Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Race to the Bottom Revisited


At the height of the Great Depression, Pope Pius XI issued the encyclical Quadragesimo Anno  in which he advised that " the right ordering of economic life cannot be left to free competitive forces."  

The recent disaster in a garment factory in Bangladesh should cause Western nations to re-examine their overseas purchasing policies. Chinese coastal factories are moving menial labour westward into the nation's interior. The workers in the eastern factories went on strike, got raises, then saw their jobs move inland in a kind of insourcing the outsourced.  

This story appeared in an 800-word report in The Globe and Mail, but nowhere did it mention "outsourcing."   In the spirit of euphemism, it's now "manufacturing movements" or "moving operations offshore."

China, the world's largest recipient of outsourced business, is itself outsourcing to even lower-wage nations such as Bangladesh, Vietnam and Cambodia.  One can imagine the leaders of these nations making their presentations to rich Western corporations: "Our people are poorer, more plentiful, and more exploited than the other guy's people."

Vying for poor country status constitutes a race to the bottom.  The result is seen in that November 2012 fire in Dhaka, Bangladesh sweatshop that killed 112 women working in unsafe conditions.  They are part of the 300 workers who have died in garment factory fires since 2006 in that country.

Tazreen Fashions made Mickey Mouse sweatshirts for Walt Disney, Faded Glory children's shorts for Walmart, and items with the ENTCE label for Sears.  These corporations claimed ignorance of conditions in the source of their products. Of course, if one closes one's eyes, one cannot see.

The Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights stated that nothing will change unless clothing companies protect workers as vigorously as they protect their brands.  "The labels are legally protected," a spokesperson said, "but there are no similar protected rights of the worker."   That might increase the price to the Western merchants by an estimated 25 cents per garment.  Cheap clothing comes at a high cost.



Saturday, May 11, 2013

Not Enough Time to Cook?


It is estimated that cave people worked less than 20 hours a week to produce life's essentials. In 1968, Mechanix Illustrated predicted: "People will have more time for leisure activities in the year 2008. The average work week is about four hours."

Here we are in 2013, and at hand the greatest time-savings devices ever known. For most the work week is longer, and more stressful. Technology has not delivered the promised dividend of time. It has increased the burden of living.

This perceived shortage of time has given rise to a previously unthinkable e-commerce business. For a fee, someone will buy, measure, cut, chill, box and ship every ingredient for a meal to your door. According to a purveyor of this service, "There's not enough time in modern lives to receipt-collect or grocery-shop." (New York Times, March 31, 2013)

With an array of push-button devices at our command, why is there "not enough time"? Why has technology not improved our lives to the point where we can stop after four hours of work? As Shakespeare has observed, the fault is not in our stars, but in ourselves that we are underlings.

When Disagreement BecomesTreason


Treason may be defined as a breach of allegiance to the state. American law more broadly and less vaguely holds it to be any serious injury to the United States. That's why there's greater freedom of expression in the U.S. than in Canada.

Philosopher Umberto Eco: "The critical spirit makes distinctions, and to distinguish is a sign of modernism. In modern culture the scientific praises disagreement as a way to improve knowledge. For Ur-Fascism, disagreement is treason." (his italics.)

It is not difficult to see fascism in today's society.  In Germany, any questioning of received history of the Holocaust warrants imprisonment. This law, and a similar one in Canada, has turned Ernst Zundel, previously a nobody, into a celebrity. Also in Germany and in several other European countries, homeschooling is a crime. Parents who insist on asserting their primary right of education are jailed, their children seized by the state, and given out for adoption. The anti-homeschooling law was enacted by Adolf Hitler, never repealed, but still rigourously enforced. Violation is treason.

In Canada, to speak in favour of the family is as it has been for thousands of years is deemed hateful and worthy of punishment. Treason in Ontario is any disagreement with the government forcing its views of family, sexuality and society on the public. The government has undermined parental authority by declaring teachers to be "co-parents" of their children. This language manipulation allows educators to withhold from parents information of what their children are being exposed to at school. Any objection is called hateful, and may have parents banned from entry onto school property. Surely a sign of fascism?

The suppression of any questioning of authority has a long history. The high priest warned early Christians, "We gave you strict orders not to teach in his name." For their efforts, Peter and Paul were executed. Throughout the Middle Ages, violators of  what society considered acceptable were punished, occasionally by death.

That spirit continues today. Anyone standing any distance from the accepted norms of speech may be jailed, fined, or lose their job. This leaves little room for disagreement as Umberto Eco describes it. Fascism reigns in one form or another and punishes non-acceptance of the agendas of governments, activists and other controllers of popular expression.