“The fact is, that civilisation requires slaves. The Greeks were quite right there. Unless there are slaves to do the ugly, horrible, uninteresting work, culture and contemplation become almost impossible. Human slavery is wrong, insecure, and demoralizing. On mechanical slavery, on the slavery of the machine, the future of the world depends.” (Oscar Wilde, The Soul of Man Under Socialism, 1895)
The use of cheap labor from third world countries by the west is counter-productive for the west’s own future development and hegemony. The masses of human beings willing to work for what a western person has grown to regard as far less than his bare necessities seems like a boon in the short term, but would prove a disaster in the long term. Billions of Asians sweating for a dollar-a-day or less may seem cheap, but it translates into billions of dollars-a-day making their way from the west to the east. This transfer of wealth is irreversible. Just as Imperialism has once transferred the wealth of the world to Europe, bringing about its prosperity while leaving the rest deprived, it is now the wealth of Europe and North America that is transferred east, making it prosper on the west’s expense.
Do not let the employment conditions fool you. Sweat shops could be found in New York, capital of the Empire State, little more than a hundred years ago. It may be merely a necessary step in the process that has once led to the American Century, and may lead to the current century being named The Chinese. In the process, America shall be deprived not just of title, but of the cultural, economic and military hegemony that it has come to believe as its own by right, forgetting that it is might that makes right.
If you are a believer in Democracy, you should fear this outcome, since liberal democracy is born of western thought. It is the culmination of humanism in an individualistic society. As western hegemony wanes, so shall the prospects of human rights and just government in the developing world.
Keep in mind too that the current system, and as a consequence democracy that goes hand in hand with it, arouses the objections of all of the cheap laborers of the east, the deprived laborers of the west who cannot compete, and the more socially-oriented intellectuals in the west. This is evident by the mounting criticism of globalization.
It is therefore not just our wealth that is at risk, but our very way of life and the values that we hold dear. The deprivation of human rights from cheap laborers may yet bring about an era of less human rights for all.