<< Chapter < Page Chapter >> Page >

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

what is demand
Joseph Reply
Demand simply refers to the amount of goods and services which the consumer is willing and able to purchase at each price
Owusu
what is mean by unitary elastic demand
Bangniyel Reply
demand is said to be unitary elastic when the percentage change in the demand is equal to the percentage change in the price
George
what is the principle of equi-marginal utility
Reliance Reply
what is Economics and it important
Anita Reply
what is production
Anita
what is Economic
Anita Reply
what is the meaning of Economic
Anita
economics is a science which studies human behaviour as a relationship between ends and scarce means which have alternative uses
Boso
I don't know.
natchanan
u don't
Ssali
@ Boso thanks for the definition ✌
Raewyn
boso u r too much u try
Liambee
ya nyc
Ssali
Thanks kk
Anita
pls can I ask more questions
Anita
what is production
Anita
production is creation of goods and services
George
what is macroeconomics and microeconomics
Anita
macroeconomics deals with larger economic units such as GDP,GNP,employment while microeconomics deals with smaller economic units such firm and household
George
Thanks
Anita
Explain the ff Scarcity Ends Demand Supply Choice Scale of preference
Anita
macroeconomics deals with larger economic units such as GDP,GNP,employment while microeconomics deals with smaller economic units such firm and household
George
Gross Domestic product...it represent the total value of the products produced within the country including foreign industries
George Reply
what is products
Anita
what are the favourable demand
Odia Reply
list of climate that affect demands
Odia
What is two major forms of international trade?
Musa Reply
What is Economics and why it is important
Abdul Reply
De ans,Economics is the study of women behavior as a relationship between end and scared mean which have alternative uses.
Anita
What is Inflation
Abdul Reply
More money = more consumers, more consumers = lessen the product, less product = high price, high price = inflation
TuroN
is it definition
Odia
why price and quantity increase
Otuu Reply
condition under which price and quantity will be increased at the same time
Otuu
factors that hinders mobility of labour
Dennis Reply
what is scarcity
Adams Reply
why are people still unemployed in this economy we live in
Joyce Reply
why are people still unemployed in this economy
Joyce
Because of high technology
Innocent
Due to low government expenditure, the state does not have money to invest in new projects that can result in more job opportunities.
Young
good afternoon all, what are the examples of development projects Pls?
James
I 'm not together with him, when we say government expenditure mean there is recession for her economic country. That why many people still unemployed in this economy we live in, it mainly depend for two phases like Natural hazards and human activities.
Innocent
For the first answer I was responded we are concerns to intensive technology in the whole world it lead to reduce of many workers.
Innocent
wat does the abbreviation ppc mean?
Tumiso
I would like to give you ideas so that you get well how can give answer to this question dears. Attempt to know these words and what these means; Deficit, Surplus and Balanced budget.
Innocent
ppc mean pay -per-click known as search engine marketing
Innocent
i found it ppc means production possibility curve
Tumiso
in economic is that true according to your answer, however about of Marketing is that Pay Per Click.
Innocent
how is inflation, output gap relate to monetary policy
Mary Reply

Get the best Principles of economics course in your pocket!





Source:  OpenStax, Principles of economics. OpenStax CNX. Sep 19, 2014 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11613/1.11
Google Play and the Google Play logo are trademarks of Google Inc.

Notification Switch

Would you like to follow the 'Principles of economics' conversation and receive update notifications?

Ask