Sunday, December 9, 2012

Biting The Hand That Employs You

Did you know that there are absolutely zero Google search results for "biting the hand that employs you"?   For some reason I find that really surprising.  In comparison...there are 1,470,000 search results for "biting the hand that feeds you".

David Henderson, over at the EconLog (grumble gripe), recently posted an entry on the topic of "better options"...Blaming the Person Offering you the Best Deal.  The basic concept is that employers provide the "best" available option for their employees.  If it wasn't truly their "best" option then the employees would be working for other people.  It helps frame the important question of how much of an obligation we have to how many other people.  

This concept has been the subject of a few of my blog entries...
  1. The Dialectic of Unintended Consequences (17 Oct 2011)
  2. Dude, Where's My Ethical Consumerism (13 Feb 2012)
  3. Subsistence Agriculture vs Sweatshops (5 Oct 2012)
  4. John Holbo's Critique of Libertarianism (15 Nov 2012)
  5. What About Voluntary Taxation? Also, Knockers vs Builders...Which One Are You? (1 Feb 2014)
  6. Ethical Consumerism, Ethical Producerism and Ethical Builderism (12 Feb 2014)
  7. Civic Crowdfunding Ethical Alternatives (13 Feb 2014)
  8. Where Do Better Options Come From? (14 May 2014)
  9. Builderism (1 Jan 2015)
Having spent quite a bit of time considering the was enjoyable to discover and read Henderson's post.  As far as I can remember that was the first time I've run across somebody else writing on the subject of offering people "better" options. I'm really curious how many other people have put it like so.  The problem is that searching Google for descriptions rather than labels is no fun.   So if you stumble upon this...and know of anybody else who had written on the same subject...then please feel free to share a link in a comment.

[Update:]  Some found passages...
And yet, wherever the new export industries have grown, there has been measurable improvement in the lives of ordinary people. Partly this is because a growing industry must offer a somewhat higher wage than workers could get elsewhere in order to get them to move. - Paul Krugman, In Praise of Cheap Labor
Where all other circumstances are equal, wages are generally higher in new than in old trades. When a projector attempts to establish a new manufacture, he must at first entice his workmen from other employments by higher wages than they can either earn in their own trades, or than the nature of his work would otherwise require, and a considerable time must pass away before he can venture to reduce them to the common level. - Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations 
The whole of the advantages and disadvantages of the different employments of labour and stock must, in the same neighbourhood, be either perfectly equal or continually tending to equality. If in the same neighbourhood, there was any employment evidently either more or less advantageous than the rest, so many people would crowd into it in the one case, and so many would desert it in the other, that its advantages would soon return to the level of other employments. This at least would be the case in a society where things were left to follow their natural course, where there was perfect liberty, and where every man was perfectly free both to chuse what occupation he thought proper, and to change it as often as he thought proper. Every man's interest would prompt him to seek the advantageous, and to shun the disadvantageous employment. - Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations 
The woman felt or thought that she deserved $15 an hour. But Kennedy's point is: Why single out McDonald's? Indeed, there's a presumption that McDonald's is paying her more than anyone else would. Why? Because if someone else would pay more, she would likely be working for someone else. Or, it's possible that someone else would pay more, but she likes McDonald's because the job is better, on a non-wage dimension, than that other higher-paying job. In short, she's in the best place she can find. 
McDonald's is giving her a better deal than anyone else is offering. So her beef, so to speak, is with the very company that's giving her the best deal! - David Henderson, Blaming the Person Offering you the Best Deal 
Sweatshops are an important exercise in appreciating the difference between what we see (people in sweatshops) and what we don't see (the jobs they would have if they didn't have sweatshop opportunities). Sweatshops employ children because the children are available for work and because their next-best opportunities (agriculture or, in some cases, prostitution) are usually worse than sweatshop labor. It is definitely good that the workers at least have opportunities to work in sweatshops because, as research by Powell and others has shown, their other alternatives are even worse. I don't have the numbers in front of me, but sweatshop earnings are better than they are in other lines of employment. - Art Camden, On Sweatshops: They're Better Than the Alternative
Stopping people from taking terrible jobs – through prohibitions or protections or minimums, justified by the warm if mistaken feeling over one’s second cappuccino that one is thereby being generous to the poor – takes away from the poor what the poor themselves regard as a bettering option.  It’s theft from the poor of deals the poor want to make. - Deirdre McCloskey, The Treasured Bourgeoisie (Donald J. Boudreaux, Quotation of the Day)
Wishing away reality doesn’t give these workers better alternatives. Workers choose to work in sweatshops because it is their best available option. Sweatshops, however, are better than just the least bad option. They bring with them the proximate causes of economic development (capital, technology, the opportunity to build human capital) that lead to greater productivity—which eventually raises pay, shortens working hours, and improves working conditions. -  Benjamin Powell, Sweatshop Blues: An Interview With Benjamin Powell
Because sweatshops are better than the available alternatives, any reforms aimed at improving the lives of workers in sweatshops must not jeopardize the jobs that they already have. To analyze a reform we must understand what determines worker compensation. - Benjamin Powell, In Defense of "Sweatshops" 

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