Walter E. Williams

There are some ideas and feelings that sound plausible but given just a wee bit of thought can be shown to border on lunacy. Let's examine a few.

Some U.S. companies have been accused of exploiting Third World workers with poor working conditions and low wages. Say that a U.S. company pays a Cambodian factory worker $3 a day. Do you think that worker had a higher-paying alternative but stupidly chose a lower-paying job instead? I'm betting the $3-a-day job was superior to his next best alternative.

Does offering a worker a wage higher than what he could earn elsewhere make him worse off or better off? If you answered better off, is the term exploitation an appropriate characterization for an act that makes another better off? If pressure at home forces a U.S. company to cease its Cambodian operations, would that worker be worse off or better off?

It might be a convenient expression to say that the U.S. trades with Japan, but is it literally true? Is it the U.S. Congress and President George Bush who trade with the National Diet of Japan, the Japanese legislature and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe? Or, is it U.S. and Japanese private parties, as individuals and corporations, who trade with one another?

Let's break it down further. Which comes closer to the truth: When I purchased my Lexus, did I deal with the U.S. Congress, the Japanese Diet, George Bush and Shinzo Abe, or did I deal with Toyota and its intermediaries? If we erroneously think of international trade as occurring between the U.S. and Japanese governments, then all Americans, as voters, have a say-so. But what is the basis of anyone having a say-so when one American engages in peaceable, voluntary exchange with another person, be they Japanese, Korean, British, Chinese or another American?

How many times have we heard: If it will save just one life, it's worth it? The "it" could be bike helmet laws, childproof medicine bottles, or formaldehyde and asbestos safety regulations. A good economist cringes hearing such statements because they only consider the benefits of an action while ignoring the cost. Looking at benefits only, just about anything is worth doing because there's usually a benefit. Let's look at it.


Walter E. Williams

Dr. Williams serves on the faculty of George Mason University as John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics and is the author of 'Race and Economics: How Much Can Be Blamed on Discrimination?' and 'Up from the Projects: An Autobiography.'
 
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