An Important Point to Ponder

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If something is very inexpenisve, extremely cheap, a real bargain it is that way for one of two reasons:

(1) It's old and unwanted
(2) It's cheap because of the exploitation of the poor.

Either way, it's not much of a bargain. I'm trying to be more aware of what I buy and what it means in the global economy and in the economy of salvation. All of our choices have repercussions, sometimes we choose to close our eyes to them.

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On Wal Mart & Social Responsibility from Catholicism, holiness and spirituality on January 7, 2004 2:44 PM

A while ago Steven Riddle at Flos Carmeli posted thoughts on social responsibility. And now I run across this article in U.S. Catholic about Wal Mart. It's kind of sparse on hard facts & numbers, but this part at the Read More


It can be difficult being a socially-conscious consumer. If it is cheap by US/American standards, it's not necessarily cheap by 3rd-world standards. And the people in those third-world countries making this cheap stuff... maybe they wouldn't have *any* job or income if not for the capitalist foreign company that setup a manufacturing plant there.

I've had similar conversations with others too, regarding the export of US jobs overseas. Sure, it's bad for us in the US, but there are people in India, China, Taiwan and so on who are put to work at good wages because of it.

I'm not saying that people are not exploited - there are surely cases where that is true. I am saying that making informed choices may not be as simple as we would like it to be. I've been trying to make more socially-conscious decisions for a few years now, and it can get to be a hairy mess at times.

Dear Steve,

Point well taken. However, with regard to China, ANY commerce whatsoever supports the last word in oppressive systems--the Lao Gai, and that is anathema.

I was thinking more along the lines of the current Walmwart scandal where people are not being paid a living wage and are being taught how to exploit the system to make up for what is lacking.

I'm also thinking along the lines that an internationalist movement for a global minimum wage tied to the cost of living in a given place should be considered/instituted.

Yes. In making these decisions it is very difficult, I prefer to buy goods from Thailand with the thought that at least of children are being exploited (and have no doubt, they are), it isn't in the sex industry. By supporting some other means of earning a living, perhaps you are offering an otherwise doomed child to something a little bit better. I don't know how much, but that is the complication of the underprivileged. And it strikes me that we should be somewhat more forward about pressing that agenda onto the politicians and the populace. When we talk right-to-life and social justice, we cannot ignore the plight of two-thirds of the world and pretend that everything operates as it does in the best places in the U.S.

But both great luxury and great cheapness are bought with the blood of people who are our brothers and sisters in Christ. I have no solution for how to deal with the injustice, but until we start examining it closely and holding it up for constant inspection, we cannot even begin to know how to solve the problem.

Thanks for the comment.



A global minimum wage? God forbid. Please re-think that one.

Awareness is the first step - and I think a lot of people have not even made it to this first step. There is a lot of education to do.


I probably don't express it well, I'm very tired. But by "minimum wage" I mean that there is sufficient wealth in the world that everyone could live in relative comfort, if not in luxury. A "minimum wage" in my mind is appropriate pay for work that will allow a person to support themselves and their families at a level above mere subsistence but not necessarily in the lap of luxury. So "global" wouldn't mean that everyone in every country is paid exactly the same, but that the minimum wage for a given country is sufficient to provide food, shelter, transportation, and clothing for a person and his or her family.

Presently there is a grave injustice in the system of "minimum wage" which pays so poorly that in many areas of the country one is better off in homeless shelters than in trying to find and keep productive work.

But really the point of the post is simply to say that if something seem unbelievably cheap or an unbelieavably good bargain (in open commercial markets--I'm not talking garage sales and consignment shops), it is likely supported on the backs of people who haven't enough to eat, who are slowly starving to death. That is a reality that we too often isolate ourselves from. I generalize. It is a reality I spend an awful lot of time cocooning myself from.



This is something that I have been taking more notice of since reading a very good article out at Catholic Exchange. Can you fill me in a bit on the Wal Mart Scandal?
We try to avoid China made items, almost impossible to do, since we know the money goes to support an oppressive regime over there.
As more and more jobs move over sea, I wonder where it will end, and if it ever will end. Can people in the USA compete with slave labor?

This is very important issue; I've been boycotting anything made in China since I became aware of human rights abuses, and now I will not buy clothes made in many countries. Yes, it is difficult: I am learning to sew, and buying much less than I do.

I can't pretend that things made in US are not made in sweatshop conditions, but this is a form of asceticism that I feel strongly about. I do not want to benefit from other people's suffering. I do not shop in chain stores if there is an option, even if I have to pay more for things like toothpaste and soap. I do believe that "small is beautiful" and worker cooperatives are important means that need support.

I remember the good work done by college students who urged their colleges not to buy clothing with college insignia made in sweatshops. Similarly, the Church should be encouraged to be aware of where it makes goods. For example, last year I got a mailing from Aid to the Church in Need, asking for my support and including a small Cross. The Cross was made in China! I wrote them and asked how they could justify this, since the Catholic Church in China certainly qualifies as an oppressed Church. No word back. It's very important work.

I've subscribed to and have found the Green Money Journal useful for socially-conscious consuming - it's also online at

I'm also a small-business owner, and have found Business for Social Responsibility very useful for setting up socially-conscious business policies & practices (



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