One of the most powerful principles in economics, so powerful that I list it in my “Ten Pillars of Economic Wisdom,” is that both sides gain from exchange. This helps resolve the issue stated by commenter “harold” on this earlier post of mine.

harold stated:

Of course, the question of how we should respond to imported good[s] based on harsh working conditions, when the workers have no better options locally, is a somewhat complex one.

Notice that harold agrees with me that the workers have no better options locally. Which is another way of saying that they are choosing their best option.

That makes the question of “how we should respond to imported goods,” if we care not just about ourselves but also about the people producing them, not complex, as harold says, but actually very simple. We should buy them.

I have pointed this out in a number of places–my 1996 article in Fortune, “The Case for Sweatshops,” my short debate in Fortune with Robert Reich, and my 1999 article, “Markets.”

In a 2000 article, I quoted Candida Rosa Lopez on this issue:

Candida Rosa Lopez, an employee in a Nicaraguan garment factory, works long hours over a sewing machine at less than a dollar an hour. Interviewed recently by a Miami Herald reporter, Ms. Lopez has a message for people in the United States and other wealthy countries who are nervous about buying goods from “sweatshops”: “I wish more people would buy the clothes we make.”