Nicholas Kristof writes a depressing columnabout Cambodian kids who spend their days picking through giant heaps of garbage seeking usable scraps and dreaming of the day when they might be able to work in a sweatshop. I think it’s wrong to say that all consideration of international labor standards is merely aimed at keeping people stuck on the trash heap, but it’s a valuable reminder about the generally limited ability of just saying “no” to things to accomplish what people want. Part of the reason sweatshops exist and attract laborers is that life on the garbage heap is even worse, as is the life of a third world subsistence farmer. If you want to improve things, you need to actually be expanding the set of feasible options, not just arbitrarily closing down one path.
Damn straight. Matt nails it. So why is this line of thought so elusive for so many would-be decent people? I am constantly dumbstruck that so many who profess to care about “social justice” do little more than complain that desperate people have really terrible options and then work to take away the best options.That, of course, is not the intention, but that’s usually how it ends up working, whether the issue is “sweatshops” or “human trafficking.” Some day, more of us will see the devastating irony in the fact that social justice activists spend a lot of their time making things worse for some of the world’s poorest and vulnerable people.