Mandos

Torn between outrage and ennui

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bangladeshfactory.jpg

In the wake of an awful workplace disaster in Bangladesh, this blog post by Matthew Yglesias has caused a bit of a stir by arguing that, well, it’s all right and well with the world if some countries have lower safety standards than others. What’s a few Bangladeshis slowly dying agonized deaths, squished horrifyingly under crumbling concrete blocks between friends, after all?

And so, you may ask if you don’t follow US blogosphere inside baseball, what’s the fuss about Yggles? To put a long story short, he was an early celebrity blogger and a generally middle-of-the-road Standard American Liberal back in the day. At some point he overdosed on Econ 101, got a biz blog at Slate, and essentially became the Thomas Friedman Youth Wing. Suffice it to say, there isn’t a specious argument based on tiny differences in price he doesn’t like.

Of course this is an occasion for some luscious satire indeed. It’s actually the only genuine way to respond. The whole story extends into that indescribable horizon beyond parody, especially after Yggles eventually admitted that what he said was inappropriate so close to the smush deaths of hundreds of Bangladeshis. I mean, either fatal safety violations are acceptable for Bangladeshis, or they’re not.

But in the fog of my outrage, I came to realize that what Yggles had said was actually a relatively uninteresting, even obvious point, and that much of this outrage-energy is being squandered. So I am now a little closer to ennui at Yggles’ antics.

It is in fact the case that the deal being offered many Bangladeshis is that their access to temporary improvements in their well-being is conditioned on (a) risking their lives, (b) enriching local elites, and, most importantly, (c) acting as a disposable lever for Western elites to clobber the previous successes of their own working classes. The whole point is that the safety standards are lower. It’s all about labour market flexibility. Nothing demonstrates this better than the relatively little attention given to the deadly blast in at a rarely-inspected facility in Texas at roughly the same time as the Boston bombings.

Thus, my outrage has dissolved into ennui. And evidently, Bangladeshi garment workers haven’t entirely gotten the memo.

Really, what this calls for at the very least are tariffs. But they hate you for your freedom, so they won’t even talk about it.

(h/t thunderous blogfriend, Crooked Timber.)

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This page contains a single entry by Mandos published on April 26, 2013 10:00 PM.

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