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Thuy Vo

You probably read Sarah Maslin Nir’s excellent investigative report on the labor conditions inside New York nail salons, which are brutal and including wage theft, poisoning from breathing in cosmetics, and physical abuse. There are relatively simple answers to solving these problems, which are strong labor enforcement of state and federal law. The report convinced Andrew Cuomo to announce “emergency measures” to help these workers, including more inspections and a multilingual attempt to inform workers of their rights. We’ll see how real this is once people stop paying attention.

Anyway, the unfortunately most common response is what we often see from empowered individualistic consumers, which is “how can I consume ethically.” The question turns the issue from being about the workers to about the consumer. We see this in apparel activism too often from people who think that buying second-hand clothing is an answer to sweatshop labor. Michelle Chen answers the question about what you can do quite simply–support worker organizing–and she provides plenty of information about how that is shaping up. Amanda Marcotte takes on the middle class guilt part of this debate more directly (with plenty of links of this sort of thing if you are so inclined). She writes:

I don’t mean to pick on people,I really don’t. These huge labor and immigration issues can feel overwhelming and I get that people want to know what part, however small, they can play. But that leads to this unfortunate tendency to frame these issues around middle class complicity, as if that were the main problem and not just a sideshow. The problem with that is that these sort of individualized rituals of self-sacrifice in the name of purity do almost nothing to actually improve the lives of marginalized or exploited people. In some cases, it might make it worse—in this case, for instance, the end result will be that a smaller proportion of customers in nail salons will be good tippers who are nice to the workers. Great.

To be fair, some writers cleverly used the “how to assuage your guilt” click bait headlines to compel people to take real action, such as calling the authorities when they discover a salon is breaking labor laws or to surreptitiously distribute materials informing workers of their rights in their native language. These are still small actions, but they are actions that might actually help a real person who actually needs help, and that’s not nothing. But most of what I saw out there was focused on how you personally can feel better about yourself. That’s not helpful to people who actually need help.

And then she says what you actually can do, which is to make this a political issue and call your politicians to demand they do something about it. Like just about everything else when it comes to workers, the way to solve these problems is to give workers power. That means actively taking power from employers. The nail salon workers are the modern version of immigrant sweatshop labor a century ago and while we’ve outsourced that work to people we can exploit far out of our sight, the need for service labor means there are still workers who we do see. We can demand the rigorous inspections of these agencies with shutdowns and heavy fines for employers who violate the law.

Of course, if you are a libertarian, your hot take on all this is that there’s no way we should do anything about these workers. After all, how can we know what they want since we are not them? Of course we could ask workers what they want but that would mean libertarians talking to real people and I mean, c’mon. Reason’s Elizabeth Nolan Brown:

Getting more government involved when it’s not at the behest of these workers, however, is only going to lead to more hardship for those most marginalized. When state investigators find a bunch of undocumented immigrants working as unlicensed manicurists—yes, being a manicurist in New York technically requires a state permission slip—for under the minimum wage, do you think they’re going to stop with forcing employers to institute a pay hike? Do you think salon owners under more investigative scrutiny from government agents are going to be more attune to requests from their underground employees?

I don’t want to diminish the concerns of workers in these communities. But this top-down, outsider, progressive, law-and-order view concerns me. Would workers be better off with no jobs or means to support themselves? Living back in their home countries? Maybe in some cases, yes, but we don’t know because we are not them. And I tend to believe that immigrant salon workers, being as intelligent and rational as the rest of us, are capable of weighing their own interests and situations and acting accordingly.

This of course is nothing more than the same Gilded Age arguments conservatives have always loved, that workers make rational decisions and that if they didn’t think it was in the interest to work in dangerous jobs, they wouldn’t do so. Nevermind that government can actually make that work less dangerous or that the unions these people inevitably oppose can do the same or that workers don’t actually have choices if the “choice” is work or starve. For conservatives, this is all a fun theory they can sit in their comfy houses and pontificate about. They aren’t interested in actual workers and their lives.

Then there’s this:

Increased FDA oversight can’t educate nail workers about the importance of leaving the job when they’re pregnant, or help make doing so financially feasible; it can’t instill simple best practices, like wearing gloves, that could mitigate skin problems; it can’t encourage salon owners to install work on better ventilation systems. These sorts of education and outreach efforts are best undertaken by public health nonprofits and people in these communities. And they would have a much more immediate effect than the years or decades it could take to get accomplish similar feats via federal regulation.

Actually increased oversight can do those exact things. Maybe not through the FDA but through OSHA. OSHA can educate workers. OSHA can instill best practices and mandate wearing gloves. OSHA can fine employers for not installing ventilation systems. And if there’s a reason that it is hard to make federal regulation work on these issues, it’s because people like Brown and her plutocrat masters spend money opposing these regulations.

Quite the hot take there.

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  • Srsly Dad Y

    Re Nolan Brown, the one trope of not-dumb conservatives that I just can’t get my head around is the argument from futility — such-and-such just can’t be done. I can parse, while disagreeing with, arguments that we “can’t afford” X policy because it would mean taxing job creators too much, that the beneficiaries of X do not deserve X, that X will weaken the Traditional American Family, that X is immoral. OK. But this insistence that the federal government just can’t administer nigh-universal health insurance, can’t enforce workplace safety standards, can’t regulate Wall Street, when governments do this every day around the world, is just a bridge too far, I don’t get why they go there.

