Shrimp and prawns sold in US and UK produced by slave labor in Thailand

After you watch the 18-minute video below, or read the article about it in the Guardian, you may stop eating shrimp and prawns—at least those sold at places like Walmart, Carrefour, Costco and Tesco, and the supermarkets Morrisons, the Co-operative, Aldi, and Iceland. Those are some of the places that, after a six-month investigation by the paper, are implicating in human trafficking by buying shrimp fed on slave-produced fishmeal.

We all know about sweatshops producing computers and clothing in Southeast Asia, but this is worse, for it’s true slavery. Immigrants to Thailand, often from Burma, are dumped on trawlers to work off the costs of their migration, and often don’t see land again for over a year. On the boats they’re treated horribly: they get a plate or so of rice a day, have to work more than 20 hours catching “trash fish” for the fishmeal, and are beaten—or worse:

Life on a 15-metre trawler is brutal, violent and unpredictable. Many of the slaves interviewed by the Guardian recalled being fed just a plate of rice a day. Men would take fitful naps in sleeping quarters so cramped they would crawl to enter them, before being summoned back out to trawl fish at any hour. Those who were too ill to work were thrown overboard, some interviewees reported, while others said they were beaten if they so much as took a lavatory break.

Many of these slave ships stay out at sea for years at a time, trading slaves from one boat to another and being serviced by cargo boats, which travel out from Thai ports towards international borders to pick up the slave boats’ catch and drop off supplies.

. . . Of the 15 current and former slaves the Guardian interviewed during the investigation, 10 had witnessed a fellow fisherman murdered by his boat captain or net master.

Ei Ei Lwin, the Burmese fisherman, claims he saw “18 to 20 people killed in front of me”.

“Some were shot, others were tied up with stones and thrown into the sea, and one was ripped apart,” he says. “He hated his captain and tried to beat him to death. But the captain escaped by jumping into the sea. The other captains came and pinned [the fisherman] down. Then they tied up his hands and legs to four separate boats and pulled him apart.”

The whole system is riddled with corruption: the Thai government knows about it yet does nothing about it, and likewise with the Western food firms that purvey the product.  It’s deeply disturbing.

It’s all documented in the article linked above, but if you’re the visual type, watch this video, which you can see by clicking on the screenshot below (note, some of the stuff depicted in this documentary is pretty horrible):

Screen shot 2014-06-14 at 7.18.23 AM

If you want to complain, just click on the links below to go to the customer service site; all these firms are, according to the Guardian, involved in supporting slavery:

Tesco

Walmart

Marks & Spencer

Costco

Morrisons

The Co-operative

Aldi

Iceland Foods

h/t: Natalie

 

 

66 Comments

  1. GBJames
    Posted June 14, 2014 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    Shameful.

  2. Posted June 14, 2014 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

    Pre-historic human continues to inhabit each of us alive now, awaiting permission to act, receiving approval from his/her host, who in turn is always enticed by peripheral enabler’s some steps removed. Anyone in the chain, from resource acquisition to end consumer, owns a piece of this contemporary slavery.

    It’s damned hard to avoid getting dirty from commerce (says the Apple product owner). I should become a Rand objectivist, I guess, so all is excused by virtue of noble greed.

    One would think, though, that if laissez faire capitalism is as pure and perfect as its devotee’s devoutly believe, that slavery or any other sort of commercial exploitation would not exist, now or ever. If this Thailand example is not an instance of non-regulation proceeding to its logical extreme, what in hell is?

    • Andrikzen
      Posted June 14, 2014 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

      The direct and indirect (like safe working conditions) cost of labor has always been an anathema to those seeking profit. The Capitalists in this country (USA) have been trying to bring back slavery ever since it was abolished. Going overseas sidesteps the labor-laws fought for in this country.

      This is just the extreme along a gradient of abuse.

  3. Mark Joseph
    Posted June 14, 2014 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    I’ll be reading the article, and undoubtedly ceasing to purchase this product (not a particular hardship in my case, but still).

    I’m currently reading Barry Estabrook’s Tomatoland, which documents the problems in Florida’s tomato agribusiness, problems which include actual slavery, and which has also changed my consumption habits. It’s really an amazing read.

  4. Diana MacPherson
    Posted June 14, 2014 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    Shrimp has issues with sustainability as well. Seafood Watch specifies what type to get and where it is sourced.

    And my Weltschmerz is back.

    • JoeyM
      Posted June 14, 2014 at 9:46 pm | Permalink

      I just came here to post that (and did so below.) I should have read the comments first. As usual, you beat me to the punch.

  5. Marella
    Posted June 14, 2014 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

    Jesus H Christ another food I can’t eat! What the fuck is wrong with these people? This is appalling. Do these bags of “shrimp” (prawns) say they are from Thailand, or do we just have to give up eating them altogether? The only store on that list available to me is Costco, and I wasn’t very impressed with their prawns anyway, the ones at the local supermarkets are better, but I worry that these slavery shrimp are elsewhere as well. I will have to look into it.

