(Swans - January 14, 2013) My thirteen-year-old daughter read an Internet story about Chinese forced labor, and asked me:
"I'm confused. China has slavery, in a sense?"
My answer follows, below. Naturally, I employed some simplifications that some adult readers might dislike, but the introduction of innocence to reality is never an exact science. My reply:
Yes, unfortunately so.
Both the Chinese government (which is extremely bossy and controlling) and the people generally want to make money, get rich, and have their families (particularly their children) succeed financially, so they are extremely driven both to work but also to take advantage of any opportunity (legal or illegal) to "do better." As a result, there is a lot of corruption in government (bribes paid for favors done), cheating in business (cutting corners, using cheap, defective, or fake materials, and taking advantage of poor and ignorant workers who are usually uneducated country people), and there is a government-directed use of prisoners in labor camps to work as your Internet article describes.
The Chinese forced laborers are "criminals," people convicted of regular crimes, or "political prisoners," people who have been confined because they are seen as threats to government authority. They are forced to make items sold in the USA, Europe, and elsewhere in the world, so as to bring money into China, specifically for the factory owners, but also for the country generally through taxes and because this foreign money helps create jobs in China. These factory owners are always associated with the government and military people, sometimes actually being government or military leaders or members of their families. When the factory owners are just rich civilians, then profits from these forced-labor industries can go into some of the bribes and similar types of money relationships that make government people rich.
American companies have chosen to shut down their factories here in the USA and move them to China, because wages for US workers are much, much higher than for Chinese forced labor (and even Chinese regular labor), and workers in the USA cannot be mistreated (legally) or limited in their access to meals, health facilities, free time, and savings plans for a part of their wages. US workers cannot be forced to work more than 8 hours a day, nor more than 5 days a week (without being paid up to double or triple US wages, and the work being voluntary, this is called "overtime").
As a result, there is high unemployment in the U.S. now despite companies (like Nike, Apple, and many others) making very high profits, because these companies have lowered their "labor costs" but sell their products in the high-priced US market. Too many US people easily buy these foreign-made products at inflated prices because they do not think of their countrymen and countrywomen who have had their jobs moved overseas (called "offshoring"), nor are most Americans ready and willing to be frugal and save. So the "consumers" in our country (who are also the "workers," even when they don't realize it) are spending themselves into poverty, while our rich factory owners (now with overseas factories) are getting fabulously wealthy.
This affects American politics because the very wealthy minority of American people who make money from this situation uses some of its wealth to pay for political efforts to avoid paying its fair share of taxes, which pay for the upkeep of the country. This tax avoidance effort by corporations (the organized form of great wealth) is a combination of advertising to brainwash the public, and the financing of election campaigns for politicians who will work to preserve and increase the wealth of the wealthy, regardless of the problems of the American people in general. In this way the "consumers" who are also "workers" and increasingly out of work are also left with the bulk of the costs of maintaining the government, which means the costs of keeping roads and bridges repaired and every type of public service operating, like police, fire-fighting, emergency medical help, public schools, animal shelters, and many, many more.
This connection between the labor problems in China and the labor and economic problems in the USA is an example of what today is called "globalization," the linking of economic activity in every country with the rest of the world. Globalization is the result of our modern and rapid communications (like the Internet), and the growth of the world's population (to over 6 billion people). Some people dream of a positive and happy form of globalization, where the world's natural resources are used wisely and in a way that nature can sustain (called "sustainability"), and where the benefits of that resource use are distributed for the good of all earth's people. In this ideal, everyone would have a safe and fulfilling life, rather than a limited population of "rich" people having excess at the expense of a suffering mass of "poor" people. This simple idea of positive globalization is obviously a threat to many people who believe they are doing "better" now and it's just "tough luck" for "the losers." The idea of globalized sharing is called "socialism," and in the globalized form I described it has been called "world socialism."
It is easy to see why the word "socialism" is spoken of in such a negative fashion in the advertising and TV and other mass media forms owned by American corporations. The owners of those corporations do not want the majority of the American people thinking in a socialist way, and thus becoming openly opposed to our present economic system, of consumers and workers giving their labor (through jobs, many with low pay) and savings (through our buying of over-priced foreign-made stuff, most being unnecessary) over to the profits of an already wealthy class of business owners, who as a class use their great wealth to "buy up" the American political system so as to avoid their fair share of paying for the upkeep of our country and its people.
Perhaps this is more of an answer than you want. But once you begin digging into any of the problems in our world, you will quickly see that there are many connections. Problem solvers seek to find and understand the connections, problem avoiders (and "causers") seek to remain ignorant of such connections so they can pretend to believe what they want to believe, to justify their usually selfish situations.
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About the Author
Manuel García, Jr. on Swans. He is a native of the upper upper west side barrio of the 1950s near Riverside Park in Manhattan, New York City, and a graduate engineering physicist who specialized in the physics of fluids and electricity. He retired from a 29 year career as an experimental physicist with the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the first fifteen years of which were spent in underground nuclear testing. An avid reader with a taste for classics, and interested in the physics of nature and how natural phenomena can impact human activity, he has long been interested in non-fiction writing with a problem-solving purpose. García loves music and studies it, and his non-technical thinking is heavily influenced by Buddhist and Jungian ideas. A father of both grown children and a school-age daughter, today García occupies himself primarily with managing his household and his young daughter's many educational activities. García's political writings are left wing and, along with his essays on science-and-society, they have appeared in a number of smaller Internet magazines since 2003, including Swans. Please visit his personal Blog at manuelgarciajr.wordpress.com. (back)