Something to Cheer at The New York Times

Earlier today I would not have believed it possible that I would write something in praise of an Op-Ed piece in The New York Times.

But Nicolas D. Kristof has written an article that demonstrates some serious understanding of a highly charged subject and has had the courage to express it in his column. The title of his article conveys its nature. It’s called “In Praise of the Maligned Sweatshop.”

Datelined, WINDHOEK, NAMIBIA, the article opens with the statement, “Africa desperately needs Western help in the form of . . . sweatshops.”

Kristof understands that the sweatshops would raise the demand for labor and cause a substantial improvement in economic conditions in comparison with what they are in the absence of the sweatshops. In the print-edition of the article, this point is driven home by a callout that reads, “What’s worse than being exploited? Not being exploited.”

Here are a couple of gems that his article contains:

Well-meaning American university students regularly campaign against sweatshops. But instead, anyone who cares about fighting poverty should campaign in favor of sweatshops . . . . If Africa could establish a clothing export industry, that would fight poverty far more effectively than any foreign aid program. . . . [A] useful step would be for American students to stop trying to ban sweatshops, and instead campaign to bring them to the most desperately poor countries.

Kristof even has an answer for advocates of paying a “living wage” in the sweatshops. He points out that because such a wage is above the market rate, the premium is typically pocketed by local managers, who are in a position to collect bribes for awarding the premium-paying jobs to workers of their choice, with the result that “the workers themselves don’t get the benefit.”

Kristof’s article has what I experience as a kind of premonitional quality. Namely, it gives a momentary glimpse of what the world might be like if the world’s most intellectually influential newspaper were regularly filled with articles of this kind. How different the intellectual climate of our country would be. How different its political and economic policies would be. How much freer and more rational our society would be.

Of course, this is only a momentary premonition. But it makes me recall another such premonition that I experienced sometime in the mid-1970s, when I read that the Soviet government could no longer rely on the philosophy of Marxism to obtain the support of its people, but instead had to rely on Russian nationalism. That I recognized as a decisive crack in the whole edifice of socialism/communism.

It’s just possible that in Kristof’s column, we have a comparable crack in the left-liberal edifice of The New York Times. And I say this in the knowledge that Kristof has written other columns that are as horrendously bad as this one is remarkably good.