Blame Yourself, Not Factory Owners
The New Yorker’s James Surowiecki (5/20/13) figured out who’s to blame for unsafe working conditions for garment workers: It’s you, if you wear clothing. “The problem isn’t so much evil factory owners as a system that’s great at getting Western consumers what they want but leaves developing-world workers toiling in misery,” he wrote:
Most of us have a sense that low prices in Dubuque have something to do with low wages in Dhaka, but that’s just one aspect of the pressure that we as consumers exert on global supply chains. Our insatiable demand for variety and novelty has led to ever-shorter product life cycles.
He conceded that multinational retail giants might share some of the blame, but “as long as consumers and companies insist on the lowest price and endless variety, there’ll always be factories that are willing to cut corners to get the business.”
The thing about lumping “consumers and companies” together is that when we talk about consumers “insisting” on something, that’s a metaphor. Consumers buy things or don’t. They don’t tell the seller what price to charge or how to arrange their supply chain. Multinational corporations do that.
Even if you accept that consumers “insist” on a certain price for clothing (by declining to pay more), you can’t say they insist that the wages paid to workers be just 1 to 3 percent of that price (Worker Rights Consortium, 11/10/05). Multinationals do that, too.
Could consumer outrage force changes in the way corporations do business? Possibly. News coverage that lays the blame on “our insatiable demand” seems designed to deflect that possibility.
Something for Everyone—Except Wage-Earners
“The Economy Is Holding Up Surprisingly Well in a Year of Austerity,” the Washington Post (Wonkblog, 5/28/13) declared. There’s good news for everyone, the Post reported:
Americans with higher incomes are wealthier thanks to the stock market’s 16 percent rise so far in 2013. Middle-income earners, whose assets are disproportionately tied up in their homes, are becoming wealthier thanks to higher housing prices…. And lower- and middle-income consumers have benefited from falling gasoline prices.
Of course, rich people enjoy the benefits of lower gas prices and rising home prices too. And look at the numbers a little closer and you see that a drop in gas prices is not likely to have an enormous impact on most families anyway (FAIR Blog, 5/29/13). What does have a big impact on working families is wages—and according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (3/28/13), average weekly wages decreased by 1 percent over the most recent annual period.
So a more realistic view of the U.S. economy under austerity might go something like this: If you own stocks, stock prices are going up. If you own a home, home prices are going up. And if you work for a living, wages are going down. Not exactly great news for most people.
‘Constant Screeching Defiles Mass Media’
Time columnist Joe Klein (5/13/13) responded to the failure of the Senate to pass a gun bill by denouncing
the plague affecting–no, paralyzing–our public life: the ability of well-funded extremist groups to thwart the will of the overwhelming majority. This is a problem that goes well beyond the gun issue. It has infected liberal and conservative lobbying groups alike. Their constant screeching defiles the mass media and drowns out voices of sanity.
Who are these “snake-oil salesmen who are hijacking our democracy”? Klein explains:
I include among the demagogues Democrats like Jim Dean–former Gov. Howard Dean’s brother–who recently sent out a fundraising letter titled “Disgusted”…because the president has called for very modest cuts in old-age entitlements.
Those “modest” cuts are overwhelmingly unpopular (FAIR Blog, 4/8/13)—so Dean is apparently “thwarting” the will of the majority by representing it.
Is Punishing the Guilty Just Like Punishing the Innocent?
When a petition asked that Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Elizabeth Lederer–the lead prosecutor in the case of the “Central Park Five,” young African-Americans who were falsely convicted of rape–lose her part-time teaching position at Columbia Law School, New York Times columnist Jim Dwyer (5/3/13) saw this as a repetition of the kind of wrong done to the now-exonerated young men:
It was a simple task to discover Elizabeth Lederer on Google, just as those boys were easy to find in the park. The petition has found someone to blame, repeating the very mistake of the injustice it deplores.
So sending innocent kids to prison for a crime they didn’t commit is like trying to hold someone accountable for sending innocent kids to prison? Got it.
Advice for Obama: Bust a Union
CHRIS MATTHEWS: I think actions speak louder than words. And I got to tell you something. When Reagan broke the PATCO strike and fired them all for breaking their oaths, everybody in the world, including the people in Moscow, got the word.
JONATHAN ALTER: Right. He should do that.
MATTHEWS: It’s one of the reasons we ended the Cold War, because they knew we had a strong president.
-MSNBC‘s Hardball (5/14/13)