    • Mark Joseph
      Posted June 14, 2014 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

      What the fuck is wrong with these people?

      Question with a straightforward and succinct answer: They are greedy bastards, who don’t give a shit about other people, only about money.

      They would probably self-identify as capitalists, and undoubtedly would whine about government regulations.

      • Marella
        Posted June 14, 2014 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

        Yeah of course you’re right, I just let my emotions get the better of me. Although this is Thailand, it’s probably less about government regulation and more about government corruption. These people are just further evidence that psychopathy works.

  6. Posted June 14, 2014 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

    Many thanks for this: I’ve forwarded it on to my email list.

    What’s depressing is that it’s likely to gain zero coverage because of the World Cup.

  7. Posted June 14, 2014 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

    Jerry, you’ve questioned why people would shop at Whole Foods; this is one very important reason.

    I would be very, very surprised — shocked, even — if they’ve been sourcing their seafood from operations such as these. But, even if they have been, it’s pretty much guaranteed that they never would again — if for no other reason than that they know that they’d lose their entire clientele overnight if they did otherwise.

    And, yes, Whole Foods has competition. Here in the Phoenix Metro Area, that’d be Trader Joe’s, AJ’s, Sprouts, and possibly another. Trader Joe’s is all pre-packaged foods; AJ’s is even more expensive; and the quality at Sprouts isn’t as good as at Whole Foods — plus, Whole Foods is geographically closest to me. But if they were to source seafood from slave boats — and, again, I’m about as sure as one can be about anything in corporate America that they wouldn’t knowingly do so — then you can bet that I wouldn’t be alone in switching.

    And, no, they wouldn’t necessarily avoid slave boat seafood out of any sort of deep moral conviction on the part of the (highly conservative) corporate ownership, but rather because it’s their brand, and their brand would turn to shit and they’d go out of business if they didn’t. It might not be the most enlightened form of self-interest on their part, but, since the end result is the same, I’ll take it….

    Cheers,

    b&

    • Mark Joseph
      Posted June 14, 2014 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

      One very interesting line from the book Tomatoland, to which I already referred in #3 above.

      The Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ program Campaign for Fair Food had been working to get a penny per pound pay raise for field workers, along with the usual battle for better, or at least less awful working conditions. They finally achieved success, getting the largest of the fast food chains—McDonalds, Taco Bell, Burger King, Subway—to agree to become part of their campaign (this was in 2010).

      The key line is “Although major grocery chains (with the notable exception of Whole Foods) still held out, the Campaign for Fair Food was a phenomenal success backed by seemingly unstoppable momentum” (page 119). The author liked that line so much that he repeated it nearly verbatim in the following chapter.

  8. Jeffery
    Posted June 14, 2014 at 9:35 pm | Permalink

    One of the TRUE quotes in the Babble: “The love of money is the root of all manner of evil things.”

  9. JoeyM
    Posted June 14, 2014 at 9:43 pm | Permalink

    You should also avoid the imported stuff because their aquaculture industry utilizes chemicals that are not approved for use in the USA TO grow food animals.
    http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2013/11/imports-and-exports-how-safe-is-seafood-from-foreign-sources/#.U50jQ_ldV8E

    Remember that even USA-caught shrimp may be a bad choice; gulf trawlers can kill up to 15 lbs of bycatch for each lb of shrimp they catch
    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/science-sushi/2014/05/30/emptying-ocean-trawling-leading-deep-ocean-deserts/#.U50kBvldV8E

    California and Alaska-sourced animals are much better.You can also use the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s seafood watch to make sure that the food you eat is sustainable

    http://www.seafoodwatch.org/cr/SeafoodWatch/web/sfw_search.aspx?s=shrimp

  10. David Duncan
    Posted June 14, 2014 at 9:49 pm | Permalink

    This is disgusting, especially that people in the West knowingly connive at this.

    Also, seafood and meat from these countries is of questionable hygiene. I prefer to get meat farmed and slaughtered in the West. Not a guarantee, but better than this.

  11. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted June 15, 2014 at 5:54 am | Permalink

    you may stop eating shrimp and prawns

    Not a possibility – unless I started eating such things in order to stop eating them in protest.
    At the end of the day, it’s man’s inhumanity to everyone, regardless of race, creed, gender or species. And at the start of the day too. And not many people take time off at lunchtime either. It’s in our cultural norms to value money higher than all other things, so that’s what we do. It’s cheaper to get prawn, shrimp, aqnd other crustaceans like this, so that’s the price that people pay, and then they get all upset over whether their conscience gets pricked.

  12. juan
    Posted June 15, 2014 at 6:21 am | Permalink

    I disagree with people blaming this on capitalism/free-market. What these poor people have is not a free labor market, but its exact opposite.

