Sunday, February 22, 2009

Don't be so protectionist, or we'll send more lead-painted toys...

I heard a random news blurb during the past few days about how China was bitching about the verbage in the recently-passed Succubus Package, complaining that it was “protectionist” for its “buy American” vibes.

To whit, I have a reply for our corporate owners across the Pacific: go piss up a rope. Yeah, you. I’ve got a package you can stimulate, Chairman Hu and Company.

How much more of our economy do you want to monopolize? Are you just not satisfied with exporting $321.5 BILLION in goods to us last year, while importing just over $65 billion from us? (That’s a $256 billion dollar trade deficit, guys.) How many more lead-painted toys and melamine-tainted cases of baby formula and pet food do we need to buy before you’re happy? Is it not enough that the three most common words in the English language are “MADE IN CHINA”? (Followed closely by High-Fructose Corn Syrup)

A few years ago I worked in the steel building industry. I sold pre-engineered steel buildings to general contractors around the country. Long about 2004 it became nigh on impossible to sell a building because the cost of steel went through the roof due to a huge demand for steel in China for infrastructure projects like the Three Gorges Dam project. (It was also in part due to the greedy policies of my employer, but I digress). The price of buildings quickly doubled. China was snatching up steel from all over the world, Australia to America.

Now we have steel plants idle in this country far & wide. Here in South Carolina, just up the road in Georgetown, there’s a pile of unemployed steel workers and a closed plant. And what do I see behind me at work every day now?

For the next year or so, there’s gonna be ship after ship docking in Charleston unloading hundreds of thousands of tons of steel beams and pipe from a plant in Shanghai being used to construct two facilities in NC and Virginia. American steelworkers are out of work and we’re importing Chinese steel. Granted, there’s work in it for the port longshoremen and for the army of truckers who are transporting the steel to the construction sites, but the longshoremen could have been making the same huge union wages unloading the other 20 or so vessels a month that dock here from Chinese companies (in addition to the other ships from around the world. Go to to see the vessel reports. It’s public info.) The truckers could still have been hauling the steel from American mills instead.

And remember, just because you buy American doesn’t mean it’s actually American made. Nike is based in Beaverton, Oregon. Those Nike sneakers in the corner are made in Indonesia. Wrangler Jeans? Their parent company, VFC (also parent to Nautica, Lee, and JanSport) is in Greensboro, NC, but the jeans are made in Mexico. The Hanes skivvies I have on right now, with that great comfort-soft tagless waistband? Hanes is in Winston-Salem, NC and my drawers are made in India, as if there are no cotton plants in the American south. The Fruit of the Loom t-shirt? Made in Honduras despite the company being in Bowling Green, Kentucky. My Dell laptop came from Malaysia, and Dell is based in California.

Ahhhh, the miracle of the global economy. Buying American doesn’t mean buying American, and buying Chinese doesn’t mean we’ll live to buy Chinese tomorrow. Meanwhile, I get to look out my back window at work and see that famous red flag with yellow stars on it for the next year or so waving in the sunny South Carolina breeze

Chinese cargo ships Lu Xun and Li Bai (both named after Chinese poets) unloading Shanghai-made steel in Charleston. Note the communist flags in the breeze.


Brooke said...

What a detestable situation we are in.

Randy said...

Reading your blog this morning, I had a random thought about the trade deficiti per capita between the two countries? So I did the math. China has 4.3x the population of the US. Their export/import ration is 4.9x.

Not liking that answer (it's not big enough of a delta), I did the math another way. What is China's export/capita to the US vs. the US export/capita to China? For every Chineese citizen, they export $242 worth of goods to us and we export $210 to them (for every US citizen). Again not that big a difference.

Is my math bad? (could be it's early). I used the figures you had for trade deficit and population of 1.330B for China and 30M for US.