Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Stephen Colbert's Poverty Package

Last night's episode of the Colbert Report was one bit of greatness after another, all tied to the problems of poverty and low-wage work. Sometimes the only thing you can do is laugh to keep from crying.

Colbert began with the hiring phase at a new Walmart store, opening in Washington, D.C. (the one that blocked the city's move to pay living wages, remember). The store had 23,000 applicants for just 600 jobs. That means a 3 percent acceptance rate -- lower than Harvard's. Much merriment ensued.

He followed that with a report on a recent column by Virginia Postrel of Bloomberg News, titled Who needs a raise when you have TV? Postrel, channeling Marie Antoinette, claims you can't be poor when you live in the Golden Age of Television. Colbert labeled her approach "channel serfing" and it was all uphill from there. (Remember the research that showed watching television makes you passive and accepting of authority? Bonus!)

The final segment was an interview with NPR Planet Money producer Alex Blumberg, who ran the recent Planet Money T-shirt series. He described the gist of their findings and the thorny questions that result, such as whether the Bangladeshi factory should be considered a sweatshop or not. Blumberg included the money quote from the series, which was said by a Colombian factory owner: "Our industry follows poverty."

Blumberg then wondered aloud whether Bangladesh might be the end of the road for poverty opportunism. What place was poorer than that, he asked?

Colbert, sharper than a serpent's tooth as always, came right back with a suggestion that manufacturers should build their factories on large ships and pull them up to the shores of the latest poor country, then take off when the wages rise too high.

My suggestion is that the ship dock in Washington, D.C. Clearly there are more people there who want to work for low wages than Walmart can accommodate.

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