Talk Is Cheap; Show Me Your Works

Last night I saw a humorous and horribly translated list of professions that were said to be off-limits for foreign workers in Thailand. Some of the jobs, like the unfortunately titled thirteenth position, “Paper hand job,” were a bit mysterious, and not seemingly something that anyone, foreign or not, would want to do for a living. The list gave me a bittersweet reminder of my own time in Thailand, a reminder that many nations in the world struggle to properly balance what it is they want and are looking for from foreign workers of various kinds, and what it is that they need to say and do in order to preserve the support of their own people for economic opportunity. For a nation like Thailand, and certainly not only Thailand, a lot must be balanced. Too many people being exploited in the sex trade and in the fishing industry [1] leads to a bad reputation abroad, but foreigners being able to make a lot of money while there are many local poor leads to increased local political pressures in a nation that needs more political pressure like I need more freckles. The end result, however inelegantly expressed in Thaiglish, was an attempt to communicate to foreigners in Thailand on visa the local political realities in order to respect local sensibilities about status and honor and dignity. A wise foreigner respects local sensibilities, to the extent that they are not unjust or immoral, and knows that not respecting such sensibilities often carries with it serious repercussions.

As a child, I grew up in rural West Central Florida, a possibly surprising fact to those who have not known me a long time [2], and as an outcast, I tended to make friends wherever people were friendly, without being particularly picky about it. Among the close friends I made as a child was a family of sharecroppers who lived in a very small home where our dead end road connected to the main road. During kindergarten, one of the family’s daughters and I were classmates, but her level of English was not sufficient for her to progress into the first grade and she was held back a year. Another close friend I made was a classmate of mine in the fourth grade named Esteban, whose family were migrant workers who spent most of their year in Florida, but who also went to other places during the course of the year to pick beans and other related crops during the spring and summer. Once the winter strawberry season ended that year, he and his family went off on their circuit and I have not ever seen them again. It deeply bothered me then, albeit without me understanding why, and still bothers me now, that the wages of those agricultural workers were so low and that these workers did not receive the full protection of our laws concerning working and labor conditions. As the son of a farming family, however unwillingly I did farm work, I was used to performing the work of shoveling cow manure and tossing square bales of hay around and so on as an aspect of supporting my family’s chosen profession, however little I was interested in that type of work myself. I do not consider it unjust for a child to work, and to be rewarded for that work, for helping out their own family business, especially in the summer, when it does not interfere with education. That said, I feel deep anger at seeing people denied a good education because their family happens to be agricultural laborers, while the people who own the farms are respect elites within the community, on the hard work of others who are ruthlessly exploited to make a large farming operation (more) profitable. It especially galls me to then have these people, who claim that the low wages are necessary to keep the price of farm goods low, seek protection from foreign exports so as to preserve high monopoly prices on such foods staples for their own profit.

For the past few days, one of my close friends, a former classmate of mine in high school and further religious education, has been sending me stories and links related to a website called Upwork, which acts as a clearinghouse between companies looking for contract work and people whose poor knowledge of math or whose desperation for any kind of income lead them open to being exploited as ghostwriters and other independent contractors. In one particularly galling example, a medical office in Kentucky run by someone who is widely considered of the foremost Christian medical practitioners in the area paid roughly half the state minimum wage to at least one ghostwriter who then wrote plagiarized papers to bolster the doctors’ research credibility. I was not sympathetic to the medical office, figuring it poetic justice that they got exactly the level of research that they paid for. I will shed no tears for people who try to take advantage of others and end up being cheated in return, especially if they wish to promote themselves conspicuously as Christians while lacking any sort of sense of justice towards their fellow men and women. One of the many scandalous aspects of our contemporary society in the United States is that there are gaps where exploitation is allowed in our labor laws. One of these gaps, as mentioned earlier, relates to the unjust treatment of migrant workers, often leading to heavy exploitation of people whose knowledge of our language and laws often leaves them vulnerable [3]. Another of these gaps is in the fact that independent contractors are exempt from minimum wage laws, on account of the fact that they are free to work as they wish.

Except, sometimes this is not the case. I have in fact witnessed and personally experienced situations where this was not the case. It is especially galling to be subject to the usual supervision of managers and other bosses, to working according to particular ways, and yet to be denied the wages and labor protections given to employees because I (or others) were classified as independent contractors. For companies, it is a no-brainer (if equally heartless) to try to classify as many people as possible as independent contractors, to prevent them from receiving at least a guaranteed minimum wage, while still having all of the authority over the people that an employer would. The proliferation of the internet and websites that seek to bring together possibly desperate freelancers and companies willing and able to take full advantage of that desperation (or at least ignorance) only increases the profitability of those ventures for the owners of such meat markets as well as business owners. Many freedoms are lost by the corrupt and unscrupulous behavior of people and institutions whose exploitative practices inflame calls for onerous regulation that fall upon both the just and the unjust. For our freedoms to be preserved, even the freedom to contract labor under advantageous (or disadvantageous) terms, virtue is required, and the restraint not to take advantage of others simply because they can be taken advantage of. Ultimately, the gains of taking advantage of others are short term, but the payment for those gains lasting. A good name and an honorable reputation, once lost, without the works necessary to protect them from lies and slander, is extremely hard to retain. Nations and companies and individuals are immensely unwise in throwing away such a good name, and creating such lasting bad will, simply for the privilege of taking advantage of people who are worth protecting, worth encouraging, and worth befriending, and worth providing with honest opportunities for a decent living and an honorable place of their own within whatever society they happen to reside. Is it so hard to remember that others are people too with their own dreams and their own ambitions and their own needs that are worth honoring and respecting?

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

[3] This is even true of foreign college students who are lured into the country on the promises of working while being able to see the United States, only to end up, for example, as a McDonald’s employee in rural Wyoming, which happened to a friend of mine. See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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