Skip to main content

Cross-posted at The Next Hurrah

There's a war over trousers that's about to engulf the US, the EU, and China, along with several other developing countries. And while a war over trousers (and underwear and blouses) may seem trivial, it's a war that will likely lead BushCo to do something counterproductive and dangerous. On this issue, the Democrats need to formulate a leadership position, rather than simply an oppositional stance.

The war is rooted in the January 1 lifting of quotas on textile imports. When the quotas were lifted, everyone expected China to greatly increase its textile exports to the developed world--and for once, economic expectations proved correct. In the first quarter, imports of cotton trousers from China have jumped 1,521% percent; overall imports from China went up 62.5% year on year.

So now the developed world is trying to find a way to reel in Chinese exports. The Bush Administration announced earlier this week it was going to study whether increased Chinese imports of some goods are affecting the US industry, and industry groups have already called for more goods to be included in the study. The Senate yesterday voted to reimpose quotas (which is permitted under the agreements China signed before accession to the WTO) if China didn't address its currency peg. Meanwhile, the EU laid out the process under which restrictions would be triggered. China, of course, reacted predictably to these threats to add safeguards against Chinese products. Fix your own damn economy, they've responded, rather than imposing restrictions on our imports:

"We have noticed that the and budget deficits have continuously expanded in recent years," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang.

"However, the United States should look for the reason from itself so as to adjust the unbalanced sectors in its economy," Qin told a regular news briefing.

Bush, in particular, is in a tight spot on this issue. He needs to appease textile manufacturers enough to retain their support for CAFTA, which is being debated as we speak. Plus, one state that stands to be hardest hit by this is North Carolina, probably too marginal of a red state (unlike fellow textile state South Carolina) to piss off. Perhaps most importantly, reimposing quotas risks angering China, which could respond by shifting its reserves out of the dollar. On the other side, retailers want the added profits they can get from Chinese-made underwear. And some of the manufacturers in China are jointly-owned by US companies. So Bush, as he did before with steel tariffs, looks to be stalling for time. I wouldn't be at all surprised if Bush took a similarly counter-productive approach as he did with steel tariffs; the steel tariffs devastated steel-consuming manufacturers without making US steel manufacturers any more competitive. While Wal-Mart isn't going out of business if it has to pay $.25 for a pair of underwear, it's not clear that new tariffs are going to bring back the jobs that have been lost--or make US manufacturers more competitive with cheap producers, in China, or in Bangladesh.

There are 665,000 US textile jobs left in the US, down one million since 1990 and down 381,000 since 2001. Most of those, of course, were lost before the trade quotas were lifted. 17,000 jobs have been lost this year. But those jobs were lost because of the overall global economy, not just Chinese imports.

If possible, the problems from the end of quotas will be even worse for workers from other developing nations--poorer countries like Bangladesh, El Salvador, and Cambodia. As this excellent series from the LA Times (with photo essays on the effects of the textile industry in Cambodia, Mauritius, Lesotho, and China) shows, this will have an effect on a lot of people who were just beginning to improve their lives through trade. The problem with these countries isn't that their workers aren't working for low pay. Rather, their countries don't have the infrastructure (fancy new highways and busy shipping ports and excellent telecommunications networks and efficient factories) that China has. While they won't lose on wages, they're losing on efficiency.

"Very few people understand, or they're just starting to understand, what this means," said Mark Levinson, a U.S. apparel union economist who estimates that as much as $40 billion of production will be transferred to China from the developing world. "It's going to be chaos in the global economy."


What many failed to foresee was that the dynamics of global competitiveness would be turned upside-down with the emergence of China and India as economic powerhouses.

Within their vast borders, the two countries -- the most populous in the world -- can offer the low wages of poor nations along with the efficiencies of modern economies. The advantages are perhaps most evident in the textile and apparel industry, which requires large pools of unskilled laborers but also depends on fast delivery and the ability to change production specs on a dime.


The costs to the countries that are losing clothing and textile contracts have only begun to be counted. Many trade specialists see the post-quota era as every bit as potentially destructive as the unrestrained capitalism of the late 19th and early 20th centuries that spawned sweatshop conditions and price-fixing monopolies.

Already, gains in wage levels and working conditions are starting to unravel. In Lesotho, the government has agreed to give apparel and textile factory owners an exemption from paying a mandatory cost-of-living increase. Business leaders in El Salvador want to reduce the nation's $5.04-a-day maquiladora minimum wage in rural areas to stay competitive with China and its lower-cost neighbors in Central America.