    • Filippo
      Posted June 15, 2014 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

      Just congenially curious – in your view is there ever anything for which capitalism should be reasonably and appropriately blamed?

      In your view do these corporate entities have any moral duty with regard to their purchasing seafood produced from slave labor?

      • juan
        Posted June 15, 2014 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

        Yes, capitalism has its drawbacks – it would be great if we could have both a very rich and a very equal society, and capitalism doesn’t produce that.

        But it still works like nothing else that’s ever been tried to improve the lives of the majority of people – that’s why in America even the average poor family of today lives better than the average rich family of 100 years ago, and you and I can buy cheap stuff for which Cornelius Vanderbilt would have given an arm.

        There’s also a strong moral case for capitalism because it allows people the freedom to make their own economic decisions (the alternative to a free market is coercion).

        To your second question: yes, I think it’s wrong to buy stuff produced by slave labor. But slave labor is caused by the poverty and lack of freedom in the societies these unfortunate people live in, and the way to get them out of it is by having capitalism and free markets there.

        • Mark Joseph
          Posted June 15, 2014 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

          How charmingly naïve! I rather prefer Desmond Tutu’s formulation (I’m quoting from memory), “I’ve noticed that in a free market system some people are considerably freer than others.”

          Capitalism is morally abhorrent, because it is based on competition, rather than cooperation, and if you lose, you’re screwed. Furthermore, you lose if you are not more willing than the next guy to do whatever it takes to win. In other words, the scum rises to the top.

          As for the rose-colored glasses through which you view American economic advance, I suggest you ask the Native Americans, the slaves, and the biosphere what they think of its glories.

          • juan
            Posted June 16, 2014 at 6:03 am | Permalink

            It would be nice if you could provide examples to support your ideology. Can you please name a system, with examples, that produces more wealth for the average guy than the free market? (Scandinavian countries have a free economy, so don’t try to claim them).

            We’ve had many natural experiments over the world, and the evidence is overwhelming. Look at how capitalism enriched 19th century America, or present day China. In the past 20 years the word has taken a billion people out of poverty, 3/4 of which were Chinese, because of freeing markets. Yes, 19th century America had pitiless robber barons and all sorts of problems, and China is now a less equal society – but if you had to choose behind a “veil of ignorance” where to be born, wouldn’t you choose a capitalist country?

            You say in a free market scum rises to the top. Steve Jobs died a rich man because he gave people better and cooler products, for which they freely paid him. In other words, he rose to the top by serving others better. How does that make him scum? And if the one who wins is the one who serves others better, isn’t it a great system?

        • GBJames
          Posted June 16, 2014 at 4:55 am | Permalink

          Slave labor is caused by lack of freedom. And wealth is the result of having lots of money.

        • Posted June 16, 2014 at 6:50 am | Permalink

          Capitalism is like all the other socioeconomic idealisms of the last century or so. It works great on paper, because, on paper, it makes oversimplified assumptions.

          Communism is great on paper because it assumes that everybody is nobly altruistic and dedicated; with those assumptions, Communism is pretty much the most obvious choice.

          Capitalism is great on paper because it assumes that nobody will cheat, everybody has all the facts on the table, and there are never any barriers to entry. Again, given those assumptions, you can’t argue against it.

          In reality, capitalism is the perfect means to funnel wealth to a tiny minority. If you were to set out to design a system to do that, given the reality of human nature and the world we live in, you couldn’t come up with a better system than capitalism.

          Your iPhone example in a later post is perfect. In this case, a tiny minority — an hundred million or so middle-class Americans — are able to enjoy the amazing luxury of an iPhone at the expense of the billions worldwide whose most pressing daily concerns are access to clean drinking water.

          Modern European socialism seems to be the least worst real-world implementation so far. They have many of the free enterprise benefits of pure capitalism, but with a social safety net that it’s pretty hard to fall through, and regulation generally sides with the public interest over the private profit margin. Even there, though, they’re mostly just slowing down the concentration of wealth.

          We could go a long way to solving our problems by implementing wealth and income caps. Make them generous; set them at something like an hundred times the minimum full-time wage with everything above taxed at 100%. Using round numbers, if we have a $10 minimum wage, that’d be a maximum personal income of $2,000,000, and anybody who can’t be satisfied with that simply can’t be satisfied. And the infrastructure that society could build with that money…it’d be astounding.

          “But the rich will stop working!” Bullshit. Give the Koch Brothers a choice between doing *something* for $2M / year and sleeping under a bridge, and I guarantee you they’ll find some way to get paid their $2M. And do you really think anybody gets anywhere near fair market value for the money past $2M that goes into their pockets?

          Cheers,

          b&

          • juan
            Posted June 16, 2014 at 8:02 am | Permalink

            Ben, you and I agree that capitalism + some safety nets works best in practice.

            How is the iPhone made “at the expense of billions worldwide”? I think it’s quite the opposite: a lot of people worldwide have the additional choice of working for a company that makes iPhone parts. How is that bad?

