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The benefits and costs of increased trade in terms of its effect on wages are not distributed evenly across the economy. However, the growth of international trade has helped to raise the productivity of U.S. workers as a whole—and thus helped to raise the average level of wages.

Labor standards and working conditions

Workers in many low-income countries around the world labor under conditions that would be illegal for a worker in the United States. Workers in countries like China, Thailand, Brazil, South Africa, and Poland are often paid less than the United States minimum wage    . For example, in the United States, the minimum wage is $7.25 per hour; a typical wage in many low-income countries might be more like $7.25 per day, or often much less. Moreover, working conditions in low-income countries may be extremely unpleasant, or even unsafe. In the worst cases, production may involve the labor of small children or even workers who are treated nearly like slaves. These concerns over standards of foreign labor do not affect most of U.S. trade, which is intra-industry and carried out with other high-income countries that have labor standards similar to the United States, but it is, nonetheless, morally and economically important.

In thinking about labor standards in other countries, it is important to draw some distinctions between what is truly unacceptable and what is painful to think about. Most people, economists included, have little difficulty with the idea that production by six-year-olds confined in factories or by slave labor is morally unacceptable. They would support aggressive efforts to eliminate such practices—including shutting out imported products made with such labor. Many cases, however, are less clear-cut. An opinion article in the New York Times several years ago described the case of Ahmed Zia, a 14-year-old boy from Pakistan. He earned $2 per day working in a carpet factory. He dropped out of school in second grade. Should the United States and other countries refuse to purchase rugs made by Ahmed and his co-workers? If the carpet factories were to close, the likely alternative job for Ahmed is farm work, and as Ahmed says of his carpet-weaving job: “This makes much more money and is more comfortable.”

Other workers may have even less attractive alternative jobs, perhaps scavenging garbage or prostitution. The real problem for Ahmed and many others in low-income countries is not that globalization has made their lives worse, but rather that they have so few good life alternatives. The United States went through similar situations during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

In closing, there is some irony when the United States government or U.S. citizens take issue with labor standards in low-income countries, because the United States is not a world leader in government laws to protect employees. In Western European countries and Canada, all citizens are guaranteed some form of national healthcare by the government; the United States does not offer such a guarantee but has moved in the direction of universal health insurance coverage under the recent Affordable Care Act. Many European workers receive six weeks or more of paid vacation per year; in the United States, vacations are often one to three weeks per year. If European countries accused the United States of using unfair labor standards to make U.S. products cheaply, and announced that they would shut out all U.S. imports until the United States adopted guaranteed national healthcare, added more national holidays, and doubled vacation time, Americans would be outraged. Yet when U.S. protectionists start talking about restricting imports from poor countries because of low wage levels and poor working conditions, they are making a very similar argument. This is not to say that labor conditions in low-income countries are not an important issue. They are. However, linking labor conditions in low-income countries to trade deflects the emphasis from the real question to ask: “What are acceptable and enforceable minimum labor standards and protections to have the world over?”

Key concepts and summary

As international trade increases, it contributes to a shift in jobs away from industries where that economy does not have a comparative advantage and toward industries where it does have a comparative advantage. The degree to which trade affects labor markets has a lot to do with the structure of the labor market in that country and the adjustment process in other industries. Global trade should raise the average level of wages by increasing productivity. However, this increase in average wages may include both gains to workers in certain jobs and industries and losses to others.

In thinking about labor practices in low-income countries, it is useful to draw a line between what is unpleasant to think about and what is morally objectionable. For example, low wages and long working hours in poor countries are unpleasant to think about, but for people in low-income parts of the world, it may well be the best option open to them. Practices like child labor and forced labor are morally objectionable and many countries refuse to import products made using these practices.

References

Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Data Retrieval: Employment, Hours, and Earnings (CES).” Last modified February 1, 2013. http://www.bls.gov/webapps/legacy/cesbtab1.htm.

Dhillon, Kiran. 2015. “Why Are U.S. Oil Imports Falling?” Time.com. Accessed April 1, 2015. http://time.com/67163/why-are-u-s-oil-imports-falling/.

Kristof, Nicholas. “Let Them Sweat.” The New York Times , June 25, 2002. http://www.nytimes.com/2002/06/25/opinion/let-them-sweat.html.