Halfway around the world in the Philippines, a panel of business and government officials has proposed exempting garment makers from paying the minimum daily wage, which ranges from about $3.75 to $5.

My point is, it is a lose-lose situation for workers across the US and the developing world. This event may be--should be--the one that finally forces the developed world to try to solve the "race to the bottom" logic of the global trade regime we designed. If we don't, there will be a lot of countries that have had their traditional rural lifestyles disrupted, but which have little to offer those uprooted people in terms of jobs.

It's time for the Democrats to take the lead on designing a new "fair" globalization. In our own country, we should be calling for universal health care, which would make the US more competitive in manufacturing industries that compete against countries that subsidize their health care. We should try to find a long-term solution for the many older companies (United, GM, steel manufacturers) now struggling to pay the pensions they've promised their workers. And overseas, the lifting of quotas provides a perfect (if unfortunate) opportunity to start providing incentives for labor standards and minimum wages.

Thus far, though, Democrats are mostly asking Bush to take more trade issues to the WTO, rather than offering creative solutions to address the larger problems with globalization. Given how badly Bush botched the steel tariffs, I think the Dems should be more aggressive--and direct--in looking for real solutions to what are fairly intractable problems.

Perhaps best idea I've heard of so far is one coming from Cambodia, a country derives 80% of its export earnings from its garment industry. As the LA Times article cited above shows, Cambodia can't compete head-to-head with China. Instead, it is marketing itself as the clean clothes manufacturer:

To carve out a market niche, Cambodia is billing itself as sweatshop-free. In December, a World Bank survey of 15 top buyers ranked its garment industry No. 1 in working conditions. So far, that has helped Cambodia avoid significant losses to China, despite having higher costs.

"No question that such a reputation is a plus. ... Having confidence that a factory is doing the right things for workers in terms of pay, benefits, working conditions, etc., is important to us and could be a deciding factor in where the business goes," Wal-Mart spokesman William Wertz wrote in an e-mail.

Cambodia's big advantage is having its factories certified by an independent monitor with international credibility, the ILO. Established in 2001 following a trade deal with the U.S., the program sends monitors armed with a 500-item checklist on unannounced factory visits.

The aim: to hold factories to Cambodian labor law, which stipulates a $45 monthly minimum wage and a six-day, 48-hour workweek with no more than two hours of daily overtime. The ILO reports give companies confidence that their brand names won't be tarnished if they buy here. As factory conditions improved, Cambodia's share of U.S. garment imports rose to 14% last year from 9% in 2002.

Congress is already considering eliminating the 15 to 25% tariffs we impose on Cambodian goods (sweat-free policies add 10 to 20% to a manufacturers' costs, so such an incentive may be critical to keeping Cambodia price-competitive). Why not offer similar incentives to countries that can prove themselves sweat-free, or tying tariffs (if you're going to impose them) to factory standards? That would create a competitive advantage for countries like Cambodia--at least for the moment--and would raise the overall costs associated with imported textile goods such that it might make it possible for the remaining US manufacturers to stay in business.

Things could get ugly with this impending Trouser War. If we (as distinct from the EU) re-impose quotas, we risk angering our biggest creditor. And at the very least, the Trouser War threatens to exacerbate all the underlying tensions in the global trade regime. We certainly don't want to lose the remaining textile jobs we've got. Neither should we want to deprive very poor developing nations of one of the few sources of income. But we're going to get ourselves in trouble if we push China too far...Perhaps, then, rather than simply re-imposing quotas, we need to use this opportunity to find creative ways to make fair trade--rather than "free" trade--more competitive.

Originally posted to emptywheel on Thu Apr 07, 2005 at 07:43 AM PDT.

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

  •  Interesting (none)
    and Recommended.  Thanks for putting this toghether.

    "I'm going to dance the dream, and make the dream come true." -Kate Bush

    by ellisande on Thu Apr 07, 2005 at 07:45:28 AM PDT

    •  Yes, interesting... (4.00)
      ...especially that it shows that China - and Cambodia - are not competing just on prices, but also on other things - infrastructure/logistics in one case, a good "brand" in the other case.

      That shows that:

      • we should not fight to maintain industries in our countries when the wage level is the main criteria for competitivity;

      • we should make sure that we encourage companies (by shaming them and/or conversely buying their goods, not by trade rules) to work with suppliers that respect certain non wage standards, like Cambodia.

