It hasn’t been a good year for China, Inc. You know, that “unstoppable” economy that was going to guarantee China’s place as a superpower, maybe the dominatrix of the 21st Century? Yeah, well, seems there were a few assumptions there, some of them really big and foolish. Oh, we are so picky in the West, demanding cars that don’t kill the people in them, tires that don’t fall apart, toothpaste that doesn’t poison people,
and toys that don’t put our children in danger.
But let’s not forget – they killed our dogs, too. Here in Texas, that’s a serious crime. So yeah, I understand why folks would be talking about boycotting products from China, and I think China in general is being awfully stupid in how its handling the scandals. Blaming the media for scandals involving Chinese food is just dumb, and I also think China has acted unethically in manipulating its currency values to maintain trade advantages, but that’s always been a big favorite with Communist regimes. So yes, there are a lot of good reasons to be wary of China, and to stay away from risky products.
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That said, I don’t think I will shy away from a product, just because it’s been made in China. First off, we need to be clear about what we are doing. I was never big on boycotts, because they never really seemed to have the effect they claimed. There are dozens of special-interest groups who boycott a range of major companies, and even after years of the campaign those companies remain strong and healthy. So, the only reason to participate in a boycott would be a personal choice. It also occurs to me, that a boycott is only effective if you are satisfied with the outcome. Most of the things we get from China, frankly, are low-priced for a reason, and the buyer needs to be aware of that. As a rule, I stay away from any food from an unknown origin. It may sound xenophobic, but I don’t buy a food packaged in China for the same reason I do not buy a food packaged in Mexico or even England. That is, I consider if I know the company, I read the label and I look for indicators of Quality Management, like date seals and outside verification of quality. And I try not to over-react. What I mean is, the scandals which are hitting Chinese products seem indicative of an overall shoddiness, but each scandal has an American cousin. Chinese tires fall apart? Can you say “Firestone”? Chinese toothpaste contains a dangerous additive? Remember the scare about U.S. beef? The Brilliance is an extremely dangerous car which should not be sold in America, but then so was the Pinto, and you may recall that even Toyota had to recall over a million cars last year, and Ford is dealing with trucks that set themselves on fire. Yes, some Chinese companies are putting lead paint in children’s toys, but not so long ago we thought it was a good idea to put asbestos in children’s pajamas, to make them fire-resistant. My point is not to excuse these things, especially when they happen because of criminal behavior, but to point out a context to them.
If the majority of China’s products were as bad as the examples we have seen in the news, thousands of people would have died and we’d see Congress using the kind of reckless language against China that is normally reserved for insulting the President. The United States should insist on safety standards for all imported products, but there should be encouragement as least as often as warnings.
Also, there is a need for America to stay on course with promoting Capitalism. If China’s economy succeeds, it will inevitably mean that the Chinese people will align more with Capitalism and away from Collectivism. It’s not Glasnost, but it is the right direction, and over the next generation a healthy Chinese economy is good for not only China’s investors, but also China’s customer and even for the business environment. The simple fact is that Globalization works, and tends to commit countries to participatory development of relations, and away from dictatorial command economies, which we all know simply starve their citizens and waste their resources.
Because the United States does not have the means to compel Chinese compliance with American laws, informal methods are necessary to accomplish improvements in Chinese practices. And the best of those methods depend on calm analysis and consideration of options.