    • Joe_JP

      I get the idea they figure they “can” but when they do it, it results in things that conservatives find distasteful.

      • DrDick

        Like workers actually making a living and businessmen making less profits.

    • Hogan

      Unintended consequences are the only kind of consequences.

      • tsam

        Sometimes a single sentence explains a million different things. Like the one you just wrote. Never thought of it that way.

    • AcademicLurker

      For libertarians “Regulation can never work because…mumble mumble…unintended consequences…mumble mumble” is axiomatically true, so you never need to actually argue for it. You just invoke it, preferable with a condescending, world weary air.

    • cpinva

      “I don’t get why they go there.”

      they hope that, by doing so, they will discourage at least some members of their reading audience from attempting any mitigation at all. it may only be a few, but after a while, those few can aggregate into many.

      OSHA, when not constrained by budget or just flat out politics, has the expertise to make nearly anyone’s job safer. doing so may (probably will) cost some money & time, neither of which the owner wants to pay. liability insurance companies are also in a position to require that at least minimum safety standards be in place, if the business wishes to continue being insured/not see their premiums skyrocket. this assumes the business has insurance.

      “What a colossal set of assholes.”

      yes, yes they are. in fact, I think you’re being overly kind. many of them just don’t care about anyone but themselves, and maybe their families. they will cut any corner they think they can get away with. when something happens, and they get caught, they’ll scream bloody murder, reject any personal responsibility out of hand, and do anything and everything to weasel out of it, including accusations of racism/misogyny, etc. they are basically awful human beings, who ruin any environment they happen to be in, and see themselves as being constantly put upon.

    • I read “a state permission slip” and decided that Nolan Brown can go fuck herself.

  • ThrottleJockey

    I was hoping you’d pick this up and I’m glad you did. A couple weeks back we had the post on Vietnamese nail salons. That was mostly out west in Cali as I recall, but is there an intersection with this story? Don’t know if anyone has experience out there with California nail salons.

    Postscript–It was incredibly disappointing to see how the owners of these New York salons viewed themselves as heroes for simply employing these women, even though they treated them like shit. What a colossal set of assholes.

    • I couldn’t agree more.

      I would love for someone to trace the several narratives about nail salons and how they interact.

      • PhoenixRising

        Yeah, I’ve been digging into this a bit. My teenager is Cambodian, and therefore likes to hang out at the one place she can reliably find other Khmerican teens…the nail salon.

        Preview: There’s a lot going on at the manicure place, at so many levels.

    • MAJeff

      Postscript–It was incredibly disappointing to see how the owners of these New York salons viewed themselves as heroes for simply employing these women, even though they treated them like shit. What a colossal set of assholes.

      But, they’re job creators, so of course they’re heroes. /GOP

  • MPAVictoria

    “Increased FDA oversight can’t educate nail workers about the importance of leaving the job when they’re pregnant, or help make doing so financially feasible; it can’t instill simple best practices, like wearing gloves, that could mitigate skin problems; it can’t encourage salon owners to install work on better ventilation systems.”

    What? This is just flat out not true.

    • Vance Maverick

      As Erik points out, the writer has (seemingly strategically) identified the wrong agency. “I would love to help these women, but the SEC really doesn’t have the authority!”

      • ThrottleJockey

        Congress needs to give the EPA the authority to ban these chemicals!

        • MPAVictoria

          They don’t already? And they are not allowed to publish educational materials on use?

          /Sorry token Canadian here.

      • Bufflars

        Yeah, I wonder. FDA presumably does approve the products used at a nail salon, but it seems hard to believe that Nolan Brown would accidentally confuse that with the agency responsible for worker safety.

  • cant_turn_right

    From the Reason article:

    And the nail-salon ingredients that may cause harm to developing fetuses aren’t a concern for non-pregnant workers, meaning the issue isn’t ousting them entirely but keeping pregnant women away.

    That’s amazing. I’m sure they’ll be given paid leave for a full 9 months before their due date.

    And I guess that also means that women that are trying to get pregnant have to go on leave. After all, they can’t be exposed to the chemicals during the first several weeks of pregnancy.

    And don’t even get me started on unplanned pregnancies…

    • PhoenixRising

      Also, I don’t know about the rest of you, but I like to gargle with chemicals that may cause harm to a developing fetus…because hey, I’m not pregnant! So why not?

      Seriously, why would I want such a substance adhered to my cuticles for 2-4 weeks? I’ve already had a kind of cancer you can be diagnosed with & treated for with your clothes on, and I’m not really interested in discovering whether that’s a category.

  • Randy

    I’m waiting for my local TV news outlet to “investigate” nail salons, and announce that, whatever you’ve heard about those out-of-town places, everything is ginger peachy here.

    • tsam

      Yeah–they’ll interview the workers, who, of course will feel free to speak candidly. QED, LIBZ

  • Linnaeus

    So, if nail salon workers at their own behest decided to form unions in their workplaces, would Nolan approve? I’ll take the under on that one.

    • cpinva

      why, I would assume she’d be right there, cheering them on. ok, probably not.

    • tsam

      Those job creators are just trying to make a living. They don’t deserve that kind of oppressive treatment.

  • JustRuss

    Would workers be better off with no jobs or means to support themselves? Living back in their home countries?

    I am not a historian, but wasn’t this same argument trotted out to defend slavery?

