I recently talked with a religious leader who had a complaint.
U.S. consumers, in their insatiable desire for low-priced goods, are supporting businesses abroad that pay wages that are too low and make profitable firms that don’t provide enough benefits for workers. The solution, presumably, is that we should stop buying these goods. That, he said, would be the humanitarian answer.
The second complaint: U.S. producers are propping up the prices of goods by preventing lower-priced imports from competing. This prevents small firms abroad from having access to our markets and therefore dooms foreign people to poverty. The solution, he said, is to stop the subsidies and open the borders to imports.
Such complaints are quite likely borne out of a genuine care for the dignity of workers in the developing world and the poor. One solution would be damaging, if it could be carried out, but the other would be wonderful. Can you tell which one is which?
Consider this. If we all stopped buying Walmart products because they do not pay their employees enough, then we would unintentionally harm employees, who would have to work at their next best choice instead, which would be an option inferior to Walmart. Now consider lowering subsidies so that developing nations are given the opportunity to compete with American workers. They would look to the supreme resource God has given them—themselves, not government—and creatively work toward quickly diminishing their own and others poverty. At the moment, they have legitimate cause to blame developed countries for lauding free trade, but not truly applying its principles.
The more I hear, the more I conclude that many religious leaders on the Left might have well intentioned goals, but need to understand the negative implications of their interventionist economic ideas upon the poor. Otherwise, they will end up hurting the very people we all want to help. By supporting the Acton Institute, you assist us in this crucial educational mission.
Rev. Robert A. Sirico,
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