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What Do YOU Do to Help Third-World Workers?

Here’s a letter to a very agitated Aaron the Aaron:

Dear Mr. the Aaron:

Referring to my letter to John Oliver, your accuse me of “missing the point of objections to Wal-Mart sourcing supplies from sweatshops.” You say that the point has “nothing to do with alternatives open to poor workers and everything to do with Wal-Mart’s refusal to pay better even though that multinational mega corporation is able to afford to pay its desperate workers better.”

Put aside the very real question of whether or not Wal-Mart, as a company, can afford to pay these third-world workers more. (Retailing is among the most competitive industries on earth, with razor-thin profit margins.) Focus instead on the larger picture. By your own admission, work in the factories that supply goods to Wal-Mart is better for these workers than are these workers’ alternatives. Yet despite the fact that Wal-Mart is already helping to improve these workers’ lives, you are angry because that company isn’t doing even more to help them.

So I ask: how much are you directly doing to help these workers? Are you regularly sending, say, ten percent of your take-home pay to some of these workers? Have you cashed in some of your stocks to ship the proceeds to third-world workers? If you own a house or a pension fund, have you taken out loans against it in order to help these workers? If you do none of these (or similar) things, you have no business condemning Wal-Mart, who at least does something to improve these poor workers’ lives.

Please don’t tell me that you, unlike Wal-Mart, can’t afford to help these workers. Of course you can; you’re an American. If you help these workers – say, to the tune of ten percent of your annual take-home pay – the resulting reduction in your standard of living will still leave you enjoying a quality of life that to third-world workers is unimaginably luxurious.

So if you wish to moralize about greedy Americans refusing to give more of their wealth to people in poor countries, target your vitriol first at yourself and others like you who spend nothing of significance to help third-world workers, before criticizing Wal-Mart and other businesses that at least spend something on this front.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030