Would you buy “Made in USA by Rich White People”?

You need your lawn mowed,do you hire the kid down the block who’s saving money for a car, or a surgeon? First off, the kid obviously needs the money more. And that matters. Second, do you really want to pull the doctor away from saving lives? What if he isn’t saving lives? He’s still improving lives. This applies to any productive person (okay, maybe not lawyers). This doctor could be doing things I think are a total waste, but the people paying him disagree with you; as long as they’re paying their own way, who am I to disagree?

What am I getting at here? By world standards (and especially by historical standards) American workers are incredibly productive and wealthy. Yeah, everyone’s got money problems, and the mortgage isn’t paying itself, and prices are rising, and all the rest. But at the end of the day, having an American worker do something a Bangladeshi could is analogous to having a surgeon do something a teenager could. Are working conditions in the third world good? No. Should you be concerned with the well-being of Americans? Yes. Does this justify buying American? No! A resounding no!

14 thoughts on “Would you buy “Made in USA by Rich White People”?

  1. “Does this justify buying American? No! A resounding no!”

    I don’t need to justify buying American, I can make purchasing decisions using whatever criteria suits me. If a group of like-minded people decide to do so collectively who are you to disagree?

    • My argument is that using criteria based in in-group preferences is morally questionable. But that argument does cut both ways: it is repulsive (IMHO) to refuse to buy from a poor person who is the low cost provider of a good because they weren’t lucky enough to be born in America. On the other hand it makes sense and seems admirable to be willing to pay “too much” to buy from your friend/neighbor.

    • (Sorry for disjointed responses, I’m in the road). My sentence would be more clear if it read “does this in itself justify buying American?”

  2. Right. However, we also need to be keen to realize when a particular comparative advantage allows us to once again bring manufacturing back to America, i.e.: natural resources. America is now poised to be a leader in oil and gas production.

  3. Your argument by analogy is flawed. You determine the distinction between surgeon and teenager as one of material need, but also one of ability and skill – the surgeon could be saving people, or the lawyer could be litigating. The teenager does not have a market value commensurate with the surgeon or lawyer because he lacks these skills. However, you attempt to extend it to the Bangladeshi, but this is not a question of ability or skill, but merely of material need: the Bangladeshi needs those greenbacks more than Bobby saving up for his first jalopy.

    If you say that Americans are like the surgeon, and the Bangladeshis are like the teenager, then you can set up a hierarchy of skill, but that undercuts your point that the Bangladeshi could do something an American could do. Anyone who has bought a Chinese, or a Vietnamese, or a Bangladeshi, or whatever, versus an American product will know that such is false. And if we are calling this a moral dilemma, shouldnt we refrain from buying third world products at all, considering the human suffering that goes into each cheap product we buy? Or is there some sort of utilitarian tradeoff? Will each productive American add more to world prosperity through exploiting the third world?

    The moral equation favors American over third world labor by a mile. No sweatshops, workers are paid well, and they make good products. Further, saying the in-group bias is morally questionable is itself questionable. There is nothing more natural for humans to form groups and favor them over other such groups.

    • Bangladeshis, like the teenager, lack capital (both human and physical).

      As for suffering, sweatshops are not the cause. The cause is the poverty that is the default condition of existence in a world of scarcity. Trade offers a way to improve on that. Note that this is the farthest thing from a justification for slavery (I.e. involuntary trade).

      • Poverty is the illness, which we remedy with the medicine of the sweatshop? Cause or not, it remains morally wrong to buy sweatshop goods when it entails the suffering of the workers involved. Not to say that we should not trade with poor nations, but rather we should be mindful of what our dollars are buying.

      • It’s not reasonable to say sweatshops cause suffering if employment in them is the best available option to their workers.

  4. One of my favorite parts of libertarian sensibility is the understanding that markets by definition are free, naturally occurring arenas in which value is set by the buyer. To the point, as a consumer, I will purchase the best product or service the market fosters for the lowest available price. Value for money = the law of conservation of energy. No need to dicuss the merits or ethics of tribal mentality or social justice. Free people produce the highest possible variety of products and services in natural competition on the market, therefore, the best products for the best price are produced inevitably by individual producers with the most liberty. By this rationale, the market result qualifies the liberty of a people, rather than the other way around.

    • “To the point, as a consumer, I will purchase the best product or service the market fosters for the lowest available price.”

      That’s my thinking as well. I would add that I get to define “best”. If I’m willing to pay extra money for the pleasure of seeing a plastic surgeon sweating behind a mower in my front yard, so be it.

      • This gets to the heart of my (normative/subjective) argument. I think it’s a bad thing, ceteris paribus, to want the surgeon to do the job both because she could be doing something that better serves the needs and desires of others and because the neighbor kid couldn’t.

    • It’s ironic, but not an entirely incorrect way to describe a free market. Putting aside civil society (the voluntary, non-market sphere of action that includes charity and the like), in a market your income is based on giving your customers what they want. But it’s limited by your ability (e.g. capital), and how much of your own resources (esp. time) you’re willing to give up. So it’s from each according to his willingness, to each according (including the ability to figure out what others want).

Please keep it civil

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