Nationalism—PART I

Last Sunday, French President Emmanuel Macron added to the general confusion about the word “Nationalism” by saying:

“Patriotism” is the exact opposite of nationalism: Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism. By putting our interests first, with no regard for others, we erase the very thing that a nation holds dearest, and the thing that keeps it alive: its moral values.”

Perhaps the French have different meanings for the words “Patriotism” and “Nationalism,” but Macron’s statement makes no sense using the English meanings of the words. Yet English speaking people speak the same kind of nonsense. The meaning of “nationalism” and the importance of the concept to the maintenance of a good society needs to be sorted out.[i]

Merriam-Webster explains:

“…from the end of the 18th century onward for a number of decades, nationalism appears to have been largely interchangeable with patriotism, with both words primarily being used to refer to a general love of one’s country

In U.S. usage nationalism is now perhaps most frequently associated with white[ii] nationalism, and has considerably negative connotations.” [Emphasis added.]

People “loving”[iii] groups of which they are a part is a near-universal human characteristic.[iv] To suggest that loving one’s family, clan, tribe, or nation is immoral is tantamount to saying humans are immoral. While humans may be immoral, they are less immoral when they must cohere to the ideas and ways of effective groups than when left to their own ideas and ways. In light of this, it is fair to say that, in English, Macron’s statement is foolish.[v]

Something not foolish about Macron’s words is that they presumed (accurately) that “Patriotism,” “devoted love, support, and defense of one’s country; national loyalty,” is good. Why is that?

While all forms of life are miraculous, the most miraculous life form known to man is man. In addition to being conscious, inventive, creative, productive, interested, interesting, caring, loving, etc., unsocialized humans are also covetous, cunning, and cliquish, and are often brutal and cruel in satisfying their avarice (to mention but a few of their shortcomings). To enjoy that which is miraculously good about humans, the characteristics of unsocialized humans must be socialized, i.e., they must be made to behave in a way that is acceptable to their society. Because behavior is generally motivated by beliefs, for best results, humans must be indoctrinated into the beliefs of their families, clans, and tribes that are sympatico with the beliefs of the nation. Let’s sort out why that is.

Socialization goes for naught if the society is not capable of defending itself and its members against enemies. This is because successful enemies will impose their own set of beliefs and ways on the conquered. To guard against that result, humans resort to the “safety in numbers,” i.e., humans, like many animals, form groups for mutual defense. Families join clans, clans join tribes, and tribes form and/or join nations in order to achieve for its members a greater probability they will be sufficiently strong to defend themselves against those who do not share the common moral and practical beliefs, cultural norms, institutions, traditions, etc. of the clan, tribe, or nation.

A feeling of safety sufficient to enable human flourishing comes from the members of society having (1) the ability to reasonably predict the actions of other members of society, and (2) a belief that the other members of the family, clan, tribe, and nation will join them in a common defense from an attack by enemies. A state of predictable affairs can be achieved only when the vast majority of the society’s members sufficiently cohere to a common set of values, and non-conformists are kept in reasonable check. For a society to have faith that others rise up in mutual defense of the society, the greater the assimilation of all members of that society to the nation’s ideas, morals, history, and general love of country, the better.

Moreover, defending against foreign enemies is not sufficient. For the clan, tribe, or nation to avoid being torn asunder, the vast majority of members need to subscribe and conform to the group’s beliefs, norms, institutions, traditions, etc. The more people who eschew, belittle, or attack those beliefs, etc., the less likely the nation will long endure the assaults.  That is the reason it is often said, “a house divided cannot stand.”[vi] This is also why tribalism is such a threat to a nation.

The effectiveness of a fighting force against an enemy foreign or domestic is improved if the “troops” rally around the idea that they are fighting for something so good that it is worth the risk and cost in blood and treasure to fight for it. Evidence that being excited about the cause is part of a winning strategy can be seen every fall Saturday as football players charge out of tunnels onto the football fields. Patriotism, a fervorous belief by the vast majority of a society’s members that the nation is so good that its preservation is worth fighting for, can make all the difference in a fight for national survival.[vii]

So, contrary to Macron’s flourishes, the essence of nationalism is essentially indistinguishable from patriotism.

So why all the fuss about “nationalism?” That will be the subject of “Nationalism—PART II.

[i] Many of my comments about nationalism in this series of posts are informed by the insights and analysis in an extraordinary new book, “The Virtue of Nationalism” by Yoram Hazony. “Yoram Hazony on the Virtue of Nationalism” is a great interview of Hazony about the book by Russ Roberts.

[ii] Dealing with the mention of “white nationalism” in the context of nationalism is beyond the scope of this series of posts. Suffice it to say, nationalism has a bad rap in Europe and the U.S. now with or without the “white” modifier.

[iii] “Love” is largely ambiguous due to its many gradations and nuances. I’m using the word “love” to describe a feeling that the country is worthy of respect, care, support, and encouragement, and that protection from its enemies is in the best interests of its inhabitants.

[iv] Jonathon Haidt says humans are “groupish.” See “The Groupish Gene – Jonathan Haidt” or, better yet, take the time to get the whole story with “The Groupish Gene: Hive psychology and the Origins of Morality and Religion.”

[v]  Although I do not subscribe to everything Megan McArdle said about nationalism in this article, she does make some good points about nationalism in, “Nationalism and Patriotism Don’t Have to Be Opposites.” She is particularly right in saying, “If we are to fight our way back from this soft civil war, we will need a muscular patriotism that focuses us on our commonalities instead of our differences.”

[vi]  See Lincoln’s “House Divided Speech,” or Matthew 12:25, Mark 3:25

[vii] In “The Ascent of Man,” Charles Darwin put it this way: “Obedience… is of the highest value, for any form of government is better than none. Selfish and contentious people will not cohere, and without coherence nothing can be effected. A tribe rich in the above qualities would spread and be victorious over other tribes: but in the course of time it would, judging from all past history, be in its turn overcome by some other tribe still more highly endowed.”

Nationalism—PART II, False Premise.

Recently, Trump said at a rally, “Really, we’re not supposed to use that word. You know what I am? I’m a nationalist, O.K.? I’m a nationalist. Nationalist! Use that word! Use that word!” The leftist media leaped into hysteria mode. We’ll sort out why they became hysterical in a later post. In this post, let’s sort out why the leftist media are basing their reaction on a false premise.

Let’s first revisit the definition of Nationalism. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defined “Nationalism” thus:

1: loyalty and devotion to a nation, especially: a sense of national consciousness (see CONSCIOUSNESS sense 1c) exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or supranational groups

(Then, Meriam-Webster disgustingly[i] added erroneous political commentary: “//Intense nationalism was one of the causes of the war.” Such is life in a leftist world.[ii])

In a post about the difference between patriotism and nationalism, Merriam-Webster said, “’Nationalism,’ general love of one’s country.”

Aside from God (who is, by definition, perfect), nothing humans love is perfect—often far from it.[iii] The definitions of “loyalty,” “devotion,” and “love” do not include an implication that a lover/loyalist/devotee believes the objects of her love/loyalty/devotion are even close to perfect. For example, humans love family members despite members’ flaws. Human’s love of their teams, clans, tribes, and nations are similar in this respect.[iv] When humans love their nation, they are neither endorsing any, much less every, negative aspect of their nation nor asserting that their nation is not in need of significant improvement. They are simply doing what most humans typically do, loving the group of which they are members.

Freemon Dyson summed up why humans cohere with their families, clans, tribes, and nations:

To understand human behavior, I look at human evolution. About a hundred thousand years ago, our species invented a new kind of evolution…, we began a cultural evolution based on social and intellectual changes…

Cultural evolution was enabled by spoken languages and tribal loyalties. Tribe competed with tribe and culture with culture. The cultures that prevailed were those that promoted tribal cohesion… It was more important for a group of humans to be united than to be right….

