Kristof supports sweatshops

Uber-liberal Nicholas Kristof

By Alec Brandon

Uber-liberal Nicholas Kristof argues in favor of sweatshops today in the NY Times op-ed page:

Africa desperately needs Western help in the form of schools, clinics and sweatshops….Well-meaning American university students regularly campaign against sweatshops. But instead, anyone who cares about fighting poverty should campaign in favor of sweatshops, demanding that companies set up factories in Africa. If Africa could establish a clothing export industry, that would fight poverty far more effectively than any foreign aid program.

The logical argument in favor of sweatshops is not very advanced. While bad on face value, they typically offer the third-world jobs that pay twice anything they could ever get. Furthermore, sweatshops can be the first building block in attracting more investment in both human and physical capital, which makes it one of the few possible long-run solutions to third-world poverty. Now, I am not saying that sweatshops are an inherently good thing. At its worst, exploitation of third-world labor is reprehensible. But at the same time, activists shouldn’t be so vehemently against something that has been so successful at achieving their purported aim: fighting poverty, in both the short and long-run. Fighting to make sweatshops a win-win scenario (even at the margin) is what those truly interested in fighting third-world poverty should do. Hopefully Nicholas “There is a genocide going on in Darfur” Kristof throwing his weight behind reason over visceral emotions is a first step towards that acceptance by liberal activists.(Via Greg Mankiw, which is, by the way, my new favorite blog.)