I’m becoming increasingly concerned over the foreign-made products syndrome and whether or not we are quickly selling out to the lowest-wage-country du jour. I have, in the past, been a supporter of a world economy. After all, I thought, it works both ways. Boy, was I naive?
The other night, our ‘under the counter’ toaster-oven decided to self-destruct in the worst possible manner, that is, by turning ON without human intervention and remaining ON until the small dark brown knob that formerly controlled the temperature setting in the oven mode became a glistening blob of molten plastic and oozed down the front of the unit onto the white surface below. This should have been a signal to the oven that it had reached about 9721 degrees Celsius, triggering an automatic shutdown. Instead it was spurred on to even greater heights until I snatched the plug from the adjacent outlet, allowing the scorched surfaces to which it was mounted to finally become cooler than that required for ignition. Had we not been home, our house probably would have become a large yule log, albeit a little early in the season.
This resulted in a trip to Wal-Mart less than 24 hours later. In the brief interval between failure and replacement, we often found outselves standing aimlessly in front of the void where the old toaster-oven once hung, clutching a cold dinner roll from some previously forgotten meal, and feeling quite cranky.
While inside our local cavernous mega-box, I decided to do a quick channel check to see if I could confirm one of the reasons for our ‘jobless’ economic recovery that is supposedly taking place. I was careful to avoid the DVD player section as my physical well-being is even more important than a warm sticky bun.
I am here to report that in Wal-Mart you will be hard-pressed to find a small appliance or anything else priced at less than $100 that is made in the United States from domestic materials. The same applies to any other big chain that brings you products at prices that make you giddy with delight. So, for a mere $39, we are back in business for practically nothing. But are we?
I have read that factory workers in China earn about $0.40 per hour, work 80 hour weeks, and are actually willing to do so. Unlike Japan and Korea, however, there is an almost inexhaustable supply of labor and the playing field won’t become level in the foreseeable future. Under these terms, Folbot, Inc. could bring a $1200 Aleut to market for about $725. Who cares what my current employees, for whom I have a great deal of respect and loyalty, would do? I care.
We recently purchased a folding boat made in China and I invited everyone from the plant to come to the showroom for its unveiling. My intention was to allow us to see, as a group, what we were up against. The backpack into which the boat was packed was frighteningly nice at first glance. Once the boat was totally assembled, we heaved a large sigh of relief and returned to our respective duties feeling very good about what we do and the boats we make. Caveat emptor, for now.