    And the idea that non-profit health organizations can encourage salon owners to install better ventilation systems…how is that supposed to work, exactly?

    • cpinva

      “I am not a historian, but wasn’t this same argument trotted out to defend slavery?”

      slavery, jim crow laws, segregation, discrimination, etc., etc., etc. it’s like a broken record with these people. that said, just because their lives might be shittier where they came from (which is, surprise, probably why they left), doesn’t mean it needs to be only millimeter above shitty here, to be considered an improvement.

      and let’s not forget, these same people will happily tell you what good, religious folks they are, true believers in “family values”. what they neglect to tell you is that it’s The Sopranos family values.

    • Bufflars

      And the idea that non-profit health organizations can encourage salon owners to install better ventilation systems…how is that supposed to work, exactly?

      Seems to be an even dumber offshoot of the tired “private charity can completely replace the welfare state” schtick.

    • Yes, although there was a strong religious tint to it. Godless heathens, light of Christianity, etc.

    • tsam

      And the idea that non-profit health organizations can encourage salon owners to install better ventilation systems…how is that supposed to work, exactly?

      The same way it works for newer, more efficient light bulbs.

      “Hey guys, wouldja…”

      “NO! FUCK YOU!”

      “k”

      • Randy

        I think it would be a little more elaborate than that. A group of salons will form a certifying organization to set standards. Mirabile dictu, all of the member salons will be in compliance with these new, stringent requirements!

        I would like to propose formally that this type of scam be henceforth known as “Rand Pauling.”

        • tsam

          Ah, the old “regulate themselves” snake oil law of economics and human behavior.

          Seems legit.

        • joe from Lowell

          A group of salons will form a certifying organization to set standards. Mirabile dictu, all of the member salons will be in compliance with these new, stringent requirements!

          Sure, just like how the investment banks established the ratings agencies. What could possibly go wrong?

  • libarbarian

    A white Columbia-grad gleefully punching down on the “wrong” kind of immigrants is “excellent”?

    Do you really not see the issue with a white graduate of an elite college accusing Asian immigrants of racism? Racism = prejudice + power. In Americas White Supremacist society, Korean immigrants, and even Korean-Americans, have no power as a class and therefore cannot be racist.

    • Murc

      You’re correct as a matter of pure semantics, libarbarian, but not as a matter of common usage. It is true that “racism” and “racialism” are two different things, but very few people actually both know that and use the terminology that way; they use “racism” for both.

      • Lee Rudolph

        I prefer (and if I were the Language Tsar, you would also prefer) to, indeed, “use ‘racism’ for both”, but then to carefully distinguish ineffective racism from effective racism—where “effective” (explicitly!) takes account of who has the power in the given context.

        I never got very far pushing this on Usenet, and I don’t expect to get any rather pushing it here, but dammit, we Tsars manqués get mighty frustrated sometimes.

        • Murc

          They do say that the commas work for the tsar.

          • I thought the commas overthrew the tsar.

            • tsam

              Don’t turn around
              oh oh oh…
              The comma tsar’s in town
              Oh oh oh…

              • leftwingfox

                That amused me far more than it had any right to.

        • joe from Lowell

          I like “racism” vs. “racial prejudice.”

          One describes a social dynamic complete with power, while the other is just individual sentiment.

      • nixnutz

        I’ve heard smart people making a version of that argument that I’ve found intriguing if not entirely convincing, but seeing a moron assert that it’s unassailably true doesn’t help your cause.

        Certainly racism has very different effects and meaning depending on who is involved but asserting that prejudice is not racism, as the word is understood by 99+ percent of English speakers, with the clear implication that it’s not a problem worthy of attention or discussion is some dumb-ass bullshit.

    • cpinva

      “In Americas White Supremacist society, Korean immigrants, and even Korean-Americans, have no power as a class and therefore cannot be racist.”

      yeah, no. anyone can be racist. the great thing about racism is that it doesn’t require lots of money and/power to play. no expensive equipment is necessary, no carefully maintained playing field. nope, it can be played with empty pockets, poor people and rich people are equally able to enjoy it. granted, minorities tend to, more often than not, be the target, but they can still play the game.

      jenny, have some nice, dry pancakes, with some lovely powdered maple syrup food product.

      • Murc

        Libarbarian isn’t Jenny, CP. That’s an awful thing to say. They’re a commenter of longstanding with a proven posting record. They’re also making a legitimate point about language usage.

        (I am unsure if they are a librarian who is also a barbarian or just a liberal barbarian.)

        • joe from Lowell

          It’s a commenter with a proven posting record of sounding a lot like Jen Bob’s liberal sock-puppets, so I can see where the confusion might come in.

      • djw

        Not Jenny. But I can see how the last sentence of the comment might remind someone of the ham-fisted reductio Jenny often attempts.

        • NonyNony

          Jenny also has a history of stealing names from other posters. I don’t think that the registration system used here prevents that either.

          • djw

            Yes, I know–I mean to say that I checked that specific comment. Same email and IP as libarbarian’s other posts.

    • MPAVictoria

      How is reporting what the people living in the situation are telling her “punching down”? Should she lie?

    • Shakezula

      Your entire argument hinges on the fact she didn’t use the word bigot (streeeeeech) and that all non-Europeans/people of non-Euro descent are equally disenfranchised in America (just plain wrong).