So, to insist that humans can and should abandon nationalism (as anti-nationalists’ “citizens of the world” types do) conflicts with evolved human nature. Ideologies that depend on humans changing their natures are the deadliest of all ideologies.[v] Also, Human evolution has revealed that barbarous and nationless people are relatively less successful than those in acculturated nations. Regardless, pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth, however, have not been and will not be stamped out of the human heart. Consequently, humans could easily devolve into greater barbarism if they adopt ideologies that fan the flames of the “seven deadly sins,” e.g., socialism.[vi])

Note also that the definition of nationalism does not include or imply that nationalist want their nation to impose its ways, means, or will on other peoples. Politically astute nationalists urge the opposite. For example, Oklahoma Sooners fans do not want the Sooners to be the only football team in the world. Quite the contrary, they want there to be other good teams with which to play, i.e., the whole enterprise would not work if there were only one team in the world. Not only do multiple teams enable the enterprise to exist, wholesome play and vigorous competition cause teams to improve themselves. That same is true of nations. Astute nationalists do not want their nation to dominate the world. They understand that getting a nation’s members to cohere to (rally around) the nation’s fundamental values, ways, and means, which is essential to prosperity, is made easier when the nation is competing with other nations. The greater the diversity of values, in both kind and extent, among a people, the more difficult it is to maintain internal peace and prosperity. Conquering and ruling people who revere values, etc. that are antithetical to the conquering nation’s values, etc. reduce a nation’s chances of being peaceful and prosperous.

Internal Peace and Cooperation: Humans fare better when they are members of a constructive culture. “Culture” is “the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes [a group of people, e.g. a nation].” As cohesion to a nation’s values, etc. lessens, the ability of a nation’s citizens to enjoy the benefits of a culture shrink—and too little cohesion will tear a country asunder. Much of the hate that develops in a nation is caused by some groups cherishing values, etc. that are different from other groups. When the vast majority of citizens no longer adhere to a single set of the fundamental cultural values, toleration and cooperation become less frequent, trouble brews, and, eventually, the center will not hold. In short, if a people do not sufficiently assimilate and adhere to a single set of core values, the sundry groups are no longer “a people.” They become warring factions. Nationalism has proven to be an antidote to this problem, i.e., nationalism increases cooperation, prosperity, and internal peace.

Nationalism and Self-Determination. Different peoples do have different values, ways, and means. Humans have a tendency to cherish the values that they determine are worthy of reverence. For that reason, nationalist believe that, rather than fight those human tendencies, countries should have the right of self-determination of their values, etc., to govern themselves as they see fit, and create a culture of mutual protection from enemies, foreign and domestic. The political philosophy that facilitates and encourages those rights of self-determination is called “nationalism.”

There is, however, a competing philosophy, “imperialism.” In “The Virtue of Nationalism,” Yorum Hazony states the distinction between nationalism and imperialism as follows:

Nationalism “is a principled standpoint that regards the world as governed best when nations are able to chart their own independent course, cultivating their own traditions and pursuing their own interests without interference. This is opposed to imperialism, which seeks to bring peace and prosperity to the world by uniting mankind, as much as possible, under a single political regime.”[vii]

To summarize the above, the benefits of nationalism/self-determination include: 1) with multiple nations pursuing various combinations of values, etc., humankind gains the benefit of multiple experiments around the world to discover the values, etc. that work best, [viii] and 2) internal peace can best be achieved when a society’s members cohere a single set of values, etc. and language. Societal prosperity can be achieved only when there is sufficient peace within society. The more the citizens are proud of the values, ways, and means of their nation (while working on its flaws), the more peaceable and prosperous they will be.

Most, if not all, of this serendipity evaporates, however, if a country—no matter how nationalistic—becomes imperialistic. Fortunately, an intensely nationalistic country need not become imperialistic.

Imperialism. There are basically two political theories as to how the world’s peoples should be governed, nationalism and imperialism. The big difference between the two is: Astute imperialists believe that their values, way, means, and/or other cultural characteristics are so superior to all the values, etc. of others that it should be imposed on everyone in the world, while astute nationalists believe that peoples should have self-determination.

Consequently, there is nothing immoral about being an un-imperialistic nationalist, and nationalist nations can be extraordinarily moral (though, like all nations, never near perfection). Yet, falsely presuming that nationalism is imperialistic, globalists in general and leftist globalists, in particular, demonize nationalists. We’ll sort out why that is and why they are wrong to demonize nationalists in future posts.

A footnote: In the past, there was a general belief that nationalism would not work well with multiple races, ethnicities, etc. Fortunately, however, since the end of the Civil War until recently, America has demonstrated that a nation can be “One people,” regardless of the number of races, skin colors, ethnicities, or national origins comprise its members. So long as a suitably high percentage of a society’s members sufficiently assimilate, adhere, and revere the nation’s values, etc. a nationalist society has not only been proven workable, a multi-racial, etc. society has proven to be the most successful society ever. Sadly, however, with the recent rejections of many of America’s core values[ix] and the adoption by many of values antithetical to America’s core values,[x] how much longer a nation so conceived and dedicated can endure has been brought into question. Were it not for this trend, there is are good reasons to believe America’s success story could continue for at least another 250 years.


[i] The gratuitous comment epitomizes the false premise the media used to excoriate Trump for promoting nationalism. Note, however, the gratuitous political comment is not definitional, it was commentary. The comment is a claim that the thing defined (nationalism) caused something different from the thing defined (war). Intensely nationalist countries do not always start wars, and, even when they do, it is not necessarily the nationalism that causes them to start a war. Such gratuitous commentary when supposedly defining things is obscuring rather than “making something definite, distinct, or clear.” In addition, it is incorrect. Nationalism, intense or otherwise, was not a cause of the war—assuming (as one must given Webster’s lack of specification) the comment was a reference to the Nazis.

[ii] ESPN is a great example of politicizing something that need not be politicized. They appear to prefer going down in flames than foregoing politicizing everything they touch. See “ESPN tells talent to stick to sports, it’s ‘not a political organization’.” Politicizing everything is not good. Watch “Politics and Sports: Keep Your Hands Off My Football.”

[iii] This is largely due to human’s amazing ability to identify how a thing could be better. Couple that with a tendency to take for granted the positive aspects of things are usually perceived to be much farther from perfection than they by any objective standard.

[iv] For example, most Oklahoma Sooners fans love their football team despite its porous defense this year. They also regularly forgive the Sooners not scoring touchdowns on every offensive possession.

[v] See “Socialism: An Ideology of Death and Destruction.” For example, a political philosophy that depends on dogs not sniffing is not likely to work in practice.

[vi] See “Gulag Archipelago,” “Socialism Is An Immoral System,” and “Socialism’s true legacy is immorality.”

[vii]  See “Hazony, Yoram. The Virtue of Nationalism (Kindle Locations 94-97). Basic Books. Kindle Edition.”

[viii] Evidence of how effective this process is all the nations that have vastly improved their standards of living by eschewing socialism in favor of more capitalistic ways of running an economy. See “Capitalism, Global Trade, and the Reduction in Poverty and Inequality.”

[ix] Examples include: Equal protection of the law, i.e., equal opportunity (as opposed to equal outcomes), individualism (as opposed to collectivism), people should be judged by the content of their character (as opposed to the color of their skin or other immutable characteristics), the presumption of innocence (as opposed to the accusations of victim must be believed, or, at least, accorded far more credence than the denial of the accused), and the importance of reverence for the things for which the flag stands.

[x] Examples: Multiculturalism and Intersectionality. Also see endnote next above.

Nationalism—PART I

Last Sunday, French President Emmanuel Macron added to the general confusion about the word “Nationalism” by saying:

“Patriotism” is the exact opposite of nationalism: Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism. By putting our interests first, with no regard for others, we erase the very thing that a nation holds dearest, and the thing that keeps it alive: its moral values.”

Perhaps the French have different meanings for the words “Patriotism” and “Nationalism,” but Macron’s statement makes no sense using the English meanings of the words. Yet English speaking people speak the same kind of nonsense. The meaning of “nationalism” and the importance of the concept to the maintenance of a good society needs to be sorted out.[i]

Merriam-Webster explains:

“…from the end of the 18th century onward for a number of decades, nationalism appears to have been largely interchangeable with patriotism, with both words primarily being used to refer to a general love of one’s country

In U.S. usage nationalism is now perhaps most frequently associated with white[ii] nationalism, and has considerably negative connotations.” [Emphasis added.]

People “loving”[iii] the groups of which they are a part is a near-universal human characteristic.[iv] To suggest that loving one’s family, clan, tribe, or nation is immoral is tantamount to saying humans are immoral. While humans may be immoral, they are less immoral when they must cohere to the ideas and ways of an effective group than when left to their own ideas and ways. In light of this, it is fair to say that, in English, Macron’s statement is foolish.[v]

Something not foolish about Macron’s words is that they presumed (accurately) that “Patriotism,” “devoted love, support, and defense of one’s country; national loyalty,” is good. Why might that be?