Questions & Answers

an increase in demand (while supply remains constant) what will happen to deh graph?
Thabiso Reply
what is going to happen to the graph if there is an increase in demand, While supply remains constant .
Thabiso
What will happen to the graph if there is an increase in demand While supply remains constant?
Thabiso
price will increase high than automatically demand will decrease
takshaveer
equilibrium ?
Issum
is when the supply and demand are balanced
ISAH
what is demand
Sarkwah Reply
demand is the willingness to buy a commodity backed by the ability to pay.
Runwell
demand is mere desire on commodity with ability to back up with purchasing power
Terkimbi
Equilibrium is when there's an equality between quantity demanded and quantity supplied
Victory Reply
Again the consumer will be in equilibrium if the price of the commodity is equal to Marginal utility of that product
daniel
wat is the law of supply
Agnes Reply
It's what* -The law of supply states that price and supply is relative. As all factors are equal, if price increases then quantity of supply there for increases.
Nathaniel
the law of suppy state that when prise is high, more commodity with be supply and when p is low less of the same commodity will be supply.
BEGE
It states that, "other things being equal, move supplied at a higher price than at a lower price ".
Murewah
okay
Agnes
it's state that the increased in prices will lead to decreased in supply
Asuquo
what is the theory of supply and the determinants of demand
Murewah
And please what is change in quantity supplied?
Agnes
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Murewah
A woman has a television set which cost her $800 two years ago. A new set would cost her $1000 and she could sell her television set for $450. What is the opportunity Cost of keeping the old TV?
Murewah Reply
principle of effective demand?
Abubakar Reply
the is the situation in which the need of individuals exceed the available resource. increase in population rate and wrong decision making
esther Reply
what is the different between wants and demand?
Terkimbi
wants are what people desire to have but they can live without them and demand is a thing that is most wanted
Murewah
what are the demand pull inflation
Hijja
the higher the aggregate level of activity, the larger the proportion of areas and industries which experience excess demand for goods and labour of various sorts , and the more powerful is demand-inflationary pressure . Demand inflation is contrasted with cost inflation , in which price and wage
Murewah
increases are transmitted from one sector to another. These should be regarded as different aspects of an overal inflation starts , cost inflation explains why inflation once begun is so difficult to stop.
Murewah
what is the important difference between positive and normative economics
Umar
positive economics is the study of how an economy works in practice, as opposed to the theoretical study of how it should run in theory and normative economics is the party of economics that is concerned with how the economy ought to be run.
Murewah
positive economic deal with fact and also talks about how the economy actually is like while normative economic deal with value judgement and talks about how the economy ought to be like
esther
What is the difference between opportunity cost and choice
Murewah
opportunity cost are also known as forgun alternative why choice is to select one among alternative
Terkimbi
importance of economic
Zakaria Reply
satisfaction of human wants
Festo
economics is about to economise . discuss
Angel Reply
Underlines the efficiency aspect. Economise towards what: Economise factors to reach equal distribution of Material wealth or Just to operate optimally to Service demand, i. e. Run markets efficiently?
Homo
join the conversation
abba Reply
Hi I'm Ashnly Parker.
Murewah
what is terms of trade
Ibrahim Reply
different btn import and export
Angel
No question... This is nice
Gbenga Reply
hw can we solve problem of scarcity
Oigebe
scarcity is not necessarily a problem but a constant condition of the world. there are not enough resources to satisfy the unlimited wants.
Matthew
wee need to be cooperative
Zakaria
by unlimited resourses and abundant want
Angel
What is the economic problem
Murewah
inflation
Lazizjon
And what is demand pull inflation
Murewah
why do compute GDP?
steven Reply
can anyone shortly determine the word inflation.
Ibrahim Reply
Continous increase in the general level of prices or in the cost of living.
arshad
persistent increased in general price level
Machall
all correct...
paa
inflaction
Angel
rise in price.
Abubakar
deserving of money
Lazizjon
A persistent tendency for nominal prices to increase
Murewah
What is the problem of economic problem
Murewah
the father of economics
Reuben Reply
Adem smith
sj
Adem smith
Ajit
Adem smith sure
Adigwe
the father of economic regarding to adam Smith
Ibrahim
the father of political of economic and capitalism in his book and inquary in to the wealth of the nation.
Umar
Adam Smith his the father of economic
Mamudu
difference between injection and leakage
Asif
what is monopoly
Razak
Monopoly is a market structure where there is one firm who dominate the industry
wisdom
hi,, I am new here. please welcome me.
Mohammad
you are welcome
Adigwe
monopoly is the one characterized by a mkt power in which a firm is a price maker
Festo
Some member just ask questions but not answering so y this happen
Festo
Monopoly is a market where only one seller exists. No competition
Fred
how long does the patent right prevail the monopoly
Festo
no attempt
Zakaria
what is state farming
Sadiq
anybody to attempt
Festo
Hi, I'm a new member please will you welcome me
Murewah

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Source:  OpenStax, Principles of economics. OpenStax CNX. Sep 19, 2014 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11613/1.11
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