      • we need to find other ways to help the third world countries who are going to feel the full brunt of China's competition, but that's obviously harder. Agricultural products is a good place to start - the US and Europe should start to dismantle their noxious - and costly -  agriculture support systems.

      in the long run, we're all dead (Keynes)

      by Jerome a Paris on Thu Apr 07, 2005 at 09:03:59 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  One more thing you reminded me (4.00)
        The Dems really really really really need to start calling for infrastructure investments here in the US--as a competitiveness issue.

        China does have nice roads, really sweet smooth multi-lane highways that carry heavy trucks with little apparent problem (inside the cities you've got terrible traffic, but at the beltways, not so much). Meanwhile, the US has crummy, potholed roads designed primarily to make consumers buy a new car every 5 years. That will quickly become another liability for our manufacturers...

        •  Dont think India (none)
          could ever compete with that-you should see the state of Indias highways. Driving on those things mean you are risking life and limb and they take forever to navigate with the sheer mass of people and livestock and what have you.
        •  A Partial Explanation (none)
          When you go from not having much to creating everything--in terms of infrastructure--in a short amount of time, everything tends to be state-of-the-art and gives you a comparative advantage.  

          Examples--England and Belgium industrialized before Germany, but when Germany industrialized, it didn't have to deal with older physical plant and sunk costs in what was by then somewhat outdated machinery.  When something was built in Germany in 1887, it was built to the standards of 1887, and went on line competeting against plant in England that was built in 1847, and may have already been retooled once but wasn't as efficient as what was built in Germany.  Same thing happened when Japan and Germany's physical infrastructure was rebuilt after WWII, it's the case in Taiwan and Korea, even in places like Ireland where there wasn't a great a committment to existing copper wire phones (because a lot of places didn't have extensive phone usuage as recently as the 1980's), making it easier to expand into fiberoptics and broadband.  For an example within the US, look at the differences between Detroit, Chicago and Pittsburg vs Houston, San Jose and Orlando.

          Still, that's just an explanation why some of China's infrastructure is better than our.  It's not an excuse to not do something about it.  You're correct that it's (well past) time to do something about our infrastructure...if there's any money left by the time Bush leaves office.

        •  Yes, yes, yes on infrastructure (none)
          Great job on the diary.  These are very important issues.  This country (read The Dems) need to get bold and visionary on these problems.  We need:

          1.  A revitalized public sector, including more and better jobs for teachers, police, firefighters, emergency workers etc. to make us safe, healthy and educated.  But Bush hates these people because they are in (Dem) public employee unions.  So he does the wrong thing.

          2.  Infrastructure repair.  More good construction jobs.  Repair bridges, roads,. schools etc that are decaying.  Makes us strong, educated and safe.

          3.  Some sort of nationalization of health insurance.  How about giving everyone health care vouchers that they could use in good existing plans like Kaiser Permanente or in the sleazy HMO of their choice, or whatever options spring up to meet demand.  Alternatively, have the gov't assume the costs of health care above some limit like $1000 per year.  Employers and the self-insured could be responsible for the rest, but when you need an operation or get really sick, the gov't picks up the cost.  Keep Medicaid fdor the really poor.  

          4.  Pay for all this by taxing the very people who have been profiting handsomely from the global race to the bottom--the CEOs and the multinationals.  Raise corporate taxes, raise the top bracket, raise the SS cap and keep the estate tax at next year's levels.  And cut back the military adventures.

          American industry would be more competitive, they would not have to run health plans and pension plans and could concentrate on their core businesses, and we would be healthier, better educated, safer and with less income inequality, and so stronger.

          It is time for BOLDNESS on the part of the Dems.  The same old, same old little programs and ideas won't cut it.  

          If you're going in the wrong direction and you stay the course, where, exactly, do you wind up?

          by Mimikatz on Thu Apr 07, 2005 at 11:19:31 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  Following your recommendations... (none)
        ...would require going against Walmart since approximately 70% of its goods come from China.  Unless there is selective application, Walmart would be a huge stumbling block to this approach.  

        Be the creature. (But not a Republican.)

        by boran2 on Thu Apr 07, 2005 at 09:40:09 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Great diary... (none) important issue that needs to be addressed.  (We don't want to be caught with our pants down.)

