Cringely has written eloquently about the effects of outsourcing to India.
Outsourcing hurts more than just IT.Every day, I drive past an old factory. I don’t know what’s in it now. From its appearances, not much, because I’ve never seen any traffic around the place. The sign and the smokestack says “International Shoe Company.” Curious, I did a little bit of digging. It seems that at one time this was the largest shoe manufacturer in North America. It’s pretty obvious that it isn’t anymore. It’s not for lack of people around to staff the factory–there are plenty of people in the neighborhood. From the looks of some of them, they could use a job. But the factory sits, abandoned, for one simple reason.
We don’t want to pay people $5.25 an hour to make our shoes. Those of us who are willing to pay people $5.25 an hour to make our shoes can’t, because not enough other people are willing.
So the once-proud factory sits.
I drive past a smaller operation every day too. It’s boarded up and fenced up, and overgrown with weeds. A faded sign says, “Missouri Candle and Wax Co.” It obviously never employed as many people as ISCO did. But there’s a neighborhood all around it. I’m sure at one time it supported a few households in the neighborhood around it.
Not anymore. The neighborhood’s in better shape than the candle place, due to some rehabbing that’s going on. But I guarantee the people moving into those houses don’t work anywhere in the neighborhood, because the jobs aren’t there anymore.
The jobs aren’t there because we don’t want to pay people $5.25 an hour to make our candles.
Now, I can kind of see paying lower prices for shoes, in some cases. You need shoes. I can’t so much as walk to my car without shoes, some days. If you don’t have a lot of money, you’ll buy the cheapest shoes you can find. It’s a matter of survival.
But candles? Candles are a luxury item.
Like Cringely says, the government isn’t going to do anything about it because the government doesn’t care. Big business wants to offshore, and modern Republicans don’t seem to believe big business is capable of doing anything wrong. If big business says it should outsource, well then, God Himself must have handed them a stone tablet that says, “Thou shalt outsource.” Democrats won’t solve the problem because Democrats need needy people in order to keep their jobs. So Democrats profit from offshoring just as much as Republicans, although for different reasons.
Richard Gephardt suggested solving the problem by instituting an international minimum wage. That would solve it neatly–if a Chinese worker makes $5.25 an hour, then suddenly it’s cheaper to pay the $5.25-an-hour worker who lives next door to make your candles and shoes and computers.
But Richard Gephardt isn’t going to be our next president, and Richard Gephardt knows just as well as you and I know that there won’t be an international minimum wage coming down the pike any time soon. It’s just election-year rhetoric.
That means you and I have to solve the problem.
Cringely said one thing that I disagree with. He said companies who offer good customer service grow. Maybe sometimes they do, but if that were true, virtually everybody would be bigger than Wal-Mart, because at Wal-Mart, “customer service” is synonymous with “customer returns.” If you need to know where you would find mineral oil, it’ll take you half an hour to find an answer to your question. If you’re lucky.
I guarantee if you walked into A. G. McAdow’s in Pharisburg, Ohio in 1883 looking for mineral oil, my great great grandfather could tell you if he had it and where it would be. He’d even know what the stuff was.
I’ll tell you what customer service is. It absolutely shocked me when I got it last week. I went to Marty’s Model Railroads, and I’ll admit, the reason I went there was because they have the best prices I’ve found locally on used train stuff, and I can get it without the hassle of bidding on eBay. I asked Marty if he had a Marx coupler. He went and looked. He came back and said he didn’t have a coupler but he had an entire truck, and asked what I wanted to do with it. I said I wanted to make a conversion car. He pointed me to the cheapie bin, told me exactly what I should look for, and then when I found an $8 car that was suitable, he took the car, along with the Marx truck, into the back room, drilled out the Lionel truck, and came back with the one-truck Lionel car and a nut and a bolt. We put the car back together on his counter, by the checkout. Then he charged me 10 bucks.
Ten bucks would have been a good deal if he’d just handed me all the pieces and said good luck. But with his tools in the back room, he was able to do in five minutes what would have taken me most of an hour.
Later that week, I took in two Lionel locomotives for repair and bought another conversion car–this time, not because I knew I’d get the lowest price, but purely because I knew he’d treat me well.
When I go to pick those locomotives back up, I need to tell him that’s exactly why.
Marty’s business is growing, but I don’t know if that’s because of outstanding customer service or if it’s simply because he’s the only shop left in eastern Missouri that fixes Lionel trains.
Activists talk about thinking globally and acting locally. Building a sustainable economy requires less global thinking and more local acting.
Don’t go to Lowe’s and Home Depot if there’s a corner hardware store you can go to. The last two times I’ve gone to a local mom-and-pop hardware store I got help without asking for it, got exactly what I needed, and got out of there faster than I’d be able to get out of the big-box store. And as far as the price, I probably made up for it on gas. Remember, Lowe’s and Home Depot are megacorporations. More of the money you spend at the mom-and-pop place will stay in the area.
Don’t go to Wal-Mart if you can get what you need someplace else. Target is a megacorporation too, but it puts more money into the communities it works in. But if there’s a locally owned business left, frequent that.
Don’t go to chain restaurants if there’s a locally owned place you can go to instead. It seems like St. Louis has a thousand delightful locally-owned restaurants. There is no reason whatsoever for a St. Louisan ever to eat at Olive Garden.
And wherever you go, check to see where the product you’re buying was made. I needed a putty knife the other week. The cheapest one was made in China. The one on the peg next to it was made in Canada and it cost 10 cents more. I bought the Canadian one. Neither one helps the U.S. worker, but when I buy the Canadian one, I know the guy who made it was paid a fair wage, and that’s worth the extra 10 cents to me.
Sometimes you have to get creative to avoid these things. If I want model train stuff, Lionel and its competitors all seem to be building everything in China. But I don’t have to buy new stuff.
The same goes for clothes. If all the clothes you like are made in countries that operate as the world’s sweatshop, buy used ones. At least then the operation that created the sweatshop doesn’t profit a second time. Besides, used clothes are cheap. And no one will ever know those year-old clothes weren’t originally your year-old clothes.
DVD players are all made in China today. So there, the decision is pretty easy. Buy the cheapest one. Then you’ve got more money left over for the times when you do have a choice.
Finding a list of countries whose workers earn a living wage has proven difficult for me. Does anyone else out there have such a list?
Of course, I would first prefer to buy locally made and then used, given the option.