Posts Tagged 'kristof'

Kristof on Gates

Nicholas Kristof’s (recent nominee of the prestigious Natsios Award) most recent NYT op-ed discusses his interview with Bill Gates. Money quote:

I think the Gates Foundation has missed the chance to leverage the revolution in social entrepreneurship, hasn’t been as effective in advocacy as it has been in research, and has missed an opportunity to ignite a broad social movement behind its issues.

But if Mr. Gates manages to accomplish as much in the world of vaccines, health and food production as he thinks he can, then the consequences will be staggering. Squared. In that case, the first few paragraphs of Mr. Gates’s obituary will be all about overcoming diseases and poverty, barely mentioning his earlier career in the software industry.

I actually agree with Kristof here. It really is too bad that they didn’t invest more in social entrepreneurs with the drive and passion to improve the communities in which they live. Can you imagine Ashoka with the kind of resources at Gates’ disposal? However, I’m not convinced that by simply creating a vaccine for HIV or malaria, the world will magically become a more just and equitable place. Vaccines and technology are not enough. A broad social movement building solidarity and value for fundamental human rights is absolutely necessary. Lets get to work.

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Natsios Award Nominee

Nicholas Kristof in his recent column, Where Sweatshops Are a Dream:

..the central challenge in the poorest countries is not that sweatshops exploit too many people, but that they don’t exploit enough.

He continues:

The best way to help people in the poorest countries isn’t to campaign against sweatshops but to promote manufacturing there.

In this January 14 column in the NYT, Kristof makes an argument for the importance of sweatshops as a key part of poverty-alleviation.  In the presence of jobs like rickshaw pulling, he states that sweatshops ain’t that bad relative to the alternatives that one might depend on for one’s income.  Kristof rails against poltical groups that push for greater labor standards claiming (perhaps accurately) that these types of standards often push manufacturers out of the poorest countries and into better off countries, leaving a significant portion of the population jobless.

While Kristof’s basic premise that an increase in labor is a key form of poverty-alleviation, his acceptance and encouragement of sweatshops is ludicrous without condemning the all too frequent use of unfair wages, union-busting tactics, and dangerous working conditions.  To give a thumbs up to sweathshops, simply based on the argument that they are a lesser evil than other available jobs (or no job at all) is both deconstructive and unacceptable in a push for a truly better living standard for the poor in developing countries.

This type of argument is akin to similar ones that have plagued the push for global health equity for too long.  Arguments like early WHO policy on MDR-TB treatment that opted for the “lesser of two evils” solutions, declaring treatment too expensive and even stating that it “distracts attention and resources” away from other diseases.  Little progress comes from arguments like these that have pushed for sub-standard care as a solution to sub-sub-standard care.  Just as in the case of MDR-TB treatment, progress comes from those individuals or groups that rise up, demand the status quo inequitable and unjust, and advocate and act for a better option for the poor.

Sweatshops do provide important labor for many people throughout the developing world.  But, simply providing a job to the jobless does not make it just nor does it warrant celebration.  According to a 2004 IPS report titled Wal-Mart’s Pay Gap, a Bangladeshi woman in a factory producing goods for Wal-Mart gets paid 17 cents/hour.  Such a low wage drives these workers to demand on health, food, and housing aid.  In contrast, the Wal-Mart CEO, H. Lee Scott, Jr., was paid $8,434.49/hour in 2004.  I feel its safe to assume that H. Lee is able to provide the highest quality health care, food, and housing for himself and his family, and perhaps even live exorbitantly on the side.

What are the implications for a continuation of the current use of sweatshops throughout the developing world?  While I am without an economic Ph. D., B.S. or anything of the sort, common sense tells me that such extremely low wages in the developing world in the presence of absurdly high salaries of Wal-Marts senior staff will not lead to a more equal world.  Money will  continue in the direction of the the rich Westerners and away from the hardworking laborers of the developing world.  The rising rates of inequality will continue along on their current trend.  Writing absurdities like those in Kristof’s column will allow for the continuation of people living without basic rights and will deter a push for more radical change rooted in equity and justice for the world’s poor.


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