Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Tsunami relief?

Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day… Or something like that.

150,000 people I have never met are dead in a part of the world I have never seen. I’m not even sure how I’m supposed to feel about that. I should be overwhelmed I supposed but alas I am not. I can barely force myself to think about it when I have more pressing issues like it being the middle of the evening and I need a sandwich. That's what it's like to us in the western world. We'll all cry when in hurts our economy or if we happened to know someone there, but that's about it. Other than that we might send a check or something if we remember.

Here’s what I do think about when I do think about it. We’re sending millions of dollars across the sea for a relief effort. Which is awesome… I don’t think I have seen an outpouring of wealth voluntarily for nothing in return in as long as I can remember. But here’s the thing… Why just give them money, and goods? Sure they need them pretty badly and we must give enough to get these people through the initial shock. I say we divert some of this money though and start building factories and industry. I say we give them the opportunity to grow. Many of these nations qualify as third world and represent very little trade capacity. These were poor nations long before the sea swept across its borders and into homes. Why not take this opportunity to help them up beyond what they were before.

Imagine this; we talk to Nike, Hanes, Tyco and anybody else who is usually criticized for “sending jobs overseas” and offer them tax breaks to move industry into these devastated areas. We agree to invest the money we are already sending on infrastructure. We take a devastated labor force, put them back to work in jobs that to us are dirt cheap, but to them are tantamount to untold wealth. We use the money we are sending to hire local workers to rebuild these port cities. Then we hire them in our factories. Everybody wins. But here’s the kicker they don’t just win today. They win for a long time to come. Industry boosts the local economy. The influx of American dollars brings up the standard of living. And of course, trade begets trade. Growth begets growth. One industry needs structure and can’t afford it but many industries together will shoulder the cost of things like roads, energy, clean municipal water sources, working sewer systems and health care. The importation of cheap labor services will offset the cost and help boost American industry and the American economy.

Sure cold hard cash will feed these people this week. But industry will feed them long into the future. Industry will put clothes on their back and build schools for their children. Industry will turn Developing Nations into Developed Nations. And at the same time we get to import cheap labor which helps put goods in the hands of our citizens. Everybody wins. We have an opportunity to turn this tragedy and the outpouring philanthropic spirit into a fantastic gift for the world. Aren’t we obligated to do it?

Teach a man to sew Nikes and everybody eats.

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