something that has to be proven, not asserted? And terrible compared to what?
I do love that he said it, because it makes it so clear to refute: these are not just “poor people living in a poor country”. This is the economic engine in which all of our devices are made—we created that revolution over there, and we exported and created those jobs.
No, not quite: the Chinese themselves stopped having an economic system which denied the possibility of creating those jobs. They abandoned Maoist idiocy back in 1978 or so.
When we look at what the conditions are in the SEZ we need to look at, well, compared to what? Compared to China outside the SEZ? Compared to China before the SEZ?
At which point we might want to have a look at the figures of Angus Maddison. GDP per capita is the appropriate one.
In 2008 China’s GDP per capita (and yes, of course, all of these figures take acount of inflation) was $6,725. This makes the place developing, almost middle income.
In 1978, before the SEZ, it was $978 (recall, these are already adjusted for inflation). So we’ve a 6 or 7 times improvement (GDP per capita is not a perfect measure of this but it is the one we’ve got, the only one which is really of any accuracy at all over long periods of time) in living standards not just in one lifetime: this is in the time between my sitting my O levels and my writing now, the time between the Sex Pistols and Katy Perry.
Just as an example of how fast this growth is, the UK was at $974 in 1600 AD: we didn’t get to $6700 odd until 1948. What took us 450 years in economic development has taken China some 45.
Someone, somewhere, is doing the right thing in terms of improving Chinese life, aren’t they? Might actually be something to this don’t have Maoist stupidity and embrace neoliberal global capitalism maybe?
Just to make it quite clear and plain to our actor here: I do not say that everything is peachy: I say that things are getting better. Getting better the only way the human race has ever found to make things better. Economic development. And the other thing I’d say about this. He’s complaining that things are getting better for more people faster than has ever happened before in human history.
Woes eh? Oh Woes.
Well, yes, they’re poor people living in a poor country. That’s what being poor means, having to work extremely hard to make very little. Yes, that is a harsh thing to say but then reality can indeed be harsh.(He’s quoting from Tim here)
First—may I say—daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaamn. It is refreshing to see the neoliberal model laid out so glaringly.
Yes, that is the neoliberal model laid bare. Hmm, I wonder if we know anything at all about how people can get richer? Umm, gosh, is there anything we can see in history about this? How about this as a plan: industrialisation in something vaguely approaching a market economy? It has, after all, worked everywhere it has been tried. It’s what took our forbears from the idiocy of rural life to three squares and the leisure to consider the morality of factory work.
It’s also what took the poor of Germany, of the US, Italy, France and so on to being the richest generation ever to belch on the wealth of the planet.
You know, there might just be something to this industrial development shite. Worth pondering, surely? And it’s not even neoliberal this idea: straight classical economics. Smith, Ricardo, yes, Marx himself, all pointed out that the division and specialisation of labour and the resultant trade of product would lead to an increase in that wealth that can be enjoyed.
And of course, what bastards we neoliberals must be for advocating that others do what made us all so stinking rich. It just beggars the imagination that anyone proposing public policy might propose something that actually works, doesn’t it?
What’s disgusting here is the underbelly. The clear implication is that because these are “poor people living in a poor country” they don’t deserve safe working conditions, or working hours that don’t result in people dying on the production line, or factories that don’t have explosions that could be prevented. Because they are Chinese they deserve less working protection that we would afford Americans. It’s a nasty streak of thinly-veiled racism that underlies a lot of the neoliberal arguments: that the people who suffer in other parts of the world are less human than we are in the first world, and this ameliorates our responsibility to give these jobs the basic protections we believe in for American workers.
Yes, quite, it’s racist to suggest a method by which the poor can get rich. Racist to suggest a method which we know works. Racist to suggest that Chinee, Muslim and Hindoo might indeed be both worthy of and able to enjoy the levels of wealth and leisure that we pinkish people have. Racist even to suggest the method by which all of this can happen: division and specialisation of labour and trade in the resultant product. You know, something so well known that it’s actually on the back of the £20 note?
A couple of little details:
Those numbers aren’t comprehensive. We have no idea what the actual suicide rate is at Foxconn
Excellent, then we have two alternatives here. We know that the recorded rate, the one that is being campaigned about, is one tenth of the rate in the general Chinese population. Our alternatives are thus that we note that, according to the figures we have, conditions at Foxconn are less likely to lead to suicide than conditions in China in general. That’s one way of putting it certainly.
The other is to say: Ah, well, yes, I know I was making lots of noise about 18 suicides in 2010. But that was bollocks, yes, sorry, don’t know what came over me.
