Justice Overseas?

I am thankful for a recent article by Thomas Sowell, printed below, which caused me to pause and consider some different views on "economic justice" in the 3rd world. Sowell is a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institute and an economics professor at Stanford. He is pictured here to the left.

Please read and offer your thoughts.

Hollywood economics
By Thomas Sowell
Tuesday, December 5, 2006

It is not really news that Hollywood is still producing anti-business movies, but there is a certain irony in it nevertheless.

these movies tap a certain envy and resentment of corporate wealth,
that large corporate wealth comes from far more modest individual
amounts of money from about half the population of the United States,
which owns stocks and bonds — either directly or because money paid
into pension funds or other financial intermediaries are used to buy
stocks and bonds.

The irony is that the average Hollywood star who is making
anti-business movies is far wealthier than the average owners of those
businesses, who are half the population of the country.

The Los Angeles Times refers to documentary "films" that are
"critical of corporate power." But just what does this vague word
"power" mean when it comes to businesses?

Wal-Mart is the big bugaboo these days but what "power" does
Wal-Mart have? I lived three-quarters of a century without ever setting
foot in a Wal-Mart store and there is not a thing they can do about it.

It so happened that this past summer in Page, Arizona, I
needed to buy some toiletries, which caused me to go into a nearby
Wal-Mart for the first time. Inside, it looked more like a small city
than a large store. But the prices were noticeably lower than in most
other places. Is that the much-dreaded "power"?

Apparently Wal-Mart does not pay its employees as much as
third-party observers would like to see them paid. But obviously it is
not paying them less than their work is worth to other employers or
they probably would not be working at Wal-Mart. Moreover, third parties
who wax indignant are paying them nothing.

One of the morally indignant "films" (more high-toned than
"movies") coming out of Hollywood makes the same complaint against
Starbucks, depicting poverty-stricken Ethiopian coffee growers
providing beans for the big-bucks coffee store chain.

Are the Ethiopian coffee growers worse off now that Starbucks
is buying their beans? Supply and demand would suggest otherwise. But
moral crusaders seldom have time for economics.

If those who claim to be concerned about the Ethiopians’
poverty really are, why is not relieving that poverty just as much
something for them to do with their own money as for Starbucks to do
using money invested by other people — including nurses, mechanics,
teachers, and others who are paying into pension funds to provide for
their own old age?

The tragic fact is that productivity is far lower in poor
countries. That is the fundamental reason why they are poor in the
first place. You cannot pay American wages to workers whose average
productivity is a fraction of that of American workers, without driving
up the cost of production to the point where businesses will take their
jobs to some other country.

The real comparison is not between what people are paid in
Third World countries compared to what people are paid in the United
States. The comparison that affects outcomes is what Third World people
are paid by multinational corporations compared to what they can earn
otherwise. By and large, multinational corporations pay about double
the local pay in Third World countries.

Third World workers line up for these jobs and even bribe
insiders to get them such jobs. If economically illiterate Hollywood
busybodies and other mindless crusaders succeed in establishing more
costly pay scales without regard to productivity, that will undoubtedly
lead to fewer jobs, just as similar policies do in other countries.
There is no free lunch in the Third World, any more than there is

The net result will be people feeling good about themselves in
Hollywood, in academia and in the media, while leaving havoc in their
wake among the Third World people they claim to care about.

What the Third World needs are more multinational corporations, not less.

As more multinational corporations move into a poorer country,
the people there not only get additional economic opportunities, they
acquire skills and job experience that raise their productivity and
earnings potential, even if that outrages the economically illiterate
in Hollywood."

Dr. Tim Spivey is Lead Planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, California. He is the author of numerous articles and one book, "Jesus: The Powerful Servant." A sought after speaker for events, Tim also serves as Adjunct Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University. Tim serves as a church consultant, and his writings are featured on ChurchLeaders.com, Church Executive magazine, Faith Village, Sermon Central, and Giving Rocket.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

Share Your Thoughts

5 thoughts on “Justice Overseas?

