Those poor children working in the tobacco fields

The Guardian wants to tell us of the horrors of child labour. Fair enough, we're against it too. They are looking specifically at that which takes place in the tobacco fields. Which seems an odd thing to be doing as much to most of what then same newspaper recommends increases the poverty of those who grow tobacco.

The children working the tobacco fields: 'I wanted to be a nurse'

Children in poor families work the fields in Malawi, impacting schooling, reports Sarah Boseley, amid signs of a growing international crisis. 

Poor rural children do work in the fields. That's what poverty means, having to work rather than something better, like going to school. This was true of our forbears when England was as poor as Malawi is now. It's true of all other places as poor today as well.

Quite why tobacco is singled out we're not sure. Because they most certainly don't go on to point out how public policy more generally makes this all worse. Malawi itself gains tax revenue from tobacco exports. The sales price is of course set by the international market - that tax comes from what the producers, the farmers, would have got. Yes, export taxes - unless you've a global monopoly - are incident upon the producers, not the buyers.

We in the consuming nations also tax tobacco highly. We may have good reason to as well but there's no doubt that our doing so reduces those rural incomes. UK alone tobacco duties are more than Malawi's entire economy. Further, even while w tax the EU offers growers within the EU subsidies. One calculation insists that such are, per pound grown - just the subsidies that is - higher than the market price Malawians receive.

Our actions are increasing this poverty which is being complained about.

All of which is interesting but not really the point. So, what o we do about it? Well, obviously enough, try to make Malawi richer, so that there are no children poor enough that they must work in the tobacco fields rather than going to school. Fortunately we know how to do this, neoliberal globalisation.

Other parts of this reporting insist that there are similar problems in Bangladesh. Which there may well be. But Bangladesh also has those clothing sweatshops where people stitch our £1 t-shirts for £50 a month. As Paul Krugman says, this isn't great but it's better. And it isn't the children of those sweatshop workers out in the tobacco fields, they in school instead.

We've thus got a solution. We should be buying things made by poor people in poor countries, that neoliberalism and globalisation. This makes them richer.

Ah, but The Guardian is against fast fashion, cheap labour and sweatshops, isn't it? Which is a bit of a problem, as they're against the solution to their complaints. We at least are recommending something that obviously works...