    Be the creature. (But not a Republican.)

    by boran2 on Thu Apr 07, 2005 at 07:50:05 AM PDT

    •  This is why I wear (4.00)
      Utilikilts!  Kilts made in the United States.  No worries about trouser wars or sweat shops.  Instead, I get to support an independant American business.

      Kilts aside though, I don't see an easy way for the United States to deal with this issue.  One of the problems is that we are so divided we don't, as a nation, have any way of presenting the world, and particularly China, with a clear national policy.  

      I am glad to learn that Cambodia has found a way to turn good progressive (relatively speaking) policy into good marketing.

  •  Who Wears the Worldwide Pants? (none)
    Sorry, I had to say it.  Interesting diary. I think with one phrase you summed up a huge Dem party problem:

    the Democrats need to formulate a leadership position, rather than simply an oppositional stance

    let's hope they do.

    •  I think Worldwide Pants (none)
      ...the production company for the Letterman Show.

    •  Like this? (none)
      We'll bring in our allies and win the war!

      Leadership like that?  Thank you so much, Iowa.

      I was recently excortiated for having so little faith in America and not fighting back the facsism of Rove.

      Please excuse me, I'm just a tiny citizen.  It would help my attitude if my leadership fought back too.

      But Democrats look at at 64% voting rate and don't see the potential in defending workers and bringing in more citizens to the party.

      We had our chance and now we must wait at least four years.  The Democrats don't need to formulate a leadership position, they need to figure out why they're Democrats at all.  Paging Dianne Buttfuck Feinstein.

      Sure, I'll fight back.  Dianne's at my back.  Right?

      •  Two things (4.00)
        I do think there are things the Dems can do.

        First, in Dem-led states (or states where they can make this a political issue) they need to start framing universal health care as a competitiveness issue. There are stirrings of this in MI, and the Big 3 have been speaking about this as well. Wouldn't it be nice to see the Dems lead a labor-manufacturing coalition pushing for health care? Until our government offers the same health care to our manufacturers (and software companies and telemarketing companies) as our competitors do, we will continue to lose jobs.

        Second, I do think the newly-vocal Dem leadership can shift how they're pushing BushCo on this. Pushing him to take more battles to the WTO is only going to get more countries to bring their own cases against the US, and lord knows they've got some cases to bring. But since the US and the EU share these concerns (and since Europe, at least, is pushing to make aid to developing countries more effective), why not work to come up with a better solution here? In other words, push BushCo to bring SOLUTIONS to the WTO rather than just more complaints.

  •  The rag trade is fashion.... (4.00)
    Could one add to your anti-sweat incentive scheme a positive PR component? Cambodian fabrics, etc. A cycle of radio jingles. Animated apsaras. Maybe an Ad Industry competition on the subject could help boost prestige on the one hand for the winner (not much of a $$ prize, sorry), and on the other burn a hole in the heavy blanket of indifference in the general population?
  •  This and Walmartization (4.00)
    There's still another side to this, one I know well.

    People see the retail prices of Chinese made goods and then they're shocked when some non Chinese product sells for more, often much more, even though there's no Chinese equivalent for that item.

    It's truly a race to the bottom.

  •  You know (none)
    When I can't even buy Levi's anymore that are made in America, this country has a huge problem.

    Although the academic economists insist that the de-industrialization of America will be great for American consumers, as far as I'm concerned, they've got their heads up their collective asses.

    Also if the academic economists really believed in free trade, they'd be advocating sending their jobs to low wage countries. It'd be easy to do, the professor could teach the class over an internet link. Don't see 'em doing that though.

    •  I remember when Dean was campaigning (4.00)
      ... in South Carolina during the primaries and someone asked him about the garment business moving to China and Dean asked, "How many of you shop at Wal-Mart?"

      And when the hands went up, he said something like, "Well, unless Americans are willing to pay more for items like shirts or pants, we're going to have a real problem keeping those jobs at home."

      Reality strikes.

      •  I haven't seen a drop in the price of Levi's (none)
        over the years. Admittedly I don't know if the price would have gone up id  the jobs stayed here.
        •  I did (none)
          Levi's used to cost $40 (even back in the 80's), and they hardly ever went on sale. Then 5-10 years ago I started seeing more sales on them, and now all the department stores are selling them for $28. Quality seems about the same as before. I always liked Levi's because they last so much longer than the cheap jeans.
          •  they also cost $80+ (none)
            Depends which version you get.

            They have a line they sell at Kohl's, etc. and lines they sell at high end department stores and their own stores.

