After a few months of cumulating computer troubles, I ended up doing a total hard drive wipe and reload of software. A pain but also the sort of tune-up that really makes you think about what you want to keep. (For example, I deep-sixed an old novel that once tormented me for many years, without much hesitation or, so far, regret.) Then, yesterday, I bought something I had coveted for 7 years, a color laser multifunction machine. It cost only a little more than my inkjet multifunction, bought seven years ago, now retired, and less than my first laser printer, bought 15 years ago and still running.
But my pleasure in this absolutely wonderful new toy that is also a very real, legitimate business expense, is diminished by the fact that it is made in China. Never mind that it is an HP, and HP is an ostensibly American company, China is not a trading partner the way, say, France is.
I have no heartburn buying French wine, French cheese, French fashion (second hand, to be very honest), etc. This is because France has civilized labor conditions and pay scales, as well as enforces good environmental regulations.
None of this is true about China. Much Chinese labor (it is hard to call them workers) are underpaid, even by Chinese standards, when they are not outright prison (slave) labor. China’s environment can be said to be fragile and extremely hard-pressed, on the verge, perhaps, of collapse. And then there is the horrifying New York Times article, “From China to Panama, A Trail of Poisoned Medicine” that details the substitution of the solvent diethylene glycol for food-grade glycerin. Thousands of people have died world-wide; many of the survivors are badly, permanently damaged by the diethylene glycol, which they ingested in very small amounts. According to the article, diethylene glycol costs about “6,000 to 7,000 yuan a ton, or about $725 to $845, while pharmaceutical-grade syrup cost 15,000 yuan, or about $1,815.”
In a world in which governments took seriously their responsibility to safeguard the lives, liberty and properly of their citizens, China’s murderously cavalier attitude towards basic pure food and drug standards would trigger a flat ban: on drugs, and pet food, so far. The article makes very clear that our own FDA (Food and Drug Administration) is well aware of the Chinese practice of low-cost, often toxic, substitutes to save money and raise profits—a practice that has killed American pets and nearly killed Americans. Yet there is no outrage in the article, no editorials about the true cost of “free” trade. The best The New York Times can come up with is an editorial that ignores its own reporting about lethal drug contamination to focus on pet food and express the mealy-mouthed recommendation that “Congress needs to give the F.D.A. authority to evaluate food safety systems and factories in foreign lands that export food to this country. The Chinese, who have become major exporters of food to this country, should be pressed to fully open their procedures to F.D.A. scrutiny.”
For right now, think about what it means, that a foreign country can sell poisoned food and poisoned drugs to us for good money, and there is no public rage. I’m not talking about hissy-fitting, I’m talking about coldly tallying those real costs: of lives, of our own manufacturing capability and manufacturing jobs, of the off-shoring of pollution and other environmental hazards from countries that are quite able to cope with those hazards in a safe and rational manner. The cost to America, too, of a hugely distorted balance of trade. And then there is all that lost technological knowledge: there was once a time when space exploration was an unquestionably American domain. Now, China owns the high frontier. (Watch the movie Mission to Mars and mourn our lost future, even if you think, as I do, that the story line is unbearably hokey: mourn our lost engineering expertise. Mourn the fact that we chose porn and entertainment that increasingly resembles porn, over real accomplishment.
Then think about the fact that America’s paper of record is not absolutely crusading for a cold, hard determination for us to produce the necessities of our own lives, under humane (not to say enjoyable) working conditions, for wages enabling a dignified life, in a manner that is environmentally responsible. Think about what it means for us, and our lives, and the future of the Republic that this nation’s paper of record says nothing about the thousands of people killed by Chinese substituting poison for medicine, poison that nearly made it into our own pharmaceutical industry.