Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The obvious hypocrisy of pro-outsourcing punditry

Freddie deBoer had a Fantastic Take earlier today:


I'd like to expand on this, because as it happens I have some directly relevant professional experience. As a managing editor who has run several international news sites, I've built significant stringer networks in almost every part of the world, from Central Asia and the Caucasus to the Maghreb to Latin America to East Asia and, yes, India. I've worked with significant budgets, and the main reason that I've done this is that it's given me the opportunity to redistribute that money to embattled and often impoverished journalists throughout the developing world.

As I argued yesterday, this is not the best or even a particularly good solution to global poverty - but until we bring down capitalism, it's at least a minimal form of damage control. If that money stayed in some bourgeois pig's bank account it would be useless. Even if it went to a working class journalist in the US, a significant amount of it would be going into fourth meal runs to Taco Bell, Netflix subscriptions, and so on. Those are entirely reasonable luxuries, but they are luxuries, and as merciless Singerian utilitarianism teaches us,
we ought to give until we reach the level of marginal utility - that is, the level at which, by giving more, I would cause as much suffering to myself or my dependents as I would relieve by my gift. This would mean, of course, that one would reduce oneself to very near the material circumstances of a Bengali refugee.
This, of course, is exactly where the critique of Sanders on outsourcing and protectionism brings you. If neoliberal journalists were being morally and intellectually consistent, and holding themselves to the same standards that they hold Sanders to, they would live in utter austerity and accept only sustenance-level wages, knowing perfectly well that every penny they spend on frivolity is one that could be saving an international journalist from utter immiseration.

This isn't hyperbole. The journalists I worked with are generally among the more prosperous people in the developing world - that's how they're journalists and not beggars or farmers - and even they live in conditions completely unimaginable to the neoliberal pundits. Most were homeless for significant periods of time within three years of our collaboration. Most were living paycheck-to-paycheck and faced a full range of eviction, medical, legal, and serious financial dangers if their checks came late. Most were supporting not just immediate family but all kinds of extended family members and acquaintances. Almost none of them had cars. Most were paying extortionary per-minute rates working out of internet cafes because they couldn't afford a computer, much less home internet access. For most of them, journalism was a second or even third job that supplemented some kind of unskilled labor in the service industry.

The leftist solution to this kind of poverty mainly relies expropriating wealth from the rich through the state and redistributing it to everyone else. If that's your approach, and if you see laissez-faire capitalism as an ultimately exploitative process that slowly but surely transfers wealth from the poor to the rich, it makes perfect sense that you would be skeptical of private altruism and market liberalization solutions. But if you're a neoliberal pundit who thinks that outsourcing is the appropriate solution, then why not, as Freddie proposes, be the change? Could it possibly be because you're hoping that other working-class Americans give up what little they have while you hold on to yours?