    • You know who was really punching down? Frances Perkins after she witnessed the Triangle Fire and demanded reforms of sweatshops.

    • Origami Isopod

      Do you really not understand that economic privilege intersects with other oppressions, rather than either trumping it or yielding to it?

    • joe from Lowell

      In Americas White Supremacist society, Korean immigrants, and even Korean-Americans, have no power as a class and therefore cannot be racist.

      Watching a libertarian trying to mimic a liberal sentiment on race is like watching a monkey that has gotten ahold of a field researcher’s cell phone.

      In Americas White Supremacist society, Korean immigrants, and even Korean-Americans, have no power as a class and therefore cannot be racist.

      No, Korean-Americans have no power as a class over white people, and therefore cannot be racist towards white people.

      People not on the top rung of the ladder can absolutely be racist towards those on even lower rungs.

      • libarbarian

        1. I’m not a libertarian.

        2. Chinese are “lower” than Koreans? Hispanics are “lower” than Koreans? White person, could you please link to the “definitive guide to the exact ranking of racial groups within America” that you seem to have access to? Do you have any idea how racist you sound now?

        Divide and Conquer is an staple colonialist & imperialist tactic. Trying to pit different PoC against each other so they don’t notice how White People are making out like bandits at the expense of all of them. That’s what this article did and it’s what it looks like you are lamely attempting to do now.

        LMAO. I’d say “nice try” except that’s its so old and played out that I can’t even fake a compliment for it.

        • joe from Lowell

          You call yourself one, consistently argue positions similar to theirs, and screw up liberal ideas in a way that looks very familiar to someone familiar with libertarians.

          Chinese are “lower” than Koreans? Hispanics are “lower” than Koreans? White person, could you please link to the “definitive guide to the exact ranking of racial groups within America” that you seem to have access to? Do you have any idea how racist you sound now?

          Lol. Watching a libertarian try to play a race card is like watching a monkey that’s gotten ahold of a field researcher’s cell phone. I know you think you’re doing this right. You’re not. You’re imitating vocabulary.

          • libarbarian

            Pointing out that an article like this is problematic because of the way it frames the problem as being one of sneaky & greedy Asian perps instead of a system that enables exploitation in all industries and areas is “acting like a libertarian”??

            You either have a serious reading comprehension problem or are arguing in #NotAllWhitePeople bad faith.

            Either way, we are done here.

            • joe from Lowell

              Pointing out that an article like this is problematic because of the way it frames the problem as being one of sneaky & greedy Asian perps instead of a system that enables exploitation in all industries and areas is “acting like a libertarian”??

              The way you’ve done it, yes.

              You either have a serious reading comprehension problem or are arguing in #NotAllWhitePeople bad faith.

              Imitating vocabulary, obvious lack of comprehension of the concept. Again.

              Either way, we are done here.

              That’s the royal we, I guess.

        • joe from Lowell

          Trying to pit different PoC against each other so they don’t notice how White People are making out like bandits at the expense of all of them.

          I’d like to point out that they guy who totally isn’t a libertarian imitating the vocabulary of the left just wrote that the salon owners and the workers described in this article are being “pitted against each other” by those mean old liberals. He’s saying there isn’t actually any racial/ethnic hierarchy of power going on in the system, and the author’s description of them is an attempt to use the bogus issue of race as a political power grab.

    • Karen24

      Korean-Americans own the salons, so in that context they HAVE all the power. They impose a racial hierarchy on their employees or workers. So they are indeed guilty of racism even under the stricter definition.

      • joe from Lowell

        Can we think of anyone, or any group, who has a habit of 1) not noticing power differentials between owners and employees, and 2) explaining that the presence of any consideration other than race in a situation of racial disparity means that questions of racism don’t apply?

      • libarbarian

        By that logic, “Misandry” is a real thing because there are woman managers who have power over the men they supervise. “Reverse Racism” suddenly becomes magically real as soon as an individual black person has any degree of power or influence over an individual white person.

        The appropriate analysis of power must be at the Class level. Individual “power” is not relevant. The Class is the one appropriate for the axis we are looking at. Here, we are looking at so-called “racism” so the class must be racial. Koreans as a Class are not empowered vis-a-vis Chinese as a Class or Hispanics as a Class and therefore cannot by racist against them.

        • Hogan

          Koreans are not a class. Business owners are a class. Koreans who are business owners belong to that class.

          • joe from Lowell

            Yes, and belonging to that class gives you power. If you use that power to establish a racial hierarchy, you get power + race.

            Even though that power does not derive from race.

            • Hogan

              This one doesn’t speak class any better than race. S/he knows the words, but not the tune.

              • joe from Lowell

                knows the words, but not the tune

                This is a lot pithier than my description, but it’s sorely lacking in monkeys.

        • Shakezula

          Because in America you’re either white or not white. There certainly aren’t any gradations of power and privilege based how closely a group matches the European ideal.

  • sullivan2day

    A less necessary industry is hard to imagine. Plus, it obviously facilitates illegal immigration.

    • Bottled water industry?

      • Murc

        Bottled water is an absolute necessity in many parts of the country, Erik. It shouldn’t be but it is. People tend to think of the tap water as being safe to drink but in a lot of places it is 100% not, even after being filtered.

        • Really? Where? I have only ever seen one place where it was necessary, which was in West Virginia where there was sulfur in the water. And even there the water was safe, but just smelled bad.