            I think your tax system would suck, and don’t understand how you arrived at it from your initial position of capitalism + safety nets is best.

            “Give the Koch Brothers a choice between doing *something* for $2M / year and sleeping under a bridge, and I guarantee you they’ll find some way to get paid their $2M.” Agreed, but not a penny more past that amount.

            “And do you really think anybody gets anywhere near fair market value for the money past $2M that goes into their pockets?” They evidently do – a lot of people are giving something to the world, which is freely paying them in return much more than that. Fair value simply means what other people are freely willing to pay for what you’re offering.

            • Posted June 16, 2014 at 10:16 am | Permalink

              “Give the Koch Brothers a choice between doing *something* for $2M / year and sleeping under a bridge, and I guarantee you they’ll find some way to get paid their $2M.” Agreed, but not a penny more past that amount.

              Then good riddance to the lazy bums and / or incompetent idiots / or insubordinate assholes. Somebody else actually willing to do an honest day’s work for a more-than-honest day’s pay can do the job.

              Anybody interested in drawing a $2M paycheck but not in delivering 2,000 hours of the best possible effort doesn’t deserve a penny.

              Cheers,

              b&

              • juan
                Posted June 16, 2014 at 11:24 am | Permalink

                “Anybody interested in drawing a $2M paycheck but not in delivering 2,000 hours of the best possible effort doesn’t deserve a penny”.

                You don’t really think that – that’s why, when you bought the computer you’re typing from, you paid either Bill Gates or Steve Jobs a much higher hourly rate than your theoretical hurdle.

              • Posted June 16, 2014 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

                First, that I think the current system is royally fucked up doesn’t mean that I’m interested in becoming an hermit. If nothing else, becoming an hermit wouldn’t do anything at all to fix the problem.

                Second, if we capped executive profiteering, not only would we not have to pay so much for goods and services, we could pay more to the real producers of those goods and services.

                b&

              • Filippo
                Posted June 16, 2014 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

                “Second, if we capped executive profiteering, not only would we not have to pay so much for goods and services, we could pay more to the real producers of those goods and services.”

                I’m reminded of a series of full-page Apple ads in the NY Times a few months ago, featuring a beguiling lassie apparently gazing into a numinous infinity, with the caption, “Designed in California.”

                Well, of course DESIGNED in California, but manufactured in the Third World at a pittance.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted June 16, 2014 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

                Youse are lucky there is no longer a communist watch list. If there is, just come on over to canukistan. We like socialists. So much so that one of our prime ministers was on that list and he installed bullet proof glass when the US Embassy was next door to his office.

              • Posted June 16, 2014 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

                Well, y’all ain’t called the Soviet Socialism of Canuckistan for nothin!

                b&

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted June 16, 2014 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

                That’s the Republic of Canukistan (as one of our comedians corrected Anne Coulter).

              • Posted June 16, 2014 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

                Can’t be a republic. If it were, that’d make you Republicans….

                b&

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted June 16, 2014 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

                Lol, there are a lot of republicans that would probably think that.

              • Posted June 16, 2014 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

                There’re Republicans who think?

                …sorry…cheap shot…couldn’t resist….

                b&

              • Posted June 16, 2014 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

                Exactly.

                And even, if we are to grant the typical apologist argument that those third world laborers are much better off than their peers so we shouldn’t be complaining…well, that’s the same argument that we shouldn’t be complaining about, say, American civil rights abuses because at least we’re not in North Korea.

                In a race to the bottom, everybody loses.

                …except, for a short while, the very few at the tippiest of the top manage to do okay at the expense of all the rest…until it all comes crashing down…again…again…again….

                b&

            • Posted June 16, 2014 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

              Two from a list of 5 (America only) problems with current USA capitalism rules [proposed solutions at article closing].

              Oversight and policy structural change is required to prevent or cure outcomes like these. A democratic republican government is reasonably judged upon how egalitarian its policy outcomes are. Also true of where slavery exists, too (Thailand — yours is overt. Other forms in many places may be less so. US prisoner labor, for example).

              Laissez-faire is quite simply a favorable environment for any behavior victims fail to prevent. From the article:

              ‘…

              3. Walmart: $13,000 per U.S. Employee Taken in Profits, $4,000 per U.S. Employee Taken from Taxpayers

              It gets worse. In addition to Walmart’s $19 billion in U.S. profits last year, the four Walton siblings together made about $29 billion from their personal investments. That’s over $33,000 per U.S. employee in profits and family stock gains. Yet they pay their 1.4 million American employees so little that the average Walmart worker depends on about $4,000 per year in taxpayer assistance, for food stamps and other safety net programs.

              How does Walmart spend its profits? Instead of providing a living wage for its workers, company management spent $7.6 billion, or about $5,000 per U.S. employee, on stock buybacks, in order to further boost the value of their stock holdings.

