Sweatshops a key feature of the best of all possible worlds

A comment on the previous post:
sweat shops are an easy target and are often misunderstood by outsiders. I went to a talk at Northwestern given by Nicholas Kristof on how in nearly every southeastern asian country sweat shops are the only REAL way out of prostitution (the only other line of work available to young girls there). sure sweat shops suck, but they want the work, they want the business, and its really the best we can give them.

what do you think about that viewpoint? i'm just looking at this from a realist perspective.
Is it really the best we can give them? Yes, Kristof is well-known as one of the most prominent sweatshop Candides of our time, but as usual this argument rests on an appalling reductionism in the social and economic context that produces sweatshops and a profound and debilitating pessimism about what we can do about it.

Usually sweatshop apologists ignore the coercive market forces that push people into such employment and simply say "they want the jobs". Well, if your rural economy had been destroyed by a flood of subsidized agribusiness imports or the destruction of collective forms of social security, you might "want" a degrading and debilitating job too.

But let's assume away the real social forces that produce the impersonal violence necessary to create a labor supply for sweatshops. What's wrong with legislating basic safety measures, decent wages, and a right to organize for those who work in these factories? This falls far short of establishing working conditions that might be truly self-actualizing for everyone involved, but could even Pangloss himself object to such minimal reforms?

The answer of the apologists, which is generally overplayed but has more than a kernel of truth, is that such regulations will destroy the very jobs we want to improve (more here). Even if the capacity of mobile capital to drive down work standards by playing poor countries off against each other were eliminated by establishing strictly enforced global minimum standards, the fundamental problem would remain: lower levels of exploitation means lower profits and fewer jobs. On the other hand, over the long term a high rate of exploitation yields increasing levels of overaccumulation as workers are unable to afford the products they produce, and we get crises like the Great Depression, the stagflation of the '70s, or the current disaster. On the third hand, during those periods when capitalist expansion proceeds without crisis, its distinctive style of growth steadily destroys the ecological basis of continued human life.

In other words, capitalism offers horrific working conditions for the global majority and environmentally disastrous levels of consumption for the remainder, all punctuated by crises that regularly yield social destruction on levels akin to war. Sweatshops are a necessary feature of this system, and might seem a rational solution to certain local problems created by wider capitalist dynamics. But when we view the system in its totality, we can recognize sweatshops and environmental crisis alike as just more of Krugman's "paradoxes" - phenomena that reveal the irrationality and unsustainability of capitalism as a whole.

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