Santa is here with a sled full of toys, bring happy presents for little girls and boys. Bright colored toys all painted in lead, toys with tiny little pieces that–if swallowed–may leave baby dead. Breakaway sharp parts that can put out an eye and other great features that can make children die. Even contaminated food for your sweet little pet, but all so cheap mom and dad won’t be in debt. Welcome Christmas, Christmas time, as we sacrifice our health to save a dime.
And blame it all on the Chinese.
I must confess to having had my own big, holiday “ho ho ho’s” this Christmas season as I’ve listened to all the breast-beating and hand-wringing over how those nefarious, inscrutable, insidious Chinese have diabolically conspired to flood America with poisoned products. Oh, those dastardly people. The press and presidential debates are full of proud posturing demanding Justice for American consumers and protection from this new Asian threat.
What’s triggered my mirth from all this whoo-haa is one of those teency-weency minor little points everyone keeps overlooking. The Chinese aren’t selling Americans poisoned pet food, lead painted toys or kids’ jewelry—or anything else for that matter. All those COSCO marked boxcars (COSCO being the Chinese shipping company) rolling along American rail lines are not bring Chinese products being shipped to some COSCO-owned wholesale mega-warehouse Mecca. There are no “Great Wall-Mart of China” outlets in American strip malls or Red China Retail stores in American malls vending Chinese products to Americans. Everything sold in America with a “Made in China” label was either produced in China by an American company or bought from a Chinese producer by an American company and sold in America, to Americans, by the American retail industry.
We’ve met the enemy and he is us.
That American manufacturers have been off-shoring production of everything from automobiles to toys is hardly news–it’s the economic history of the last generation. That American retailers have been buying increasing amounts of cheap imported consumer goods and American consumers have been gladly snapping said goods up is also hardly news—that’s been the economic history of the last two generations. The fact that some of these products can get consumers sick—or worse—is also not new news. And it’s also not an accidental byproduct of the off-shoring phenomenon.
It’s the whole point of it.
Corporate America has gone over seas for only one reason: profits. If corporate America could make bigger profits paying American workers good wages to make safe and effective products for their fellow Americans they would. (Big hint to Corporate America: you CAN! Think of the big sweep of the American consumer revolution, 1900 to 1980 when paying workers good wages resulted in ever higher sales—and profits. Think of that pioneer of American socialist thought who argued paying workers more would allow them to buy, on the weekend, the very products they spent the week producing. That socialist, by the way, would be Henry Ford. But Corporate America decided a half century ago that sending American jobs overseas to take advantage of both cheaper wages and far less regulatory burdens—you know, like all those pesky rules prohibiting sweatshops, outlawing child labor, providing for the protection of the health and wallets of consumers, forbidding the wholesale destruction of the environment. Those sorts of annoying rules.
By going off-shore—especially to authoritarian states like China where American companies are free to do as they please with the blessing of the Chinese state, providing they’re cut in for their share of the profit, of course. States where the workers are sufficiently cowed so as not to demand fair wages and people have no rights to protest the destruction of their environment. American companies, escaping the onerous weight of US regulations, can now produce tainted products to their hearts content and then ship them back to the motherland confident in the fact that decades of the US government deliberately failing to provide enough inspectors at our ports means the poisoned fruits of their corporate labor will be distributed to unwitting consumers.
In so doing, of course, such corporations have manifestly ignored or forgotten the first rule of retail sales which is not “the customer is always right. The first rule is, correctly stated, “DON’T KILL THE CUSTOMERS!” Killing customers kills repeat sales and really cuts in to marketing by word of mouth, dead men telling no tales and all that. Killing customers kills consumer loyalty: the loyalty of the dead is onto themselves. Killing customers kills brand respectability. (Just ask Mattel about lead-painted toys from China or Ford about its ill-fated Corsair. What American corporations have erroneously come to believe is that it IS okay to slowly poison and maim their customers as opposed to outright killing them. And in this they are dead wrong. Unfortunately some of their customers will be dead, too.
Marx said capitalists would sell you the rope with which to hang them. He was wrong. They will, apparently, buy from you poisoned toys and sell them to their kids.
So, tis the season of bliss. “Give your child the gift that keeps on giving: lead-painted toys! At least you wont have to worry about paying college after they’re brain-damaged! Lead-painted toys: saving YOU money—and making US big profits!” How’s that for a slogan for Corporate America.
Ho ho ho.