Audit Notes: Awful on Bangladesh, the Kochtopus, US day care

Slate's Matthew Yglesias gets it very wrong on workers and safety standards

They were still pulling the hundreds of dead bodies out of the collapsed garment factory in Bangladesh when Slate’s Matthew Yglesias wrote that “while having a safe job is good, money is also good” in one of the most repugnant pieces I’ve seen in some time:

Bangladesh is a lot poorer than the United States, and there are very good reasons for Bangladeshi people to make different choices in this regard than Americans. That’s true whether you’re talking about an individual calculus or a collective calculus. Safety rules that are appropriate for the United States would be unnecessarily immiserating in much poorer Bangladesh. Rules that are appropriate in Bangladesh would be far too flimsy for the richer and more risk-averse United States. Split the difference and you’ll get rules that are appropriate for nobody. The current system of letting different countries have different rules is working fine. American jobs have gotten much safer over the past 20 years, and Bangladesh has gotten a lot richer.

Actually, they’re still pulling bodies out of the collapsed building: 377 so far with hundreds still missing, which makes the judgment shown here all the more appalling. This is not the headline anyone wants to see atop a picture like this:

In These Times’s Lindsay Beyerstein shreds Yglesias:

Yglesias assumed that Bangladeshi garment workers were happy to trade life and limb for meager wages, that they took the odd implosion or conflagration in stride and chalked it up to the march of progress. The massive civil unrest that followed the Plaza’s collapse shows otherwise. Protesters have burned two factories and vandalized several others.

We don’t normally think of sewing as a dangerous job on par with hard rock mining or deep sea fishing. Yet, hundreds of garment workers have died in fires and building collapses in Bangladesh over the past few years. That’s because huge numbers of clothing factories are structurally unsound and/or lacking in basic fire protection, like correct wiring and fire escapes.

A group of Bangladeshi and international trade unionists put forward a bold plan to make the garment industry in Bangladesh safer. A surcharge of 10 cents per garment over 5 years would raise $600 million a year, enough to radically transform the infrastructure of the garment industry in Bangladesh. Walmart and the Gap rejected the proposal in 2011.

— I like Steven Pearlstein’s thinking on how the Los Angeles Times’s newsroom could keep the Koch brothers from buying the paper:

At its heart, any news organization is only as good as the journalists who put it out. Without the journalism, there are no readers, and without the readers there are no advertisers and subscription fees. It all starts with the news and opinions and graphics and photographs that journalists produce. And if those journalists decide collectively to walk out the door one day, the readers and advertisers are almost certain to follow.

A new owner, of course, could hire new journalists, and certainly there are plenty of them out there looking for a job. But it would take time to attract them, get them working as a team and weed out the inevitable clunkers - and in any case, they are unlikely to have the experience and institutional memory of the people they replace. And in the meantime, competing news organizations would be quick to pick up Tribune’s stars and use them to lure away readers and advertisers at a time when circulation and revenue are already under pressure. Hell, in the age of the Internet, the rebellious journalists could easily start their own news organizations and grab a good chunk of their old readership within weeks.

This is a rare moment for Tribune’s beleaguered journalists. For the first time in a long time, they actually have leverage. They’d be crazy not to use it.

Easier said than done, of course, and it probably as easy as any time in history to find scab journalists, but it’s worth a thought.

The New Republic’s piece on the Hell of American Day Care is a must-read, and not just for parents.

Jonathan Cohn shows how the U.S. treats its young kids (and their parents) abysmally compared to other advanced countries:

In many countries, day care is treated not as an afterthought, but as a priority. France, for instance, has a government-run system that experts consider exemplary. Infants and toddlers can attend crèche, which is part of the public health system, while preschoolers go to the école maternelle, which is part of the public education system. At every crèche, half the caregivers must have specialized collegiate degrees in child care or psychology; pediatricians and psychologists are available for consultation. Teachers in the école maternelle must have special post-college training and are paid the same as public school teachers. Neither program is mandatory, but nearly every preschooler goes to the école maternelle. Parents who stay at home to care for their children or hire their own caregivers receive generous tax breaks. It hardly seems a coincidence that 80 percent of French women work, compared with 60 percent of their American counterparts.

France spends more on care per child than the United States—a lot more, in the case of infants and toddlers. But most French families pay far less out of pocket, because the government subsidizes child care with tax dollars and sets fees according to a sliding scale based on income. Overall, the government devotes about 1 percent of France’s gross domestic product to child care, more than twice as much as the United States does…

Since the 1930s, with the introduction of Social Security, the United States has constructed—slowly, haphazardly, often painfully—a welfare state. Pensions, public housing, health care—piece by piece, the government created protections for citizens that the market doesn’t always provide. Child care is the major unfinished part of that project. The lack of quality, affordable day care is arguably the most significant barrier to full equality for women in the workplace. It makes it more likely that children born in poverty will remain there. That’s why other developed countries made child care a collective responsibility long ago.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum. Tags: , , , ,