Since my first blog entry on China (The new Yellow Menace?), I’ve continued to monitor the news, mostly via the New York Times, and note the trends. It’s been really interesting! There was a fallow period of a few weeks after the pet food, medicine, and toy scandals, but the spotlight is back with a vengeance this week. Here are some major stories I read over the weekend:
- Scandal and Suicide in China: A Dark Side of Toys
- Chinese Seek to Buy a U.S. Maker of Disk Drives
- As China Roars, Pollution Reaches Deadly Extremes
- Beijing Air Raises Questions for Olympics
What all of these articles emphasize is the menace of China’s bullish economy, to itself and to the rest of the world. The Chinese are corrupt, they’re greedy, they’re reckless, they’re going too fast, they’re killing themselves and the hapless consumers of their products. They must be stopped… but can they be stopped? So goes the subtext (actually, most of the time it’s text) of these stories. The “disk drive” story (they actually meant “hard drive”; the NY Times really needs to check their language better when they don’t know the field they’re writing about) was an outlier here: the concerns being expressed had a quaint Cold War feel to them that made me smile. Hard drive encryption being nefariously exploited by a Marxist enemy? Yeah… right.
What’s missing from almost all of these stories is a sense of perspective about world economic history. Today it was a relief to get the following link from Orson:
Yes, fearful Americans! We’re looking at a variation on our own history. And just as the remedy to American corruption and grossly adulterated products was boycotts, so will it be in the case of China. Given that quite a few of the Chinese factories spewing out poison air, dumping filth into the rivers, and sending deadly toys to the U.S. are owned or kept in business by American companies, I’ll be interested to see if Congress passes legislation holding said companies accountable for their product sourcing.
Someone recently posed me the question of what individuals can do about the fact that possibly tainted Chinese ingredients are in almost everything they buy. My answer: buy local. There was a great quote in one of the above articles that succinctly explains why:
“The larger the chain, the more people involved, the greater the difficulty in controlling the quality of the product.”
— Marshall W. Meyer, professor of management at the Wharton School at UPenn
Some of the stories I’ve read about tainted products have featured truly byzantine supply chains, with sloppy record-keeping often obscuring the origins of items even when suppliers aren’t intentionally tampering with paperwork. The amount of effort required to ensure accountability increases hugely as more people play telephone. (I didn’t even know that the game was also known as “Chinese whispers” before I linked to that Wikipedia entry. How strangely appropriate.)
Totally apart from questions of food and product safety, buying local supports the economy of your own community and minimizes the packaging and transportation that continue to rank the U.S. as the #1 source of greenhouse gas emissions. It makes sense, for a lot of reasons. If you’re not already doing so, why not give it a try?