Posted by: nickgerlich | April 17, 2008

Shanghai’d in Shanghai?

Mama here’s a postcard to let you know
I’m in a saltmine and looking for coal
Shanghai’d in Shanghai
(from Nazareth’s Rampant album, 1974)

A few nights ago, my colleague Steve and I donned our hardhats and went looking for coal over at Best Buy. It’s a hard job, but someone’s gotta do it. We figured we’d get dirty crawling around on hands and knees, but after an hour of searching high and low, all we could come up with was the familiar taste of salt.

Allow me to explain.

Steve and I are beginning a research project on Country Of Origin (COO) effects. It is a subject that has been on the front burner off and on for the last 40 years, as America’s trading partners and the goods they trade have changed over time. Right now, the focus is on China, and we want to find out both what people think and do regarding imported goods. Especially China.

Let’s face it. We now import a lot of stuff from China. Last year we imported $321 billion worth of goods, while sending back only $65 billion, a trade deficit of $256 billion. And that is with a nation whose population is four times larger than the US. Can you say, “Honey, who shrunk my job?”

Made In China

Thirty years ago everyone was upset about the Japanese invasion, including everything from cheap gadgets to stereos and cars. Today, though, Japan is accepted as a bastion of quality and innovation; we now import much of our finished goods from China instead. After all, jobs always chase the low-cost provider.

Of course, this doesn’t set well with someone who has lost a manufacturing job. And with the Summer Olympics coming to Beijing this year, all eyes are on China. Jobs. Lead paint. Communism. Sweatshops. Abandoned girls (Steve and I know a lot about this one, because we and our wives have adopted three Chinese girls between us).

And let’s not overlook the problems in Tibet. Forget Darfur, everyone. The Dalai Lama is the poster child for human rights at the moment.

So Steve and I trained our helmet lights on the back sides of products, on the inside where possible, and on their shipping containers. We wanted to get an idea of what is available, how pervasive imports are, and exactly just how flat our world is.

And here is what we found:

  1. Refrigerators (full-size) are made in Mexico or Korea, while smaller dorm fridges are made primarily in China.
  2. Vacuum cleaners come from China, Mexico, and Korea.
  3. Microwaves come from China. Period.
  4. Washers and dryers come from Mexico, Canada, Korea, and Italy.
  5. Plasma TVs come primarily from Mexico, some from China. We found one lone plasma, a 50″ Pioneer, made in the USA.
  6. DVD players ceom from Thailand, China, Malaysia, and Indonesia.
  7. Laptops in the $700-800 range all come from China.

Would you like me to pass the salt?

That Pioneer TV was the only thing we could find made in the USA. If Best Buy is any indication, shoppers do not have a problem with products coming from other countries. And in spite of what people say about China, we don’t feel too badly about them, either. If we really did take issue with these imports, we would stop buying them. But at the end of the day, I suspect, we value ownership and low price more than we value someone else’s employment.

And that’s a refrain I hear quite often from those who shop online. Personal stewardship trumps your job.

I’ll spare you my usual diatribe against job entitlement, for I’m sure you already know how I feel about that. And Steve and I will readily admit we have our own COO effect going on, because we are enamored of the country that produced our beautiful daughters. But I will confess to having eyes open wide when we left that mine with hardly a smudge of coal on our face or sleeves, and the salty taste of post-industrial America lingering in our mouths.

Dr “High-Sodium Diet” Gerlich


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