Well, I have made it one week without buying Chinese goods! This is primarily due to the fact that I haven’t really bought anything this week. But hey, a small achievement is an achievement nonetheless.
Why would I voluntarily give up buying and using things that were made in China? Why would I go through the hassle? After all, Chinese goods are plentiful and cheap. Conventional wisdom dictates that one should spend less money in order to afford more things. Conversely, the American Dream says having more is better. So why fight both of these powerful forces?
I am not the first person to try to shop and live China-free. All previous boycotts and carefree learning experiences (mine is much more of the latter) have had their reasons. Some point out the poor quality of Chinese products (see the picture of my recently broken Chinese pan), tainted products, dangerous products, questionable labor practices, widespread environmental degradation/pollution, etc. So what is my reason?
Mine is a bit different. I believe it speaks directly to the values and interests of my generation. Millennials and Generations Xers are busy trying to make it in spite of the Great Recession. While we want to see ourselves employed, we still have strong philanthropic leanings. We also want to see people living in the developing world emerge from poverty.
We need to rethink the way we export our labor. In a free market economy, exporting labor from a place where it costs a lot to a place where it costs a little is unavoidable, and is not necessarily a bad thing. But I don’t think we are doing it right.
For instance, why aren’t we doing more business with Haiti?
The CIA World Factbook reports that China is our largest trading partner. In 2010, about 20 percent of all that we imported from abroad came from China. Why do we do so much business with China?
Because Chinese labor is cheap.
Cheaper labor means cheaper goods, which means more goods per dollar, and having more stuff is the point of being American, isn’t it?
But is China the only place with cheap labor? Certainly not. Haiti’s people could be hired on the cheap. Is China the only place with industrious people who are happy to work in factories? Of course not. Hondurans also fit the bill. Is China even all that close? Heck no, but Mexico is right next-door.
Why aren’t we trading more with our relatively poor neighbors who could use the business?
Not only that, but China is our biggest economic (and soon-to-be political) rival. The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) reports that China will “dominate” world trade by 2030. Being “dominated” is not something any American is comfortable with (the British have largely gotten used to it, while the French continue to ignore it). The BBC also reports that China will “overtake” the United States on scientific output in two years! Who is funding all of this exciting economic growth, research and development? Well, who does the most business with China?
This year, I won’t be purchasing items that are made in China, but I will be buying them from somewhere. And since most American manufacturing jobs have been exported, I won’t be buying many of them from the USA. But I will be buying them from Vietnam, Guatemala, Indonesia, Romania, Peru, and Egypt.
From my perspective, I believe that shopping and living China-free will be beneficial in two distinct ways. One, it will send my money to other developing countries that could use my business. Two, it will stem the flow of money (ever so slightly) to a rising giant, who will likely overtake the Unites States during my lifetime.
Full Disclosure: I have nothing against the Chinese. Really. In fact, hats off to them for being so industrious. But can’t we diversify our imports a little better?