Back in 1997 Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman wrote a piece titled “In Praise of Cheap Labor” on Slate.
Why does the image of an Indonesian sewing sneakers for 60 cents an hour evoke so much more feeling than the image of another Indonesian earning the equivalent of 30 cents an hour trying to feed his family on a tiny plot of land–or of a Filipino scavenging on a garbage heap?
The main answer, I think, is a sort of fastidiousness. Unlike the starving subsistence farmer, the women and children in the sneaker factory are working at slave wages for our benefit–and this makes us feel unclean. And so there are self-righteous demands for international labor standards
I had never read this piece before, but it feels like I have, and to read my book you would of thought I had. I think it’s somewhat similar to some pieces by Krugman’s colleague at the NY Times Nick Kristof who wrote an editorial titled In Praise of the Maligned Sweatshop.
Note: I just added a new link section titled A Global Garment Reader to house such stories.