While all forms of life are miraculous, the most miraculous life form known to man is man. In addition to being conscious, inventive, creative, productive, interested, interesting, caring, loving, etc., unsocialized humans are also covetous, cunning, and cliquish, and are often brutal and cruel in satisfying their avarice (to mention but a few of their shortcomings). To enjoy that which is miraculously good about humans, the characteristics of unsocialized humans must be socialized, i.e., they must be made to behave in a way that is acceptable to their society. To work effectively, the socialization of humans must occur at all levels of societies, families, clans, tribes, and nations.

Socialization, however, goes for naught if the society is not capable of defending itself and its members against enemies. Because there is “safety in numbers,” humans, like many animals, form groups for mutual defense. Families join clans, clans join tribes, and tribes form and/or join nations in order to achieve for its members a greater probability they will be protected against those who do not share the common moral and practical beliefs, cultural norms, institutions, traditions, etc. of the clan, tribe, or nation. For the clan, tribe, or nation to avoid being torn asunder, the vast majority of members need to subscribe and conform to the group’s beliefs, norms, institutions, traditions, etc., i.e., the beliefs of the vast majority must cohere.

Humans can flourish most in societies that are reasonably safe and the actions of others are predictable. The feeling of safety comes from a reasonable belief that the other members of the family, clan, tribe, and nation will join in a common defense from an attack by enemies foreign or domestic. That state of predictable affairs can be achieved only when the vast majority of the society’s members sufficiently cohere to a common set of values, and non-conformists are kept in reasonable check.

The above is the reason why it is said that “a house divided cannot stand.”[vi] This is also why tribalism is such a threat to a nation.

To be an effective fighting force against an enemy, the troops must rally around the idea that they are fighting for something so good that it is worth the risk and cost in blood and treasure to fight for it. Evidence that being excited about the cause is part of a winning strategy can be seen every fall Saturday as football players come charging out of their tunnels onto the football field. In a fight for nation’s survival, patriotism, the belief by the vast majority of a society’s members that the nation is so good that its preservation is worth fighting for, is essential.[vii]

So, contrary, to Macron’s flourishes, the essence of nationalism is essentially indistinguishable from patriotism.

So why all the fuss about “nationalism?” That will be the subject of “Nationalism—PART II” and “Nationalism—PART III.”


[i] Many of the comments about nationalism made in this series of posts are based on the insights and analysis in an extraordinary new book, “The Virtue of Nationalism” by Yoram Hazony. “Yoram Hazony on the Virtue of Nationalism” is a great interview of Hazony about the book by Russ Roberts.

[ii] Dealing with the mention of “white nationalism” in the context of nationalism is beyond the scope of this series of posts. Suffice it to say, nationalism has a bad rap in the U.S. now with or without the “white” modifier.

[iii] “Love” is largely ambiguous due to its many gradations and nuances. I’m using the word “love” to describe a feeling that the country is worthy of respect, merits care, support and encouragement, and protecting it from enemies foreign or domestic is in the best interests of its inhabitants.

[iv] Jonathon Haidt says humans are “groupish.” See “The Groupish Gene – Jonathan Haidt” or, better yet, take the time to get the whole story with “The Groupish Gene: Hive psychology and the Origins of Morality and Religion.”

[v]  Although I do not subscribe to everything Megan McArdle said about nationalism in this article, she does make some good points about nationalism in, “Nationalism and Patriotism Don’t Have to Be Opposites.” She is particularly right in saying, “If we are to fight our way back from this soft civil war, we will need a muscular patriotism that focuses us on our commonalities instead of our differences.”

[vi]  See Lincoln’s “House Divided Speech,” or Matthew 12:25, Mark 3:25

[vii] In “The Ascent of Man,” Charles Darwin put it this way: “Obedience… is of the highest value, for any form of government is better than none. Selfish and contentious people will not cohere, and without coherence nothing can be effected. A tribe rich in the above qualities would spread and be victorious over other tribes: but in the course of time it would, judging from all past history, be in its turn overcome by some other tribe still more highly endowed.”

Welfare Wreckage

Poverty in the U.S. Was Plummeting—Until Lyndon Johnson Declared War On It

Yet again, government intervention hurts those it is intended to help.

johnson
Click on the headline above to see the article.

This excellent article from Fee.org fairly describes the quagmire that LBJ’s War On Poverty got America into. The quagmire is the result of America’s welfare system ensnaring poor people into an economic trap that hurts both the trapped and the trappers. This truth is well worth understanding. The article, however, sheds insufficient light on the human toll our welfare system imposes on the poor.

[Note: While the article’s headline is true, it captures only a relatively minor factoid out of the article’s outstanding content. The tagline, “Yet again, government intervention hurts those it is intended to help,” is also true, but it too is just factoid.]

While many Americans support much more welfare, Americans of every significant persuasion believe that, to some degree, the government should provide financial support to poor people with mental or physical disabilities that prevent them from providing for themselves. So, the question for Americans is not whether there should be welfare, but how much and how. More specifically, the political debate is largely about the dividing lines between 1) who should and shouldn’t be helped, 2) how much help should be provided, and 3) how to help. Except for talk about the decline of two-parent families among welfare recipients, far too little public debate is focused on the negative consequences of financially helping poor people. The destruction of two-parent poor black families is worthy of much attention, but it is only one of many significant problems the welfare system inflicts on its recipients.

The most depressing aspect of the article is that it makes clear that humans have not figured out how to help poor people who are able to provide for themselves without trapping them and much of their progeny in 1) neighborhoods with poor education, stifling subcultures that foster mediocrity and grievances, and are dangerous, and 2) an economic system that incentivizes its denizen not to thrive[i] and is likely to damage the denizen’s general well-being.[ii] The article also shows that over time the system has increased the number of people so trapped—the exact opposite of the war’s stated mission. (It has, however, created a large, growing, and solid block of reliable Democrat voters—which may have been one of LBJ’s objectives.)

As sad as all of that it is, even sadder is that people who are aggrieved are typically much less happy than people who are thankful. Even if the grievance is justified, aggrieved people are handicapped by their grievances. Because humans gravitate toward validations of their beliefs, aggrieved people not only gravitate toward facts and narratives that validate the ideas that hold them back, they are motivated not to do anything that would disprove their reasons for believing their grievances are justified. As President Obama might have put it, it’s not surprising, then, they get bitter, they cling to their dysfunctional culture or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them as a way to explain their frustrations.[iii]

Our welfare policies are yet another example of well-intended (at least on the part of empathetic voters—not so much on the part of politicians whose reelections are dependent on dependent voters) policies making matters worse for the poorest people among us, i.e., the people who are supposed to be helped by the policy.


[i] For a more detailed description of these problems and others, see “The War on Poverty Wasn’t A Failure — It Was A Catastrophe.”

[ii]  See “is work good for your health and well-being?

[iii] President Obama said, “It’s not surprising, then, they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

Not So Fast On Fingering Flake

I just read a Facebook post that said this about Senator Flake:
“What did the leftists promise the traitor Flake to hold up this vote. Doesn’t he understand this will just give more time to the leftists to bring more bogus allegations and diminish this nominee even more? Of course, he does. Again, I can’t imagine why this man is allowed to represent himself as a conservative. Shameful.”
Flake is certainly not my favorite Republican but I suspect this author’s take is precisely the opposite of what just happened. 
 
The Democrats had a plan to stop the Judge Kavanaugh nomination after the hearings were completed. Call for another FBI investigation to delay the vote on Kavanaugh (giving the Democrats more time to denigrate Kavanaugh and creating time for a miracle to happen) and put the Republicans in a bad light, the Democrats said the Republicans were rushing the process and blocking an FBI investigation.
So, naturally, the Republican base wanted the Republicans to rush and have no further investigation. The Republicans surely knew that after so many FBI investigations of Kavanaugh, (1) a limited scope FBI investigation would not turn up anything negative on Kavanaugh, (2) Trump would limit the scope, and (3) not rushing and permitting the investigation would the sting out of the Democrats’ complaints (except for the crazies that would not vote for a Republican in any event) and make the Republicans appear to be more reasonable as the Democrats would continue their hysterics.
That being the case, the Republicans wanted another investigation but knew that their base would be opposed. No Republican, especially the ones who wanted to keep their Senate seats, wanted to be the one to call for an investigation. In a tough situation like this, who ya gonna call? Flake!

For more on the approval of the Kavanaugh nomination, see this Facebook post in which there were many comments dealing with the applicability of “innocence until proven guilty” to accusations against Kavanaugh.

