Monday, May 13, 2013
Stuff from China
There's a lot of useless junk that comes out of China these days. Apparently, there's a demand for that junk or they wouldn't build and export it.
It's not all junk. While washing our newer dishes today I noticed the “made in China” label on the back. It got me wondering if dishes are even made in the US anymore. My cupboard has plenty of US made dishes, but they were all made long ago.
We exported a lot of industry and jobs. For many things are are no longer any locally made products. It's imported or we do without it. China now builds these things using cheap labor and factories with few safety and pollution considerations. That last bit gets ignored, until we see the pollution photos from Beijing or the big brown cloud crosses the Pacific and comes to North America. Sometimes the planet seems too small.
What if the planet got big again? Imagine those big container ships no longer showing up at our ports. Any number of things could stop the ships: trade war, currency collapse, tsunami damaging ports, war, massive earthquakes, fuel shortages, and so on.
What would we do then? At first, we'd mostly do without. Maybe eventually there would be some new factories in North America. That might take a while if factory machinery is only available from China. Tools would have to be built to build the tools.
Manufacturing might get very local, like at the household or neighborhood level. It wasn't all that long ago when a lot of things were made at home. My grandfather used to make everything from kid's toys, to violins, to snowshoes. Homemade things were normal. The home was a not just a place where things were consumed, but a place where things were produced. Sometimes the products weren't as shiny as the factory versions, but they got the job done.
Of course, few of us can manufacture semiconductors and plastics in our home. Life would get a lot more low tech. It's happened before in the historical past. Back in the day of the Roman Empire, their pottery production was so good and cheap that it was exported all over the empire. Local production could not compete so died out. When the empire fell, the Roman pottery was no longer available. Most people had to use wooden plates and cups. What pottery that was produced was rare, expensive and of poor quality for a long time.
The world economic system that now makes things cheaply and efficiently is a fragile system. Fragile things break.