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Ladies: Work Will Set You Free

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rana

Above: The most feminist factory collapse of all time

Why didn’t anyone tell me it is “Women Will Be Freed by Labor Exploitation Day?”

Example A on ‘the feminist side of sweatshops” (!!!)

Fears of exploitation now often center on South and Southeast Asia. Human Rights Watch recently published a piece condemning Cambodia’s garment factories. True, factory work is difficult and sometimes deadly—just as it was in the Industrial Revolution.

“But ask the woman,” economist Deirdre McCloskey suggests, “if she would rather that the shoe company not make her the offer … Look at the length of queue that forms when Nike opens a new plant in Indonesia. And ask her if she’d rather not have any market opportunities at all, and be left home instead entirely to her father or husband.”

Factory work, though arduous, often represents an improvement for women. Research from Yale University suggests the rise of the garment industry, dominated by female factor workers, helps explain the falling rate of child marriage and rapid increase in girls’ educational attainment in Bangladesh.

Regrettably, well-intentioned calls for export restrictions and boycotts can harm the very women they seek to help, many of whom fear the loss of factory work and a return to rural penury and stricter gender roles. Already, automation threatens the jobs of nine million, mostly young and female, garment factory workers. Boycotts worsen this situation.

Harriet’s arguments still apply today. As long as work is “voluntarily assumed” and laborers maintain the “liberty to withdraw” from it, we should not reject a potential force for women’s empowerment in developing countries in an attempt to protect them. Women everywhere have too much independence for that.

Would you be shocked to note that the author of this piece is a CATO hack? No, no you wouldn’t. This isn’t of course to say that wage labor can’t lead to greater freedom in women’s lives. But the feminist position to take is that these workers shouldn’t die when their sweatshops collapse around them. The feminist position is that these women shouldn’t have their union organizers beaten and killed when they try to organize. The feminist position is that these women shouldn’t be subjected to forced pregnancy tests, rampant sexual harassment, and rape as part of their job. In fact, there may be some difference between actual feminism and a plutocratic ideology that just so happens to serve the interests of sweatshop owners and CATO ideologues!

And then there’s Example B. What is holding back American women? The Fair Labor Standards Act!

This blog will be the first in a three part series taking a fresh look at the FLSA, with a particular focus on its negative impact on working women, and how real change could be a real boon for women. This “Part 1” will examine the history of working women, address why women are leaving the workplace, and what women want from their employers to attract them to stay.

Part 2 will discuss relevant business needs and trends in general in today’s world marketplace.

Finally, Part 3 will bring everything together and explore how the FLSA works against women in achieving their professional goals as well as better work-life balance. It will also consider alternatives to the current structure of the FLSA and the positive impact real change could have on U.S. businesses and women alike.

Given that the rest of Part 1 examines nothing about the history of working women, I know I can’t wait for Part 3! Nothing is bringing women down–and I mean NOTHING–like the minimum wage, overtime pay, and a ban on child labor!!!

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  • Nobdy

    The first article is typical “sweatshops are better than literally starving to death so they are perfect” crap. Implicit in that is that corporations will only bring jobs to those places if they are rapey and dangerous, which is a really odd acceptance of sociopathy that I think we’re all just supposed to accept at this point? Like it’s ok for overseas jobs to be rapey if it makes our shoes cheaper and our CEOs richer?

    The second article is nothing but assumptions piled together into a cliche lump. Women want to work less because babies! Are we going to talk at all about the uneven distribution of child care responsibilities or the lack of affordable child care options for so many people? No? Gonna bulldoze right past that? Cool. Cool. This is probably going somewhere really smart. Stay tuned for the next two weeks!

    • thebewilderness

      Not surprised that is the same argument used in favor of pornstitution. How will this generation of women CHOOSE to be exploited? Choose your choice, ladies. Choose your choice.

    • Lurking Canadian

      Like it’s ok for overseas jobs to be rapey if it makes our shoes cheaper and our CEOs richer?

      Actually, that would be an improvement. Usually these types argue that it is necessary for these jobs to be abusive in order for the workers to have a competitive advantage.

      • Linnaeus

        Even Paul Krugman was making an argument similar to that back in the late 1990s. He’s changed his tune a little since then.

        • MPAVictoria

          Yeah. It is a real shame that Paul Krugman is as left as you are allowed to be in our media environment.

  • keta

    Jesus, Erik, you’re really a glass half-empty sort of guy aren’t you?

    Just don’t worry, be happy for crissakes.

    To help correct popular misperceptions regarding the actual state of humanity, Cato created the HumanProgress project. Through the presentation of empirical data that focuses on long-term developments, the goal of the project is to provide a useful resource for legislative staff, scholars, journalists, students, and the general public. To learn more and to meet the team behind this remarkable venture, please join us.

