Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Smoking Baby

You know, quite frankly, I'm shocked at you people. First you attack a toddler's right to kick back with a relaxing smoke, then what? Before you know it, you'll be saying that we shouldn't let kindergartners openly carry a firearm (it's their 2nd amendment right, god damn it.). The kid works a 14 hour day, the least you could do is let him enjoy a pack of cigarettes in peace... Hell, in some countries, that kid's old enough to vote and raise his own family.
Of course I'm kidding. No country actually allows toddlers to vote (though Texas may have the death penalty for pre-k criminals). Naturally, the toddler doesn't work 14 hours a day (only 8...)
I'm joking- mostly. What I actually find disturbing is the appalling hypocrisy of peoples' response to the smoking baby video. Indonesia, along with many other poor nations, has a long standing history of child labor. I'm not interested in passing moral judgment on the countries or parents who participate in child labor, because I feel that's beside the point. The point, of course, is that well fed, educated (relatively speaking), suburban Americans were outraged at the idea of an Indonesian toddler smoking, but apparently those same Americans are not really bothered by the idea of that same toddler going to work (full time) for exploitative companies in conditions that would be legally unfit to keep a pet in here in this country a few years down the road.
Based on that logic it would be preferable to send your child to work at a shoe factory or garment industry for $0.22 an hour, than to give that same child a cigarette. While I'd be inclined to agree that both of those endeavors are hazardous- I would disagree that the former was necessarily better than the later (according to one recent report, factories were paying child laborers a meager $4.53 a week for working 7-13 hour shifts 7 days a week in hazardous conditions).
This is not a call to action, partially because I find that terribly gauche.  Chances are, you've made a conscious decision to ignore child labor in third world countries, and that is your right. Part of America's beloved freedom means we aren't required to care about the fate of others. But stop pretending that you do.
Stop posting on your blog about how much you worry for this boy. Don't tell me on Facebook how many health problems he's at risk for. And stop chastising his parents for allowing him to "destroy" himself (your sneakers say 'made in Indonesia' don't they?).
At least have the guts to square with your apathy.
In my opinion, your "sympathy" is another link a long chain of exploitation. In this case, it isn't exploiting him for cheap labor, it's exploiting him for a cheap ego boost. Attacking the very visible vice of smoking makes us feel good and reassures us of our moral supremacy (and thus our unspoken right to exploit "lesser" people without feeling bad about it). Similar tactics were used to justify the exploitation, dislocation, enslavement, and murder of countless populations throughout human history.
There will be those who, when called on their obvious hypocrisy, will respond by saying "OMG! I am so against child labor! I think we should protest all those companies who don't pay children a fair wage!"
What an insipid solution. This may surprise you, but the kids aren't working to get a jump on their 401 K plans. Children in Third World are forced to work because it's often an economic necessity. They have to work to support their families. Simply putting them out of work is not going to solve the underlying issues that create national poverty. In fact, it might have the opposite effect and drive more children into illicit activities just to maintain some semblance of their standard of living.
There is no easy solution to child labor problems. Raising minimum wage tends to drive exploitative labor to another country who is willing to work for pennies, so they can produce goods to sell to consumers, who would shop elsewhere is the businesses raised the prices of their wares.
It's easy for Americans to say they will do the right thing with their money, put in practice, they haven't. The right thing is a difficult, if not impossible, thing to do.
However- stifle the urge to fly into a self-righteous diatribe, ranting like you're the holiest thing since Bono, on your FB every time a small sliver of the reality endured by poorer nations hits YouTube. One of the few things that I find more offensive than cigarettes are self-congratulatory hypocrites.


James Austin said...

I have been thinking minimum wage shouldn't be up to voters and politicians to decide but companies, and consumers- choosing to use those services or not.

more cheap housing and w/er they can manage. you can live on very little. better than living on.. say.. nothing. whcih is basically the current option.. because of outsourcing :]

Free country yo.

I also think out sourcing is one of those things that should be heavily taxed.. just to the point where hiring people here would be equal from a cost perspective.

And without so much minimum wage that cost would be lower.

Also small share holders should have more say in CEO's salary. say w/er percentage votes, their votes are factored in as being 100% of w/er the percentage of the small company is small share holders, so say 70% of the company is small share holders and 3% actually put salary estimates well that 3% would actually be multiplied to equal the 70% thus giving small time people more say. obviously thats just a very very rough idea.

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