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April 10, 2008


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i don't know what the specific situation is there in SA, but i know that the standard wage for "day labor" type jobs in PNG was much lower than that. one of the primary differences, though, was the fact that the money people made at those jobs was purely supplemental - all of their essential needs were covered by subsistence farming. everyone had a small patch of land to grow veges (sweet potato and various greens being the staples), and villages usually had a larger area of land on which to grow communal crops, like coffee, that would be sold (with profits divided out amongst the members of the village.

not that i'm trying to justify the situation - there were overseas based companies that could have afforded to pay more for the labor, but the local economy would have been hard pressed to support what we consider a "living wage."


Your example is actually really helpful Mark. It's not as though we can set a basic monetary threshold and say everyone, everywhere on earth deserves to make that amount per hour or per day for a "living wage" because it ignores local situations. Your example wasn't justifying - it showed a local situation where the economic system is just different from what people in the U.S. might recognize (particularly because farming to us usually means giant, government subsidized, monoculture, cash-crop farming).

There is a really great edited collection by Hesford and Kozol called _Just Advocacy?_ where they argue how problematic it is to make arguments for universal human rights that are too culturally specific or tied up with problematic economic system valuations.

Instead critics have started creating different universal thresholds, like a human right should be everyone has access to a healthful amount of nutrition needed to support their activities. In Umlazi there is some subsistence farming and small animal tending (chickens and goats) that people rely on, but not everyone can get the property/space to do that, so there are still a lot of people slipping through the cracks. Also, I'm still horrified at how the most affordable diet choices here have often been refined so much they're absolutely horrible for your body (like chemically bleached and synthetically enriched white bread).


Actually, I should clarify one thing from my previous post: I said "everyone," but I forgot to mention that this really only applies to people living in the rural villages. Wages are a pretty big issue for people living in the cities, as there is less land available on which they can farm. It's one of the issues that has arisen as a direct result of the haphazard introduction of western-style education, economics, and government by Australia. The cities tend to be the places where western and tribal culture come into direct conflict and cause a lot of problems for the people. The rural areas are a little better off, although the younger generations are less inclined to want to stay in the tribes due to the fact that they feel too educated (there's "mandatory" commonwealth-style education up to the 8th grade). This has led to the development of a lot of slum areas around the cities and a steep rise in urban crime.

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