          • Denverite

            I had a friend from the Ozarks in rural Arkansas who’s family had to use bottled water (either pre-bottled, or before that was ubiquitous, they’d go into town and fill up recycled bottles) because their well water wasn’t 100% safe. When I stayed there one time I was specifically told to try not to get water in my mouth when I showered.

            My wife is from a part of the country with serious industrial spill problems. She’s from a rural part of that area where most people have wells. They generally only drink bottled water now because you can’t be sure what’s in the well water.

            There are a number of mountain communities here where most people don’t drink tap water because it has a strong sulfur smell and taste. A mother of a friend had a good bit of trouble selling her place for this reason. Though as you say, it’s probably not harmful — it just smells and tastes bad.

          • Where?

            Near where fracking occurs?

          • William Berry

            Not to mention that there is bottled water, and then there is bottled water service.

            Water services that deliver drinking water in large, poly-carbonate* containers are one thing, and a soft-drink industry that makes millions selling basically ordinary water in 20oz bottles is quite another thing.

            If not clear, agreeing with Erik here, at least in the general case.

            *Used to be, at least. I vaguely recall some issue with poly-carbonates and a switch to something safer– an acrylic?– but not sure about this.

            • joe from Lowell

              I was just about to write that.

              I don’t think Murc is talking about 12 oz Dasani bottles.

              • Murc

                Joe was charitable towards me! This will be a day which lives forever in my memory.

                But yes, I wasn’t speaking of 12oz Dasani bottles, although there are certainly people in the places described by Denverite and William who will buy cases of the stuff because many water services won’t deliver single containers to private residences.

                • joe from Lowell

                  Wow. I hope people like that at least have tap water they can bathe in, even if it isn’t drinkable.

                  Imaging trying to get yourself clean with 12 oz Dasani bottles.

        • KmCO

          Bottled water, at least in America, is bullshit.

    • Origami Isopod

      Yes, of course, those frivolous GURLZ and their frivolous FASHION. It’s not like decoration of the body is an ancient practice that all cultures and genders have participated in. It’s also not like women don’t get judged, to include loss of career opportunities, if they don’t look “professional,” a word with a higher standard for women than with men. Nope, it’s all shallow dumb chicks and their shallow dumb habits! Let’s talk about sports instead…

      (Disclaimer, in case it’s needed: Yes, these workers are oppressed, and yes, they need help via structural changes. Shitting on femme women and on women in general for trying to be “presentable” by modern urban standards is not necessary.)

      • Karen24

        THANK YOU!!!

        May I also note that pedicures can be lifesaving for diabetics or elderly people with mobility issues? It’s more than just us stupid chicks with our stupid vanity. Finally, the least necessary and most destructive industry on the planet is professional sports, which produce nothing at all useful but have catastrophic externalities. It’s principal customers have penises, however, so it’s worth dedicated TV channels and taxes for arenas.

        • Origami Isopod

          All of this, times 100.

          • tsam

            All of both of your comments. + like, a LOT.

          • Karen24

            Thanks. My mother is a diabetic and my father can’t walk very well. They get pedicures so that their feet don’t develop infections, which at their age, would be deadly. Besides, nail services are pleasurable. I like having attractive hands and feet with nails painted weird colors. (My toenails are now bright electric blue. With glitter.) I use a reputable salon near my house and go to the same operator who has been there since it opened in 2006. I tip generously. I and the world are much the better for this. Also, my experience in no way invalidates any of the information in the original article.

            • TopsyJane

              Generally on the mark, except for the part about how much better off the world is because of those glittery blue toenails on display. Eye of the beholder, etc.

              However, as the original Times article noted, there has been a cultural change regarding manicures and pedicures, which used to be done only occasionally and now are obtained more frequently than is actually useful or healthy. In this regard a change in perspective might well be welcome. Women spend an awful lot of time and money on these elaborate procedures, more than is necessary to have well-groomed nails.

              I do have (basic) manicures and pedicures when they seem to be called for, and I can’t say I really find it pleasurable having some woman crouching over my feet or hands while I sit enthroned on a pedicure chair. I’m happy if I’m helping her make a living and I do tip generously, but that doesn’t make the proliferation of salons and ever more elaborate nail procedures wonderful things.

          • William Berry

            Big ditto on the pro sports thing.

            I am a little uncomfortable with the football (brain injuries, anyone?) thing with one or two of the posters here but, as they say: different strokes* for different folks.

            *Bad pun intended.

            • KmCO

              Yes. Karen nailed it above: professional sports are perceived by most as a male pursuit, ergo they are Deeply Serious, Rational, and Necessary for Societal Survival. Equally frivolous (in an ultimate sense) but fun activities and pursuits perceived to be feminine get the expected shit thrown at them, even by people who should know better.

              • tsam

                ergo they are Deeply Serious, Rational, and Necessary for Societal Survival.

                These people also make fun of all the hype and fascination with the Kardashians, as if aside from watching athletes do crazy cool stuff, there is no real distinction. I know people who will end friendships over sports loyalties. WTFFFF?

        • joe from Lowell

          which produce nothing at all useful

          Man does not live on bread alone.

          Does Broadway produce anything useful?

          • Hogan

            No, but except for the Spiderman musical it tends not to have the catastrophic externalities.

