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exploiting labor


    This subchapter looks at exploiting labor as part of a series on ethics in computer programming. This is part of a free downloadable college textbook on computer programming.

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exploiting labor

    This subchapter looks at exploiting labor as part of a series on ethics in computer programming. This is part of a free downloadable college textbook on computer programming.

    Is it ethical to do computer programming work that directly or indirectly involves exploiting cheap or slave labor?

    An obvious example is the computer component of the American college football Bowl Championship Series (BCS). Programmers participating in the determination of the BCS directly make their living off the backs of unpaid student-athletes. While coaches, college presidents, athletic directors, and others make millions of dollars a year, the student-athletes aren’t even paid the federal minimum wage.

    The current computer polls used in the BCS rankings are Anderson & Hester, Richard Billingsley, Colley Matrix, Kenneth Massey, Jeff Sagarin, and Peter Wolfe.

    Of these six, only Wes Colley of the Colley Matrix makes his formula open to the public. The five others hide their formulas in secret. Because of Colley’s transparency, BCS expert Jerry Palm was able to announce a mistake in the final BCS poll in 2010. On December 6, 2010, the day after the final BCS poll of the year was released, Palm identified a mistake that caused Boise State to move to number 10 ahead of Lousiian State University at number 11.

    In the not to distant past (2004) the Associated Press (AP) pulled its poll out of the BCS system in protest against the inherent unethical nature of the system.

    I present you with the actual arguments of a man who actively supports the current system: William Homer “Bill” Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times and ESPN. I do not intend to belittle the man or his beliefs, even though I strongly disagree.

    The major claim in favor of this system is that it preserves the integrity and beauty of college football.

    This is an appeal to emotion rather than an appeal to reason.

    William Homer “Bill” Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times argues “But the beauty of college athletics lies directly in this paradox, a nation drawn to the idea of professional games played by amateurs, millions cheering for superstars in letter sweaters, inspiration bathed in innocence. If you pay the players, that aura is gone, and with it, a sports experience that is singularly passionate and uniquely American.”

    This approach violates the basic ethical principle: “People are to be loved, and things are to be used. Immoraltiy occurs when things [televised football games] are loved and people [unpaid college athletes] are used.” (author unknown)

    You may recall similar arguments to those used by Bill Plaschke in favor of refusing to pay college athletes the federal minimum wage were also used in favor of human slavery in the antebellum era.

    John C. Calhoun’s 1837 Speech in the U.S. Senate and James Henry Hammond’s 1858 Mudsill Speech articulated the claim that human slavery benefited the enslaved, the free, and society as a whole.

    The claim is that the landless poor are inherently transient and easily manipulated and therefore pose the the greatest threat to destabalize the economy and society.

    Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times asserts “Paying college players is an inherently bad idea”.

    W. T Stace wrote in The Concept of Morals “That which was evil now was evil then. If slavery is morally wicked today, it was morally wicked among the ancient Athenians, notwithstanding that their greatest men accepted it as a necessary condition of human society. Their opinion did not make slavery a moral good for them. It only showed that they were, in spite of their otherwise noble conceptions, ignorant of what is truly right and good in this matter.”

    U.S. Senator and Governor James Henry Hammond explained that there must be and always will be a poor class that the rich exploit.

    Christians claim that the Chiristain deity Jesus stated “Leave her alone…You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” (Matthew 26:11, similar passage in Mark 14:7 and John 12:8) Also from the Jewish Torah “There will always be poor people in the land.” (Deuteronomy 15:11).

    Hammond referred to the lowest class as the mudsill that supports the foundation of the building (the middle class and the rich).

    Hammond claimed that the natural tendency of non-whites to do menial work enabled the upper class whites to move civilization forward and that therefore any granting of basic human rights to the mudsill was counter the the good of society as a whole.

    The problem of the supposed inabilities of the mudsill or landless poor was solved by human enslavement, removing them from the political process. This non-citizen status was strongly affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court’s most famous decision, the 1857 case of Dred Scott v. Sanford, 60 U.S. 393 (1857), which asserted the legal principle that African people imported into the U.S. and their descendants, whether or not they were slaves, were denied any rights under the U.S. Constitution and could never be U.S. citizens.

    The Supreme Court ruled that Black Africans were “beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations, and so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”

    The Court further pointed out that granting basic human rights to the landless poor (such as granting student-athletes the same right to collect the minimum wage that is granted to most American workers, with such obvious exceptions as legal alien Hispanic agricultural guest workers) would have dire consequences: “It would give to persons of the negro race, …the right to enter every other State whenever they pleased, …the full liberty of speech in public and in private upon all subjects upon which its own citizens might speak; to hold public meetings upon political affairs, and to keep and carry arms wherever they went.”

    Remember that even in professional sports, where the players are paid, they still do not have the fundamental freedom of speech to speak out against injustice by the rich owners and the management that works for the rich owners (including the commissioners and referees).

    The U.S. Supreme Court has never revoked or overruled the Dred Scott decision.