Nike’ Mistake—Supporting a Counterproductive Cause Against Police

By picking Colin Kaepernick as its newest ‘Just Do It’ star,” Nike has, in a huge way, supported Kaepernick’s policy prescriptions, rhetoric, and tactics, and, by inference, those of Black Lives Matter (“BLM”). Because of that, Nike made a huge mistake.

Despite the extensive public debate about Kaepernick and Nike’s pick, to my knowledge, no one is talking about the most significant error of their ways: They are making matters worse for the people Kaepernick thinks he is helping. Let’s sort that out.

🙛

AUTHOR’S NOTE: The public debate over Nike’s pick is predominately about (1) the validity of BLM’s[i] and Kaepernick’s allegations against police, (2) the propriety of kneeling before the flag during the national anthem, and (3) whether (a) Kaepernick is worthy of hero status, (b) Kaepernick sacrificed anything by kneeling and other issues as to whether Kaepernick is an apt role model for the merits of sacrificing to achieve a higher purpose, (c) “punishing” Kaepernick for protesting violates his civil or free speech rights and (d) sundry less important matters such as whether the pick will be profitable for Nike. As important as any of those issues might be, they ignore a more important point: Nike is supporting the message and actions of BLM and Kaepernick (hereinafter “BLM”) that will make things worse for the people BLM believes it is helping. (Sound familiar?[ii]) This is an uber-example of most modern leftist activists’ activities, i.e., they identified a problem, have little or no idea how complicated the problem is or how to fix it, organize a movement around simplistic ideas, propose policies grounded on a small fraction of the relevant facts, and quixotically either hinder progress in solving the problem or make the problem more problematic.[iii] Because Nike’s move is so big, BLM’s counterproductive activism is boosted by Nike’s pick, and BLM’s policies will inflict great harm on many people who are in desperate need of assistance, sorting this out is extremely important.

That members of BLM care about and want to improve the interactions between black people and the police are highly commendable. On those occasions when BLM brings public attention to cases of actual police misconduct, BLM provides a commendable public service. To the extent BLM activists save black lives, reduce injustices of the justice system (e.g., police misconduct), and improve the lives of black people, their hearts and minds are in the right place and are a force for good. When, however, their policy prescriptions and rhetoric are based on misperceptions or accurate perceptions of insufficient fact (which is the norm), or (2) their policies are counterproductive to their goals, they make things significantly and heart-wrenchingly worse for the people they believe they are helping. This post explains why BLM, and thus Nike,[iv] are making matters worse for black people (assuming, as I do, that more conflict between blacks and the police, less hope for a better tomorrow, less safe neighborhoods, and more black anger, frustration, and poverty people are bad).

🙛

In paradise, humans would thrive without rules or law enforcement. Sadly, paradise is beyond the reach of living humans. In the here and now, in societies without rules and reasonably effective police forces, only the powerful can thrive. Having police forces is necessary for societies to create conditions in which essentially everyone has a shot at thriving. Sadly, having police forces results in some injustice. Not having police forces results in vastly more injustice.

The odds that any sizable police force will have zero “bad cops” is essentially zero. While determining the ratio of good cops to bad cops would be impossible, the actual ratio is irrelevant to the points made herein. (For what little it is worth, my belief is that a large majority of cops in the U.S. today are good cops.) That ratio, however, makes an especially large difference to the lives of poor black people. The higher the ratio of good cops, the better for black people—especially those in dangerous neighborhoods. Consequently, sorting out how BLM’s actions and policy prescriptions are increasing the ratio of bad cops in police forces is important.

As used herein, “good cops” means cops who (1) believe a reasonable level of security and safety for everyone is necessary for a good society, and (2) are willing to face danger and risk life and limb doing what they reasonably can to serve and protect the person and property of everyone. They are not racist, sexist, homophobic, etc., and they believe that equal protection and application of the law for all is a virtue. “Bad cops” means cops who do not adhere to above characteristics of good cops. The traits of “bad cops” include relishing the ability to bully or lord over people, being racist or otherwise bigoted, selectively enforcing the law, and/or looking forward to opportunities to exercise their power to instill fear, arrest, harm and/or kill people—and get away with it.

Police forces can and should remove bad cops. That, however, cannot be done to perfection for many reasons, including these:

  1. Evidence of possible police misconduct is often ambiguous,
  2. Eyewitness perceptions are not reliable,
  3. Distinguishing factual allegations of police conduct from fictional ones is often impossible,
  4. No clear and universally accepted line between justifiable and unjustifiable police conduct exists (and minor injustices are often perceived to be major injustices.),
  5. The true nature of job applicants who would replace a fired bad cop cannot be perfectly discerned,
  6. Bad cops can become good cops and vice versa,
  7. Human nature causes humans to give the benefit of doubts to fellow members of one’s group, and
  8. Well-intended managers are fallible.

Consequently, if humans are to have reasonably functional societies, there will always be bad cops in police forces. The best that can be done is to keep the ratio of bad cops as low as practicable. Policies that achieve the opposite result are counterproductive.

Victims of wrongdoing by bad cops and mistakes by good cops (of which there are all too many, no matter how few) are understandably and justifiably aggrieved, if not outraged. Full stop. Those grievances should be addressed. Ideally, they would be addressed with good ideas and policies rather than the bad ideas and plans held and proposed BLM—which does not include all of BLM’s ideas and policies. The focus here is on BLM’s bad ideas and policies that are producing the opposite of their stated objectives.

BLM Claims/Policies[v] relevant to this post:[vi]

  1. There is a “war on black people,” being conducted by police and others.

Much of the so-called “war” was adopted with the best of intentions and at the urging of Bill Clinton and black leaders, including Charlie Rangel, i.e., they were a bunch of well-intended, bad ideas and policies to help black people that preceded BLM’s new set of well-intended bad ideas and policies.[vii]

  1. “…vague and subjective infractions such as “willful defiance” and “disrespect” should be tolerated.

For a democratic society to work, the rule of law must be accepted by the people and sufficiently maintained by the government. To peaceably, efficiently, and effectively maintain the rule of law, an interaction between the police and a citizen cannot be treated as an interaction between equals concerning the issue for which the “meeting” was called. If the police have probable cause that a person has committed a crime, the police have the right to stop and obtain information from that person. Under the rule of law, the courts, not the suspect, is empowered to decide whether the police had probable cause. Confrontational resistance to a policeman’s request is not a part of a peaceful process and wastes time the policeman could otherwise use to deter, stop, or bring justice to other criminals. YouTube is replete with examples of how things do not end well for black people when they do not act civilly with police. No doubt, some of those videos evidence police misconduct. Those videos make a big splash, but they create at least four negative consequences for black people: (a) The black person in the video suffers more than would have been the case had they cooperated, (b) The eagerness of many Americans to address problems of police misconduct is reduced, (c) Some good cops are unfairly maligned, and (d) It provides opportunities for bad cops to do what they like to do.

  1. “An end to money bail, mandatory fines, fees, court surcharges and “defendant funded” court proceedings.”

Stated differently, poor people should be exempt from criminal procedures that apply to everyone else.

  1. “An end to the mass surveillance of Black communities, and the end to the use of technologies that criminalize and target our communities (including IMSI catchers, drones, body cameras, and predictive policing software).”

Stated differently, the police should not use many of the methods that are designed to protect innocent people in black communities and usually do.

  1. “The demilitarization of law enforcement, including law enforcement in schools and on college campuses.”

Stated differently, render the job of policing more dangerous and policing less effective.[viii]

  1. “Until we achieve a world where cages are no longer used against our people we demand an immediate change in conditions and an end to all jails, detention centers, youth facilities and prisons as we know them.”

Stated differently, until the negative consequences of committing crimes by blacks are lessened to some undefined, possibly utopian, standard, there should be no negative consequences for black criminals.

  1. The incidence of disciplinary actions in schools against black students should be proportionate to the incidence of disciplinary actions against students of other races.

Notice the absence of a mention of the relative incidence of violations of disciplinary rules by members of various groups.[viii]

  1. Likewise, corporal punishment should be administered to students of all races.

Notice the absence of a mention of the relative incidence infractions deserving corporal punishment by members of various groups.

  1. We also demand a defunding of the systems and institutions that criminalize and cage us.”[ix]

Police do not criminalize activities, houses and senates do that—they also pass the laws that call for incarceration. Reasonable cases can be made that too many things have been criminalized. Defunding institutions that enforce crimes will cause there to be less enforcement of the laws that protect innocent poor black people.

