by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
We’re told, with a sense of horror, that sanitation workers in developing countries have pretty crappy jobs in terms of conditions and pay. The only surprise there, for the informed among us, is the horror with which this is regarded. This is what poverty means, having to wade through crap to gain that bowl of rice a day.
That is, this is what actual poverty means, not the kind complained about in this country, where it seems to mean having only one pair of Air Jordans. …
… We’d all like to do something about this, of course, and so the head-scratching begins: What should be done?
Support capitalism and free markets. Those are the things that kill crappy jobs. No country has ever become rich without a decent enough dose of those two. Places that have lost them have become poor again in our own lifetimes — Venezuela and Zimbabwe come to mind. Sure, we’ve got sanitation workers in developed countries. But the workers have pumps and trucks and siphons and protective clothing, as well as those noisesome wages (yes, you do get more for cash for working in this sector, even today) to do the work with. It’s now regarded as an impolite or unfashionable job, but it’s not a crappy one.
One useful definition of a rich place is whether it can afford trucks and siphons and pumps, another definition is whether the addition of such capital equipment to human labor is what raises productivity and makes a place rich. It’s a bit of a circular argument, possibly even a tautology, yet true all the same. It’s only those places that have adopted capitalist free markets that have generated the wealth to make all jobs, not just those in sanitation, less crappy.