Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Money and Things

In 1999 I boycotted Chinese-made products. I had a bumper sticker that demanded, "Boycott Red China." I took a girl on a date and she didn't understand what it meant. That was how I knew she wasn't the girl for me. (That and when she didn't want to go on a second date.)

I didn't like that Chinese exports are funneled through companies owned by the Red Army, and Chinese generals in the late 1990s were making veiled threats of nuking Los Angeles, my hometown. I figured I shouldn't be funding my own destruction.

Back then, boycotting Red China was still a possibility. I remember lamp shopping at Lowe's, looking for a model not made in Mainland China. Some were made in Thailand, some in Korea, some in Taiwan. (I believe the model I eventually bought was Taiwanese. That way I was stickin' it to the Chicomms twice!)

I maintained my boycott of Red China until I got married in 2001. I explained it all to my wife, who said, "Huh," and then bought whatever was cheapest (read: whatever was made in Red China).

Family members made fun of my boycott. My father bought Homer Simpson slippers for me made in China. A few years later I read an article in National Review about Charles Lee, a Chinese political prisoner who made that specific style of slipper. It's harder to see the whimsy in the work of slave labor.

Today I read this article about a woman who found a secret note from a Chinese prison laborer in her Halloween decorations. The note says the workers have been targeted for reeducation because of their religious views [just like American schoolchildren--Ed.] and that they work 105 hours per week for ¥10 per month ($1.60 per month, or a third of a penny per hour). It sure is easy to afford festiveness when the labor is so reasonably priced.

There are two schools of thought on trade with China: one says we should withhold it to express our displeasure with social and political practices, while the other says we provide motivation to liberalize their draconian measures when we increase the average Chinese* person's standard of living. When the second argument was first presented to me, it made sense. After all, we've tried to keep the Cubans as poor as possible and haven't seen political change there in over 50 years. Maybe China will change faster if we help them westernize. But I've come to doubt that richer people are freer people. They don't demand freedom as much as they demand security; they get rich and then will do whatever it takes to stay that way. In which case, making the average Chinese person richer gives his thug overlords an additional (and very effective) tool for keeping him down.

It's frustrating that it's so difficult to avoid Chinese products, because almost nothing made in China is actually necessary. They don't make our food and housing, and they don't have a monopoly on clothing. What they completely control is the market for worthless crap. Good luck finding a piddly fifty-cent toy they didn't make. So why is it so difficult to just not buy worthless crap?

Today might not be the right day to ask that question.

*: What do you call a Chinese person? It seems the term "Chinaman" is verboten, even though we have no problem with "Englishman" or "Frenchman." A few weeks ago in class a student used the term "Chinaman" and I said, "I don't think you can say that anymore." He asked why not. Since we had a Chinese guy in class, I asked him, "Would you be offended if someone called you a Chinaman?" He said confusedly, "But...that's what I am." So I said, "I guess in this class you can use the word, but be careful outside of class."

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