  • This is just another version of “globalization leads to modernization and modernization leads to a more liberal society (here: improved equality and economic power for women) so [insert your criticism of free market ideology here] does violence to the choices of people in the developing world.” I’m not aware, though, that anyone is saying there shouldn’t be factory work in developing countries because factory work is bad for women. Is there anyone arguing against factory work in Southeast Asia, someone who might be set as an opponent of feminism? Hm!

    • Robespierre

      No, but you are arguing against the conditions that, in a capitalist economy, lead to there actually being any industry in South-East Asia. So yes, you are objectively anti SE-Asian industrialisation.

      • Origami Isopod

        I hope you forgot to use the code button. If not, I hope your namesake comes out of the grave just to backhand you.

      • But note that although Erik also argues against global movement of capital, his solution to the safety problems doesn’t work unless industrialization happens (and I don’t see any other way forward either). It’s just a mistake to say that boycotts are “objectively” anti-industrialization.

  • pigmund

    I do not frequently read anything published on thehill.com; however, on the few occasions i have, i have always had this strong urge to claw out my eyes so that i never make the mistake of reading anything published on thehill.com. Perhaps i have just been unlucky thus far in what i have chosen to read on that website.

  • Joseph Slater

    In fairness, you didn’t even mention how much the Equal Pay Act part of the FLSA — a pre-Title VII law that, generally speaking, requires that men and women doing the same job under the same conditions be paid the same — must certainly harm women.

    • True. It’s the greatest oppressive clause in an American document since the 3/5 Compromise. More oppressive, really.

      • thebewilderness

        I suffered dreadfully when the employer finally had to raise my pay to match the manly men with families to support when I was clearly much better off as a single parent being paid less since, like most women, I only worked for pin money.

        • I hope you were able to drown your sorrows in babymaking and husbandserving.

          • thebewilderness

            I became a union organizer. Heh.

        • Nobdy

          How much do pins cost, anyway?

      • Nobdy

        the greatest oppressive clause in an American document since the 3/5 Compromise

        Don’t you mean the 13th amendment (and predecessor proclamation), which stripped hundreds of thousands of American citizens of their duly purchased property without compensation or redress?

        That was property those Americans worked for, the fruits of their labor. Can you imagine what it was like for all those former slave owners to have their labor taken from them without compensation? No other oppression in American history is comparable.

    • btfjd

      I followed the link to the article written by a lawyer at a major employer defense firm, and another link at the bottom of that article, and what this is all about is how women are oppressed by the fact that the FLSA doesn’t offer them flexibility in scheduling. Which is largely BS, of course. Exempt employees can, with their employers’ consent, rearrange their schedules any way they want to. Nonexempt employees can rearrange their schedules within the workweek, since the FLSA’s OT standard is 40 hours in the workweek, not 8 hours per day (note: a few states, notably California, require daily OT). And obviously, the 40 hour standard doesn’t mean anything for part time employees.

      So the “problem” is a lot less prevalent than we are led to believe. The proposed remedy, to the extent that one is needed, is comp time for overtime–that is, providing 1.5 hours off for each OT hour worked. State and local government employees already have the comp time option. The author wants to extend it to private sector employees.

      There are at least two major practical objections. The first is that employees who rack up a bunch of comp time may get resistance when they try to take it. The proposed amendment to the FLSA would allegedly address that, but in practice it might be a problem. The bigger problem, though, which is not addressed in the proposal, is what happens when an employer goes belly-up, leaving a lot of employees with large comp time balances which now can’t be paid? I could never support such a proposal unless employers were either required to purchase some sort of payment bond for their employees’ comp time balances, or the government would guarantee payment of comp time balances when employers go bankrupt and/or out of business.

  • Colin Day

    But the feminist position to take is that these workers shouldn’t die when their sweatshops collapse around them

    Sorry, Erik, but if your sweatshop collapses, you’re going down with it. Oh wait, are you saying that the sweatshops shouldn’t collapse in the first place?

    Arbeit macht tot.

  • Morse Code for J

    I feel like this is less a statement of sincere belief and more an attempt at writing megaton-intensity clickbait.

    • Morse Code for J

      And by “feel like” I mean “really, desperately hope that.”

  • Victor Matheson

    It might be worth noting that Deirdre McCloskey is one of the world’s leading progressive champions for transgender rights.

    That being said, having actually read the article, I didn’t see a single call to stop unionization, resist anti-harassment rules, or promote unsafe building. I presume Loomis just saw the word “economist” and built some straw man suggesting the feminist position according to Cato is that firms be allowed to rape and kill in poor countries because that is better than starving to death.

    Ultimately it all comes down to whether firms should be allowed to pay workers crappy wages. Well, given the fact that Bangladeshis have no skills, no capital, are far from markets where they might sell their goods, and have a bad government and climate, the only thing they have going for themselves is a willingness to work for cheap. Take that away and you literally take everything they have from them. Mandate higher wages for Bangladeshis and it now makes sense to simply locate in North Carolina. Good for the US, bad for women in Bangladesh.

