'Matter of Laugh or Death,' a humor column
By Bill Dunn
Interesting observations on this thing we call life
(appearing each week in the Republican-American newspaper, Waterbury, CT)
GAS GRILLE FIRES UP CONSCIENCE
The ol’ gas grille finally died, so I went out and purchased a new one. I found an excellent new grille at that well-known fancy retail establishment, Le Mart du Wal. The regular price was $168, but since it was toward the end of summer, the gas grille was on sale for $137.
I brought the large box home and spent the rest of the day assembling the grille. It was fairly complicated, as the grille has four burners and a lot of fancy features. To my surprise, the instructions, though complicated, were clear and concise—AND they were in English! And not the fractured English you often find in assembly instructions, written by a foreign engineer who really doesn’t know English. (Example: “Step 7: Be putting now nut hex on rod B with wrench of fortitude simply.”)
No, in this case the instructions were excellent, and the product was of decent quality, with all the parts fitting together nice and tight. I did not once have to use the wrench of fortitude, simply or otherwise. (By the way, recent news stories indicate that many Chinese imports should be using the words “deadly quality” rather than “decent quality.”)
Just as I finished putting the gas grille together, I looked around and it suddenly hit me: the packaging alone—cardboard, Styrofoam, and bubble wrap—plus the shipping costs from China had to be worth close to $100. How in the world, then, could they sell all that stuff, plus the decent quality gas grille itself, for a mere $137?
I could come up with only one answer: Chinese slave labor.
Maybe it’s just me, but is anyone else getting uncomfortable with the fact that all consumer products—even American flags—are now made in China? At the current rate, in about ten years there will be exactly one company still labeled as a U.S. manufacturer: a small factory in Muncie, IN, that makes wooden pallets, which are used by Le Mart du Wal to haul around $17 trillion worth of Chinese-made consumer products. (Oh wait, never mind. A wood pallet factory in Shanghai just put the Muncie people out of business.)
As a consumer, I very much enjoy paying $137 for a gas grille rather than, say, $250. But what about the folks who used to earn $22 per hour manufacturing gas grilles in Cleveland, but now are earning $8 per hour selling Chinese gas grilles at a suburban Cleveland Le Mart du Wal?
Can that possibly be good for our country in the long run? (Don’t ask me. I really have no idea. You see, I took exactly one economics course in college, which was taught by a hippie professor who truly believed we’d all be happier if everyone lived in mud huts and bartered with beaver pelts. I think years earlier someone must have hit him in the head with the wrench of fortitude simply. Either that, or he was smoking some powerful stuff.)
So I really don’t know if it’s better in the long run for the U.S. if most manufacturing is done overseas. I’m pretty sure, however, it is not good if my low-priced gas grille is the result of slave labor—or at least the kind of low wage, sweatshop working conditions that I would be hard-pressed to distinguish from genuine slave labor.
Some people say that if we continue to do brisk business with China, then they won’t go to war with us. Well, isn’t that special? But still, I just don’t know. I think my conscience is being hit with the wrench of fortitude—and not very simply.
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