by Patrick Appel

From Benjamin Powell, who is writing a new book, No Sweat: How Sweatshops Improve Lives and Economic Growth:

When workers voluntarily take a job they demonstrate that they believe the job is the best alternative available to them – even when that job is unsafe and the pay is very low compared to wages in the United States. That’s why economists with political views as divergent as Paul Krugman and Walter Williams have both written in defense of sweatshops.

Sweatshop jobs are often far better than the vast majority of jobs in the countries where they are located. David Skarbek and I researched sweatshops that were documented in U.S. news sources (or see here for my shorter, more general defense of sweatshops). We found that sweatshop worker earnings equaled or exceeded the average national income in 9 out of 11 countries we studied. Working in a sweatshop paid more than double the national average in four of the countries.

Kristof memorably made the same argument awhile back by focusing on a garbage dump in Cambodia.