The Dignity of Work

I haven’t been writing much because I’ve gone into another line of work.  In this work, I see a great deal of poverty.  Some of it is due to family dysfunction, some due to poor education, or even personal tragedy.  But most of it is due to one simple cause, and that is the death of manufacturing in this country.

We destroyed our manufacturing base.  If you’ve followed over the past several weeks the stories in the New York Times, beginning with poisoned pet food and tainted animal feed, then poisoned toothpaste and children’s toys painted with lead paint and tires that delaminate or separate at speed, and now seafood that is poisoned by drugs, disease, or filth, you see the real meaning of globalization.  We used to manufacture many of our own goods, and take responsibility for labor and environmental standards:  good or bad, we made them, we sold them, and the money was ours.

Now, we pay China, by which I mean the state, not necessarily individual nationals, for the privilege of being shipped goods that have been deliberately poisoned and or made otherwise lethal, good that are made under often execrable human and environmental standards.  (And if this is what China sells foreign nations such as the United States, where human worth is traditionally higher than it has been in China, imagine what is sold to the Chinese themselves.)  China then takes our money and either loans it back to us at interest, spends it on the transformation of their own military (particularly their attempt to dominate the high ground of satellite orbits), or spends it on foreign aid to our enemies in a so-far-successful attempt to gradually control the world’s oil.  And then China becomes annoyed that we notice they are shipping us lethal products.  One cannot, really, call them goods.

This is not free trade.  Free trade is people being able to offer fair value to each other–beautiful embroidery, precise machine tools, good food, fine horses and strong timber–at a fair price without government imposing maximum or minimum prices.  The globalization of free trade means merchants, craftsmen and customers being able to do this across national boundaries, without imposing mercantilist policies.  But again, the emphasis is on trading fair value given for fair value received.  What we have with China is economic warfare, waged entirely by them against us.

Lenin said, the capitalists will sell us the rope with which we hang them.  China appears to believe we will buy not only the rope from them, but the rope knotted into a hangman’s noose.  And we are, in fact, doing just that.

So what is to be done?

We’re going to have to learn to say “No” to the Chinese, learn to pay more for the things we want and need, to ensure they are made under decent labor and environmental standards…by us and our children, whether we are making clothing or satellites, while also taking responsibility for cleaning up after ourselves.

It’s that simple, complex, and hard.  We either accept that the price of continued survival as a nation means re-embracing meaningful work, which is to say manufacturing and agricultural work, or we continue to pay China to spin the rope with which to hang us.  This re-embrace of meaningful work includes an emphasis on quality and craftsmanship on the part of the worker, dignified and humane working conditions (including a decent pay scale) for employees by management, and not only higher prices at the checkout counter but also a rejection of bulimic shopping as a national pastime by all of us. 

People do not live their lives as rational economists.  Neither do nations…


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