Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Annoying Journalism

I read this story on Business Insider, and it proceeded to do nothing more than annoy me. Not because I feel some amount of trepidation over the problems the United States faces with cheaper competition in labor markets abroad, but because this story is just restating what we already know, while apparently seeking to send readers in the U.S. into a tailspin of doubt.

Is the transplant of manufacturing from the U.S. and other countries to China about money? First and foremost, yes. It is not part of the issue, as the author claims, it is *the* issue. Also, we didn't need to know that all the factories are there; millions have known this and have been voicing it openly in our body politic for decades now. It's not a revelation that it's cheaper not only to make the parts for a product there, but to have the facilities that bring all the parts together into a total product there as well. The "ecosystem" of manufacturing point is a given.

It's probably a small thing to get annoyed over a column stating obvious things, but what really got me going, I suppose, are the underlying assumptions that Mr. Blodget, the column's author, and a large segment of the American public, apparently aren't aware of. First off, the column describes how Chinese workers live in dorms or small apartments, often on-site at the factory, and often with members of their extended family, saving large portions of their income each month. We're told they work 12-16 hours days, for a pittance compared to what U.S. workers would demand. My mind kept screaming the further I read, because these are the sorts of conditions workers in the United States were accustomed to in the late 19th and early 20th century during the Industrial Revolution. There was a time when the average worker in the U.S. had to fight for a work week of "only" six 12-hour days. Living conditions were tight, families were living on top of each other, etc. The examples the author points out are nothing new; there's a good change one of his recent ancestors lived his or her work life in this sort of way, if they worked in the U.S. during that time.

The reason why that is such a sticking point with me is today, we have even American citizens saying we're too soft as a workforce, and that others work harder. Nevermind the fact that the U.S. workforce, as of at least 2010, is still one of the top 3, if not the, most productive in the world despite massive manufacturing losses over three decades, and nevermind the fact that most of the very efficient processes and technology now used by inexpensive Chinese labor were developed here or in other market-based economies in the first place.

But, there are also examples that counter the widely accepted notion that a move to China is the best for all. Intel Corporation, for example, has recently alotted many billions in U.S. dollars for bolstering and expanding their U.S. operations, as well as to committing monies to improving education in the sciences and techno0logy in the U.S. to produce more competitive workers. The article also flies in the face of recent reports that China itself is losing some companies to even cheaper labor elsewhere. Granted, it's not a tidal wave, but it shows that even hot economies will turn some away due to costs. And that takes me to my next point, which is the growing tide amongst Chinese workers of increasing pay and respect in the workplace. China may have many times the U.S. workforce in sheer numbers, but once their populace gets a taste of increasing freedoms, prices for everything produced by that manufacturing ecosystem will go up, and then companies will start looking to make more strong quarterly statements by moving operations elsewhere.

It's probably not a secret, at this point, that I personally have a lot of faith in what American workers can do. I'm not a protectionist, and I'm not running for public office. And I certainly don't blame China or its populace for needing jobs; I'm happy their economy is growing, and I like seeing their workers able to earn a living, though not at the expense of their humanity. My point, though, is that workers in the United States are very capable if given the reasonable faith they deserve, rather than being told their lazy bums seeking a government hand-out. That gets my back up, because I know many people who work a lot just to get by, and they don't deserve that kind of disrespect. The United States also didn't earn its name nor its economic reputation during those darker times for its own workforce; the U.S. got that reputation during and after World War 2 for being innovative, having a high standard of living where workers had respect, time for family, and recreation, and for advancing technologies that gave us what we have today in both the public and private sector. I'm not looking for a return to the good ol' days necessarily, but I am seeking some realism in this discussion, and I'm calling for us to take a leaf out of our own book, and take up the torch again.

This is not to say Mr. Blodget's intent was to portray American labor as lazy, but at the very least his column fuels the naysayers and pushes the notion that America can't compete anymore. We can't afford to buy that poison. We must accept what the current reality is, but if we choose not to adapt, we don't have an excuse. I think we can, and I'm going to try to help that along as best I can.

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