              4. U.S. Wealth Grew by $25 Trillion in the Recovery, but 90 Percent of Us Got NONE of It

              U.S. wealth grew from $47 trillion to $72 trillion in the four years after the recession, largely as a reflection of continued American productivity. In other words, a full one-third of the total wealth in the U.S. in 2013 was generated since 2009. But the richest 10% took all of it.

              That’s $6 trillion per year in new wealth for the rich. In contrast, the total annual cost of ‘entitlements’ and the safety net is less than $2 trillion.

              One consequence of this redistribution of wealth is that more money has been transferred from minorities to prosperous white Americans. The richest 1% took 95 percent of the gain. Less than two out of every hundred individuals in the richest 1% are black.

              …’

              http://www.alternet.org/economy/5-extreme-acts-greed-screw-american-people?akid=11921.1920402.cguezH&rd=1&src=newsletter1003199&t=5

              • juan
                Posted June 17, 2014 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

                Let me ask you the question we ask of the religious: what would it take to change your minds?

                I claim that the free market is the best system we’ve come up with to pull lots of people out of poverty. Is there anything that could convince you of it? Why doesn’t the massive poverty reduction in America during the 19 century, or that in China during the past 20 years (when markets were liberated) make you want to think about reconsidering your position?

                There are many many other examples: the track record of free markets is simply stellar when compared to any other system that has been tried. Please take a look at it.

              • Filippo
                Posted June 17, 2014 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

                “Why doesn’t the massive poverty reduction in America during the 19 century . . . .”

                I assume you’re speaking of some time in the 19th century after the U.S. civil war? If so are you speaking of the massive poverty reduction among black freedmen in the South and among Native Americans (not to mention women)?

                Or do you reply that it’s not fair to mention these particular human beings because they were not free, and therefore they could not participate in – and that it therefore is not a fair test of – free-market capitalism?

                Just curious, do you consider, e.g., the 1906 Food and Drug Act a stumbling block to free-market capitalism, the Act being passed in response to vile capitalist behavior?

              • juan
                Posted June 17, 2014 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

                Count everyone – was the total poverty reduction not impressive?

              • Filippo
                Posted June 17, 2014 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

                I acknowledge your having made your claim.

                I am putting on my long To-Do List the reading of some reasonable number of economic history tomes so as to get a reasonable handle on the specifics of 19th Century poverty reduction – and income distribution. For sure, the likes of Cornelius Vanderbilt and his issue had their “poverty” markedly reduced, as evidenced by George Vanderbilt’s “cottage” in Asheville, NC, over and before which monument to conspicuous consumption the U.S. “working class” “proletariat” is apparently expected to fawn and genuflect.

                Adam Smith (that putative capitalist ideologue favorite), in his “Wealth of Nations” refers to the “vile maxim” of the “Masters of Mankind”:

                Getting wealth,
                Forgetting all but self,”

                Capitalists aren’t inclined to want to hear such sentiments.

                Is the “trickle-down” attitude instantiated in “trickle-down” economics supposed to somehow be ennobling and edifying?

                Who do you say is more responsible for the improvement of humankind’s lot – capitalism qua capitalism – as represented by some collection of 19th Century Romneyesque English major/MBA-JD capitalist types – or the great discovers and innovators of the last few hundred years in the Science, Engineering, Technology and Mathematics disciplines, whom the capitalist strives to treat as his hand maidens and whose efforts and accomplishments he tries to take credit for and patent and claim as his own?

              • Mark Joseph
                Posted June 17, 2014 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

                Well put. Nay, very well put.

                I’ve noticed “enlightened self-interest” tends to be a lot more “self-interest” than it is “enlightened”.

              • Posted June 17, 2014 at 8:19 pm | Permalink

                Economic market commerce is prehistoric, and was presumably never more “free market” than pre-civilization. Strong Man economics of some sort or another, to some degree or other. Anything desired is acquired and defended by brute force.

                One of the first things found in early civilizations is economic policy; it is part of the definition of civilization. Once economic policy is established, rules exist to regulate economic activity.

                If ever there was some absolute that could be referred to as a Free Market, it has never existed anywhere some central authority within a hegemony establishes and enforces policy rules and procedures.

                I know that I prefer an economic paradigm like that of 1970 America to that of 2014 America. It had much in common with rules currently in play in Scandinavian economies, policies derided as socialist by the contemporary USA Right even though the case seems strong to me that 1945-1970 is the most economically robust top-to-bottom economy our country ever experienced, even including the bottom who did not get the chance to benefit from War on Poverty ambitions before those were eviscerated beginning in 1980.

                Claiming that capitalism is the reason standards of living have steadily risen since hunter-gathering days is rather post hoc blah blah blah to my ears. Lives improved dramatically beginning about 400 years ago for a long list of reasons. Market economies were the only game in play.

