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re: "My Bob and John Algeo"

Nov 20, 1994 06:21 PM
by Jerry Hejka-Ekins


     I enjoyed your post.  Below are my answers to Bob's points,
and an observation concerning John Algeo's talk.

LD> To give some weight to what he [Bob] thinks & says, he has an
MBA, and his job involves working with the international trade,
but he's not working for a large corporation.

Having an MBA gives Bob some authority concerning what is and is
not done in business, but does not give him any special
qualifications to pass moral judgement upon them.  Ethics is not
normally part of the training that one receives to become an MBA.
If Bob had taken a course in ethical decision making, or in
corporate corruption etc., then he is a very rare exception to
the tens of thousands of MBA's out there.  The fact that he is
working in his field indicates that he is not free to take too
radical a position on these issues lest he loose his position.

LD> He said that the big corporations are not at fault for
what's happening.  Their overseas labor standards may not be like
ours, but they are reasonably good for the country in which they
operate. Their factories are reasonably safe. They deal with
labor unions, and they pay the high end of the prevailing wage.

Fault is a big word.  Certainly American corporations did not
create the low wages and the (relative to ours) poor working
conditions in third world countries.  They did not prevent anti
pollution laws to be written in those countries.  So from this
standpoint, corporations are not at fault.  The corporations are
just following the "American way" by taking advantage of the
situation in order to utilize cheap (to our standards) labor, and
to operate in freedom from safety and pollution laws that would
have bound them here.

LD> (LFD - A girl posed a good question from the audience of a
C-Span forum recently. She asked how we can compensate between
the American usual wages, and the much lower ones which are
considered high in 3rd world countries. If we pay little, it
affects our American workers, if we pay the 3rd world people
too much more than they're used to, it might throw their economy
out of kilter)

This is a Red herring here.  The salaries aren't the issue.  A
dollar a day may be a lot of money in a third world country.  A
domestic issue however, is the export of jobs to third world
countries where the wages are cheaper.  This, of course means
less jobs here.  But this is a very complex issue concerning our
status in world competition.  We are no longer a manufacturing
economy, but a service one.  There are plenty of jobs available
in this country.  Every town has a MacDonalds where you can serve
hamburgers for minimum wages.  Average turnover for these jobs is
less than six months, by the way.  However, the number of minimum
wage jobs are growing, while the high paying union manufacturing
jobs, and the middle management jobs are disappearing.

LD> But then, you get the little sweat shops. These are
subcontractors, very often operating in free trade zones where
there are few restrictions. They are local imitations of the
large corporations. They have inferior working conditions, they
work people real hard & under poor conditions, because they're
trying to keep their costs down to keep competitive. They may be
providing parts to the large corporations.

Yes, and by there practices, they can "provide parts" to the
corporations for less money, thus helping the profit margin of
that corporation.  By the way, I remember walking through the
garment district in Los Angeles where people work under the same
kind of sweat shop conditions.  The workers are all Mexican
immigrants--most of them undocumented, and few speak English.
They work for less than minimum wage.

LD> We talked about that the various governments should create
rules to protect their workers. Bob's reply was that, just for
instance, there are 500 million unemployed Chinese, for whom
working in a 3 cent an hour sweat shop beats not working at all,
and that if 1 Chinese drops dead from overwork, there's always
another ready & willing to take his place.  What can the
government do given this desperate situation.  How should that be
handled? Does anyone have any ideas?

There is probably nothing that our Government can do, but that
isn't the issue.  The issue is: is it ethical for American
Corporations to move industries to these countries in order to
profit from (and thus encourage) these conditions.

LD>If you get development in the 3rd world, he said, it feeds on
itself. With more money coming in, there's more demand for goods,
& also for better working standards.
We went through the same process in the West, he told me.
They burn rain forests, because they want to become modernized.
If you tell them, please "no", they won't listen. The 3rd world
says "no" to our labor standards.

Bob is right.  The third world countries won't listen.  But does
that release us from all moral responsibility? Bob is also right
that we went through the same process in the West.  We cut down
ninety-five percent of our forests, relocated the native
population to reservations--or in some cases eliminated whole
tribes.  We exploited our own people in the coal mines, destroyed
whole eco-systems with poisons.  Now in South America, the rain
forests are being cleared to graze cattle.  The biggest buyer of
the hardwoods is Japan.  Most of the Beef is exported to the
U.S., but everyone denies buying it.  In Thailand, the teak
forests are already gone.  In Mexico, large areas are no longer
inhabitable because of pollution from chemicals imported from the
United States....

My point is, we can't change our own past, but we can learn from
it.  We are the worlds most powerful economy, and have the power
to push for changes in these third world countries if we really
wanted to.  We could ban the export of chemicals banned here
because they poison the environment.  We could offer to make
substantial investments into these countries--creating safer
conditions (but that would make the product more expensive to
produce).  In the short run, it is more profitable not to

If the doctrine of distributive karma is correct, then we will
have to suffer the consequences of the damage done in other
countries, whether we are "responsible" for it or not.
Therefore, theosophically speaking, this country has a moral
obligation to try to mitigate this situation--not encourage it.

Re.  John Algeo's talk--I remember hearing this one about ten or
twelve years ago at a convention in Wheaton.  The fatal flaw in
his talk, is that in reality, we are never limited to two pre-
subscribed choices in these types of situations.  In other words,
the whole thing is a "set-up." Beyond demonstrating that there
are tough choices in life, I don't feel that the talk is helpful
in learning to make ethical decisions--but (unfortunately) that
probably wasn't his point in the first place.  Hypothetical
situations can always be manipulated to fit the questioner's
agenda.  A more productive approach would be to draw from real
life experiences of the audience and give them full freedom to
explore the questions.

Jerry Hejka-Ekins

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