09 December 2015

US Nativism and China

I've mentioned this before but I keep hearing variations of this argument, and I find it striking how misled so many people are.
In just the past couple of weeks I have either participated in or overheard conversations where the Chinese are invoked as a source of anti-American scheming. People seem to believe the Chinese have conspired to destroy American manufacturing and enslave us to their cheap goods.

This is completely false. In the 1970's, the US sought to establish the relationship with China in order to exploit the Sino-Soviet split. The US sought to bring China into its sphere through the encouragement of economic openness and expansion. In the late 1970's when China turned its back on communism, and with the deregulation that began in earnest under Reagan, US corporations began to seek relationships with China. These relationships would flourish in the 1990's.
US manufacturing and corporations sought to increase profits through outsourced manufacturing, and eventually outsourced labour. This helped to destroy the unions in America by either outright eliminating the jobs or providing opportunities to corrupt the union leadership and force them into anti-worker alliances with management. This was the fulfillment of a long-term goal on the part of American business. The factories that didn't go overseas moved to the anti-Union southern states and after the passage of NAFTA, many moved to Mexico. But even many of these North American examples were not as profitable as they could be, if they moved to China. Consequently many did just that or at the very least moved portions of their manufacturing process to Asia.
The reason we are flooded with cheap Chinese goods is not the fault of the Chinese. It is the result of US corporate greed and the capitalist system.
I heard a lady complaining about appliances. We all know that the appliances of yesteryear used to last twenty and sometimes thirty years. Today, we're pretty happy to get ten. We all know about planned obsolescence and the increased pricing in parts and servicing that make repairs all too often as something less than cost efficient. I think at this point virtually everyone understands something of how this works.
She complained about the quality of Whirlpool, Maytag, GE and Frigidaire but then somehow blamed the Chinese for their decline in quality. In her mind they've undermined and forced these companies into compliance. The Chinese to her way of thinking more or less control these companies and their markets. The opposite is true. They companies have used the Chinese to destroy both internal and external opposition and increase profits.
These companies who used to be trustworthy names have sold out their reputations, products and workers for greed. They are the ones who utilize the Chinese. They could make better products. They could even get the Chinese to make the better products for them. But instead they want everything made as cheap as possible. They don't want things to break immediately but they don't want them to last very long either. These companies try to ride the line between producing absolute junk and something that is essentially junk, - but will last just long enough to outlive its returnability.
They also love to sell warranty plans that are quite lucrative for them and yet often less the profitable for third-party repairmen. This has facilitated the destruction of the service/repair industry. It's getting increasingly difficult for independent repairmen to make a living. The computerization of appliances has also contributed to this. The government will occasionally push for technology to be utilized in the name of being 'green' and efficient. While sometimes that may reflect the interests and influence of the environmental lobby, don't be fooled. All too often the corporations are happy to push for these programmes. It forces out competition and frequently creates conditions qualifying these companies for research and development subsidies as well as tax credits -which are but another form of subsidy.
The Chinese are of course greedy and the subcontracting factory owners are quite keen to exploit their own workers. All fallen men are subjected to avarice in one form or another, but US greed is coupled with deception and hypocrisy. These industries and the corporations that sit atop them are little more than scams. They are quite literally criminal enterprises. They are not doing unto others as they would have done to them. They are not looking out for anyone's interest but themselves. They are immoral ventures and enterprises.
While products today do not last as long, many of these products are in fact less expensive for the consumer than they used to be. I'm speaking in terms of shelf-price and inflation. Televisions, and now obsolete VCR's and mobile phones used to be significantly more costly than the more high-tech versions of today. Computers and appliances used to cost more. The cheap labour and parts have enabled these things to be produced at lower cost and yet still maintain profitability.
Of course we're not getting the same quality product and all too often in the end we spend more money. In the long run it might have been better to buy something that was twice the cost and lasted twenty years then to have purchased the same item three times in twenty year.  It's a big scam but it also gives the illusion of an increased standard of living.
Poorer people can afford more junk. I remember when average working people had less 'things' in their home. Things were expensive, you had less but the things you had were better quality and lasted longer.
Libertarians celebrate this system as having raised the standard of living for both Americans and Chinese. But this is not true. It's an illusion in our society. People have more cheap junk but they're actually poorer and less secure than ever.  As I frequently tell people, 'I can't afford to shop at Wal-mart'. This puzzles them. Isn't Wal-mart the cheap place? Not really. In the end it often ends up costing more. We realized long ago we're better served by doing with less but when we do buy something, pay more and get something that's better. In the end Wal-mart was costing us a lot more money because the majority of purchases proved defective.
The problem is, the Wal-mart way has eliminated so much in the way of competition, variety and options. It's getting harder to find alternatives especially when you live in a rural area. We literally have to either shop online or drive long distances to reach an urban area. And then, we're not shopping at the strip mall sprawl zones, we're likely heading into the old and dilapidated parts of the city. It's there that we still find something of the old economy, family business and variety... and ultimately better quality and service.
There's a price to be paid for this system. The societies that are on the supply end of Globalisation deal with different consequences. Social upheaval is pronounced. Corruption is endemic, and planned obsolescence means tremendous waste. As our products continue to develop in the high-tech direction, there are more resource requirements. Obscure minerals and chemicals are needed and this means a scramble for the resources. Political struggles and wars are being fueled and generated from this.  
Cheap production means dangerous and inefficient industrial practices. Outsourced manufacturing allows US corporations to escape regulatory regimes and environmental responsibility. The people in China and elsewhere suffer from the results of this. Western corporations can act with impunity and conduct themselves in ways that would only be described as criminal within our own societies and legal systems. The 1984 Bhopal Disaster is the most extreme example of this, but it's occurring on a low grade scale all over the developing world.
What a propaganda coup to convince the public that it those dastardly Chinese who are responsible for all this. Nativism and racism are always convenient redoubts and effective tools to manipulate the ignorant masses. The corporate world knows this and does all it can to promote it.
And yet how many Americans would be willing to do something about it? Their 401k's and portfolios are heavily invested in these corporations. They're frustrated on a personal level in trying to get a washing machine to work for more than a few years and yet at the same time they are profiting off the system that has produced the cheap washing machine. As usual it's the poor in both societies that end up getting the worst end of the deal.
And they blame the Chinese.
The truth is stranger than fiction.