                Some people revere market economy like a dying and rising sun god, create and worship myths about their existence, and make emotional faith devotional committment to them. I think they are a tool capable of demonstrable positive utility too readily, and regularly, abused unless they are strictly regulated with policies designed to promote ethical behavior and discourage practices one is aware deliver personal wealth to a select group via harm to others.

                Would Juan choose “free markets” on Earth if he were told his space vehicle would deliver him to the hands of a Thailand shrimper the moment it lands on the planet?

              • juan
                Posted June 18, 2014 at 5:44 am | Permalink

                Why won’t anyone answer my central question: Is there anything that could convince you that the free markets are the best system we’ve come up with to pull a lot of people out of poverty?

                Suppose we could do the experiment of telling the countries of the world what system to adopt. We’d tell a fraction of them to adopt a free market system and the other fractions to adopt all the other systems ever tried. We run the experiment for a few decades, and it turns out the countries with the free markets have a lot less poverty than the rest. Would that convince you?

                Well, a very similar natural experiment, with similar results, has already been conducted.

              • Mark Joseph
                Posted June 18, 2014 at 5:56 am | Permalink

                Why won’t you answer humanity’s central question: when the biosphere is gone (and I don’t think anyone doubts that capitalism is the most efficient system we’ve ever come up with for destroying it), how are we going to survive as a species? On cheeseburgers that come in styrofoam containers, as purveyed by the paragons of capitalism such as McDonald’s and Burger King?

              • Posted June 18, 2014 at 6:37 am | Permalink

                Why won’t anyone answer my central question: Is there anything that could convince you that the free markets are the best system we’ve come up with to pull a lot of people out of poverty?

                There could have been. But that experiment has been run, and the results are in: free markets breed monopolies and concentrate power in a select few. They also exploit the tragedy of the commons like no other system.

                If you’re cold in the winter, you can bust up your heirloom furniture and make a great bonfire in the middle of the living room to keep warm. That’s what capitalism does. And, yes: you will get warm, and stay warm through the end of the quarter in time to file your annual shareholder’s report and cash out with your golden parachute. Too bad about all the destruction the homeowner has to deal with. But, hey: they wanted warm and you gave it to them, no? So what’s there to complain about?

                Cheers,

                b&

              • juan
                Posted June 18, 2014 at 8:37 am | Permalink

                OK, let me try another way: on which country would you like to be born tomorrow if you didn’t know what would be your skin color, sex, family wealth, IQ, and parent’s wealth?

                I bet you’ll choose a country where markets are freer than average, but please correct me if I’m wrong.

                Personally, I’d choose the US. And I know many poor people would too – being Mexican, I actually see my compatriots choosing the US with their feet every day, and at the risk of dying. Maybe the grandparents of some of you did the same thing a few generations ago.

                Why move to the US? Because Americans are better people? No. Because Americans work harder? No. Because of American welfare? No. It’s because America has a better system – a freer market system. And the poor of the world wish they had it at home too and didn’t need to emigrate to the US. Tell them, if you dare, they shouldn’t have it because they’ll get the Koch brothers and MBAs and Styrofoam containers.

              • Posted June 18, 2014 at 8:58 am | Permalink

                I bet you’ll choose a country where markets are freer than average, but please correct me if I’m wrong.

                …aaaaaand I’ll turn it right back around on you.

                Markets don’t get any more free than in Somalia, where there isn’t any government to regulate them in the first place.

                Since you care more about the freedom of markets than anything else, why don’t you want to live in Somalia?

                Look, I’m not arguing for a Soviet-style command economy. I’m just observing that, as bad as that was for Soviet citizens, American-style corporatism is only marginally better for the citizenry and disastrous for future generations and the rest of the planet.

                So, I’ve met my challenge. If the evidence was different, I would have concluded otherwise about the desirability of unregulated (“free”) markets.

                What would it take to convince you that there’s such a thing as too much freedom in markets?

                I know — have you ever read Upton Sinclair? If not, do yourself and the rest of us a flavor and don’t come back until after you have.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • juan
                Posted June 18, 2014 at 9:06 am | Permalink

                “Markets don’t get any more free than in Somalia”.

                Equating free markets with anarchy is just silly.

                Can you please name a country where you’d like to be born?

              • Posted June 18, 2014 at 9:22 am | Permalink

                If you’re suggesting that the Somalian economy isn’t a free market, then one or the other of us is living in a faith-based reality, and not a reality-based reality. As such, it’s highly unlikely there’s anything further to be gained in this conversation.

                And, incidentally, I’d probably pick most any other Western nation before the States. Scandinavia would be on the short list, as would France and Germany and much of the rest of Europe. Canada has a lot going for it, too.

                Oh — idle curiosity, but how many vacation days did you have in the past year? Or does the “freedom” of your markets only apply to the corporations and their freedom to enslave their workers?

                Cheers,

                b&

              • juan
                Posted June 18, 2014 at 9:43 am | Permalink

                Ben, all the countries you mentioned score very high in the Index of Economic Freedom (published, horribile dictu, by the Wall Street Journal). Out of 178 countries, the average ranking of your preferred countries is 26, so they’re in the 15% freest markets.

