Thursday, April 02, 2015


In his New Yorker review of two recent books about the Holocaust ("The System ... Two new histories show how the Nazi concentration camps worked") Adam Kirsch notes once again that Nazi barbarity continued with ferocity, even as it exacted a high cost in terms of Germany's losing war effort; the victims had been effectively dehumanized in the German mind. "Once a prisoner ceased to be human, he could be brutalized, enslaved, experimented on, or gassed at will, because he was no longer a being with a soul or a self but a biological machine."

But then Kirsch goes off the rails. "The enemies we kill in war, the convicted prisoners we lock up for life, even the distant workers who manufacture our clothes and toys—how could any society function if the full humanity of all these were taken into account."
I like my iPhone and I am happy that supply chains now extend to China and beyond -- and that "distant workers" in poor countries have new and better labor market options than ever. Death and despair are not the rule. China's growth has been good for hundreds of millions of Chinese. There are workplace tragedies and we expect that they are attended to as they come to light.

Non-zero-sum outcomes are not easily accepted by many smart people. We see that all the time.  But analogizing the customers of developing country exporters to Nazi death camp sadists is bizarre.