There is a big new box store in Atascadero, across the street from the other giant box stores: more than half a million square feet of box-store mania, collectively. I opened boxes at the new box store, almost all of which were marked “made in China”: boxes for every department from cosmetics to candy, housewares to infants, clothing to paper, and everything in between. Business has been brisk, as though addicts have flocked to a drug dealer peddling a fresh supply.
Did we really need another such place to spend our money? I never saw so much stuff made in China. I have heard it is hard to find American-made products, but I am appalled at how completely our markets have been taken over. As I opened boxes to stock shelves, not one said, “Made in the U.S.A.” In fact, very few said anything but “Made in China.” Most boxes bore a familiar company name—Coleman for camping, Schwinn bicycles, Energizer—but just below the names were those same words, “Made in China.” Rubbermaid, Hefty, Proctor and Gamble, even the food comes from China or outside the United States.
We all know why: The companies can manufacture their products more cheaply overseas, so cheap that the cost of shipping them halfway around the world is less than what they would pay to make them here. But we need all that hot new stuff; those great fashion trends, the latest gizmos and gadgets, cute little things to decorate our life. We hungry American consumers gobble them up. The corporate machine grinds away for one purpose: to get us to spend our money.
The marketers have us wired. They are inside our heads. Buy the latest this or that, the newer, faster gadget—whether or not you have money to burn. They sell TVs cheap and jack up the price on accessories to compensate, like a drug dealer who gives free samples to get you hooked. There’s no profit in food, but it gets us in the store to buy stuff we don’t need. That’s what keeps the Chinese working in sweat shops, pumping out pollution, ruining their environment as they service the wants of the greatest consumer nation in the world.
The jobs the companies provide here are exploitative. Almost none are full-time and there are no benefits provided. People really do want to work, but they need jobs with a living wage.
It may be too late to rein in the corporate behemoths. Even if the unemployment rate hits 20 percent (likely the real number already), it would make little difference to people who still have jobs, who would happily continue consuming. They might tighten their belts a bit, cut down on the Starbucks, but nothing would really change. The shopping carts full of pretty fun stuff would sail out the doors at the new box store.
The corporate media won’t show us the real suffering in this country: That’s not entertainment. It is happens out of sight, at kitchen tables, homeless shelters, and food pantries in every city, but watch network programs and you see wealth and opulence, programs still selling the “anyone can be a millionaire” dream.
Maybe you know someone who has lost a job, lost a house, is on food stamps or on the street, but do you know the real emotional tragedy of poverty? It is denial: continuing to believe good fortune is just around the corner. That hope will not endure for much longer. The days of good employment are gone, as long as products can be made more cheaply overseas than here.
Only when we elect politicians who truly have a conscience, who resist corporate lobbyists, who put the health of all Americans ahead of corporate profits, will we see positive change. That’s a tall order, if the 80 percent of people in the workforce who still have jobs continue to think everything is OK.
Atascadero resident David Deick is an underemployed contractor. Send comments via the opinion editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
-- David Deick - Atascadero