Sunday, October 12, 2014

The existential pleasures of ex-engineers in India

We are inspired by some of the fertile minds that inhabit the comments section of The Money Illusion, to say a little more about the recent award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Kailash Satyarthi for his;
...struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education.  Children must go to school and not be financially exploited.  In the poor countries of the world, 60% of the present population is under 25 years of age.  It is a prerequisite for peaceful global development that the rights of children and young people be respected.  In conflict-ridden areas in particular, the violation of children leads to the continuation of violence from generation to generation.
Showing great personal courage, Kailash Satyarthi, maintaining Gandhi’s tradition, has headed various forms of protests and demonstrations, all peaceful, focusing on the grave exploitation of children for financial gain.
It was objected, by Rob, that the Prize is actually for Satyarthi's work to end child slavery in India.
India still has a large problem with actual slavery, many of the people that Kailash freed were kidnapped and/or held against their will. Unfortunately, the non issue of sweat shops too often gets commingled with the very real problem of modern slavery (there are still about 27 million people enslaved on earth). While I also praise “cheap labor” the same cannot be said of forced labor. Kailash is guilty of sometimes conflating the two, but has largely helped those who are actually enslaved.
To which we say, we'd take that more seriously if, 1. The Nobel committee had actually said he was getting the honor for his efforts to end child slavery (they make no mention of that in their press release). 2. The conflating of the issues of forced labor and 'cheap labor' had not been largely the product of Satyarthi's own publicity. And, 3. if Satyarthi had not abandoned his first calling, engineering,

Nobel Peace winner Kailash Satyarthi abandoned engineering to defend children's rights

      which really had the possibility of, as Paul Krugman put it so well, offering the poor children realistic alternatives to the lousy jobs they're struggling at. India, as do many other poor, third world countries, desperately needs physical infrastructure--Capital, in the 21st century, you might say--which engineers can help provide. And, just maybe, Satyarthi would enjoy himself into the bargain.

As opposed to the cheaper route he seems to have taken for, sadly, all too human reasons (as another of Scott Sumner's astute commenters has put it recently, but on another topic);
I doubt that there is any more corrupting element in contemporary public debate than the good people syndrome: talking heads who say things, not because they have any knowledge or understanding, but because it is what good people say.

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