  1. Agreed. Your points are all good ones… Don brings up an interesting point about schools. One of these days, perhaps we should take up schools and justice…that’ll be an interesting one…

  2. Great point, TIm. Mainly, I was trying to critique the article’s economic stance, but you are right to say justice isn’t about “raising the world’s standard of living so that they look just like us in America.” I’m sure few would really want to look just like us in America to be honest, which is easily seen by the looks Americans receive when travelling overseas today.
    But I still stand by my statement, “Justice is not making other countries less below the poverty line. Justice is doing all we can do to live our lives and call out for the most just practices, not more just practices.” I think this goes along with what you are saying.
    Scripture seems clear that justice isn’t economic parity. Instead insuring justice for the oppressed is to do all we can to argue for the cause of the poor in a courtroom and take up the cause of widows and orphans. Although, we cannot continue to divorce our Christian evangelism from our service of people’s physical needs. We still live by Plato more than the Bible when we separate soul and body. These gnostic tendencies should be dropped as we seek do justice in a variety of physical ways. Your post on Larry James’ ministry is a great example of social justice.
    Perhaps this conversation about social justice in our churches needs to begin with a rereading of the first two-thirds of our Bibles because there is so much about God’s desire for justice that we have missed out on because of our emphasis on the last third of Scripture. It is vital to God that we not go on worshipping and contributing to the injustices of the world at the same time. The prophets are clear on this. Our worship must form us in to men and women who care for the oppressed and do all they can to make sure justice is done. How is worship forming people today?

  3. Colin… I tend to agree with the whole of what you say. Sowell’s point is that the anti-Walmart sentiments contributes rather than helps the situation justice advocates claim they are trying to change. A couple of questions that I have regarding the broader social justice movement now afloat are:
    1. What standard of living is “just?” Obviously, a person dying of AIDS in the 3rd world is in need of justice. But, what about the garbage collector in Queens? How about the working poor? How about the rich, but HIV positive? Does their money mean that they are exempt from getting justice?
    2. Is the American poverty line the proper measuring stick for justice…if in fact we are so much richer than everyone else?
    3. Is the American push for social “justice” in fact a push for justice, or is it a reflection of how much we American’s place value on life in monetary terms…rather than qualitative terms. If in fact we believe that the rich are privileged and the poor are miserable, how can we explain our own depression/suicide rates, etc? It seems to me that we place an overemphasis on the quality of life that money provides in lieu of reverence for the dignity of the poor and the lives they lead.
    4. Some social justice advocates believe that wealth is fundamentally corruptive and evidence of spiritual malfeasance. The same people often claim God’s preferential heart for the poor. Here’s my question: If wealth is such a corruptive influence, and the poor are more special in the eyes of God, why are we wanting wealth for those who don’t have it? It seems that rising wealth would remove them from a place of privilege in God’s sight and put them in harm’s way spiritually.
    These are just some of the questions that I have as I continue to move as a disciple for justice wherever it needs to happen. It just seems that we need to question even our pursuit of justice for it’s own unrighteousness, even as it seeks righteousness.

  4. I have to wonder how much of our instincts to confirm Wal-Mart’s practices are driven by our desire for easy access and low prices. We can do all kinds of justifying when American ingenuity beckons us to.
    The real issue is justice overseas, not comparative economics. True, third world workers may do anything for a Wal-Mart job that would pay them more than the other jobs, but does this mean that justice is done? The standard of just practice shouldn’t be whether something is better off than whatever other options are out there. Poverty is poverty whether you are $2,000 dollars below the poverty line or $10,000 dollars below the poverty line, just as extravagant wealth and materialism is sinful if one earns $20,000,000 a year or $1,000,000 a year (assuming we are not generous with what God gives). Wealth is wealth and poverty is poverty regardless of some arbitrary graded scale.
    We should not be content with improving our third world friends’ poverty without asking harder questions of what can be done not just through multi-national economics, but also through out own pocketbooks of wealth. We have to ask harder questions than just the American corporate ones. Justice is not making other countries less below the poverty line. Justice is doing all we can do to live our lives and call out for the most just practices, not more just practices.
    While productivity is a gospel value, so is sacrifice at our end. What are the ways we can engender justice here so that others might experience justice wherever else they are? Justifying our injustices should never be considered. Admitting our injustices is the place to begin. Laying down our lives is another step, not picking them up through justification. God can do a lot more with humble confessing Christians than satisfied justifying Christians. Perhaps this is our starting point.

  5. I used to have a problem with corporations like Wal-Mart because it hurt and closed a lot of Mom and Pop retail stores. But slowly I am changing my mind. This article by Thomas Sowell points out that employees are not forced to work there and suppliers are not forced to sell to them. The Wal-Mart sized corporations have worked hard to perfect a better way and have done it well. They shouldn’t be punished. The freedom to excel shouldn’t be adjusted so others can keep up…not in corporation nor in Schools.
    Great thought provoking article…thanks for posting.