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Mutualist Blog: Free Market Anti-Capitalism

To dissolve, submerge, and cause to disappear the political or governmental system in the economic system by reducing, simplifying, decentralizing and suppressing, one after another, all the wheels of this great machine, which is called the Government or the State. --Proudhon, General Idea of the Revolution

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Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Vulgar Libertarianism Watch, Part... 10? I'm Losing Count

Anyway, here it is again. Sigh. The "best available option" bromide has been, once again, hauled out in defense of sweatshops. This time the recyclers are Benjamin Powell and David Skarbek (via Catallarchy):

Though these efforts are intended to help poor workers in the third world, they actually hurt them....

Economists across the political spectrum, from Paul Krugman on the left, to Walter Williams on the right, have defended sweatshops. Their reasoning is straightforward: People choose what they perceive to be in their best interest. If workers voluntarily choose to work in sweatshops, without physical coercion, it must be because sweatshops are their best option....

I've already pointed out the flaws in this sorry excuse for an argument. The "best available options" are heavily influenced by authoritarian governments, by such means as land theft and draconian labor policies; and the corporations that use sweatshop labor tend to gravitate toward such authoritarian regimes, and often have incestuously close relations with those governments. People like Powell like to talk about the "best available option," while ignoring the issue of employer collusion with authoritarian Third World governments in determining the range of options that are available. To borrow a metaphor from Harry Browne, corporate capital works through the state to break workers' legs, and then pats itself on the back for handing them a crutch: "See! Look at me! I've provided you a job! Ain't I wonderful?" It's only in societies where the producing classes have been robbed of the means of production, by the state, that work is viewed as something you're "given"--instead of something you do.

I think vulgar libertarians ought to have a special key for "best available option" on their keyboard, just to save time when they're churning out another piece of pro-sweatshop drivel for the mainstream press. If you want to see a very long series of examples of the "available alternatives" rhetoric, check out my inaugural post Vulgar Libertarianism Watch, Part I. It even includes several examples from The Freeman: Ideas on Liberty (see below).

Of course, Powell's CSM editorial is linked by Donald Boudreaux at Cafe Hayek. Boudreaux, a frequent writer of vulgar libertarian boilerplate himself at The Freeman: Ideas on Liberty, calls it "excellent." Why am I not surprised?


Blogger Jesse said...

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August 03, 2005 11:16 AM  
Blogger Jesse said...

But you can make that point without apologizing for sweatshop states. A law that actually restricts workers' options further -- which is what a lot of putatively anti-sweatshop measures are -- doesn't help them one bit.

August 03, 2005 11:17 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

I agree on the narrow question of fighting sweatshops from the consumer end alone, Jesse; if the range of alternatives in the banana republic isn't increased, refusing to buy sweatshop output doesn't do much good. But the "available options" argument is generally used to put a positive spin on the sweatshop employers themselves.


Browne actually made the quip in regard to government programs to alleviate problems caused by government--I don't know whether he'd approve my application of it.

August 03, 2005 11:49 AM  
Blogger Vache Folle said...

For me, the hard part is figuring out what I should do as a consumer. If I decline to buy a soccer ball sewn by a child, am I consigning the child to dumpster diving? Neither I nor the child created the situation in which our states collude to restrict his options, and we both must take the circumstances into account, he to survive, I to follow my conscience.

August 03, 2005 2:07 PM  

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