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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.


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

please how did we get fixed cost, marginal and average cost. thanks
Onovo Reply
can any one help me solve pie chart, bar chart and histogram. thanks
any answers please, thank you
solution on average cost and marginal cost
Answer the below question to best of your ability by employing the tax concept and supply and demand Suppose the supply of tobacco is elastic and the demand for tobacco is inelastic. If an excise tax is levied on the suppliers of tobacco, will the incidence fall mostly on consumers or mostly on pro
Carolyn Reply
first you suppose the demand for tobacco is elastic that means if price change more change would occur in demand and second you suppose tax has been lived on suppliers that means the price of tobacco will rise up and it's demand will decline that means consumer will start consuming less
what is perfect competition
Masciline Reply
perfect competition is the form of market where sellers are selling homogeneous product to buyers homogeneous product means a product which is same colour ,same brand and same cost has been used .
Werku Reply
What Is opportunity cost and give examples fot it?
Opportunity cost means profit of what you have give up in order to choose something else
example of opportunity cost . we take example of land.As land have alternative uses it can be use for production , for building factories on it or for construction of house . suppose you are the owner of land and you build house on it that means you give up the benefit which you may get in produ
the benefit which you didn't get in production or in building factories is called opportunity cost
opportunity cost is the cost of what you give up to get something. example: if u wanna buy an apple and a mango and end up buying only a mango. your opportunity cost is the cost of the Apple the you've given up
define marginal rate of substitution
Roshan Reply
marginal rate of substitution
The rate at which one product can be substituted for another is called MRS.
how much additional units of a product under consideration is required to deliver the same level of satisfaction that one derives from an additional unit of a given product.
Simply untill the satisfaction one icreased another decreased also depends upon the satisfaction power of a commodity
Why indifference curve does not intersect x axis and y axis
If the two products are perfect substitutes it will touch both axis. In your question, it is assumed that these are not perfect substitutes. If it touches any axis, it shows that with the given quantity of one product alone gives the same level of satisfaction.
the intersection at the axis would mean that the product is perfectly substitutable and hence the indifference analysis is non-existent.
what industry monopolies belongs
Gwayi Reply
what are the causes of shift in demand curve to the right
Gideon Reply
what industry monopolies belongs
Compare and contrast four Organizations that face elastic demand,inelastic demand,unitary elasticity of demand and perfectly elastic demand.
Puseletso Reply
firms in an oligopoly can act like a monopoly when they form a cartel,which can be based on agreement or rather a court order,hence this leads to increasing barriers to entry for other firms
Jacob Reply
economic inefficiency
alino Reply
what courses the curve to move
Siphelele Reply
is it possible to say scarcity is the out come of excessive greed on the part of human?
Kwame Reply
TU=3Q2-2Q+4.what is Total utlity maximize?
Lema Reply
what is demand
Brenda Reply
Total utlity=3Q2-2Q+4.what is maximum TU?
with excues,can i help you this question?
Where can i find the Quizzes
Thubelihle Reply

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Source:  OpenStax, Microeconomics. OpenStax CNX. Aug 03, 2014 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11627/1.10
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