                Canada is no. 6, Germany is no. 18, Denmark is 10, Norway is 32, Sweden is 20, and France is 70.

                Would you care to speculate why you chose countries where the despicable free markets have such free reign?

              • Posted June 18, 2014 at 10:10 am | Permalink

                Would you care to speculate why you chose countries where the despicable free markets have such free reign?

                Seeing how you’re not interested in answering my questions, no.

                You want a response from me, explain the “freedom” of American labor protection laws that permit zero vacation days as well as just how it is that Somalia’s market isn’t the most free of them all.

                Otherwise, all you’re doing is pointing to the icing on the cake as an example of how wonderful sugar is, insisting therefore all anybody needs to eat is sugar, and pointing right back at the delicious icing the instant anybody suggests you’re being naive and shortsighted in your love of sugar.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • juan
                Posted June 18, 2014 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

                OK, you’re right, I need to answer your questions. I hope you will then answer mine.

                Free market means a market where there is no coercion to enter into economic arrangements. It doesn’t mean lawlessness and it doesn’t mean the state should not have the monopoly on violence and on enforcing contracts. The reason anarchy and free market have different names is that they mean different things.

                In Somalia you had the opposite of free markets for many decades (the government ran almost everything) then a civil war that ended just a few years ago and left the country in tatters. No wonder it’s doing poorly. If Somalia isn’t doing even worse it’s largely thanks to its somewhat free-market informal economy.

                Somalia is therefore a bad example for you to use. If I said to you that North Korea is the least free-market economy and therefore you are wrong, you would also object, and quite justly.

                Vacation days and working hours (and wages) are negotiated freely when both employer and employee bring something of value. That’s why most people in the US get vacation days even when it’s not mandated.

                People in the US work less per year than those in Mexico (*), even though Mexico has, by law, a maximum of 8 hours work per day, and does have mandated vacation days, while the US doesn’t.

                The freedom of zero mandated vacations is in the freedom of two individuals to decide what they think is in their best interests. If I choose to pay someone $10 million per year to be my chauffeur as long as he worked every single day until the day he quits or I fire him, and he chooses to take the job, would you have the government prevent us from going ahead with our arrangement? If so, why do you think you have, or the government has, a right to interfere with the consensual arrangement of two people? Would you like to prevent us from having premarital sex too, while you’re at it?

                Now that I’ve answered your questions, can you please explain why you would choose to be born in a free market country if you had to choose behind a “veil of ignorance”?

                (*) http://stats.oecd.org/Index.aspx?DataSetCode=ANHRS

              • Posted June 18, 2014 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

                Free market means a market where there is no coercion to enter into economic arrangements.

                Last I checked, there were no such coercions in Somalia. So how is that market not free? And if the absence of regulation is the holy grail of free market capitalism, why did the complete elimination of regulation in Somalia not instantly catapult it past all other economies, at least regionally if not even globally?

                Hint: the answer has to do with the fantastic (as in, “fantasy”) nature of free market faery hand-dust.

                People in the US work less per year than those in Mexico (*), even though Mexico has, by law, a maximum of 8 hours work per day, and does have mandated vacation days, while the US doesn’t.

                Mexico is a borderline-impoverished third world country with rampant crime and corruption. Large swaths of the population are subsistence farmers; many of the rest are working the shit manufacturing jobs that have been outsourced from the US to countries with exploitative worker laws.

                If you think those Mexicans are “negotiating freely,” the conditions of their employment, you’re even more deluded than I previously thought.

                If I choose to pay someone $10 million per year to be my chauffeur as long as he worked every single day until the day he quits or I fire him, and he chooses to take the job, would you have the government prevent us from going ahead with our arrangement?

                But that’s not what’s happening. US-owned companies that sell to Walmart are “choosing” to pay overseas employees a few dollars a day, maybe, and those employees are given the “choice” between accepting the only jobs in town or starvation for themselves and their families.

                I bet you probably oppose the minimum wage, too. Why shouldn’t you be able to “choose” to pay your “chauffeur” a dollar a day for 14-hour shifts seven days a week, and to tally it against the cost of the meals you so generously provide him so he doesn’t have to waste valuable time cooking for himself? If so, please don’t respond; I’m not sure I could constrain my own response to comply with Da Roolz.

                b&

              • juan
                Posted June 18, 2014 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

                Ben, what happened with your answer to my question? I thought we had a deal.

                You chose six countries where you’d like to be born and they were, on average, in the top 15% freest markets. Why?

              • Posted June 18, 2014 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

                You’re again asking me about my favorite deserts, observing that each has more sugar than other foods on average, and using that conclusion to decide that therefore sugar is the only food a body needs.

                You know what each of those other countries has that you rather spectacularly missed despite all the painfully-obvious hints I’ve been dropping?

