12 November 2010

Why I avoid buying stuff from China

Tilapia fish has been everywhere in restaurants and fish markets (or the fish section of your supermarket) recently. It's inexpensive; it's so bland that it takes on whatever flavors accompany it in a dish without adding a fishy flavor itself; and, while it doesn't provide the omega-3 fatty acids that cold-water ocean fish contain, it's a relatively low-fat and low-calorie food.

And just about all of it is produced in China, so I won't eat it. China doesn't care about the quality or safety of what it exports to the U.S., as long as it's getting good, hard dollars in exchange. Examples? Well, tainted Chinese-made drywall for one. If there have been 3000 formal complaints registered, I imagine there are tens of thousands of homes that are actually affected. The manufacturers clearly didn't care about poisoning American homes when they sold the drywall or donated it for Hurricane Katrina reconstruction.

But it's not just products for grownups. We've had recall after recall of lead-laced children's toys that were made in China. There's no concern here for what chemicals and poisons American children may ingest, or absorb through their skin. Hope you don't think it's just a disregard for foreign children, though. Remember the tainted baby formula scandal and tragedy? The manufacturers put melanine powder into the formula to stretch it -- much as I'll be putting pasta and beans into some soup tonight to make my leftovers last another day -- and then officials jailed the whistleblower. Three manufacturers were sentenced to death, this is true. But my point is that they let their profit motive do something that sickened tens of thousands of children, not just abstractly foreign children thousands of miles away but potentially the children living right next door, and you'd better believe that when the official records note that "at least six" kids died, it must actually have been hundreds.

This kind of behavior is something that American capitalists outgrew with the New Deal. And by "outgrew" of course I mean "were dragged, kicking and screaming and with a threat to pack the Supreme Court with supporters of the new administrative state."

As for Chinese politics? Coercive suppression of Falun Gong followers, bloody suppression of the protestors at Tiananmen Square, imprisonment of political prisoners, slavery conditions in factories, the absolute absence of a social safety net, whatever. I mean, don't get me wrong; I'm not a denier of, or a moral relativist about, or an apologist about human rights violations in China. What I mean is, all that aside, you can't trust products from China anyway, no matter what your opinion is about social issues in China. It's capitalism gone crazy. Pure, unregulated capitalism, the likes of which we haven't seen in the U.S. since 1937, only with solid-state technology and the Internet instead of vacuum tubes and telegraphs. And a world population approaching 7 billion.

So fuck low prices. Maybe I'm an outlier, but I'll go ahead and pay a few dollars more for housewares, clothes, tools, building materials, office supplies, and so on, if it means that I won't be poisoning myself with every use. I buy a lot of things I need at thrift stores and charity shops, which has a double advantage now: low prices, and a selection of stuff made in North America or western Europe, made back in the olden days when America used to have factories. Realistically, Chinese products are unavoidable -- the vast majority of electronics and their components, any reasonably priced clothing, etc. -- and having a product assembled or "finished" in one country often means it was mostly made in China anyway. So I try my best, much as I try all the local shops in my neighborhood or the KMart in Center City before I resign myself to making the trek to South Philly's Walmart, which I otherwise try to avoid unless I have a dire, dire need for something I can't find nearby.

For political, worker justice, and environmental reasons, and because so much of their merchandise is made in China.

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