Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Times Square, February 2007

I was talking to some folks at the Zendo on Sunday about the best way to improve working conditions for laborers overseas. A couple of people said they try not to buy much, reasoning that cuts the demand for sweatshop-produced clothing.

I said I wasn’t sure that was the answer - it reduces demand and may close the factory, but merely throws people out of work and leaves the exploitative labor system in place. The answer is to change the system, perhaps through unionizing or, as one person suggested, regulating labor standards for overseas producers of goods sold in this country. (Yeah, I know - fat chance. It’s an interesting idea, but what a nightmare to enforce!)

Anyway, I have to backtrack a little, because buying less (or buying used) is also smart. It preserves the environment, conserves resources and reduces waste, and selective spending can help change the market for the better.

I come from a long line of parsimonious protestants, so buying little comes naturally to me. (My Mom always jokes that if everyone were like her, the economy would collapse.) I’m fine with spending money on experiences - such as travel or eating out or a show - but I’m not very interested in stuff.

I guess ultimately, “selective” is the key word. Buying less is a good first step, but buying carefully is the ideal.

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