I haven’t been able to post for the last week or so owing to my lecturing on the Institute for Humane Studies Liberty and Society Summer Seminars (i’m currently between seminars). Last week’s seminar included a great presentation by Scott Beaulier. Using data on wage rates published by anti-sweatshop campaigners (i.e not from ‘right wing’ think tanks), he showed unequivocally that sweatshops operated by US and European companies significantly improve the available opportunities to workers in developing countries, often providing wage premiums more than 50% higher than the rates offered by local employers. In view of the overwhelming weight of this evidence it was depressing to hear Scott report on the often hostile response to these research findings from the so called ‘anti-poverty’ campaigners he often has to deal with. Distinguished economists such as Jagdish Bhagwati have been booed off stage for having dared to make the economic case defending a liberal trade regime in terms of the benefits it can bring to the poor.
This raises an important question for libertarians and others who wish to promote open markets. If providing rigorous economic arguments backed up with good empirical data doesn’t convince the anti-market brigade then what options do we have left? Apart from continuing to make the economic/empirical case I would suggest that there is no substitute for some moral outrage. Those who make a living from giving the appearance of caring for the poor and destitute (or who wear the fair trade t-shirts) while simultaneously lobbying for the eradication of the best opportunities that the least advantage have, should be exposed for the weakness of their morals. It is a profound weakness to prefer having the ‘right’ social image to having the nerve to confront the best evidence and to support what really works.