Berkeley Economics Professor Brad DeLong has a thought-provoking post on trade at his blog. He takes to task an article from Slate on the ethics of purchasing goods manufactured in developing countries under exploitative practices. The author of the article calls for a boycott of such goods, but DeLong points out that this only hurts the poor villagers. He then goes on to give a list of constructive actions to improve the situation, ending with this call:
Think analytically, people. Think hard about opportunity cost–what people’s options are–and how to expand those options, not narrow them. Think not about the first-round effects of actions, but their implications for equilibrium.
I admit that I have similar “liberal” knee-jerk reactions to labor issues like this, but after reading a proposal to improve labor standards I gained a better understanding of the complexities of the issue.
On my reading list at the moment (who knows when I’ll get to it): International Labor Standards, by Flanagan and Gould.