Don’t buy American, We don’t deserve it, Or: Beef with broccoli, please

by hulk

A co-worker of mine just came back from China today. He had been sent there to monitor a supplier of plastic casings for our machines. Apparently there had been some sort of quality issue, and being that my company wisely fired all plastics engineers and outsourced all plastics work, he was the only one found who could possibly help. He described the somewhat dismal though not entirely appalling safety conditions as well as the fact that they seemed like very good workers, despite being paid $100/week. I started thinking of what kind of quality of service I’d expect here for $100/week. If the waiter didn’t have sex with my food I’d be ecstatic. I’ve got some painful messages for American workers here:

1. You are only going to get poorer.
2. Industry is never coming back. No politician can ever bring it back for you.
3. You helped lose it. You succumbed to conditions encouraged by fatcats, but you smiled as you brought about the doom of your lifestyle.
4. You are no better and no worse than a worker in a foreign country. Deal with it.

I’m sick of the type of nationalism that assumes we’re fundamentally different. Somehow an American thrown in a factory as opposed to a Chinese person is going to do better. Yeah right. The American would bitch and moan and get out his newspaper and start asking when lunch is. I do it too. The Chinese person would immediately get to work. Why? Is he better morally? No. He’s hungry! We’ve lost that hunger. We’ve gotten fat and happy and complacent. We got addicted to a much higher standard of living than that of the generations before us.

All of a sudden refrigerators and vacuums and cars and steak for dinner changed from luxuries to necessities. I keep trying to think of a plan to save, and it comes down to: I can’t get rid of internet. I can’t get rid of cable. I can’t get rid of my car. I can’t stop eating decently well. I can’t stop going out at least a few times a week. None of these will change. If my job ever left the country I’d be screwed. I’d have to fundamentally change how I live and find a new career. The only solution is to rise to the top of the company. In order to move up a few levels I’d have to start the habits of lying, fudging, placating, etc. All those things I can’t do because of a damn thing I call integrity. It hurts to see these idiots moving around a few levels above me just preventing the company from doing well. I asked today why the executives who moved our plastics business abroad didn’t demand the same level of safety at the supplier as we have in our plants. The answer is that they don’t care about the people. The people are resources, machines, replaceable and faceless. They only follow safety regulations to avoid legal liabilites. Beancounters. ARGH!

Our businesses move overseas in order to sell us cheaper goods. We smile and laugh and say “Hey! Look at what I can buy with my credit card! Big screen Asian-made TV here I come!” You won’t laugh in a few years when we have a crisis because most of the people in the US are in credit card debt and we can barely shop at Wal-mart because we can barely afford goods because our wages haven’t increased while prices have. What’s the problem? Our standard of living has been out of touch with the rest of the world for a long time. Companies, having zero incentive to stay in the states, have moved to cheaper countries in order to compete on price. Nowadays they can also compete on quality, especially in China, Korea, and Japan. Americans will level out such that the general populace is always in debt and poorer than they were in the 1980s. It’s mostly the fault of ambitious fatcats, but we helped them by jumping at a higher standard of living than we could sustain and accepting all those credit card offers.

This is why I get pissed when people whine about bankruptcy standards. I sympathize with those who have made mistakes and I would be the first to fight for them if we got to the state where companies could jail people who haven’t paid their bills – debtor’s prison, anyone? I’m also pissed as hell about the New London company which has won the right to evict people from their homes to build a private development and backcharge them for the rent while the case was in court and offer them the cost of their house as of 2000, when the case went to trial – significantly less than today. Many of those poor people will go into debt to this company that has, as far as I’m concerned, illegally seized their homes. I can’t legally advocate violence against that company but if God felt like sending a few lightning bolts their way I’d certainly enjoy it.

Back to the topic at hand. We had our chance, so those Chinese workers deserve theirs. The ironic thing is that their standard of living will raise such that companies move from them to the next poor class. It’s happening in India – it’s estimated that almost 50% of the call center business will leave India because the call center employees have been demanding higher wages. The business will go to eastern European countries and some depressed southeast Asian countries where wages are lower.

We’re probably going to see the middle class decrease in the US for a while. I don’t want to speak in definitive, end of the world terms because all things change. However, I’m probably safe in estimating that the gap between the rich and the poor will be bigger for the next few decades. How can us young people protect ourselves? The best way is to live much differently than we are. Don’t go out more than once a month. Abandon cable and techno-gadgets we don’t really need. Abandon expensive computers and internet. Abandon DVDs. Go to the library instead of the bookstore. I’m sure you can find suggestions on any financial site. Is it easy? Nope. I’m sure a wiser person would have a better solution. Here’s the biggest part: *avoid credit card debt as much as you can.* That is going to be killer several years from now. We’re all gonna get screwed on that one.

Here’s what really pisses me off: politicians who claim they have control over jobs. They’re lying to the people and they know it, even if they’re also lying to themselves. Every state now has economic development programs, and states, counties, and cities compete to attract companies. In the process they up the standards for attracting companies. The usual package offered to companies is low or no taxes (often extended for years), help with health insurance, infrastructure, and bonuses such as an educated labor pool. The company comes in, sticks around for a few years, leaves when it doesn’t work for the beancounters (which is usually as soon as the tax benefits dry up), and move on to the next community, leaving behind out of work laborers with bills (because they got used to a higher standard of living), as well as an abandoned building. It’s more complicated than this but that’s the summarized version. I did an independent research program on this in high school; I’ll try to dig up the paper next time I see my parents. Where does the company go? The next town offering a sweet deal. Usually the city teams up with the state to offer a really nice package full of tax-free goodness. What do the cities/states get? Jobs. Now you’re thinking, but of course the tax revenue from the employees covers the costs to the town, right? Not often. Usually these are a few jobs and the wages are low. The city and state combined often end up “investing” more per worker than the company pays in wages, let alone what the government sees in taxes. Then why do politicians do it? Elections. They can say, “I created jobs”. That’s what we elect based on, being the blind fools we are. All a politician has to do is say, “My opponent lost the big pork factory,” and the election is practically won. So we willfully participate in inflating the salaries of a couple of corporate fatcats and stock investors and we all say isn’t it great we have economic development programs? It doesn’t get much attention because it’s a complex issue. The final numbers are almost always damning but it comes down to the sound-byte, “I created jobs.”

Now here’s the killer. You’ll almost die when I say this one. My favorite expert on this issue? Michael Moore. I know, it sounds insane, but if you can seperate the insanity that comes out of his mouth from the research he’s done on companies like Archer Daniels Midland, you’ll be shocked.