Those who protested at the World Trade Organization meeting argue that economic justice is about workers having the "right" to a job with a decent wage ["U.S.-China Pact Opposition to Intensify," news story, Dec. 6]. But giving someone a job and a decent wage means taking it away from someone else.
If we prevent manufacturing jobs from leaving the United States, starving farmers in China are prevented from moving into these comparatively lucrative jobs. Stripped of all the rhetoric, the activists' moral argument is really about squatters' rights: They say blue-collar workers in the United States and Europe deserve to keep their manufacturing jobs because they had them first.
This is not justice but a power struggle for the goodies in the world. We don't like to see people "losing" something, especially when the "losers" are fellow citizens and the "gainers" are people in faraway lands. This phenomenon is understandable, but it is infuriating when the protesters claim a moral high ground based on something akin to a psychological optical illusion.
How much study is needed to realize something is wrong when a shirt made by virtual slave labor sells for only a couple bucks below a union-made garment? A select few pocket obscene profits. Meanwhile, high-paying local jobs are eliminated, and many more workers make wage, benefit and pension concessions. All this can cause a lot more harm to our economy than just a "slowdown."
Isn't that where government comes in? Shouldn't we use our economic muscle to require decent working conditions and basic environmental standards from trading partners? Mandating compliance won't kill competition. It will just level it some.
When was the last time labor and environmentalists agreed on an issue? When was the last time a state of emergency was declared to facilitate a presidential visit -- in the United States?
Santa Clara, Calif.
The WTO's operations seem rather one-way: U.S. companies provide decent conditions and environmental safeguards. Workers require higher wages for necessities of life. Meanwhile, emerging countries compete with unregulated child labor and assaults on the environment that will harm all world inhabitants, sooner or later. Debate about tariffs and quotas is understandable, but some issues should not be negotiable.
Countries in which wages are $1 an hour have plenty of room to match environmental standards and working conditions of their trading partners and still be competitive. Such improvements should be a minimum condition of WTO membership. Some would argue that ensuring basic human rights be required, too.
Waiting to "encourage" change relies on leaders of countries with atrocious records to act in good faith. WTO membership is an obvious tool to reward good behavior. It should not be a giveaway.