Thursday, June 2

Do you suffer from dandruff, halitosis or social dumping?

Few Americans dreaded the Non and Neen votes more than Pundita, because that would mean it would be time to discuss the concept of social dumping. No, don't go to Wikipedia for a definition; it's not there yet. But sooner or later Americans will learn more about social dumping than we ever wanted to know.

A few months ago Tech Central Station made a valiant effort to wade into the discussion; however, the authority they featured, a Swede who lobbies in Brussels, seemed unaware that American readers wouldn't have the foggiest idea of what he was so incensed about.

Yet the term, and the very bitter arguments surrounding it, are at the heart of the thumping rejection of the EU Constitution in France and the Netherlands. A portent of the No votes came in early May, when a European Parliament vote on work hours in Britain revealed a deep schism in the European Union. For years, Britain had an "opt-out" clause, which allowed British employees to work longer than the 48 hours/week mandated by the EU's "working time" directive. On May 11, the European Parliament voted to strip Britons of their right to work as many hours as they darn well pleased. This set off an uproar:
Phillip Bushill-Matthews, the Tory employment spokesman, said the measure was an attack on freedom and a signal to the world that a declining Europe remained incapable of facing up to labour market reform.

"It is not for a remote group of Left-leaning politicians in Europe to tell people how long they can work and rest." Ministers expect support from new member states in eastern Europe who want to take advantage of flexible labour markets.

Konrad Szymanski, a Polish Euro-MP, called the vote a "black day" for European enterprise. "It imposes the worst legacy of the French and German economies on those countries which do not want that, such as Poland, Britain and Ireland."
Lest you think the flap is just a Right-Left debate or another instance of labor unions at war against capitalism, Pundita will now attempt to use the term "social dumping" in a few sentences, by way of conveying the scope of the argument:

At first, many South Koreans were thrilled that the Sunshine Policy meant that North Koreans would have a chance to work for South Korean manufacturers. And they are still thrilled, because they can buy really cheap goods made in the North. But it's now dawning on some Southerners that really big business with the North will mean that Southerners might have to compete against Northerners for jobs. This would result in Southerners having to dump their way of life and adopt a much lower standard, if they want to be competitive. They would have to live much like the Northern employees, who work like slaves for less than peanuts.

Now we'll try "social dumping" in another context:

At first many Americans were thrilled to have access to really cheap Mexican labor. Then one day it occurred to many Americans that if things continued on, they would be in competition with Mexicans for jobs. Because the Mexicans were willing to work like slaves for peanuts, Americans who want to be competitive would have to dump their way of living and adopt a much lower standard.

And another:

At first many West Europeans were thrilled to have access to really cheap East European labor..and continue on as above.

By now you get the picture: Social dumping is having to dump a society's standard of living in order to remain competitive in a globalized or regionalized economy. As you can see by the Korea example, the issue of social dumping converges with human rights issues. And the French--always deep thinkers--are looking at the broadest implications of social dumping:

All this business, all this trade, the very fabric of modern civilization--what use is it, if the fruits of trade force a generation to go backward? The immigrant experience in America (and West Europe) is about making a better life for one's family; the idea is to progress up the social scale. And part of the social contract in advanced modern societies is strong protection for human rights. But if one is willing to use services and products from countries that don't respect the human rights of their citizens, what happens to the social contract in advanced countries?

There is no easy answer to such questions, which form the basis of debates in the US Congress about doing business with China and other countries that do not respect human rights. On the other side of the divide are the excellent points brought up the Swedish author, and by EU nations that are outraged at the European Parliament's vote against the British opt-out clause. Poor countries see anti-Social Dumping measures as a way to hold them back from becoming competitive with the richer nations.

In 1997, the World Bank-IMF decided to bite the bullet with publication of a report titled Are International Labor Standards Needed to Prevent Social Dumping? While on the longish side, and despite the age of the data, the report is still the best introduction to the topic of social dumping. The idea of setting up international labor law is right up there with dandruff and halitosis as a topic for polite discussion in America, but that's where discussion is headed in Europe and sooner or later it's coming our way.

Update: 3:45 PM, EDT: Below are Dave Schuler's comments on this post. No, Dave, Pundita had no idea such a claptrap notion was around. So much claptrap, so little time...but thanks for the warning on this one.

Dear Pundita:
This an important topic--and one that doesn't cut 100% the United States's way. For example, there are quite a few countries that view the U. S. health care system as a violation of human rights.

In the post you mention the "social contract". Presumably you're aware that the lcaptrap notion that no such thing exists is abroad in the land and is held by quite a few otherwise intelligent and well-educated people. Right now I'm having a pretty well-publicized debate with a guy who was on the Nobel list a few years ago on essentially this subject. His position is that social groups are harmful abstractions with no real existence.

My position is that since social groups have been easily observable for as long as humans have been humans and in every part of the world and BY DEFINITION in every society, groups are every bit as real as individuals. Note: no group, no social contract. Homo economicus.

There are such things as species that are simply individuals. Many kinds of cats come to mind: solitary hunters, coming together mostly to have sex. Human beings are not creatures like that.

My position is that social groups are intrinsic to the human species and necessary for their happiness. Consequently, natural law favors the notion of a responsibility of individual people to the society i.e., a social contract. To think otherwise is to hold up Ted Kaczynski as the epitome of the human species.

Dave Schuler
The Glittering Eye

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