  1. A system that perpetually condones the killing of people, without consequence, doesn’t need to be revised, it needs to be dismantled!

A system that does not condone killing people in certain situations (e.g., self-defense or killing someone shooting at school children) would be a bad system (regardless of the skin color of the person killed). No cop who justifiably kills someone wants to be accused of being evil—especially a good cop.

  1. Whenever a black person is killed by a cop, BLM foments anger and resentment—often without regard to whether the killing was justified.

  2. Kaepernick compares cops to runaway slave patrol after Castile verdict, and he said “You can become a cop in six months and don’t have to have the same amount of training as a cosmetologist.

    These claims defame cops—especially good cops.

 

  1. Lamont Hill, a BLM supporter, claims, “Racism is so deeply embedded in our psyche…. that we can’t simply locate and eliminate racist “bad apples” — a blatantly racist police officer or a white supremacist juror– from our society.”

If good white people are called racist whether they are or not, fewer good white people will remain or become cops—thereby leaving vacancies for bad white people to fill.

BLM’s policies undermine police effectiveness. While ineffective policing will hurt all neighborhoods (because criminals do not limit their crime in their own neighborhoods), ineffective policing disproportionately hurts poor black people.

Many of America’s poor black people live are high crime areas.[x] If the residents of high crime areas who are innocent and deserve protection (which is the overwhelming majority of residents) are to have a reasonable level of protection (and not lose the deterrence of crime provided by the presence of cops), more police are needed, not fewer. So, while cutting or eliminating policing in poor neighborhoods would be beneficial to people wrongly suspected of criminal activity, people who would have been victims of police impropriety (both of which are significant positives) and BLM, fewer cops will also help criminals wreak even more havoc on poor black people (the negative of which is even greater than the above positives).

Fomenting outrage often leads to the destruction of business property in poor neighborhoods, thereby causing the cost of doing business there to rise. The resulting replacement costs and insurance cost increases must be passed onto the poor customers of those businesses to stay in business. Alternatively, business owners get fed up and decide to no longer serve the needs of the community. Either way, the destruction of property and businesses hurt the poor people in the area. If the uptick in destruction in poor communities due to BLM fomenting destruction after police encounters causes insurance cost for businesses in all poor areas, poor people everywhere will pay the cost.

As if those problem with BLM demands were not bad enough, something else is even worse. To sort that out, first focus on why people become cops.

People choose to become cops for the pay, benefits, and other compensation. Patrol police pay and benefits are relatively high compared to some other dangerous jobs, [xi] but most other dangerous civilian jobs require a less diverse skillset and do not involve people intentionally wanting to prevent them from doing their job or to harm or kill them. All things considered, pay for cops may not be exceptionally low, but it is certainly not exceptionally high. Consequently, other compensations become exceptionally significant in attracting officers and maintaining a police force.  For essentially all cops, total compensation includes camaraderie with fellow cops. That, however, can be obtained in much less dangerous occupations. What cannot be obtained in most of those other occupations, however, is the pride of serving and protecting others and the gratification of receiving respect and appreciation of the people they protect and serve. That respect is earned on account of the cop’s necessary and noble work, skill, heroism, sacrifices and courage on behalf of friends and neighbors and society at large.

In the above respects, bad cops get the same compensations as good cops. Bad cops alone, however, receive the additional compensation that attracts bad people to police forces, e.g., the pleasure of feeling powerful and important by bossing people around, instilling fear, lording over people, and/or carrying out their racist desires, etc.—and getting away with it.

BLM is attempting to delegitimize and disarm policing and paint all cops as bad cops deserving our condemnation and scorn instead of our respect and appreciation. BLM claims that policing in black neighborhoods does not serve and protect black people and that police are causing harm when they do their job. Lamont Hill, a BLM supporter, has said[xii] that getting rid of bad cops does little good because there is so much systemic racism that they can only be replaced with other cops who will discriminate against blacks. Setting aside that Hill’s statement is a mischaracterization of the problem, it implies that all cops are racist. All of these BLM actions reduce compensation for good cops, but not for bad cops.

Making matters worse, chanting “Pigs in a blanket, fry ’em like bacon” and Kaepernick wearing socks with pigs wearing police caps increase compensation to bad cops – especially racist ones—by, among other things, revealing that they are getting under black people’s skin.

The heart of the matter is that the more successful BLM is, the more BLM reduces the total compensation that has traditionally caused good people to join and remain with police forces. Lowering good cop compensation results in fewer good people willing to be become or remain cops. As the percentage of good cops on police forces declines, the percentage of bad cops increases. So, as a consequence of the efforts of BLM’s claims and activities, a higher percentage of the cops who do show up will be bad cops. The people who will be the greatest victims of a higher percentage of bad cops will be the exact people on whose behalf BLM claims to be acting.

Making matters worse, as good cops find work elsewhere and the city can no longer offer the reward of being honored and respected by their community for their service, the number of people who will be willing to be cops will decline. As a consequence, the bad cops who remain and the bad people who apply to replace the good cops will be able to demand and receive higher wages because the demand for cops will remain high while the supply of people willing to become cops shrinks. Higher cop salary increases the cost of policing.  The higher the cost of policing, the fewer police and the less policing there will be.

A higher ratio of bad cops and budget constrained police forces will cause the people in the communities that need cops most to suffer the most from BLM policies. It is sad.

By picking Kaepernick as the face of the “Just Do It” campaign, Nike has lent credence to BLM’s claims and policy prescriptions and has, thereby, become complicit in the inevitable negative consequences described above—which will be disproportionately visited on poor black people. Nike made a huge mistake.


[i]     See “What the Black Lives Matter campaign gets wrong.”

[ii]    See my many posts that make a similar case about other activist movements. (It is strange that I just completed an eight-part series defending Nike against claims by activists who harm the people they believed they were helping, and here I’m condemning Nike for supporting a different cause that is doing the same thing. Such is life.)

[iii]    See “Jordan Peterson tells you to clean your room.”

[iv]    Nike’s move could very well be a huge success in terms of profits, but the positive of Nike’s profits pale in comparison to the huge damage Nike’s selection of Kaepernick will inflict on black people if BLM achieves its aims.

[v]   See Black Lives Matter’s Platform, “END THE WAR ON BLACK PEOPLE.”

[vi]   Several of BLM’s observations and proposals are accurate and meritorious, i.e., they will create net positives. I commend them for those, but they are not relevant to this post. Other BLM observations and proposals are omitted because they are irrelevant to the point of this post.

[vii]   See “’Until the Drug Dealer’s Teeth Rattle’.”

viii]  The problems with this idea were addressed in “Slowing the “School-to-Prison Pipeline”—At What Cost?

[x]  See “Top 25 Most Dangerous Neighborhoods in America.”

[xi]   See “FACTS & FIGURES – Deaths, Assaults and Injuries.”

[xii]    See “Racism is so deeply embedded in our psyche.”

Exploitation—Part IV (e), Exploiting Exploitation−Additional Negative Effects

As was explained in Exploitation Part IV (d), the most self-defeating effect of the anti-sweatshop movement was that it slowed the progress of impoverished countries along their path to prosperity. That worst effect was caused by the higher costs (both in money and reputation) of operating factories in places that desperately needed more, not fewer, factories and the fear that the activists instilled in companies that would have otherwise considered starting or expanding operations in impoverished countries. Consequently, the movement helped a handful of poor people at the expense of more than a million times as many other poor people everywhere in the world, especially the poor in impoverished countries. As if that were not bad enough, the anti-sweatshop activists were also unaware (or didn’t care) about a couple other self-defeating consequences of their movement.

Displacement of Lowest Skilled Workers: When working conditions and/or pay for jobs are increased (e.g., by an imposed minimum wage), the lowest skilled employees holding those jobs at the time of the imposition of the higher wage are, to a large extent over time, replaced by higher-skilled workers from outside the company.[i] Let’s sort out why that is.

An unavoidable fact of life is that some people are more productive than others.[ii] For example, no matter the Nike factory job, some people are capable of producing more work product per hour than others. In general, the people who apply for especially low-paying jobs are especially low-skilled people relative to other workers in their market. Those employees are especially susceptible to competition for their jobs from higher-skilled people.

Let’s look at a hypothetical situation to see how the lowest-skilled workers are disproportionately disadvantaged by minimum wage increases. Let’s say that before the activists began their hectoring, (1) Nike was paying its widget makers 10¢ per hour to make the most widgets they were able to produce in an hour, which was 10 widgets (1¢ per widget), and (2) a native factory owner was paying his widget makers 15¢ per hour to make 20 widgets. Then let’s assume that the hectoring caused Nike to pay widget makers 20¢ per hour.