    Another argument in favor of exploiting these student-athletes is the claim that their scholarships are their pay.

    Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times states “First, the kids are already paid. It’s called a scholarship. In some cases, that’s a salary of more than $50,000 a year.”

    I am the worst person to ask for financial advice, but my understanding is that scholarships are not income if the recipient is a candidate for a degree at an accredited school (with complex IRS rules).

    The IRS states on its website: “A scholarship generally is an amount paid for the benefit of a student at an educational institution to aid in the pursuit of studies. The student may be in either a graduate or an undergraduate program. … If you are a candidate for a degree, you generally can exclude from income that part of the grant used for: Tuition and fees required for enrollment or attendance, or Fees, books, supplies, and equipment required for your courses.”

    Further, the system of “pay” advocated by Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times is different than that used for all other scholarship students

    The vast majority of colleges and universities (if not all, other than the for-profit schools) give preference for paid employment to students on scholarships. Years ago I worked as a lab aide to help other students on their computer class assignments. I was paid the then federal minimum wage. All other student lab aides (on scholarship or not) were also paid the federal minimum wage. The cost or value of a scholarship was not deducted from the pay.

    While students on non-athletic scholarships are afforded the opportunity to earn money with student jobs, student-athletes don’t have this opportunity because of the large time commitment required in preparing for televised games. Ironically the televised games bring the schools huge sums of cash while the normal student jobs, such as the aforementioned labortory aides, don’t produce any direct income (although they may result in higher retention and therefore more federal income).

    Note that athletic scholarships are not the only scholarships that are for something other than pure academic excellence. All colleges and universities other than for-profit schools have scholarships based strictly on financial need. And most colleges and universities have scholarships for other non-academic talents, such as dance, music, sculpture, theatre, painting, and other arts.

    I might add that the tuition charged by a university is artificially inflated. Almost nobody pays the full list price. The full list price is a manipulated number used to maximize the income from government sources. As the federal government keeps raising its college aid, the tuitions keep artificially jumpring, hundreds of percentage points ahead of all other costs of living and with absolutely no bearing or relationship to the actual cost of the college education.

    The $50,000 cited by Plaschke is a completely artificial number and has no real meaning.

    Harvard University no longer charges undergraduate students any tuition. The tuition is zero dollars.

    Pat Brown, the father of new California governor Jerry Brown, intended that the University of California and California State University systems have no tuition of any kind. The intent was that the education be provided for free because of the great public interest in having a well educated citizenry.

    Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times goes on to claim that paying college athletes (just the male football and basketball players) would result in a draft “This would mean the end of recruiting, the end of high school stars choosing their college. With so much money being thrown around to so many athletes, the schools would eventually halt the madness the way Major League Baseball finally did. Welcome to the 2014 College Football Draft.”

    This is an example of a “straw man” argument.

    The idea of a straw man argument is to belittle other beliefs by making up fake arguments and then easily showing the absurdity of those fake arguments. The straw men are not the actual arguments of other beliefs, but are made to sound as if they might be. The straw men are chosen because the arguments are easy to disprove, like blowing over a man of straw.

    Bill Plaschke’s argument about a college draft is clearly a straw man. I have never previously heard anyone use this argument. Bill Plaschke writes as if he came up with the idea on his own (although he doesn’t actually state the idea is original to him).

    But, for the moment, let’s assume this is a real argument.

    Of course, not all schools offer the same courses or have the exact same professors. While it is true that many college athletes choose their schools for purely athletic reasons, many chose their schools for the specific scholastic programs they offer. Seems to me that even a student-athlete has the right to apply to the school of his or her choice rather than having high paid administrators draft them and tell them where they are allowed to study, just as if they were owned animals or human slaves.

    Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times states “Colleges should not play [sic] players. Colleges cannot pay players. To do so would hurt the very athletes supposedly being helped, devaluing intercollegiate sports until they’re not worth the paper that a freshman linebacker’s contract is printed upon.”

    With all due respect to Bill Plaschke (who is paid a bunch of money and therefore inherently more valuable to society than I am), his arguments are in the same category as those who claimed that human slavery was vital to the best interests of Black Americans, because the black Americans supposedly were unable to think for themselves and needed a white owner to preserve the slave’s welfare.

    This same argument appeared in support of the British Empire. The claim was made that Britain not only had a right to maintain a world wide empire through force of arms, but had a moral obligation to do so.

    The Victorian claim was that non-whites were inherently inferior races and that the white man had a duty to the Christian God to take care of the non-whites

    The obvious reply of the time was, “What about Imhotep and K’ung Fu-Tze (or K’ung Fu-Tzu)?”

    K’ung Fu-Tze was one of the most, if not the most, famous philosophers of all time and was Chinese, a supposed lesser race. The Victorian solution was to rename him as Confucius, so that he would sound like he was Greek rather than Chinese.

    Imhotep was the single most influential human being in all of human history. he was the chief architect of the first successful true pyramid in ancient Egypt, as well inventor of trigonometry, discoverer of pi (π), creator of the scientific method, first proponent of the idea that mathematics can model all of the physical universe, inventor of the idea of medical triage, and founder of the bureacracies and other systems necessary for the creation of the first nation in human history.

