The Wall Street Journal’s Asian Wage Myopia

The Wall Street Journal publishes an article on wages in Southeast Asia and, as usual, ignores the labor market that has the most to offer global manufacturers: Vietnam.  The spectacular omission calls into question the newspaper’s credibility as a serious chronicler of business activity in the region.

The article, published last Thursday, is headlined “Southeast Asia at a

A worker at a Vietnamese battery factory
A worker at a Vietnamese battery factory

Crossroads on Wages” and promotes the idea that “dirt-cheap labor” is no longer a given because workers want to get paid more.  No surprise there, but here’s the problem:

The article cites World Bank data on average wages for factory workers in six countries — Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, China, India and Thailand — that now range from $209 to $538 per month.  The article doesn’t mention the country of nearly 100 million situated in the center of all of them; Vietnam has a labor force four times size of Malaysia and much larger than Thailand.  The story even mentions Myanmar, a country half the size of Vietnam and far behind on the path to economic development.

The omission of Vietnam is roughly equivalent to a story on wages in American cities without mentioning Chicago, or for that matter, any city in the Midwest.

Including Vietnam would balance the story — and give global manufacturers a

A fish processing plant that employs 1,500 in Vietnam

A fish processing factory that employs 1,500 in My Tho, Vietnam

much better picture of the opportunity in Southeast Asia, where factory workers are typically paid less than $150 monthly in Vietnam.

The Wall Street Journal seems to project the archaic notion that Vietnam is an insignificant little land of rice paddies, but at least the newspaper is consistent: The Journal has yet to discover that Vietnam has a stock market.


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