David R. Henderson  

Friday Night Video: Ben Powell on Sweatshops

Obama: Stop Me Before I Regula... Is TOMS Different?...

This talk by Ben Powell is NOT a home run. It is about 3 or 4 home runs: analysis, data, presentation, humor. It's all there. He gave this talk at the Mises Institute in Alabama late last month.

I'm proud to have mentored Ben shortly after he arrived at San Jose State University in about 2003.

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CATEGORIES: Labor Market , Liberty

COMMENTS (7 to date)

I'm proud that Ben laughed at one of my jokes.

Background: For most of my life I have smoked cigars, not inhaling the smoke and never more than two a day. So I doubt I endangered my health much -- while definitely contributing to my required share of manly political incorrectness.

Around ten years ago, at one of the Mises Institute's Austrian Scholars Conferences, the crowd was thinning out around 11 p.m. in the outdoor covered patio where evening receptions are held.

At the far end of that patio there is "Smoking Area" sign pedestal which demarks a small area with a few ashtrays. I was alone down there with my evening cigar, while there was sill some buzz happening at the business end of the patio. So I picked up the "Smoking Area" sign pedistal and, grinning, carried it ahead of me as I walked toward the other people.

I remember, and appreciate, Ben laughing heartily.

It's a libertarian/economic subject, you understand, about delimiting property rights etc., which I offered for scholarly consideration.

Benjamin Cole writes:

David Henderson:

Yes, sweatshops are great, but this post is to me an example of what is wrong with American libertarians. The topics they choose always seem...sanitized and curiously, well, anti-labor and in service of the globalist perspective.

How about this for a topic: "In America, People Should Be Able to Live in Camper Trucks, and Park On City Streets or Parking Lots, and Run a Business From Their Trucks"

Imagine some guys picking melons in Bakersfield, making a run to Newport Beach, selling their load from the back of the truck, and doing a little fishing while there. Ain't going to happen.

"End Property Zoning Entirely in The U.S." This should become your cause celebre.

"Legalize Push-Cart Vending"

"Legalize Prostitution, Even if Provided Inside A Camper Truck."

"Polygamy Is Great And Could Lessen Welfare-A Three-Income Family Is Better Suited to Modern Society"

My fellow libertarians seem to disappear into the woodwork on these topics, and go back to exulting about unlimited immigration into the US coupled with elimination of minimum wage, labor and child-labor laws.

Regarding Third World "sweatshops": Yes, many people choose to work in multinational factories, in fact usually at better conditions than some other work available in any particular nation. But there is often...the rest of the story.

In many nations, property ownership was not codified or titled. So people do get pushed off of their land.

Also, in many nations, only the crony capitalists are allowed access to financing or starting up a business. I live in a nation where there seems to be only two brands of beer in the vast majority of stores. Beer is easily brewed (as we see in the U.S.), and the people where I live seem entrepreneurial. Answer: there is a law requiring a permit etc. You gotta have connections if you are going to sell beer. So people in multi-national factories are not really free, but a ruling class has arranged to limit opportunities and provide labor to factories.

The US has much the same situation. In every city I know, people are prevented from push-cart vending, camper-truck businesses or living, or selling anything anywhere except in a district zoned retail. If all those spaces are taken, you cannot sell retail.If a retail space is open, then you have pay an artificially high rent.

Without context, what appear to be libertarian positions are too often just high-sounding arguments for tilting the playing field against people who work for a living.

I look forward to a post on the virtues of camper-truck brothels. More consumer choice, at lower prices. Higher standards of living.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Benjamin Cole,
I don’t see how you can write that “sweatshops are great” and that this talk is “anti-labor.” The talk is profoundly pro-labor.

B Cole writes:

David Henderson: I said the placing of factories in third world nations is a positive, but has to be viewed with in context.

The same is true for minimum wage laws in the United States.

Are workers free to start up their own businesses? Or is the ability to start up a business highly restricted through property zoning, regulations and crony capitalism?

So, should camper-truck brothels be allowed? Answer the question. Would you like to see truck-brothels in Pacific Grove?

Dustin writes:

That an individual will maximize their position according to their next best alternative says nothing of it being a moral or ethical framework. Knowingly taking advantage of people in desperate situations and feeling good about it 'because economics!!' is a rather cruel attitude. After all, enslavement sounds pretty good if the next best alternative is genocide. Am I doing this right?

I think the fair point of many observers is that while "sweatshops" may indeed offer a better opportunity than the local market, we fat-cats of the developed world can easily afford to pay more, to meaningfully elevate our unknown laborers' lives, and with only marginal hit to the pocketbook. What is the labor wage contribution of my $100 running shoes ... $5? I could easily pay $110 for the same shoes and effectively triple the wage of a "sweatshop" worker. To each their own, but I'd be completely OK with that, market rates be damned.

After watching Ben Powell, on Saturday and Sunday evenings I watched other YouTubes from this summer's Mises University.

Very enjoyable were the historical reminiscences of Gary North and Lew Rockwell. Both these men had known Mises and other figures famous in our movement. Both spoke of Margit, Mises' wife, who wrote a biography I have ordered. Also enjoyed Tom DiLorenzo with his reaction to the current wave of appreciation for Alexander Hamilton, The Corrupt Origins of Central Banking in America.

My life has gotten better during the past few months, as I have seen how well YouTube recommends videos. When I open YouTube on my TV, I often find an on-target-for-me recommendation headlined on that screen. YouTube is part of Google, so I guess that's why they know me so well.

gatherdust writes:

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