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Volume 15, Issue 38 ~ September 20 - September 26, 2007

Made in China

Chinese capitalism scares me more than Chinese communism

I’m stocking up on these in case there aren’t many toys at Christmas.

–woman at the dollar bins at Target

I’m a sucker for dollar trinkets, I’ll even admit to visiting one of the many so-called dollar stores once or twice a week. Wife Lois says I don’t really need that junk. She’s probably right, but that doesn’t stop me, whether it’s a bamboo back scratcher or a picture frame.

The other day I was pawing over stuff in the dollar crates at Target in Glen Burnie when a well-dressed grandmother seemed to be grabbing everything appropriate for a child. Perhaps her budget was tight for the holiday season?

“Oh, there’ll be Christmas and Santa all right,” she responded. “But from what I’ve been reading, Santa might not have many toys for children.”

This took me back until she added “The way they’re recalling toys from China, goodness knows what will be available.”

I had never given that a thought. I know she was overreacting, but she had a plausible point. Try going into any dollar store and try to find anything that isn’t tagged Made in China.

The big toymakers of the U.S. study the market to determine what the next fad will be, come up with something appropriate to satisfy it, then have it made in China, where labor costs fit in with their budgets.

What if many more recalls of Chinese toys follow as Christmas draws closer? Probably, there would be some children disappointed; also merchants. Surely, it’s too late now to start making playthings and get them on store shelves for the holidays.

If I were Santa, I’d put all those little elves to work ’round the clock making toys for kids. Just in case.

China’s Rise

It’s happened so subtly that many of us didn’t realize it fully, or appreciate the consequences, but China rules. It’s probably too late now to turn that fact around. It goes far beyond toys for tots; it’s in just about everything we buy. We have become dependent on China. Many of us young and old would be missing out on things we want were not the Chinese shipping them to us.

When I was a kid in the 1920s and ’30s, the closest thing we had was Japan. The Great Depression was on, and every penny counted. You could save a few pennies on kid’s fancies and household items stamped Made in Japan. Even so, some wouldn’t buy; imports from Japan were considered poorly made. They were cheap, but they didn’t last.

Today, Japan is in the forefront of the electronics industry and has pretty much taken over the auto and truck business. Meanwhile China is edging closer to king of the hill thanks to low costs via cheap labor.

When the Made in China labels first appeared big time about a decade and a half ago, many of us didn’t seem concerned. We were giving deprived people on the other side of the globe much-needed jobs — and saving money.

More and more manufacturers here turned the work of making or assembling our goods to the Chinese. Next, they sold and sent to China — and elsewhere — the machinery to do what was being done here. In many instances, we no longer have the facilities to compete even in our home market because there is so little left of the core of labor cost-dependent businesses.

What happens to much of the outdated manufacturing equipment once manufacturing heads to China? It follows.

Obsolete to us, the equipment is inefficient. But it works fine in a country just coming into the manufacturing age.

I bet you didn’t know China is now the second largest passenger car market in the world, behind only the U.S. American low- and mid-line models from the Big Three are considered in the luxury class there, and first-time buyers can’t afford that market. As more Chinese abandon their bicycles for cars, low-wage Chinese workers turn out cars their countrymen and women can afford.

After checking out some Chinese cars, I’m reminded of the Yugo. But, remember the Hyundai? All kinds of problems when it first came out; it was on the verge of pulling out. Yet today Hyundai is a popular leader for style, performance and reliability. Who knows? Maybe we’ll all be driving Chinese cars by 2010.

Nothing to Toy With

Concerns about China go beyond business and jobs. Here we are with global warming becoming more of a threat to the future of the world — and everyone urged to conserve fuel. Yet what are we doing?

We’re exporting by ship to China — second-worst in efficiency only behind aircraft — parts for assembly there. Then the finished product is shipped again half-way around the world back to here. All to save labor costs. To hell with any considerations about energy, the ozone layer, global warming or anything else. Market share is more important.

Something else to consider: China has much more leniency in its environmental laws and standards, and often little enforcement.

What we’re doing is switching the loss of energy and the rise in emissions from here to there, all on the same earth that is threatened by global warming. As China becomes a world leader, there’s lessening hope for this earth.

This is nothing to toy with. Enough said.

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