Trade imbalances are highly visible during shopping trip

Saturday, December 10, 2016

During the recently completed Presidential campaign, most voters showed their concern for the issues of ISIS, a stagnant economy, growing violence at home and a spiraling debt that seems out of control. President-elect Trump constantly returned to the theme of trade imbalances that were hurting our economy and the American worker. While enjoying your Christmas shopping "experience" in the next week or so, pay attention to the small print on the package you purchase and you'll better understand why Trump returned to this issue time and time again. A daylong shopping trip this past week brought that obvious issue clearly into focus. As I browsed among toys for the grandkids and the assorted gadgets for others on my Christmas list, I found very few items not made in China or India or Mexico. Yes, if you look hard enough and shop exclusively for items made in America, they are scarce but available. But for most of us, the shopping "experience" is stressful and crowded and, as such, you tend to grab something off the shelves that will bring a smile. Your concern for the location of the manufacturer is probably not the highest point on your list. So the question for those of us who are relatively uninformed, is how can the Chinese make a product, ship it halfway across the world, truck it to your local store and sell it for less than an American-made product? It's a fair question and I don't pretend to know the full answer. I fully understand that wages in China are pennies compared to dollars in our labor costs. And I also understand that regulations -- some burdensome and some based on safety -- add to the cost for American-made products. I'm not talking about imported automobiles or large machinery. But isn't there at bit of sad irony that small American flags for sale are made in China? Or a small cross necklace comes from a non-Christian nation like China? One small example: A small wooden set of faux food items designed for young girls wanting to pretend they are preparing food like Mom. To produce this small item takes minimal material, minimal paint and some packaging that catches your eye. This single item could be easily made in America. Heck it could be made here. But somehow in our global and shrinking world, this cheap item can be produced in China, travel thousands and thousands of miles and end up in your shopping buggy cheaper than it can being produced close to home by American workers. Don't misunderstand. I don't favor reducing American wages to match foreign workers. That would be pure insanity. And I don't favor eliminating regulations that safeguard workers or monitor dangerous materials. But hopefully Trump knows much more than we do and perhaps soon the shelves will offer American-made products as an alternative to today's choices.

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