Imposing Higher Labour Standards on Poor Countries Hurts

19 January 2009

Editor, The New York Times
229 West 43rd St.
New York, NY 10036

To the Editor:

Jeremy Weir Alderson says that "the No. 1 reason for imposing higher labor standards on imports isn’t to improve living standards abroad but to maintain them here" (Letters, January 19).  It’s true that the real motive for such standards is to protect certain producers in America from having to compete with lower-cost rivals.  But it’s untrue that access to lower-cost sources of goods and services causes
poverty in America.

The greatest source of lower-cost competition for American producers over the years is not cheap foreign workers; it’s machinery and technology.  Local butchers in the late 19th century could not compete with Chicago slaughterhouses that shipped their beef across the country in new-fangled refrigerated railroad cars.  Farmers over the
past two hundred years have consistently been displaced by mechanized farm machinery, improved fertilizers and pesticides, better seed varieties, refrigeration, and better materials for packaging produce for storage and shipment.  Typists in the late 20th century were out-competed by low-cost word-processing hardware and software.

Lower-cost sources of output do not cause poverty; they alleviate it.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Chairman, Department of Economics
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030

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