First, note that the higher skilled workers in native factories had to have preferred to produce twice as much as the Nike workers for only 50% more pay (and probably worse working conditions). If those workers preferred to work less hard for less pay, many of those workers would already be working for Nike.

The consequences of this situation are inevitable:

  1. Many (if not all) of the higher-skilled workers in native factories would love to have an extra 5¢ per hour (33% more pay) for producing the same number of widgets as they produced for the native owner.
  2. By firing its existing workers and hiring the higher-skilled workers Nike’s labor cost per widget would be unchanged (1¢ per widget) after the amount it paid the widget makers was doubled.
  3. As a result of a) and b), the lowest-skilled Nike workers will be displaced by higher-skilled workers.
  4. The resulting realignment of workers will:
  5. Cost Nike essentially nothing,
  6. Raise pay for a lucky few higher-skilled workers, and
  7. Cost the lowest-skilled workers their jobs and hope for a better future.

In addition, the native employers who lost those higher-skilled workers were harmed and, as the findings of the study[iii] discussed in Part IV(e), the number of low-skilled domestic jobs in Indonesia fell very significantly.

Surely this is approximately the opposite of what the anti-sweatshop activists had in mind. That is what happens when people pursue policies based on emotions rather than their minds.

Misplaced Burden: Good people wish that every worker could earn at least a “living wage” (definitions vary). Sadly, not every worker has sufficient skills to produce goods or services worth a little less than[iv] a “living wage” (more technically, the value of their “marginal product”[v]). If people are to be paid more than the value of their marginal product, someone must supply the money to bridge the gap. If the goal is for as many unskilled workers as possible to have a living wage, perhaps the most important issue in figuring out how best to accomplish that worthy goal is: “Who should bear the burden of bridging the gap between the value of the employee’s marginal product and the amount (“living wage”) the employer must pay for that product?”

First note that no employer caused any low-skilled workers to have low skills, i.e., the employer is not responsible for the existence of the problem for which a solution is needed. If society decides that this problem should be addressed, everyone in society that can bear part of the burden should.[vi] If society nevertheless decides that employers must fund the value gap (which is a bad idea), the question should be (but essentially never is), “Which employers should bear that burden of solving the societal problem?” Because that question is essentially never asked, societies almost always allow emotions to provide the answer—which, as usual, results in the wrong answer being chosen.

To achieve the stated goal of providing as many as possible low-skilled jobs that pay a “living wage” to low-skilled workers, the last companies that should be dunned for the value gap are the companies that hire low-skilled workers. That creates a direct and large incentive to use robots instead of people for as many low-skilled jobs as possible (or not to start or expand a business that uses low-skilled workers). If anything, the companies that hire low-skilled workers should be rewarded, not punished, for hiring low-skilled workers—so that they buy fewer robots and create more low-skilled jobs. So, if society wants (1) low-skilled workers to be paid more than the value of their marginal product, and (2) companies to bear the burdened of that societal goal, the burden of achieving that goal should be placed on employers in proportion to the percentage of their employees who are not subsidized, low-skilled workers. Under this scheme, companies that hire fewer low-skilled workers should subsidize companies that hire more low-skilled workers. In that way, society would burden the companies that are doing little to solve the societal problem and would reward those that are solving the societal problem.

Minimum wages do precisely the opposite. In effect, those requirements relieve companies that do not employee low-skilled workers of the societal burden and impose the burden on those companies that are helping solve the problem. The current scheme is a recipe for fewer low-skilled jobs, higher unemployment, greater welfare costs, and injustice. This is precisely the recipe that the anti-sweatshop movement served up.

Policies that do not discourage employers from employing more low-skilled people are needed everywhere. This is especially and desperately so in impoverished countries whose percentage of low-skilled workers is especially high. Policies that disproportionately hurt the very employers who employ low-skilled workers exacerbate the problem. People who exacerbate this problem should be called out and condemned. Hopefully, this series of blog posts has done that.

🙛

AUTHOR’S NOTE: I am not saying that dunning companies that hire few low-skilled employees or subsidizing ones that do are good ideas. In fact, it is a bad idea because (1) it grants too much power to government (which is already too powerful) and the government is inefficient, ham-handed, and corrupt in almost everything it does), and (2) it distorts the market, i.e., it renders the market less effective at solving society’s problems. As bad the above-proposed improvement is, however, it is far better than what society is doing right now to address the important societal problem of too many people having low skills.


[i]        See “The Cruelty of the Minimum Wage.”

[ii]       There are exceptions to this rule with respect to astoundingly exceptional people. Because minimum wage impositions are a non-issue in those circumstances, we need not delve into this exception here

[iii]      See “The Nike Effect: Anti-Sweatshop Activists and Labor Market Outcomes in Indonesia.”

[iv]       See “Exploitation-Part III, The Dangers of Incorrectly Detecting Exploitation.”

[v]      See “The Marginal Product of Labor.”

[vi]      See “Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life” or “Nassim Nicholas Taleb on Work, Slavery, the Minority Rule, and Skin in the Game.”

Exploitation—Part IV (d), Exploiting Exploitation−The Effects

In Exploitation Part IV chapters (a), (b), and (c), I claimed the anti-sweatshop movement inflicted much misery on poor people around the world. With the foundation laid in those chapters, we can now sort out how the anti-sweatshop movement caused those negative effects.

🙛

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Surely nearly all anti-sweatshop activists had good intentions. That the lives of some poor people in impoverished countries were improved by their activism is undeniable. In particular, the pay and working conditions for the few lucky people who held jobs in rich company sweatshops after the activism was improved. They also made it easier for native owned sweatshops in impoverished countries to compete with (take business from) foreign-owned sweatshops who were forced to improve pay and working conditions—because native owned sweatshops were able to produce similar goods at lower cost by spending less on working conditions and worker pay.

The tragedy of this story is that the thousands of rich country activists caused great damage to many millions, and some damage to billions, of poor people. It is a sad commentary on our education system that activists were not taught enough about economics to understand the net harm they were causing by letting emotions rather than facts and logic guide their actions. Doing things that induce good feelings about one’s self is a powerful motivator to do more of what caused those good feelings.[i] Lest the world be continually plagued by actions based on emotion rather than facts and logic, it is incumbent on those who do know enough about economics to heap scorn on people who act on the basis of emotion, i.e., “People who do not clean up their room.”[ii]

However, unless it is good to value the good feelings of rich country people over the well-being of the vast majority of poor people in impoverished countries, the relatively trivial positive effects activists achieved for a lucky few were overwhelmed by the negative consequences of the activism. Their actions impeded improvements in the standard of living of and dashed reasons for hope for a better tomorrow for many, many millions of poor people. Anyone who values improvements in the lives of a few poor people who are lucky enough to have a job in a sweatshop (what Bastiat called, “the seen”)[iii] over putting many, many millions of poor people on a path to prosperity (the “unseen”) will not likely find the following argument persuasive. Hopefully, few people have such values.

🙛

Businesses gravitate to where profits are easy or high, and especially to where both are present. Consequently, cheap labor is a possible way for a poor country to attract foreign investment and business operations. However, distant countries whose people speak languages different from those of rich countries, have few capable managers, live in a society that is not conducive to business, and/or have confiscatory and confounding governments have many strikes against them in their efforts to attract foreign investment. Succumbing to demands for higher pay and spending on better working conditions increases the cost of doing business, i.e., lessens the desirability of opening factories there. Defaming  As the costs and hassles of operating in an impoverished county rise, the gravitational pull of business to that country weakens.

In previous posts, I have explained the virtuous cycle[iv] of growth that economic development produces. In short, other things being equal, growth begets growth. Economic growth, though far from a panacea, is the best elixir for bringing an ever larger percentage of humans out of abject poverty and human thriving yet identified.[v] Accordingly, the fact that there are too few jobs in impoverished countries is a sure sign those countries need economic growth. Nothing has been proven to be more effective at accelerating economic growth in countries with an overabundance of low skilled workers than factory jobs. Delaying economic development condemns a poor country’s poor to extended poverty and to less reason for the hope that they or their children will build the economic and human capital necessary for a brighter future.

