Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
March 1, 2004
Baseball striking out in human rights league
On the Other Hand
SPECIAL TO THE WCR
I'm no socialist or liberal. I believe in free enterprise (with continued freedom insured by anti-trust and anti-monopoly legislation that has teeth) and I support free trade. I like freedom.
However, these convictions don't mean that I lack compassion. On the contrary. I object to socialism and liberalism (in its currently understood context) because they are based on half-baked ideas that when put into practice at best don't work, and more often than not make things worse in the long run. Conservatism is about things that do work, and one of the tenets of compassionate conservatism is that productivity should be commensurately rewarded.
BALL PARK FIGURES
What inspired these philosophical musings was a New York Times feature by Tim Wiener about workers at the Rawlings' Sporting Goods factory in Turrialba, Costa Rica, where all of the 1.8 million baseballs used by the major leagues each year, plus another 400,000 on top of that, are made.
Rawlings' Costa Rican workforce toils for 11 hour days and are paid an average of 30 cents per ball - balls that Rawlings sells retail for $14.95. (All monetary values in this column are in U.S. dollars.)
A former company doctor at the Rawlings' plant in Costa Rica told Wiener that about one-third of workers there develop carpal tunnel syndrome, a repetitive stress disorder, and that some 90 per cent of the employees suffer pain from their work - all for $55-$60 a week.
And Rawlings is considered to be a better than average employer by Costa Rican standards.
I love baseball - my favourite major sport - but the monetary aspects of baseball have become increasingly discomfiting over the past couple of decades, and it is going to be difficult to watch ball games without thinking about people slaving away making baseballs and damaging their health for sweatshop wages.
There are 720 major league baseball players on the 30 teams' 24-man rosters, making an average of $2,377,000 per year each. The 900 baseball-making workers at Turrialba make an average of $2,750 per year, for a total of $2,475,000 annually. Therefore, 900 people working 11-hour days in health-hazardous labour cumulatively make as much money per year as 1.04 major league baseball players.
TAKE A CUT
Or let's look at it another way; if each baseball player were willing to take a 1/16th of one per cent cut in pay ($2,971.25), the wages of each baseball plant worker in Costa Rica could be more than doubled, which would still leave them making a miserable $5,721.25 for a year's hard work.
It's difficult to rationalize such astronomical dissonances in an effort vs. reward as being even remotely socially just. It is just plain indecent for some to get so much and others so little when they are participating at different levels in the same enterprise.
I really don't mean to pick on baseball or baseball players, because the dynamic that their example illustrates so graphically really pertains in general to the relationship of the world's rich developed nations to the rest of the world economically.
A Catholic Agency for Overseas Development report published recently found sweatshop conditions at computer production sites in Mexico, China and Thailand that make components for Dell, HP, IBM and other computer manufacturers, with employees forced to work long hours in sometimes health-endangering conditions, with no right of association and no employment rights.
Canada and the U.S., with less than five percent of the world's population, consume roughly one-quarter of its bauxite (aluminum), iron, and nickel production.
The two countries consume about 30 per cent of the world's milk and some 50 per cent of its dairy products, and use 25 per cent of world oil production. Canada consumes energy at a rate 47 times higher per capita than India.
However much we congratulate ourselves about our compassion and commitment to social justice, it rings very hollow if we continue to enable our comfortable affluence, prodigal consumption habits and even entertainment by exploiting others, however conveniently out of sight and mind they are in faraway places. Our compassion tends to quickly evaporate if it means making significant cuts in our own lifestyles so that people who produce many of our consumer goods can get a fairer share of the pie.
Of course the boilerplate conservative response is that we need to bake a bigger pie, which is good as far as it goes. But with the disparities as monstrous as they are, it's never going to be a comprehensive solution. Neither is the typical liberal response of shovelling more money into foreign aid, little of which filters down to the folks who need it the most.
There are no easy or painless solutions, but giving the folks who make baseballs more decent remuneration for their labour would be as good a place as any to start.