Who is Exploiting Whom?

Political Child Abuse on the march:

More than 100 protesters, many of them children, were planning a protest today outside the Wal-Mart store on the Lynnway, aiming to call attention to the company's global use of so-called sweatshops to produce cheap goods.

"Wal-Mart is the largest corporation in the world. It uses globalization in a negative way. It employs workers all over the world and exploits them by giving them extremely low wages," said Raphy Kasobel, a 10-year-old student at the Workmen's Circle Shule, a Jewish Sunday school in Brookline. "Wal-Mart makes great profits at the expense of others."

...[O]rganizer Felicia Kazer, ...who represents the Worksmen's Circle Shule, said Lynn was selected as a protest site because the school works closely with the North Shore Labor Council. Besides, there are no Wal-Mart stores in Boston, she said.

"This is an opportunity for Jewish kids to learn about sweatshops and their connection to them, considering the history of their ancestors," Kazer said.

Who is the real victim of exploitation here? Poor workers whose limited options are beneficially increased by Wal-Mart's activities? Or 10-year-old children indoctrinated with socialistic rhetoric falsely disguised as Jewish ethos - children used to make some larger political point and fill up empty space for the protest crowd?

Steven Landsburg wrote a vigorous response to this kind of child abuse in a letter addressed to his five-year-old daughter's pre-school teacher, later published in The Armchair Economist: Economics & Everyday Life.

Dear Rebecca:

When we lived in Colorado, Cayley was the only Jewish child in her class. There were also a few Moslems. Occasionally, and especially around Christmas time, the teachers forgot about this diversity and made remarks that were appropriate only for the Christian children. These remarks came rarely, and were easily counteracted at home with explanations that different people believe different things, so we chose not to say anything at first. We changed our minds when we overheard a teacher telling a group of children that if Santa didn't come to your house, it meant you were a very bad child; this was within earshot of an Islamic child who certainly was not going to get a visit from Santa. At that point, we decided to share our concerns with the teachers. They were genuinely apologetic and there were no more incidents. I have no doubt that the teachers were good and honest people who had no intent to indoctrinate, only a certain naïveté derived from a provincial upbringing.

Perhaps that same sort of honest naïveté is what underlies the problems we've had at the JCC this year. Just as Cayley's teachers in Colorado were honestly oblivious to the fact that there is diversity in religion, it may be that her teachers at the JCC have been honestly oblivious that there is diversity in politics.

Let me then make that diversity clear. We are not environmentalists. We ardently oppose environmentalists. We consider environmentalism a form of mass hysteria akin to Islamic fundamentalism or the War on Drugs. We do not recycle. We teach our daughter not to recycle. We teach her that people who try to convince her to recycle, or who try to force her to recycle, are intruding on her rights.

The preceding paragraph is intended to serve the same purpose as announcing to Cayley's Colorado teachers that we are not Christians. Some of them had never been aware of knowing anybody who was not a Christian, but they adjusted pretty quickly.

Once the Colorado teachers understood that we and a few other families did not subscribe to the beliefs that they were propagating, they instantly apologized and stopped. Nobody asked me what exactly it was about Christianity that I disagreed with; they simply recognized that they were unlikely to change our views on the subject, and certainly had no business inculcating our child with opposite views.

I contrast this with your reaction when I confronted you at the preschool graduation. You wanted to know my specific disagreements with what you had taught my child to say. I reject your right to ask that question. The entire program of environmentalism is as foreign to us as the doctrine of Christianity. I was not about to engage in detailed theological debate with Cayley's Colorado teachers and they would not have had the audacity to ask me to. I simply asked them to lay off the subject completely, they recognized the legitimacy of the request, and the subject was closed.

I view the current situation as far more serious than what we encountered in Colorado for several reasons. First, in Colorado we were dealing with a few isolated remarks here and there, whereas at the JCC we have been dealing with a systematic attempt to inculcate a doctrine and to quite literally put words in children's mouths. Second, I do not sense on your part any acknowledgment that there may be people in the world who do not share your views. Third, I am frankly a lot more worried about my daughter's becoming an environmentalist than about her becoming a Christian. Fourth, we face no current threat of having Christianity imposed on us by petty tyrants; the same can not be said of environmentalism. My county government never tried to send me a New Testament, but it did send me a recycling bin.

Although I have vowed not to get into a discussion on the issues, let me respond to the one question you seemed to think was very important in our discussion: Do I agree that with privilege comes responsibility? The answer is no. I believe that responsibilities arise when one undertakes them voluntarily. I also believe that in the absence of explicit contracts, people who lecture other people on their "responsibilities" are almost always up to no good. I tell my daughter to be wary of such people — even when they are preschool teachers who have otherwise earned a lot of love.


Steven Landsburg

[Wal-Mart story via Always Low Prices]

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Political Child Abuse

Political Child Abuse Update: Targeting Wal-Mart
Is it any surprise that when young people get to college and take their first economics course, many of them find themselves utterly dumbstruck, even paralyzed, when they see the irrefutable impact of price ceilings, quotas, excise taxes, labor union...

Not surprising at all. It

Not surprising at all. It strikes me as more pathetic than anything else, that this culture, in large part, is so anti-capitalist, all in the name of some sort of abstract anecdotal notion of "fairness" and/or "equality". In my economic-based head, there is nothing more "fair" than capitalism and free trade. It is the simple act of everyone "trading up", using the act of trade to better their position in life, as they see fit. This places the valuation in the hands of the individual himself, and I can't think of anything more "fair" than that.

And, yet, this misguided culture operates on some halfwitted idea that profits are bad, and "economic equality at all costs" is some sort of virtue. These same selfish people would rather see a Chinese farmer slaving away in the rice patties, than getting paid twice as much to work at a WalMart "sweatshop". For them, it's all or nothing. In a region where the cost of living is a small fraction of what it is in Bentonville, Arkansas, they believe that the wages should be the same.

Yet, anyone who has taken basic econ 101 sees the absurdity in that ideal. First, why should the salary in rural china be the same as in Arkansas, whent he cost of living is clearly not the same? Second, if WalMart was indeed forced to pay equal wages regardless of region, then, they would have no incentive to set up shop in China, and thus, the chinese economy would be deprived of this higher-paying employer and window into the American capitalistic empire. Third, unless someone is forcing them against their will to work at this place, then whose place is it to lambast WalMart for not paying them enough?

Who is a better judge of how much is "fair": the Chinese rice farmer who has the opportunity to provide a better life for his family? Or some punk socialist kid, blogging on "American Joblog" from his airconditioned New England dorm room? Ah, yes, but I hope it makes them feel better to be "looking out for the little guy". Because that's all this is really about. It's not about economics or facts or altruism or helping anyone in reality; it's about their deep emotional need to be the 21st-century Robin Hood.