    • Nobdy

      This argument sort of works for wages, but how does it excuse labor conditions or labor-related violence or sexual assault?

      Sweat shops aren’t just factories relocated from Michigan to Bangladesh with lower wages.

      • Victor Matheson

        This is a totally fair comment. However, the article Loomis is so critical about doesn’t say anything at all about wanting to stop general human rights protections or unionization. It’s a pretty standard “don’t be blindly critical of sweatshops” article.

        • As long as work is “voluntarily assumed” and laborers maintain the “liberty to withdraw” from it,

          Give me a fucking break

    • You could fight for the workers in Bangladesh, supporting what these women want, or you could support their oppression like McCloskey. It’s your call.

      And I don’t see what how McCloskey’s work on transgender rights has one iota to do with the issue of workers in Bangladesh. Someone gets a pass for being a CATO hack who argues for the status quo of an oppressed people because they are good on some other issue? No.

      • No Longer Middle Aged Man

        You could fight for the workers in Bangladesh, supporting what these women want, or you could support their oppression like McCloskey.

        And you’re the guy who makes fun of Freddie for his holier-lefter than thou act that distorts what other people say?

      • Bruce B.

        Turns out her work on trans rights has everything to do with Banglesh workers’ rights. On both cases she’s against them, for the same toadying-to-the-richest reasons.

    • PhoenixRising

      It might be worth noting that Deirdre McCloskey is one of the world’s leading progressive champions for transgender rights.

      Where would you like the award for Ad Hominem Excellence to be sent, and can I include the medical bills from how hard I just rolled my eyes?

    • Bruce B.

      It might be worth noting if she were anything of the sort. But from the moment she came out as trans, she’s approached her situation – and that of every other LGBT – as fresh opportunities to preach the gospel of selfishness and the uselessness of the state and any collective action but commercial ones.

      In her first coming-out essays, she dismissed the trouble her wife was having adjusting to the situation with a callousness literally unique in my experience of trans lives. I have never before or since seen any trans person so completely detached from the woman who had, after all, shared her life for a long time. Nor have either the folks I know who work with trans people needing psychological help. Regardless of one’s politics, religion, or anything else, anguish about the difficulties transitioning makes for people one loves and has been committed to is pretty much a universal.

      In the time since, she’s been reliably against any effort by or on behalf of trans people that uses the state, whether it’s basic health care, any special police or judicial effort to deal with trans-specific threats, cancelling out disgraceful shit like bathroom bills, anything. She wants trans people out there buying and selling their way to freedom as atomistic consumer units like everyone else, and if they don’t have the dough to get very far, fuck ’em.

      She is as much a social nihilist as Thatcher was; she makes Caitlyn Jenner seem left-wing and responsible.

      People who know less about the trans world don’t have to take my word for it. Look at her website and tell me you find one scrap of progressive idealism, or disciplined, pragmatic progressive action, there.

      Why are you pushing this line of crap, Victor?

      For a look at actual trans progressives, try someone like Misty Snow, who ran against Mike Lee last year, or Bhumika Shrestha, the first person in Nepal to have official non-binary gender status on her passport. The differences with McCloskey are very obvious.

      • Bruce B.

        Additionally, if you look at who’s praised her work since 1999, it’s entirely right wingers. I guess it is some sense possible that the Cato Institute, National Review, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation, and a ton of their fans would all line up to so readily honor “one of the world’s leading progressive champions for transgender rights”. But it ain’t fuckin’ likely, and in fact, it’s not true at all. They love her because she is a trans person willing to tell them that what would really help trans people is precisely all the stuff they want to do anyway, and that none of the stuff they hate and fear would actually do trans people any good.

        • I’ve seen lefties praise her work, though admittedly it was probably Crooked Timber types who can’t bring themselves to criticize anyone who seems like a consensus academic position, especially in one of the Major Fields of The Spirit of the Age like Economics.

          • Bruce B.

            OK, that’s true – I over-stated my case with “entirely” right-wing. She also enjoys left-wing support, mostly from people who are comfortable throwing categories like “trans people”, “LGBT people”, and “women” under handy buses.

      • Origami Isopod

        Why are you pushing this line of crap, Victor?

        The “Selected Media Appearances” section here implies that he makes good money peddling it to Very Serious People.

        • Bruce B.

          Has anyone seen my shock and surprise lately? They’ve gone missing.

    • Origami Isopod

      It might be worth noting that Deirdre McCloskey is one of the world’s leading progressive champions for transgender rights.

      Oh, FFS. Just as Bernie Sanders’ economic populism doesn’t give him immunity from criticism of his other stances, McCloskey’s trans activism doesn’t give her immunity from criticism of the shitty things she says.

