February 6th, 2012
03:47 AM GMT
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Hong Kong (CNN) – A few years back, influential New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof shocked readers by opening a column this way: “Africa desperately needs Western help in the form of schools, clinics and sweatshops.”

For Kristof, who regularly advocates better conditions for people in the developing world, this advice seems to belie his progressive views. But he’s part of a chorus of liberal economic thinkers who advocate that sweatshops –  a broad term for factories or workshops characterized low wages, long hours, sometimes underage workers and unsafe conditions – are an unsavory but necessary first step to help bootstrap the world’s poorer economies.

Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman penned a 1997 piece for Slate entitled “In Praise of Cheap Labor” that argued “bad jobs at bad wages are better than no jobs at all.”

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