                Universal healthcare. Strong social safety nets. Debt-free public education. Strong government support of the arts and of public works infrastructure. Strong labor unions. Diverse political party representation and parliamentary governments.

                Yet the only thing that you care about is whether or not you can get rid of those pesky government regulations that keep you fracking for oil in wildlife preserves….

                b&

              • juan
                Posted June 18, 2014 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

                Ben, I said many comments ago that I, like you, favored free markets + safety nets.

                Do you guys think you have the monopoly of good intentions? I want the best life for most people too, so please stop posing as if you’re the only ones who care and I’m a heartless capitalist.

                But good intentions are not enough – a public policy should be judged on its results, not it’s intentions, and the fact is that most of us would choose to live in countries that are high on the free market index, and I bet none of you would say it’s pure coincidence. Yeah, we like those countries because they have a lot of other good things going for them. But that’s my point – free markets produce all sorts of good things for the people that live there.

              • Posted June 18, 2014 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

                Ben, I said many comments ago that I, like you, favored free markets + safety nets.

                Ah, there’s the rub. You like your freedom just a little bit pregnant.

                You know what economists call “safety nets”? Regulations (to prevent abuses leading to people needing the safety nets). Socialized welfare (the last-resort safety nets themselves for those who fall through the first-resort safety nets of regulations). The very antithesis of free market capitalism.

                But good intentions are not enough – a public policy should be judged on its results, not it’s intentions, and the fact is that most of us would choose to live in countries that are high on the free market index, and I bet none of you would say it’s pure coincidence.

                Now use your magical “free market” ruler to compare the US, at the bottom of the list of good places to live, with all those other better places. Turns out that the less free the markets, the better those places are to live, eh? And the places with the highest taxes and the most regulations are the nicest of all.

                Judging by those results, the secret sauce you’re looking for isn’t free market capitalism at all, since, past a certain point, the more one has of that particular ingredient, things just go steadily downhill.

                Or, as I’ve been trying to drill into you all along: sugar is nice, of course, but it’s just one ingredient, and far from the most important. Indeed, you can do without it and be much healthier than if it was the only thing you ate, even if it’s still a nice thing to have a little bit of.

                b&

              • Mark Joseph
                Posted June 18, 2014 at 9:41 pm | Permalink

                But that’s my point – free markets produce all sorts of good things for the people that live there.

                Juan:

                I don’t think you’re evil, or even a person without good intentions. Nevertheless, this last statement, in the context of your post, is a clear post hoc fallacy.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted June 18, 2014 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

                ….regulated industries, especially banking which proved important when everything went south recently.

              • Filippo
                Posted June 18, 2014 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

                “Why shouldn’t you be able to “choose” to pay your “chauffeur” a dollar a day for 14-hour shifts seven days a week, and to tally it against the cost of the meals you so generously provide him so he doesn’t have to waste valuable time cooking for himself?”

                I’m reminded of my grandfather reflecting on his experience working for the “CC’s” (the Civilian Conservation Corps) in the aftermath of The Great Depression:

                “I got ten cents an hour; a dollar a day. And I was glad to git it!”

                Where was that wonderful free-market Masters-of-Mankind capitalism then? Was my grandfather languidly lolling in largess at $0.10/hr?

                But, it must be as I heard Competitive Enterprise Institute Senior Fellow Bill Frezza describe it on NPR a few years ago, words-to-the-effect, “Business has no obligation to be concerned with the [public policy] problems of the country.”

                But Capitalism sure wants flesh-and-blood human beings to join the military and go in harm’s way on behalf of capitalist “values,” eh?

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted June 18, 2014 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

                LOL I hadn’t seen this before I sent my smart-ass reply.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted June 18, 2014 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

                Jesus Ben, just say Canada. You know you like our round abouts & French signs!

              • Posted June 18, 2014 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

                The French signs I could deal with. But the roundabouts? Never!

                b&

              • Posted June 18, 2014 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

                I’ve been reconsidering my longtime favorable perception of my neighbors north since I read earlier this week a very popular dish in a province whose name I forget is french fries (OK so far) with cheese curds (wtf? Well, I like them both separately, so I’m willing to withhold judgement about them as a combination until I give it a shot, which if I never do is all the same to me) smothered in gravy. Say what?! Gravy! On fries?!! On cheese?!!! On both combined?!!!! Aaaaaaaauuuuugggghhh!

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted June 18, 2014 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

                Poutine. Jerry likes poutine. I’m not a fan. I don’t like gravy because it makes me sick as a lot of places do weird things to their gravy. I’m okay with home made gravy.

                Also it is poooo-teeeen. Poo-tin is a prostitute. 🙂

  13. Cathy Newman
    Posted June 15, 2014 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    I buy Gulf of Mexico shrimp. But avoid Louisiana caught shrimp; state law prohibits enforcement of the federal law regulating turtle release devices on shrimp boats. Facepalm.


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