Affordable Righteous Indignation
November 26, 2008
The thought of children not working
in the fields or doing their chores would have been unthinkable in
colonial America. Survival depended on every able bodied person working.
Children were also taken as apprentices by craftsmen to learn productive
trades. Schooling was done largely at home or through churches. We frown
on child labor today and have any number of laws banning the practice.
We can afford to do that because of the wealth produced by previous
generations, including child laborers.
It was capitalism, competition and free
markets than enabled past generations to create the labor saving
technology and improved agricultural methods that eliminated the need
for child labor.
When a nation reaches a certain level of wealth, it can afford righteous
indignation. You may recall the outrage directed against Kathy Lee
Gifford when it was revealed that some of her clothing line was produced
by child labor in Guatemala in 1995. I think most of us were even more
shocked to learn that a sweatshop in New York was also producing that
clothing line. We can afford our indignation because we are wealthy, but
I have always wondered what happened to those workers in Guatemala,
which isn’t wealthy. What did their families do when that source of
income, no matter how meager we think it is, was cut-off? The media
mercilessly pounded Kathy Lee but never reported the consequences to the
"exploited workers” after their attacks had succeeded.
The fact is many third-world countries have not reached the stage of
economic development where they can afford the same level of righteous
indignation we allow ourselves. They cannot afford to ban child labor,
especially in agriculture. They cannot afford our obsession with
environmental laws, work place safety, liberal labor practices,
sanitation and a myriad of other things we consider standard for an
advanced civilization. Many third-world countries compound this problem
by following the socialist economic model that discourages capital
formation, competition and the free markets that are essential to
creating the wealth that will permit them to rise above poverty.
Given a choice between electricity and clean air, a poor nation is going
to chose electricity every time. Reliable electrical energy is a
prerequisite for industrialization, building wealth and a higher
standard of living. Industrialization and wealth are a prerequisite for
affording pollution controls, but for a developing nation, that may be a
distant concern compared to water, sanitation, food, transportation,
health care and other needs. It would be foolish for a country to waste
precious resources on pollution controls when the leading cause of death
may be malnutrition, malaria or inadequate health care. The choice
between breathing clean air and eating is easy to make.
The option of assisting third-world countries with socialist style
foreign aid leads to the economic malaise that has arrested most of
their economies in the first place. It removes the incentive for
economic advancement, fosters dependence, rewards failure and stimulates
corruption. It also assumes the wealthy nations are much wealthier than
they actually are. With Europe and America becoming more socialist by
the day, they are destroying the engines that have produced their
wealth. Once that wealth has been consumed, righteous indignation
becomes a luxury none can afford. The world economy must pull itself up
and not drag everyone down.
We must also deal with the international "climate change” fear mongers
like Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, who recently called on the developed
countries to "alter their unsustainable lifestyle” while aiding
undeveloped countries to control pollution. China expends a great deal
of its wealth on its military, space program and nuclear arsenal. India
pursues similar policies. These developing countries have chosen to
pursue the very costly symbols of advanced technology over the substance
of improving the living conditions for their people. Their failed
socialist economies can’t do both and they want the developed nations to
subsidize their bad choices. China wants the United States to lower its
standard of living and clean up China so they can pursue guided missile
cruisers, nuclear submarines and astronauts.
We should be thankful our economic system of capitalism, competition and
free markets has allowed us to address our concerns about child labor,
pollution and working conditions. We must also not forget that
correcting those concerns meant enduring them until we could afford to
address them, both economically and technologically. The economic system
that leftists condemn was able to fix itself because it made it
affordable to make the corrections. The economic system that socialists
support fails to meet basic needs and cannot afford to correct itself.
many of our fellow citizens are intent on seeing our wealth squandered
by embracing an economic system that cannot possibly replace what it
will spend to pay for their "unrighteous indignation”. The first victim
will be our affordable righteous indignation. The second victim will be
our standard of living. The third victim will be the developing
countries that need an example of what can be achieved when a nation
champions economic freedom.