The most harmful aspect of the anti-sweatshop movement reducing the profitability of sweatshops and defaming sweatshop owners with negative publicity (which damaged the profitability of the company’s other lines of business) was the reduction in the desirability of and enthusiasm for opening factories in impoverished countries. In short, the activists diminished the “gravitational” pull on business to open factories in impoverished countries. The weakening of that pull resulted in delaying, if not squelching, economic development in poor countries. Activists both reduced the desirability of sweatshop owners expanding their operations and caused would-be sweatshop owners not to consider or to abandon plans for such operations.

Development delayed is development denied to all who live in unnecessary poverty while waiting and helplessly hoping for opportunities to obtain a better standard of living.

Note also that it will be better for every country, and therefore every human, in the world when poor country consumers can afford to buy more exports from other countries, and poor people everywhere can buy stuff (clothing and shoes, for example) at lower prices. Anti-sweatshop activism kept poor people from becoming richer and raised the price the poor everywhere must pay for their necessities.

The in terrorem effects of the anti-sweatshop movement described above are based on sound economic theory, i.e., the described effects surely happened. I would love to site multiple studies that quantify the in terrorem effects of the anti-sweatshop movement. It is not for want of trying that I have not found an article or study that focuses on those effects. (I would welcome a citation to such an article.)

There are plenty of papers on the improvements in sweatshop working conditions and pay, and the employment effects of those higher costs in impoverished countries. Those studies often attempt to quantify of some of those effects, but, to my knowledge, not the in terrorem effects—which are the most important. Perhaps there are no such studies because (1) it is hard, if not impossible to quantify what was prevented from happening, (2) papers that don’t quantify something are much harder to get published, and/or (3) university professors are uninterested in or fearful of the repercussions of studying things that would disprove their or their peer’s presuppositions. Whatever the reason, they are looking for lost keys under the streetlight because that is “where the light is” rather than where the keys are.[vi] The fact that there are no such studies does not mean there is nothing to be discovered in the dimmer, more difficult light. Hopefully, this post will trigger attempts to study the most important effects of the anti-sweatshop movement.

Even when scholars conduct research on things that can be more easily quantified, they tend to bend over backward to avoid putting activists in too bad a light (which could be a sign that their presuppositions have gotten the best of them). Even then they do not redeemed the anti-sweatshop movement.

For example, two UC Berkeley professors with PhDs in economics studied and then wrote a paper[vii] that examined some lesser important effects of (a) anti-sweatshop activism, and (b) Indonesia raising its minimum wage due to U.S. pressure—as if one did not cause the other. (Separating the effects of activism from the effects of US pressure erroneously suggests that activism was not instrumental in creating the political climate that caused the government actions to be politically popular—a necessary ingredient for US government action.) By separating the issues, however, the researchers erroneously put activists in a more benign light than was warranted. Their report concludes:

“… direct pressure from the US government …, which contributed to a doubling of the minimum wage, resulted in a 25 percent increase in real wages for unskilled workers…. Unskilled real wages increased by an additional 10 to 20 percent for exporters and multinational plants in [textiles, footwear, and apparel] sweatshop industries….

Although we find no direct impact of anti-sweatshop campaigns on employment, we do find that the minimum wage increases reduced unskilled employment… [by] as much as 10 percentage points over the period. Our results also suggest that [the studied] exporters were significantly more likely to leave Indonesia during this period.”

If one (more accurately) acknowledge that the activism induced the pressure, the researchers found that the general minimum wage increases Indonesia adopted in the 1990s due to (activist induced) U.S. pressure caused working conditions to improve and wages for those fortunate few who held jobs in the rich country factories to increase by about 30%, without reducing the number of those employees. Good for those lucky few. But the higher minimum wage reduced “unskilled” employment across the economy by as much as 10 percentage points and exporting companies left Indonesia. This is exceptionally bad because Indonesia so desperately needed more jobs, not fewer.

So, activist pressure reduced total “unskilled” labor jobs by around 10%. The impact was swift, significant, and horrible. In 1999 30%[viii] of Indonesian factory workers worked in foreign-owned factories. That means that activists induced the losses of unskilled factory jobs owned by natives by more than 14%. That was not only a tragedy to those workers who lost their jobs.[ix] Those former workers who became job seekers added to the surpluses of workers for the unnecessarily few jobs that were available, thereby putting downward pressure on the wages of all of the country’s unskilled workers. Another terrible effect is that those people no longer produced wealth for themselves and the economy, i.e., the combination of these effects was counterproductive.

To get a feel for the cumulative effects of all of these effects, take a look at this chart of Indonesian employment in textiles, footwear, and apparel plants (“TFA”):

Indonesian Employment

The chart depicts noisy data because in 1997 Thailand induced an economic crisis in Asia that hit Indonesia as activists were wrecking their havoc. The activists were not likely a material cause of the downturn. Because however, Indonesia was in the activists’ crosshairs, activists were likely a material factor in why Indonesia was hit harder than other Asian countries. (Compare rates of GDP growth of Indonesian ad India in the chart below.)

GDP Growth Indonesia

It is certain that the activists caused doing business in Indonesia to be less profitable than it would otherwise have been. Prospects for less profits results in less investment. Fewer/smaller investments result in fewer jobs than would have otherwise have been the case. Fewer jobs result in extended hardships for everyone in the country, and the world is poorer as fewer people are not producing wealth.[x]

The winners of the movement were (1) Keady, Kretzu[xi] and other movement notables who exploited the public’s economic ignorance about “exploitation” and gained wealth, self-esteem, and/or admiration from millions of similarly economically illiterate supporters, and (2) the lucky few employees of Nike and other “exploiters” who held onto their factory jobs in impoverished countries. The benefits enjoyed by the activists were unjust. The meager positive consequences of the movement were dwarfed by its negative consequence to the many millions (likely billions) of poor people around the world whose lives were made worse—very possibly including some of the workers in the videos who lost their jobs to higher skilled workers who displaced them to obtain the higher pay and better working conditions the activists caused.

Postscript: A few other negative consequences of the anti-sweatshop movement will be described in another post.


[i]      See “The Economics of Caring.” The idea that humans are motivated only to maximize their utility is false.

[ii]      See “Jordan Peterson: Delusions of Leftist Political Activism.”

[iii]    See “Frederic Bastiat on the Seen and Unseen.”

[iv]    For example, see “Wealth,” and its comments, “Wealth Creation – It’s For The Children, and their children, and their children….,” and “Wealth Creation. No Happiness, Why Bother?”

[v]      See “Tyler Cowen on The Complacent Class.”

[vi]     See “Streetlight effect.”

[vii]    See “The Nike Effect: Anti-Sweatshop Activists and Labor Market Outcomes in Indonesia.”

[viii]   See “Indonesia Labor Market Policies and International Competitiveness.”

[ix]     See “Two Cheers for Sweatshops,” “The truth is, those grim factories in Dongguan and the rest of southern China contributed to a remarkable explosion of wealth.”

[x]      See “Two Cheers for Sweatshops,” “When Britain launched the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th century, it took 58 years for per capita output to double. In China, per capita output has been doubling every 10 years.”

[xi]     See “Exploitation Part IV, Exploiting Exploitation−The Cause.”

Exploitation—Part IV (c), Exploiting Exploitation−The Path To Prosperity

In “Exploitation Part IV (a), Exploiting Exploitation−The Cause” I claimed that the torment and higher costs that modern anti-sweatshop activists visited on rich country sweatshop owners inflicted net harm on the desperate people in poor countries. Those activists picked on rich country companies (as if those companies were causing the depicted people to be poor). In order to avoid being counterproductive, the activists needed to understand why Indonesians were poor and what would actually have enabled Indonesia to become a sustainably richer country. Lacking that understanding, it would have been happenstance had they actually helped the poor and it is no surprise that the activists advocated policies that were counterproductive.

To sort out what was counterproductive about the activists’ policies, one must understand what enables poor countries to become sustainably richer countries. Perhaps the easiest way to planning a path from poverty to prosperity is to identify what prosperous countries have that poor countries do not and then figure out what would enable a country to have those things. To cram into one sentence a summary of hundreds of books on this topic[i], to be rich, a country must have a culture with a relatively high reverence for and quantum of the rule of law, equal protection under the law, property rights, literacy, free markets, mutual trust among members of society, reasonable levels of taxation, and, perhaps above all, an ethic that confers dignity on people engaged in business (e.g., inventors, developers, manufacturers, service providers, traders, and entrepreneurs—even to those who honestly try but fail[ii]), as well as institutions that establish and preserve those things. In such cultures, humans can create wealth and thrive—which improves their own lives by producing things needed or wanted by others.