            • Aimai

              Apparently the Lion King Costumes cause serious physical problems for the actors wearing them.

          • Karen24

            If the current version of pro sports were more like the Branch Rickey era, then I would have different opinion of them. The 2015 version, especially football, is seriously detrimental to anything it touches including college sports.

            • If all sports uniforms resembled the pants on olympic curling teams, all would be forgiven.

            • The days when the athletes were basically treated like indentured servants of the team owners?

              • djw

                That was my immediate thought as well. “MLB was fine when there was virtually no check on the exploitation of labor by management, but now that they have a good union, bargaining power, good health care and pensions, it’s the worst thing ever!”

              • Karen24

                Good point. I was thinking more about Rickey and Jackie Robinson, and the fact that the owners at least didn’t coerce the taxpayers into bribing them to keep the teams in one city, and TV money wasn’t important yet, but the owners were still horrible, so no, I return to my original sentiment. Profession sports is the most pernicious industry.

                Joe, there’s still college, minor league, and heck, local clubs for entertainment without the massive externalities.

                • joe from Lowell

                  OK. What I replied to was “does not produce anything useful.”

                  Also, “Finally, the least necessary and most destructive industry on the planet is professional sports, which produce nothing at all useful but have catastrophic externalities.”

                  But now we’re down to just NFLfootball.

                • Denverite

                  Good point. I was thinking more about Rickey and Jackie Robinson, and the fact that the owners at least didn’t coerce the taxpayers into bribing them to keep the teams in one city

                  You should read about the history of the Dodgers circa 1950.

        • Katya

          My grandmother got weekly pedicures for the last few years of her life, until she was unable to leave the house. And they weren’t painting her toenails. Of course, the woman who gave her said pedicures owned her own shop.

        • nixnutz

          I don’t say this to contradict you really, I think you present a false dichotomy and it’s a bit of a non sequitur here, but I largely agree. But the purpose of professional sports is, at least in part, to give men without much in common something to talk about at work, and that’s not nothing.

          It’s not elder care but it’s not the least necessary and it’s certainly not the most destructive.

      • Randy

        Okay, I was on my way to agreeing with the “unnecessary industry” comment until I read your reply. Thanks for pointing this out, and non-ironic congratulations on changing at least one mind today.

    • tsam

      People (in this case, mostly women) enjoying something for a bunch of different reasons isn’t exactly unnecessary. It’s not a need, but it’s important–no less important than a TV show. I don’t think it’s a super hot idea to be deciding which industries are necessary and which aren’t.
      Since the industry in question routinely abuses the workers, it wouldn’t be very hard to clean it up and kill off the offenders that just won’t comply with the standards. People keep jobs, people get paid at least minimum wage, health and safety become something they have to deal with…

      • KmCO

        Yep. Deciding which activities are and aren’t “necessary”, especially for the populace at large, is a dangerously slippery slope. People can navel gaze on this topic and level injunctions at others; indeed, entire ideological industries exist for this purpose. But the people doing so tend to be joyless assholes whom no one really wants to be around.

        • tsam

          Oh YES

          Nail salons???? BAAAAAWWWWW!

        • Origami Isopod

          See also: the types who show up in every thread about television on certain progressive sites to harrumph that THEY don’t own a TV and never have owned one (or haven’t owned one in decades), TV rots your brain, why can’t all these sheeple READ instead?

      • joe from Lowell

        I’d hate to live in a world with only necessary industries.

        • KmCO

          And shirley no peril lurks amongst us greater than illegal immigration.

        • Hogan

          Dotty: Archie says the Church is a monument to irrationality.

          George: If Archie ever chose to relinquish his position as an eminent Vice Chancellor he would make an excellent buffoon, but since he manages to combine both roles without strain, I don’t suppose he ever will. The National Gallery is a monument to irrationality! Every concert hall is a monument to irrationality!–and so is a nicely kept garden, or a lover’s favour, or a home for stray dogs! You stupid woman, if rationality were the criterion for things being allowed to exist, the world would be one gigantic field of soya beans!

          • Karen24

            I remember a short story I read in high school. It’s set after The Bomb, and apparently the commies or some other similar group has taken over. An artist is being called before a revolutionary tribunal and asked about her work, which is deemed frivolous and counterrevolutionary. The narrator says that her judges would “dig up every rose bush on Earth to squeeze in a few more bean plants.”

            Seriously, there are few things that can make my blood boil quite as much as dismissing aesthetics, especially in places that serve the poor. High schools that serve poor kids get shop class and cosmetology but no art or music or Latin, because such things are a “waste.” What, poor kids won’t like music? Beautiful surroundings are a human right and essential to human dignity.

  • rob_b

    Is the problem with purchasing second hand clothing that we feel it absolves us of any responsibility? Is thrift store shopping bad or just not good? Is fair trade certified clothing the only humane option?

    • Basically what thrift store shopping does is allows consumers to say they are not morally responsible for the problem while actually doing nothing at all to help workers. It’s a pose. There’s nothing wrong with shopping in thrift stores for other reasons, but it does not help anyone. And it isn’t about fair trade clothing either, although a certified option here would be a step in the right direction. It’s about forcing the big apparel companies to be accountable for their workers and to hold them legally accountable to do so. Kalpona Akter, head of the Bangladeshi workers’ movement has stated that she does not want a boycott against the apparel companies–the women need the work. She wants rich world consumers to hold these companies accountable.