    Imhotep was simply written out of Western history classes. References to him were deemed “legendary” or “mythic” and discounted.

    The accomplishments of other great Egyptians were subverted by falsely claiming that the Egyptians were whites. Look at the statues and artwork. The ancient Egyptians are clearly and unambigiously black Africans until the Persian invasion (and subsequent Greek, Roman, and Arabic invasions).

    In my opinion, Bill Plaschke is just as wrong to deny student athletes a fair living wage (or at least the federal minimum wage) as those who claimed that black African slaves should be denied basic human rights.

    And, in my opinion, the programmers who participate in the BCS standings are active participants in a system designed to exploit the labor of the poor, especially those of black African descent.

    What is your opinion? Will you write software that takes advantage of low income student athletes?

    Should there be consequences for those who support this exploitation of labor? Tostitos supports the Fiesta Bowl. Discover supports the Orange Bowl. Citi supports the Rose Bowl. Allstate supports the Sugar Bowl. If you find their support offensive you have the options of boycotting their products and services or writing a letter of protest to their corporate offices.

    A more obvious example of unethical exploitation of the poor (reported by investigative reporter Edwin Black) would be IBM having built, supplied, and maintained the tabulating machines essential for the Nazi Holocause (the murder of at least three million Jews, 1-1/2 million Gypsies, nearly a million homosexuals, and many others).

    How were the Nazis able to so quickly identify the Jews, Gypsies, and others? How were the Nazis able to so efficiently gather, transport, enslave, and murder the Holocaust victims?

    The answer is technology: IBM’s Hollerinth cards and the machines for punching and reading them.

    Throughout World War II, IBM had legal permission from the U.S. government to build, sell, and maintain the machinery used in the Holocaust. IBM’s machines made the Holocaust technically feasible.

    Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, and others were enslaved in concentration camps and forced to be slave labor on behalf of the Nazi dream of world domination.

    There is no difference of kind between the BCS’s exploitation of student labor and the Nazi’s exploitation of Jewish and Gypsy slave labor. The only difference is the degree. Clearly the Holocaust is much more severe, but it is not of a different kind or a separate ethical question.

    Keith Olbermann reported after the November 2, 2010, U.S. election that IBM had donated millions of dollars to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to be used for campaigns of politicians who supported the outsourcing of American jobs.

    The idea behind outsourcing is that a business can avoid U.S. minimum wage laws (as well as other labor laws and environmental protection laws) by moving jobs to poor areas of the world, such as China, India, and Indonesia.

    And it has been clearly established in American courts that American multinational companies have engaged in slave labor in several foreign nations. That is, they have had the active cooperation of the local military to capture and enslave workers and force them at gun point and with application of severe physical torture to make some of the products that are sold in the U.S.

    Even if you discount the examples of human slavery as rare, the whole point of outsourcing is to avoid paying American workers the federal minimum wage and to avoid other American labor and environmental laws and regulations.

    There is the basic philosophical question about whether or not low income workers deserve the minimum wage (or a higher living wage).

    One argument against the minimum wage is that it is unfair to new workers who could supposedly more easily obtain entry level jobs if they could accept lower pay. This was the primary argument in favor of child labor, which has since been outlawed in the U.S. (over the Supreme Court’s famous objections).

    Another major argument against the minimum wage is that only the owners have any risk and therefore only the owners deserve money. The claim is that when workers lose their job that they don’t face any hardship, such as losing their home and ending up homeless, while owners who lose their businesses might have their credit ruined. Of course, we saw after the 1929 stock market crash (leading to the Great Depression) that many of the bankrupted millionaires and billionaires quickly returned to riches while the general population suffere through more than a decade of extreme financial hardship.

    And while we’re on the subject of risk, consider the risk to the health of student-athletes playing contact sports such as football. Most experience painful injuries, some of which cause pain for life, and some experience serious injuries including paralysis.

    Even in non-contact sports, we have the example of Hank Gathers dying on a basketball court on March 4, 1990. Because he viewed success as an unpaid student-athlete as essential for getting his family out of poverty, Gathers took great risks with his heart and ended up paying for his college’s finacnial success with his life.

    At what point is the computer programmer responsible for the effects of his or her work on society as a whole?

    Is it ethical for a computer programmer to participate in the BCS series and make personal profit off literally thousands of unpaid workers?

    Is it ethical for a computer programmer to write software for a business that outsources work to nations that use slave labor or underpay workers?

    Is it ethical for a computer programmer to write software that is used to commit crimes against humanity?

free music player coding example

    Coding example: I am making heavily documented and explained open source code for a method to play music for free — almost any song, no subscription fees, no download costs, no advertisements, all completely legal. This is done by building a front-end to YouTube (which checks the copyright permissions for you).

    View music player in action:

    Create your own copy from the original source code/ (presented for learning programming).

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    Created: December 5, 2010

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