May 4, 2006

Free trade vs. the Arab work ethic: Free trade loses

The NYT has an article entitled:

An Ugly Side of Free Trade Sweatshops in Jordan - New York Times

Propelled by a free trade agreement with the United States, apparel manufacturing is booming in Jordan, its exports to America soaring twentyfold in the last five years.

But some of the textile workers are complaining about various abuses. All very sad, I thought, but this story seemed to me to be basically happy news, because the rag trade has been, since England in the 1760s the entry level form of industrialization. So isn't it great that we are turning Arabs into productive industrial workers just by granting Jordan free trade? After all, Jordan has an unemployment rate of about 30%, a per capita income about half of Mexico's, and a population growth rate of 2.5% per year. If any place needs its population to get industrialized, to develop productive habits, it's Jordan, right?

Unfortunately, when I read the article more closely, it turned out that it isn't Arabs working hard in many of these sweatshops in Jordan:

In recent years, Jordan has become a magnet for apparel manufacturers, helped by the privileged trade position that the United States has given it, first because of its 1994 peace accord with Israel and then because of a free trade agreement signed with Washington in 2001. Jordan's apparel industry, which exported $1.2 billion to the United States last year, employs tens of thousands of guest workers, mainly from Bangladesh and China....

"These are the worst conditions I've ever seen," he said. "You have people working 48 hours straight. You have workers who were stripped of their passports, who don't have ID cards that allow them to go out on the street. If they're stopped, they can be imprisoned or deported, so they're trapped, often held under conditions of involuntary servitude."

Several foreign apparel workers said that while their factories required them to stay until midnight, the Jordanian workers were usually allowed to leave at 4 p.m.

A reader writes:

The problem here is not free trade (deregulated goods market) . It is "black" labour (deregulated labour market). In the context of Arabic society's rentier mentality.

Open borders in labour encourages importation of workers, not the formation of citizens. Without national citizenship rights there is little to stop "lobbied up" bosses from treating imported workers like factory fodder. Just as factional party bosses treat Balkanised immigrants as branch-stacking and welfare-padding fodder.

When the poorly selected and settled immigrant is of different ethnic origin to the natives then the result can be a caste society.

This is the route down which New Left and New Right multiculturalists are tending to go.

He goes on:

The Enlightenment supported three great political ideologies:

- Libertarianism - institutionalised as capitalism.
- Egalitarianism - institutionalised as socialism.
- Communitarianism - institutionalised as nationalism.

Right wing economic elites more or less support some forms of capitalism. Left wing political elites more or less support some forms of socialism. But cultural elites are ambivalent about nationalism.

Yet the nation state is the key institutional system that under girds communitarianism. And communitarianism is the key ideology that links personal morality to political legality, through the rights and duties of the citizen. The communitarian philosophy requires citizens to be responsible for their actions, care for those who are not and have guaranteed rights and enforceable duties towards the state.

This is an absolutely fundamental aspect of the theory of political obligation that seems to have been lost by cultural elites.

Doing away with sovereignty towards national entities is on a par with eliminating property for corporeal entities and autonomy for individual entities.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

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