      • Shakezula

        She wants rich world consumers to hold these companies accountable.

        But short of hitting corps in the bank account, how does one hold a company accountable in a way that will cause it to change its practices?

        We’re dealing with executives who shrugged off the Rana Plaza collapse, so clearly bad PR and moral opprobrium aren’t concerns.

      • solidcitizen

        So I am supposed to keep consuming new clothes, often made with environmentally damaging cotton, in order to keep the Bangladeshi garment worker employed? And how does denigrating people who are politically conscious enough to be aware that people who make clothes in Bangladesh are working in horrible conditions for peanuts help? These people are our allies. How can we hold the companies accountable outside of withholding our dollars? International regulatory schemes? I’m on board. Most people finding alternate-clothing choices are probably on board and those that are not are very ripe targets for education. I doubt calling them posers is going to win them over.

        • Katya

          Feel free to buy used clothes. There’s nothing wrong with that. Just don’t kid yourself that it’s helping anyone in Bangladesh. If you care about those workers, contact the companies and voice your opinion. Contact your political representation and voice your opinion. Merely making yourself not directly complicit does not help anyone other than you.

          • Right.

          • The Temporary Name

            Clothiers understand that people are walking advertisements. If you’re running around in second-hand Lacoste you are still a billboard for Lacoste.

          • nixnutz

            That’s fine if you’re actually doing that work, but I think way too many people just read that as, I have the right political preferences therefore there’s no need for me to examine the impact of my lifestyle. That’s just not how ethics work, where you have the most control is where you have the most responsibility and nothing can absolve you of your duty to question the implications of your choices.

  • Shakezula

    Nolan Brown translated: People who have no power should be left to fend for themselves because any steps people with power take to protect them from other people with power will create negative amounts of powerlessness for the powerless.

    Also too: How dare you treat these women as though they’re irrational just because they have little or no English, money or access to finding help real sexist xenophobe blahdeblah.

  • LWA

    Yes it is like a broken record- “We can’t meddle in the Market, else Armageddon…”

    But of course the Market doesn’t exist without government granting exclusive rights to property and contract, defending some claims while ignoring others.

    When a rioting group wants to break the window of the nail salon, they demand I cough up taxes to support a police force- apparently this form of coercion is just fine.

    But when it comes time to apply minimum wage laws, suddenly the nail salon is a private fiefdom upon which no one may tread.

  • Origami Isopod

    Yes – this is the workers’ rights version of “50 Simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth.” It’s great if you recycle, don’t buy bottled water, etc. etc., but lone consumers (even many of them) aren’t going to solve the problem on their own.

    • JustRuss

      Next you’ll be telling me global warming won’t be solved if only Al Gore would live in a cave and stop flying in airplanes all the time.

  • LWA

    I also think Marcotte has a perceptive take on this- a lot of liberal tropes tend to become noblesse oblige, by focusing on the agency of the comfortable, rather than empowering the powerless.

    Its like the difference between charity and social justice- charity helps the giver, while social justice attacks poverty itself.

    • Origami Isopod

      Very true.

    • NonyNony

      Its like the difference between charity and social justice- charity helps the giver, while social justice attacks poverty itself.

      +1 – absolutely. And why I suspect conservatives love charity and hate social justice.

      • Linnaeus

        This reminds me of an interaction I had with a Republican state senator several years ago. It was student lobby day and I, with other students, visited various state legislators to talk to them about things like better funding for higher education.

        Well, this guy was kind of a jerk. When we offered the claim that better state funding for higher ed produces returns that are greater than what the state spends, he mocked a prior group of citizen lobbyists who were advocating for programs for the disabled (“well, you’re doing better than these folks, they only claimed X amount of return on state funding”) and then went to say that if students had to leave school because of lack of money, they could just work for a while and go back when they could afford it (like his father did, according to him). He went to extol the virtues of charity as a way to help people who needed money for higher education (“it makes you a better person and it makes me a better person”)

        Yeah, this guy was a real winner.

    • Jackov

      Yvon Chouinard wrote about not buying a shirt unless you need it
      in the early 2000s. In 2011, that same philosophy was used by Patagonia in its ‘black Friday’ advertisements. The Common Threads initiative is fine for what it is but does nothing to help garment workers. Let’s see if Patagonia takes out a full page in the NY Times extolling the virtues of their FairTrade certified clothes in the future.

  • William Berry

    Not impressed at all with Andrew’s reaction to this. Paraphrase: “If you salon operators aren’t behaving yourselves, a state inspector just might walk in on you!”

    I’ll bet that scared the hell out of them.

    If this is really going to be fixed, then, at least as far as NYC is concerned, the ball is in De Blasio’s court.

    • tsam

      Yes and no–if De Blasio comes down on them and the state ignores it, they’ll just move outside De Blasio’s jurisdiction.

      It’s better if the states take care of direct regulation, and the feds oversee health and safety with minimum wage/compensation requirements.

      • They can’t move. This is an intensely local business, with salons located every few blocks in middle-class neighborhoods. No one in NYC is traveling outside the city to get their nails done.

        To give you an example, Mrs__B uses a place a block from our apartment. (It seems to charge more than average; I have no idea if that is reflected in the workers’ pay although I have my suspicions.) The nearest place outside BDB’s jurisdiction is in Jersey City, a twenty-minute combined walk and train ride away.

