Made in China

donald

W.J. Astore

Is it a good idea to get in a trade war with China when they make all our stuff?

I thought of that again this morning as I looked at the outfit I’m wearing.  LL Bean shorts?  Made in China.  Frye boat shoes?  Made in China.  Polo shirt made from organic cotton?  Made in China.  Brooks running shoes that I put on for my stretching routine?  Made in China.  My underwear?  Made in Thailand.  Aha!  So not everything comes from China.  I also note my Citizen Eco-Drive watch has a Japanese movement, but it’s unclear where final assembly took place.  Any chance it might also be in China?

I just want to state the obvious here: I’m a thoroughgoing Asian man, representing China, Thailand, and Japan.  Even when I don my most American-sounding brands like “True Grit,” they are most often made in China.

So, while it’s nice to hear that President Trump is calling a temporary trade and tariff truce with China, I have to say the Chinese already own us, and in more ways than one, since they also own trillions of our national debt.  Meanwhile, Trump’s “tough” tactic of raising tariffs to “punish” the Chinese just passes higher costs to American consumers, so who’s really being punished?

Sadly, as I’ve said before, the only American products I routinely hear about in the news as major money-making exports are weapons of war.  Bombs, missiles, guns, warplanes, and the like.  America used to be the world’s merchant for all kinds of products; now we’re better known as the world’s leading merchant of death.  We’re not the “arsenal of democracy,” as we were in World War II.  Now we’re just an arsenal.

Isn’t it time we converted our forever war economy into one that produces products that we can wear and enjoy in everyday life?

Or am I forever fated to be a statement of Asian sartorial excellence?

Trump and the Art of the Con

trumps-wall-l

W.J. Astore

The ink hasn’t yet dried on Trump’s victory and we’re already hearing about how his campaign promises are being “modified,” i.e. reneged on.  Trump’s infamous wall along the border with Mexico is already becoming more virtual than real, with admissions that Mexico will not pay for it. Trump himself has suggested he favors certain features of Obamacare (no denial of coverage based on preexisting conditions, and coverage extended to “children” until the age of 26), so there’ll be no wholesale “repeal and replace,” as he promised.  He also promised to appoint a special prosecutor to go after Hillary Clinton, to “lock her up,” as his followers chanted, but he’s backtracked on that as well.  Talk about draining the swamps of government, of bringing in fresh faces and new ideas, has produced tired old faces like Pence, Gingrich, Giuliani, and Christie.  In a classic case of nepotism, the “fresh” faces are those in his own family, his two sons and daughter Ivanka (she seems to be the one with the most smarts).

Many Trump voters appear to have voted for him because he represented “change,” a rejection of the usual suspects in the establishment.  Yes, the Clintons and their fellow travelers are out, but the hardline Republican establishment is back in, complete with the usual corporate hacks and think tanks.  And if you think these “conservatives” are going to start embracing the working classes and helping them financially with higher wages and better job prospects, I have a Chris Christie bridge for you that’s named after our first president.

These events are hardly surprising.  Trump is a con man.  For him, “the art of the deal” is basically the art of the con.  Consider his promise of bringing back American jobs.  How is that supposed to happen?  Simply through higher tariffs against foreign goods?  Who’s going to replace those with American-made goods at an affordable price to the working classes?

Here’s an example.  I got dressed this morning with no thought about using my clothes as an illustration for this article.  My jeans are made in Mexico (of fabric from the USA, so why weren’t they made here?).  My shirt is from Thailand.  My leather belt is from China, and so too are my shoes.  We all know why.  Labor costs in those countries are much cheaper than those in the USA.  Profits to corporations are thus much higher.  How is Trump going to change this dynamic?

I actually try to buy clothes that are made in America.  I got a nice pair of shoes that are made in Maine.  I got them on sale for a great price, but they retail for over $300.  If they were made in China, they’d probably retail for about $100.  How many members of the working classes are able to spend roughly triple the price for the privilege of wearing shoes and clothes “Made in the USA”?

Here’s one thing Trump could do: Raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour so that Americans can afford the up-charge for domestic goods.  Any chance that Trump’s regime is going to do this?

It’s great to talk about bringing back American manufacturing jobs that pay well.  It’s possible to raise barriers to foreign trade to make American goods more competitive.  But who’s going to build the new factories?  And where are the skilled workers with the requisite knowledge base?  With the right advanced tools and technologies?

Speaking of technology, there’s an ever greater push in America to automate everything, even long-haul driving jobs, a job that provides a decent living for many Americans.  Is Trump going to reverse this push?  Is he going to preserve American blue-collar jobs against the pressure applied by multinational corporations to cut costs and maximize profits, workers be damned?  Given Trump’s own record of using cheaper foreign labor and goods, this doesn’t seem bloody likely.

Believe me, I hope I’m wrong, but the early signs are that America’s working classes, along with a lot of Trump enthusiasts, are already getting conned.