Should we encourage the rising tide or sink the biggest boats?

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My ethics text book, Organizational Ethics: A Practical Approach by Craig E. Johnson, talks in the last chapter about the dangers of globalization. In the chapter he talks about how the benefits of living in a global economy are obvious, but the what is hidden is the downside.

I would like to challenge him, somewhat. Seems to me the media is more than willing to present to us all the down sides, and actually hide some of the benefits.

Don’t take my analysis as saying the downsides the author lists don’t have merit. They do. But I think it is worthwhile to emphasize some of the benefits of the downsides.

His benefits are: lower labor costs, higher sales and profits, cheaper goods and services, instant communication, better information flow, and more cross cultural activity.

His most emphasized downside is the growing gap between the haves and the have-nots. This is followed by ethical and spiritual values being shoved aside for profits, along with the destruction of local cultures.

What I think gets lost in the mix is how the wealth of the poor have grown. The poor of today, combined, are much wealthier than the wealthy of last century. Many of the poor of today, individually, are wealthier than middle class people of the last century. What has made this possible, this rising tide of wealth that affects the poor not only in the United States but also around the world? The wealth of that very wealthy, whose gap with them also continues to grow.

The case study in the chapter detailed the Banglahesd Rana Plaza factory collapse in April 2013. It was truly a tragedy that could have been prevented. From a Western perspective it concentrated focus on the garment “sweat shops” making our clothes and the “horrible” conditions those people worked in.

A small item mentioned in the case study, which I imagine most Westerners would look over, is that those “sweat shop” jobs are highly prized, high paying jobs for the country. People compete to get in. We might see those jobs as terrible, but for them they are better than the alternative.

The case study suggested perhaps we could pay more for our clothes, so those people could be paid enough to maintain their factories to prevent these accidents, and give the workers a better living.

While I think those things are a noble idea, and should happen, I am leery of how some people might try to engineer it. The result could be similar to what happened to employees of McDonalds and other fast food places where the minimum wage was hiked significantly: the jobs went elsewhere. If the prices paid get too high, other countries could manufacture the clothes, and do it better, the jobs would go elsewhere, and Bangladesh would be thrown into even worse poverty.  Beware of side effects.

Sure, narrowing the gap between wealthy and poor sounds like a good idea. But I wouldn’t want to do it by a method that cut my own income in half. I’d rather the wealthy make four times as much as they do now, and have the gap even wider, if by that my income increased 25%, and the poor of the third world saw their wealth double.

Thus comes my headline: do we keep the tide rising, and lift all boats, or do we sink the biggest boats, and stop the tide?

I don’t think we have to widen the gap even more to keep the tide rising, I would just agree to it if it kept the time rising, and I caution against any “equalist justice” that ends up with side effects of stopping or reversing the tide.

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