        ETA: I forgot the order of train stops on the PATH.

  • libarbarian

    BTW this is what I was primarily responding too. I felt uneasy about the way race was presented in the initial article, but the follow ups are what convinced me it was not imaginary.

    Q: What was the biggest surprise in your reporting?
    A: The racism.

    Q: The racism in the article is so jarring. How did you discover that reporting thread?
    …..

    Really? While she was working, there were multiple national stories of unarmed black men getting gunned down by cops … but the racism of Korean store owners was “jarring” to her?

    The biggest surprise to her wasn’t the existence of sweatshop labor conditions in American businesses catering to white customers …. it
    was just how horribly racist those Korean store owners are?

    Now ….. Let’s take a look at this reporter

    Ms. Nir was The Times’ “Nocturnalist” columnist, covering New York City’s nightlife.

    As Nocturnalist, Ms. Nir covered more than 200 parties in 20 months, once attending 25 parties over five days. She has interviewed celebrities from Kanye West to Alec Baldwin, and had an audience — of sorts — with the Queen of Spain.

    ……
    Prior to joining the Times, Ms. Nir lived in London, where she was a freelancer for several national and international publications.
    ……

    A born and raised Manhattanite, Ms. Nir graduated from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, and from Columbia University, where she studied politics and philosophy.

    She loves horses.

    Um … it can’t really be just me who thinks that this veritably screams “Priviledge!” I suppose it is possible that she is the product of middle or working class parents who, through sheer grit and moxy, worked her way through an expensive elitist institution while also managing to avoid student debt well enough to have the financial security to spend a chunk of her 20s as a freelance journalist in the most expensive city in the world and thereby compiled a resume impressive enough to land a gig covering the parties of the world’s most debauched elites for the NYTimes …. and somewhere developed a taste for an animal that very few middle or working class New Yorkers ever get to interact with.

    It’s possible … but not very likely. She was a rich kid who could afford to graduate from Columbia twice and still have the financial security to skip a real job and go play at freelance journalist in the most expensive city in the world and also had the kind of elite social connections to make the NYTimes hire her to cover celebrity parties.

    But maybe she is grounded and has had a lot of interaction with immigrants and disadvantaged people and really does empathize with them and not see them like they are pitable zoo animals. Back to the interview ….

    Q: It was your first time working with translators. What was that like?
    ….
    Q: The Greatest Challenge?
    A: If someone had told me before I started that I would be speaking to people who don’t speak my language, are in the country illegally, don’t have licenses, have every reason to never talk to me, I don’t know if I would have done this story.

    I guess not. First time working with translators … wouldn’t have done the story if she had known it meants slumming it with illegals …… no … looks to me like she really hasn’t spent very much time around immigrants or poor people.

    So, this is the fucking person who is professing to be fucking “surprised” by the so-called “racism” of Korean immigrants? This is the person who is shocked SHOCKED!! that the nameless people who did her nails before all those parties are exploited? This is the person who points the finger, not at the kind of elite privileged people who throw a hissy fit if they have to wait for 15 minutes (because they can’t be too late to that fucking A-List party) but at the immigrants who run those businesses?

    So, yeah, fuck that! I support the Gov taking action to protect those workers, but that article is seeped in racism and privilege and I’m not pretending otherwise.

    • MPAVictoria

      Just going to point out that you are denying the lived in experience of these workers. That is wrong.

      /Whatever we do, we must start by listening.

    • joe from Lowell

      jar·ring
      ˈjäriNG/
      adjective
      1.
      incongruous in a striking or shocking way; clashing.

      Why would anyone be at all surprised by the existence of racist white cops or sweatshop conditions for immigrant workers? I don’t think those things would be incongruous in any way. I think they’d be expected.

      • PhoenixRising

        Whereas many white people, particularly the majority who have no social connection to Asian-Americans, aren’t aware of just HOW racist Asian-Americans can be.

        Because they’re people, who need people…to be better than.

    • Joanna

      So much form, so little content. Fyi the concern trolling might sound more genuine if you didn’t write as though you discovered a concept like privilege some five minutes ago.

      • Tyro

        There’s something kind of impressive about it, like someone who discovered a bunch of vocabulary around the issue of structural racism and then walked into a comments section and decided to apply it like plugging in values into an equation and chugging away.

  • Anyway, the unfortunately most common response is what we often see from empowered individualistic consumers, which is “how can I consume ethically.” The question turns the issue from being about the workers to about the consumer. We see this in apparel activism too often from people who think that buying second-hand clothing is an answer to sweatshop labor. Michelle Chen answers the question about what you can do quite simply–support worker organizing–and she provides plenty of information about how that is shaping up. Amanda Marcotte takes on the middle class guilt part of this debate more directly (with plenty of links of this sort of thing if you are so inclined).

    I think this is right and way too often personal behavior modification is substituted for political action or has no or unintended consequences.

    And yet…consumer behavior does have effects and often good ones. People becoming (sane) vegetarians have made vegetarianism more salient and possible. Trying to go more green with your energy seems to help. Not flushing your toilet often won’t fix CA drought problems, but individual conservation efforts (when aggregated) do help in lots of situations both directly and as a signal (both to politicians and to businesses).

    Shame based campaigns tend not to work so very well. But I think affirmative ones can. Seeking out better providers is a reasonable part of a broader campaign.

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