Sunday, March 04, 2007

Made In China

Humans must produce. Our labor must be applied to something that can be used by someone else. It is not just that we are dependent on the labor of others (we are), but also that we would be horribly dissatisfied with ourselves if we did not. Unfortunately, some of the things we make for each other are a bit more permanent than we are. Items and buildings can be passed down, generation to generation. If everyone has everything they could ever need, there is no need for anyone to make anything. When this happens, the economy stagnates. People become willing to sell their labor for ridiculously low wages, a race to the bottom which only the employers win.

China is our best trading partner for this very reason. China is an old country, a highly populated country, a highly refined country. Sure, many areas are without indoor plumbing and electricity, and there is a massive gap between wealth and poverty, but with all those people, all that untapped potential, China can mobilize itself very quickly. It has reserves of energy ready to be utilized. Rather than offer their labor to the benefit of their countrymen, many Chinese citizens work in dank factories for meager wages to make cheap plastic goods for unappreciative and wasteful Americans.

A few questions arise then. Let's assume that the workmanship of a Chinese laborer is just as good as that of an American laborer; that the manufacturing process is essentially the same. Why is the labor of a Chinese worker worth less than that of an American worker? Why would Americans need to go all the way to China to get the goods that could just as easily and effectively be made here? Doesn't this take more energy, total, to make the goods in a far away place and then have them shipped to their ultimate destination? Who stands to gain from this arrangement?

America has safety standards, minimum wage laws, schools, roads, hospitals, all the great civil services and legal systems that protect us from undue harm and exploitation. America is still a fresh country, lacking the thousands of years of development China has had. We had more black slaves than white people (as if there is a difference) in the southern US for over a hundred years, stealing their labor. Companies that sell goods want to buy them for the cheapest price. Because of the disparity in wages, the goods made in China are so cheap that even after the transportations costs have been applied, the company still makes a handsome profit. (I could quickly go on a tangent and explain how the relative monetary values of goods in relation to the amount of non-renewable fossil fuel that went into making them is inaccurate because the price does not reflect the limited nature of the supply and negative consequences of their utilization. [Second aside: Did you know that China jump-started its economy with the gratuitous and uncaring wholesale mining and burning of its enormous coal reserves? The goods we buy from factories powered by coal help to "fuel" this process.]) In short, the people who benefit most from this arrangement are the ones who get the profit, and it should come as no surprise that they are responsible for the hypocritical trade agreement we have with China.

We protest the abuse of humans that we know happens in China. We lament how little freedom they have, how oppressed and mistreated they are. We would hope that everyone can have it as good as we do (do we, really?). We do not fully realize that our purchases of the goods they make goes to maintain this system of oppression which we loathe. We enjoy the cheap goods, but can't stand to have such working conditions within our sight. So we get someone else to do it.

I like to think of it as outsourced slavery.


Blogger Delta said...

Agreed. And it's not just the horrible conditions there that are a result of us buying it, it also infects us here at home. When corporations can easily go abroad and get cheap, essentially slave labor (they work almost exclusively for the benefit of someone else and do so because to refuse would mean death for them and their family, just like "traditional" slavery), then standards of living fall here as well. Workers become weaker at the bargaining table because the company can easily just pick up and go somewhere else. And also, simply the existence of cheap goods flooding the US forces employers to try to extract more profit from their workers for less pay in order to compete, also lowering standards of living for working people. Just more evidence that the goal of achieving freedom, democracy, and equality is necessarily global in nature, although of course our actions must necessarily start on the local level.

08 March, 2007 09:39  
Blogger Mookie said...

"Just more evidence that the goal of achieving freedom, democracy, and equality is necessarily global in nature, although of course our actions must necessarily start on the local level."

This idea is one of the hardest to convey. I have some friends that realize there will be a big "crash" soon, but don't connect their activities with it. When oil is out and fresh water is expensive, we will smack our foreheads with our palms and regret all the frivolous things we wasted them on.

08 March, 2007 22:15  
Blogger BrnLng said...

There´s this lot of "wellfare" state that they have there---they don´t pay for health services, nor school, as I know.


29 November, 2007 14:00  

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