Don't Be Sari

by Don Boudreaux on June 12, 2007

in Seen and Unseen, Standard of Living, Trade

Here’s a letter that I sent recently to the Washington Post:

Dear Editor:

moral of your report on the decline of family weavers in India is that
globalization and modernization are suspect because they eliminate many
ancient, home-based occupations ("An Ancient Indian Craft Left in
Tatters," June 6).  And your quotations from out-of-work sari weavers
are indeed moving.

Nowhere in this report, however, do you
interview those Indians who now can buy machine-made saris at lower
prices – thus improving their standard of living by enabling them to
purchase other goods whose production creates new jobs for many Indians
who would otherwise remain mired in poverty.  Yes, India has a long way
to go.  But the notion that most Indians’ lives would be better if that
economy were frozen in its past ways is foolish.

Donald J. Boudreaux

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Russ Nelson June 12, 2007 at 8:43 am

I would have said 'evil' rather than 'foolish' because I believe in ignoring motives and going straight to the effects. "You shall know them by their fruits."

Sam Grove June 12, 2007 at 9:39 am

People losing jobs makes the news, people getting jobs does not.

CRC June 12, 2007 at 9:52 am

"People losing jobs makes the news, people getting jobs does not."

Isn't that the essence of the "seen and unseen" issue?

Swimmy June 12, 2007 at 11:12 am

Interestingly, this is exactly the example Friedman used in one of his Free To Choose videos to show the damages of protectionism: Footage of Indian loom workers, outdated since the 60s but protected by their government, and their miserable villages.

Niraj June 12, 2007 at 11:16 am

These weavers can focus their efforts on marketing to premium buyers– people who will a pay pretty penny to buy them.

dave smith June 12, 2007 at 11:20 am

It is interesting, Swimmy. And ironic. Surely these reporters would run a news story proclaiming up is down, and down is up.

colson June 12, 2007 at 11:20 am

It would seem to be a consistant thread amongst do-gooders to ignore the full implications of where heart-strings and emotion cross the dangerous and often busy tracks of reality. The terrible capitalist will build a bridge and charge a toll for safe crossing. The do-gooder will build an observation deck.

CTD June 12, 2007 at 1:26 pm

The do-gooder will build an observation deck.

And bemoan the piteous condition of those he observes drowning as the attempt to ford the river.

Brad June 12, 2007 at 1:58 pm

First it's the traditional Sari makers, then it'll be the traditional bloggers… those who actually write (or type) their own blog postings. Commenting has already been automated.

Jon June 12, 2007 at 3:19 pm

Typical bitching from a typical source.

Alas people have yet to understand what is known as "YOU AREN'T STUCK IN ONE JOB!"

Ed S. June 12, 2007 at 3:40 pm

So, when are you going to start buying your suits at Wal-Mart?

jp June 12, 2007 at 5:08 pm

I already buy my khaki pants at Wal-Mart. My wife found that Wal-Mart carries an all-cotton brand for $15(!). Yes, fifteen dollars. So far, they're indistinguishable from the brand I used to pay three times as much for.

True_liberal June 12, 2007 at 6:43 pm

Swimmy, you beat me to the punch.

To all others; "Free Yo Choose" on video is a must to watch. If you don't have your own copy, check your public library.

Rick June 12, 2007 at 8:58 pm

Brilliant and succinct as usual!
Of course the unseen effects are seldom reported – whether good or bad.

SheetWise June 12, 2007 at 10:56 pm

Of course the unseen effects are seldom reported – whether good or bad.

Good reports don't have victims.

Victims are a necessary catalyst for change. It doesn't matter that your policies created them — only that they exist.

What makes you think that they're unforseen?

bartman June 13, 2007 at 1:50 am

What Niraj said. Here in the Middle East, hand-made Persian (or Afghan or Baluchi) rugs are priced about 10 times higher than Belgian machine-made ones, but the merchants seem to have no difficulty selling them.

Anshu Sharma June 13, 2007 at 2:26 am

Candle makers in USA are out of jobs too. Let's get rid of electricity. Some of this stuff is so self-evidently ridiculous that its hard to even argue with a straight face. My niece growing up in India today has 100 times more opportunities than my Dad or I ever had. If anything, Indians want more progress, better homes, more automobiles, more air conditioners, faster and cheaper. We can always set up a small park to teach future generations how Saris used to take 15 days of manual labor and cost 3 months salary.

Those who want the old India can always travel to some of our states (in India) that are lagging in progress with starving farmers, etc.

Dr Subroto Roy June 13, 2007 at 5:26 am

Hello, it is interesting you speak of India and of FA Hayek. You will find his letter to me of February 1981 referring to India's economy at my blog
Subroto Roy

Dr Subroto Roy June 13, 2007 at 5:38 am

Speaking of sari-makers, it may not be widely known that the origins of all software technology (via punch cards and the old IBM more than 100 years ago) comes from the textile industry. I gave a lecture about this at the Indian Institute of Information Technology in Bangalore in November 2000.

I have not seen the Washington Post article referred to about sari-making, but I wonder if they noticed how much "implicit software" exists within the sari-makers' skills as shown in the ever-changing and very complex patterns of saris.

jp June 13, 2007 at 8:06 am

"Free to Choose" is also available for free on the Web. You should be able to find the link if you go to Reason magazine's Hit & Run blog and search for Free to Choose.

triticale June 15, 2007 at 8:59 am

So, when are you going to start buying your suits at Wal-Mart?

Setting aside the fact that I am fortunate enough not to need to wear a suit, I will start buying clothing at Wal-Mart when their prices are better than what I pay at Goodwill or Value Village.

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