HOW DO YOU...

HOW DO YOU SAY "SI SE PUEDE" IN CHINESE? Here's a very simple question: Do you think worker laws are too generous in China? Do you think employees there get paid too much, or treated too kindly? Well, America's corporations do. The Chinese government, concerned over the social effects of their rapid economic expansion, has proposed a raft of reforms that would actually create some standards floors for Chinese laborers: Unions will get new powers to negotiate wages, safety laws, benefits, and ground rules; layoffs will be somewhat harder; and the state will do more to ensure against the exploitation and mistreatment of ordinary Chinese. The legislation won't make the country into California, but it will make it less like, well, China.

But for all their high rhetoric about worker's rights and treatment concerns, American corporations seem oddly opposed to the new laws. The American Chamber of Commerce -- representing, among others, Nike, Dell, Ford, Microsoft, and GE -- is staging an intense lobbying campaign against the new legislation, and the individual corporations are threatening mass layoffs, plant closures, and all the other sundry economic punishments promised whenever pro-worker legislation is floated. This eviscerates their past assurances that corporate investment in third world countries would, far from creating a new servile class, raise labor standards and worker treatments. Or, to be more precise, it proves those assurances right, but highlights that the change will come from the laborers and the government, not because corporations like to pay their employees more money.

In any case, elevated attention from the Chinese government to worker conditions is a reassuring sign for the global economy -- the more massive markets demanding a fair shake for workers, the better. And for all those wondering why I'm so skeptical of corporate intentions, the idea that they'd oppose better laws in China is, really, rather illuminating.

--Ezra Klein

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