Note that having wealth (“capital”) is not on the list of prerequisites. With the above list of essential ingredients in place, humans can and do create wealth. History is replete with examples of poor countries with little or essentially no natural resources or much wealth becoming astoundingly wealthy. Hong Kong and Japan are great examples of this phenomenon. Conversely, history is even more replete with countries with great natural resources or wealth either failing to exploit their natural resources or squandering their wealth due to a lack of prerequisites for a sustainable prosperous culture/economy. Middle Easterners and the natives in the Western Hemisphere before the 17th century are examples of people making very little of their vast resources. Spain after the plunder of South America and Venezuela today are prime examples of countries squandering vast resources. Rome had an exceptional (for its time) amount the prerequisites as it rose to power, and returned to the norm when it abandoned too many of the prerequisites. [This blog is my small contribution to the effort to prevent America from suffering the same fate.]

Note also that benevolence is not a prerequisite.  As Adam Smith taught us so long ago, “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.” This is relevant because demanding that Nike spend more on employees than the market required to entice people to sign up for the work is a demand that Nike be benevolent. A plan that relies on the benevolence of others is unnecessary and unsustainable (it cannot sustain itself if the benefactor when the benefactor is no longer willing or able to be beneficent). Had a rich country given Indonesians billions of dollars in “aid” before Indonesia developed the culture and institutions to put the money to productive uses, before long all of that wealth that was not grabbed and stored in foreign bank accounts of politicians and other robbers, would have wound up in a sewer system or latrine, i.e., it would have created nothing but a short-lived bubble of prosperity followed by devastating loss of both wealth and hope.

To his great credit, Jeffrey Sachs has devoted his life to trying to figure out how to enable poor peoples to become rich. “He is known as one of the world’s leading experts on economic development and the fight against poverty.”[iii] I doubt anyone has conducted more experiments to find how to prime the pump of prosperity for poor people. In the process, he has improved the lives of people in many ways. He literally wrote the book on “The End of Poverty.” On the other hand, neither he nor anyone else has figured out how to use foreign aid to kick-start a sustainable prosperous economy in places that do not have the prerequisites for prosperity.[iv]

Note also that since the beginning of the War On Poverty in 1965, the U.S. federal government has spent $22 Trillion on welfare programs. That $22 Trillion of beneficence has not caused the poor in America to thrive and become prosperous. In short, benevolence is a band-aid, it does not create prosperous people. [v] Nevertheless, if a pot into which all of the wealth of the world was deposited for the purpose of equal distribution to all the people of the world, many people in America’s bottom 20th percentile would put more money in the pot than they would be distributed from it. What poor countries need most is more prosperity. More cash won’t cut it.

Though he has not found the magic bullet, Jeffery Sachs has learned something very important about the role of sweatshops in getting a country on the path to prosperity. He puts it thus: “[S]weatshops are the first rung on the ladder out of extreme poverty.”[vi]

In fact, all rich countries went through a sweatshop phase in the process of becoming rich. As bad as the working and living conditions of poor workers in poor countries appeared to be in the videos, those living and working conditions are comparable to the preindustrial working and living conditions of poor people in all of the countries that are rich today. For example, the absence of indoor plumbing and air conditioning and the presence of horse dung in the paths to the public outdoor latrines were a common feature of New York City factories in 1900[vii]—which was well into the industrial revolution, i.e., well along the path to prosperity. Much worse working conditions and child labor in factories were commonplace at the beginning of the industrial revolution of the 1700s.[viii] There is no magic wand to be waved over impoverished countries to create enough productivity and wealth to support rich-county working conditions. They must go through the processes of creating a productive and sustainable economy first. (As will be explained in future posts, trying to jump-start the process with benevolence actually slows the process.)

For example, as I explained in “Wealth” about America:

“Factory labor was dehumanizing, sometimes led to child labor, and caused many to leave their “idyllic” farm lives. Despite these negative results, people took factory jobs because they could live a better life than would have been possible with their alternatives. One should realize that having young children working on farms was already necessary for survival. At first, there was nothing unnatural about children working as they had always done. Child labor only became dispensable after the factory machines (made possible and available by capitalism) improved the productivity of ordinary workers so they could produce enough to provide for their families. Even then, there was not enough productivity to dispense with all child labor. The first child labor laws restricted the employment of children younger than 9 years old, and the next wave of laws only required employers to provide a certain amount of education to young workers. It took more than 100 years for capitalism to produce sufficient productivity per worker so the legal age of an adult could be set at 18.”

For a country to dispense with child labor, it must be rich enough to do so. Quixotic do-gooding, such as Keady and Kretzu’s, hinders a country’s ability to become rich enough to dispense with child labor.

A common reason impoverished countries are impoverished is that economic conditions in those countries are not conducive to wealth creation, i.e., the odds that a new business would make enough profit to be worth the necessary effort, money and time are too low to induce enough people to attempt new businesses. Consequently, poor business environments generate neither the financial or human capital necessary to have a self-sustaining prosperous society. To create the necessary economic conditions for sustained prosperity, the odds of profitability of doing business in a poor country needs to increase. The greater the prospects for profit, the more and faster a country will move along the path to prosperity.

Those economic conditions that inhibit profitability can exist for a wide variety of reasons. Regardless of the reasons, however, no foreign company can substantially alter the economic conditions of another country. Under the right conditions, however, they can help countries get started on the right path. In particular, if (1) the foreign company is large and wealthy enough to take on distant, complicated, problematic,[ix] and risky operations in a foreign land, (2) opening a factory in a foreign land is profitable enough to deal with all issues of building and running a factory there, then the job opportunities its factory makes available to poor people in that country will increase the workers’ financial and human capital (wellbeing)—all of which increase their productivity—and will put the country in a better position to improve its economy.

A hallmark of poor people in poor countries is that they have few, if any skills when hired, know nothing about how to become a productive (valuable) employee, and have no way to gain that human capital. Working in a sweatshop starts the process of building those skills. Building and operating factories in poor countries necessarily provides to poor people (1) brick and mortar capital, (2) employment income that will (a) improve the standard of living of the employee, and (b) be traded with local businesses, thereby improving the lives of the owners and employees of those other businesses, and (3) education (human capital) to workers (a) who learn skills and/or what causes workers to be rewarded or punished for various behaviors, and (b) for some, how to run a business.

As I hope is now obvious, “Sweatshops themselves are part of the very process of development that will lead to their own elimination.”[x]

To those who are more interested in actually helping poor people than enhancing their self-esteem, the more poor countries can receive the benefits of sweatshops, the better for the poor.


[i]       The seminal book was Adam Smith’s “The Wealth of Nations.” My favorite book on the subject is Diedre McCloskey’s “Bourgeois Dignity.”

[ii]       See “The EU Is Not Entrepreneur Heaven — But It Could Be:”

“The “fail fast, fail often” mentality is at the center of the entrepreneurial approach in the U.S., and investors regard a track record of failures as a sign of boldness, intelligence, and ambition.

Not so much in the EU: While in Germany, for example, a failed entrepreneur, manager or professional is at best regarded with contempt, there are countries like Italy where a personal bankruptcy essentially means that you will not be able to build any other business for the rest of your whole life — and in some cases not even own anything at all, like a car, a house or an armchair.”

[iii]     See Jeffery Sachs Wikipedia page.

[iv]     See William Easterly’s “The Elusive Quest for Growth” and “Jeffrey Sachs on the Millennium Villages Project.”

[v]      See “The War on Poverty After 50 Years.”

[vi]      See “Meet the Old Sweatshops, Same as the New.”

[vii]     See “Life in New York City before indoor toilets.”

[viii]    See “The conditions in these early sweatshops were worse than those in many Third World sweatshops today. In some factories, workers toiled for sixteen hours a day, six days per week. Attendance at traditional festival days was curtailed because factories would fine workers for absences. The working conditions were unhealthy and dangerous. Dust from textile fibers was inhaled in poorly ventilated rooms, and workers were maimed by fast-moving machinery (Stearns 2007, 35). Child labor was common.2 Factories employed orphan children from London and other major cities in exchange for providing them room and board.”  Also see, “Meet the Old Sweatshops, Same as the New,” Page 110, VOLUME 19, NUMBER 1, SUMMER 2014.

[ix]    See “CHALLENGES OF DOING BUSINESS IN INDONESIA.”

[x]    See “Meet the Old Sweatshops, Same as the New,” Page 120, VOLUME 19, NUMBER 1, SUMMER 2014.