The argument that is actually being tried, we don’t know the number of suicides, no idea whether it’s high or low, but it’s a damning indictement all the same: that’s not wholly and entirely convincing, is it?
On industrial safety he says:
and this ameliorates our responsibility to give these jobs the basic protections we believe in for American workers.
To which the answer is that, at least as far as the figures being used by our actor inform us, Foxconn seems to be safer than the average American workplace. The US fatal workplace accident rate is 3.5 per 100,000 full time equivalents. We’re being told to look at four (or is it five?) deaths among Foxconn’s 1 million workers and thus conclude that they must, therefore, have appalling working conditions. Are bereft of the safety we offer to the average American.
This could be of course but again it’s something that needs to be proven, not asserted. If our actor has the numbers that show this then be delighted to revise my views: as JMK pointed out, changed facts should lead to changed minds.
But in the end so far we’ve just had the usual shouty from a luvvie who has had his preconceptions challenged. What do you mean that I’m not a knight on a white charger saving Johnny Foreigner from exploitation?
It’s this last where the thespian falls off the edge into gibbering madness:
It is instead all about wages, which as I have argued for years do not have to be coupled to safe working conditions
No, sorry matey, you do not get to violate the basic law of economics. There are no solutions, there are only trade offs. We have no magic wands, we cannot all have a pony and unicorns do not poop rainbows.
This again is not new: Adam Smith points out that all jobs are in fact paid the same when we adjust for how difficult they are, how dangerous, how noisesome, the skills required to do them and so on.
Safety in a factory, paid vacation time, the quality of the food in the cafeteria, the wages paid, these are all traded off against each other. For they all come out of the same pot: that portion of the value added by labour which is to be paid to labour.
We see it in our rich, western world. Trawlermen, loggers, divers, they have more dangerous jobs than the rest of us. And yes, they do get higher wages (in regard of skill levels) than those of us who do not face such dangers in our working lives.
It is from exactly this that we are able to calculate the statistical value of a life. Around $5 million currently in the US. And that’s why we tend to introduce safety measures which cost less than that per life saved and do not introduce safety measures that cost more than that. Do note, this is not what we, the neoliberals, decide that someone’s life is worth. Rather, this is what we observe people value a life at through their actions.
And we also note that poorer people value lives less highly than rich people. The trade off is different (for a detailed discussion have a look at either the IPCC reports or the Stern Review. This calculation is crucial to the assumptions about the damages to be wrought by climate change).
This isn’t a surprise either. Someone on $4,500 a year is going to view a one in 100,000 risk of death for an extra $1,500 a year (general Chinese manufacturing wages as opposed to Foxconn such) differently from someone on $50,000 viewing the same decision.
Which is why the value of that statistical life rises as the country generally gets richer, for it’s just a corollary of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. We all of us trade off such risks all the time. I think I’m right in saying that the risk of death in an auto accident is around 1 in 100 over a lifetime. Yet many of us still drive cars given the benefits we derive at such risk. We take showers despite the fact that people really do die falling over in them. We have sex despite the risks. We trade off safety for what can be gained by that extra risk.
Which is, as I say, where our speech declaimer really goes off the rails. Of course safety standards are lower in poor places. This is because people are poor, see, and they take different decisions about the trade off between risk and income that we plump pink people do.
For us to insist upon greater safety than those exposed to the risks insist upon is, well, colonialism, isn’t it? For we are imposing our risk/income desires on others who have a different set of desires.
So, to recap. Campaigners say that we exploit the Chinee because of low wages. When challenged, oooooh, no, it’s not about wages. Campaigners say that it’s about suicides: when challenged, actually, we don’t know the suicide numbers. But we’ll insist that it’s exploitation anyway. But lookee here! Workplace safety is lower, exploitation! Umm, but it seems the death rate is lower than the US…..ah, well, yes, but we don’t have the full figures see, exploitation! Plus that complete and total ignorance of the necessary trade offs involved.
And as to neoliberalism laid bare. Yes, the industrial revolution is the only way we humans have found of improving the living standards of the average guy in the street. I, as a liberal (even if neo) would like the living standards of the average guy to increase. Thus I support the industrial revolution. Yes, in all its mess and clamour: for it is making things better.
I’m out and I’m proud. As a neoliberal I buy things made by poor people in poor countries. For that’s how poor people and poor countries get rich. Which is, I hope at least, what we all agree we’d like to see happen? So, do tell, what are you doing to make the poor richer?