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April 30, 2013

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droog

I agree sensationalism is the main driver of coverage of these tragedies.

BUT!

I think there is nonetheless a key factor that separates a story like this one from the other breed of tragedies like a man-eating shark eating a man, which is really only newsworthy if it happens on dry land. But I digress...

Anyway, in the case of factory fires and collapses we find ourselves calling the shots in the trolley problem". Yeah, these guys are better off and yeah, suicides at Chinese Foxconn factories are fewer than in the surrounding rural areas. But we are agents in these fewer deaths. Some news sources make explicit arguments along these lines. Maybe they do so because they can add a serious tone to the story, or maybe they do so because they are trying to raise a scandal at home against local brands. In any case, it gets mentioned.

And let's not think those of us in wealthier nations are being cold, objective rational players who are carrying out altruistic efforts that are unpalatable yet worthy. We're not that saintly.

If we really were that saintly we would also make a cold calculation to offer more affordable goods to improve the lives of Bangladeshi workers by relaxing our safety standards, thereby saving Bangladeshi lives at the expense of a lower number of deaths at home. This scenario is hardly the state of the world at present. We will gladly flip the switch on the tracks when the train runs over strangers, but not when it runs over our friends.

droog

Er, I thought html worked in here. I meant to hyperlink to this entry in the previous post.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trolley_problem

Strategist

>>> Yes, they're hellholes which perhaps could and should be improved upon

Shouldn't that read "yes, they're hellholes which can and must be improved upon" ?

chris

@ Strategist - I used that word "perhaps" simply because there is of course an argument that improving labour standards might lead capitalists to shift production to other countries, and I didn't, for the sake of this post, want to take a view on that question.
(And, generally speaking, I'm not keen on moralistic finger-pointing and giving policy advice from thousands of miles away.)

Anand

>>>And, generally speaking, I'm not keen on moralistic finger-pointing and giving policy advice from thousands of miles away

However it was very refreshing to read your views on events that did occur thousands of miles away, especially in the developing world. Coming from that part of the world, I feel a distinct lack of awareness of the topics that you touch upon in your blogs. I am a huge fan of your blogs and your way of thinking through issues that affect the working class all over the world, not just in the UK. Hoping to read many more of your views on human biases and overton windows and how they facilitate development, free market policies, globalization and top down managerialism etc in the developing world.

Thank You anyway for all that you do write.

fledermaus

I would like to see some evidence that "life, however nasty, in these cities is preferable to the miseries of rural poverty. Similarly, life working in what we deem a sweatshop is, for millions, preferable to the alternatives available to them."

As usual the article takes a western view of beneficial. Living on land you can call your own, growing food you can eat yourself = poverty! *gasp* they don't have money to pay for water bills, electric bills, sales taxes, income taxes, rent and the like. They aren't earning wages slaving for multinational clothing companies, horrors.

In South America the corporations would sieze subsistance farms en mass and make everyone bananna sharecroppers. It worked until they did the same in multiple places leaving the newly dispossessed on land they did not own growing banannas that they can't eat or sell profitably

Back during the early days of the Industrial revolution England had to drastically restrict hunting and land rights to "encourage" peasants to toil in the new factories. I'm not saying subsistance farming is all puppies and sunshine. I just can't take the bald assertion that it is preferable to 5-7 years getting paid pennies to make shoes and leaving your body a broken mess after a few years.

Churm Rincewind

Hmm. Although it's certainly true that journalism concentrates on both "sensation" and the doings of the rich and powerful, so does much of world literature. (Aristotle had a great deal to say on this point.)

I'm inclined to think that journalism, like most (all?) literature, can best be understood as parable. The individual case is anecdotal; it's the subtext that matters.

When the right wing tabloids carry stories about "benefit scroungers" they're merely illustrating by way of specific example that most of us think (like it or not, and according to ComRes) that the benefit system in the UK is failing.

Comlaining about the press doesn't lead anywhere - it's just shooting the messenger.

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