      Go carry water for the oligarchs elsewhere; nobody’s buying here.

      • Bruce B.

        McCloskey is into trans activism the way Milo Yannopolous is into gay rights activism.

    • Aaron Morrow

      In reality, McCloskey is one of the world’s leading conservative champions for transgender rights. That Matheson would try to lie about her conservatism is ridiculous, but that he would hide it behind her fight for equal rights is rather disgusting.

  • Victor Matheson

    And roll your eyes all you want about Cato and their so-called Human Progress project, but by far the largest poverty reduction program in the history of the planet was China creating millions upon millions of crappy factory jobs between roughly 1990 and today. These “terrible” jobs and their spillovers have lifted hundreds of millions of people out of the dollar-a-day subsistence lives they were leading into poor but vastly improved lives.

    Still way better to be born in New England than china, but it is far better today than 30 years ago.

    • Nobdy

      Was there a toggle switch with only two options: “Subsistence farming” and “explotative industrial jobs with no political rights” that someone flipped?

      Just because something was net good doesn’t mean it is beyond criticism or could not have been or be better.

      The perfect is the enemy of the good but the better is not.

      • Linnaeus

        Was there a toggle switch with only two options: “Subsistence farming” and “explotative industrial jobs with no political rights” that someone flipped?

        I was going to make this point myself. The fact that one particular choice might be better than another doesn’t mean that that choice could not be made better or that there could not be an expanded range of choices.

    • Nothing helps workers more than the murder of their organizers to make sure the pay stays low and the employers don’t leave for another country.

    • Aaron Morrow

      “Keeping hundreds of millions of people poor rather than decrease profit” is a horribly stupid way to try and define feminism. On the other hand, I am not one of the world’s leading conservative champions for misogyny.

  • JdLaverty

    It takes a special kind of hack fuck to write about how sweatshop workers should be grateful from a swiveling leather armchair at a DC thinky tank.

    • Telling the poor their exploitation is good for them while never having to do this work yourself is quite a position to take. Of course, there’s never been a shortage of people willing to do this.

      • Pseudonym

        You’d think according to their own principles the excess supply of this particular so-called good would drive the levels of compensation down, but with increasing income inequality the demand rises as well.

  • NewishLawyer

    I’m very interested in the psychology of work. I’ve never gotten the whole idea that working long hours for the sake of working long hours is good. I’m capable of doing it in short bursts and for important deadlines but not on a sustained and regular basis.

    But a lot of people do it. The poor do it because they must often. But a lot of well-educated people buy into the cult of work. Most of the owners of law firms I have seen were real workaholics who did work as much as they demanded of their employees. Other people just seem to absorb the MO and/or define their self-worth through work as you mentioned.

    I’ve known people like this since I was an undergrad. There were always a few people who would be involved in too many productions at once, plus their internship/job, plus their classes. IMO they seemed to get their self-worth value when someone intervened to make them eat something or take shut eye. In any office I’ve worked in there always seem to be a handful of people who just work, work, work and can do so everyday for long hours. I’ve seen dumb mistakes happen because of the lack of sleep but no one can convince them “Hey you need to take a break and clear your head.”

    But maybe I am whitish-enough and male and heterosexual enough that I don’t feel a need to “prove myself.” I think a lot of women still think they need to work as hard and long as the men.

    But I often wonder if there is a memo I missed.

    • gmoot

      Glorifying long work hours and short vacations is primarily a US phenomenon. My off-the-cuff speculation is US exceptionalism stems from a combination of bootstrap-ism (“anyone can be rich if they just work hard enough”), weak labor protections, increasingly large shares of jobs with contingent contracts, and in some professions, the use of “tournament” models of compensation where pay is less about productivity than it is about putting in more face time than the other guy/gal.

      The glorification of long work hours also creates incentives for people to lie about work hours. See https://hbr.org/2015/04/why-some-men-pretend-to-work-80-hour-weeks. I haven’t seen a quantitative study of whether US workers are more likely than European workers to inflate their work hours in labor for surveys based on self-reports (i.e., most of them, including the Current Population Survey), but it wouldn’t surprise me if they did.

  • dcoffin

    “…address why women are leaving the workplace…”

    It’s true that women’s labor force participation rates in the US have declined (slightly) over the past 10 years. But in looking at the data, that seems mostly to have been associated with the 2007 recession and the incredibly weak recovery from it. Men’s labor force participation rates fell more than women’s did in the recession and have also been slow to recover.

    And the most salient thing about the FLSA is that the minimum wage has not budged. So, in real terms, minimum wage jobs are paying less. Maybe an increase in the minimum wage would be a good idea?

  • wengler

    The classic argument for slavery. Capitalism at its most pathetic.

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