            •  Levi's product line (none)
              I knew Levi's had a cheap line called the Signature that they made just for WalMart, but quality on their 501's and 505's has been pretty consistent no matter where I bought them. There was only time I saw some 505's at Sears that were suspiciously thinner and cheaper than usual. About the high end, I just checked, and they're selling a Premium 501 for $110. Yow! That's triple the price at Macy's for the regular 501.
          •  Don't know where you buy yours (none)
            but when I said I hadn't seen the price drop, I meant from the $28 dollar level. At least that is the price point I could buy them in CNY.
  •  Well.. (4.00)
    I have given up Walmart and McDonalds.  Now it looks like I have to give up pants.

    <sound of pants hitting the floor>

    who is with me?

    That's what I'm on about. Did you see him repressing me?

    by sommervr on Thu Apr 07, 2005 at 08:47:05 AM PDT

  •  Excellent Diary and Excellend Solution (none)
    I am very much in favour of us making free trade agreements contingent upon a fair trade conditions for the workers in countries which we import from.  It would help us keep good jobs here and help the people in the countries we import from.  The only people who would lose out are those who emulate the 19th century robber barons.

    The only international crime is losing a war

    by Luam on Thu Apr 07, 2005 at 08:54:11 AM PDT

    •  A proposal (none)
      What I would propose is a significant rethinking of the way free trade works, replacing it with a concept of competitive trade, fairer trade.  The current trend towards free trade has benefited large corporations and they are the ones who run treaty bodies such as the World Trade Organization.  The decision makers are dominated by those who benefit, where are the labor leaders in the WTO, how loud is the voice of the smaller nations?

      I think that free trade should be contingent on providing of basic workers rights.  These rights would support basic concepts like the rights to organize, living wages, and medical care for employees.  The world trade bodies would consist; in similar numbers of people advocating for business as people advocating for workers.  When exporting companies fail to provide the rights agreed to in the trade treaty they would then pay tariffs sufficient to offset their savings in addition to a punitive amount; payable to their host nation and the nation importing their goods.

      Such a measure would benefit workers in developing nations who would be provided improved wages and living conditions.  It would also benefit small companies and workers in developed nations whose jobs and industries would be protected against the fruits of cheap exploited labor.  The only group which would suffer is the owners of sweat shops and they are currently reaping the rewards of behavior which is both immoral and unpatriotic.

      Enforcement could prove to be a problem, but there are already courts in place to enforce todays treaties.  Those courts could be used to protect workers as well as industries.

      Free trade, fairly administered will benefit people of all nations.

      The only international crime is losing a war

      by Luam on Thu Apr 07, 2005 at 09:00:28 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  The big problem is those damn unions (none)
    How dare they advocate pay raises and health benefits for their workers all those years????

    Things like a livable wage and health care should be given only too the executive class.

  •  Former Blue Jeans Capital of the World (none)
    I live right outside El Paso, Texas which still houses some of the empty buildings that used to make up the huge garment industry until outsourcing and NAFTA drove business out. I can't say I'm the biggest fan of the entire NAFTA package; I agree it needs to be much more fair.
    •  Empty buildings also in central Alabama (none)
      Over a decade ago, Russell Mills bascially supported well over half of the people living in central AL around Alexander City.  A good many of them were my relatives, who grew up in the mills with their parents and expected to be employed there when they were old enough.  Well, needless to say, they've had to make other plans, and it hasn't been easy.  

      I hear from my mom (who was the only one who married and moved out of the area to Auburn, AL) that every time a large group of them get together (my 8 aunts, 3 uncles and 362 cousins), they spend a lot of time bashing the sewing quality of the clothes (mostly T-Shirts, Jerseys and sweats) being made by Russell in China.  I guess it helps them to rant. The saddest fact is that due to their finances, they still shop at WalMart.  

      •  Southern New England (none)
        Abandoned textile mills everywhere, absolutely everywhere.  They're really interesting buildings, many of them, kind of eerily beautiful.  A giant one went up in flames in Warwick, Rhode Island a week or so ago..
  •  amazing... (none)
    the biggest bestest country on earth can't dress itself.

    i'm an agnostic, i'd be an atheist if it weren't for mozart

    by rasbobbo on Thu Apr 07, 2005 at 09:11:28 AM PDT

    •  I'm just waiting (4.00)
      For the time when economic issues between China and the US get really contentious (and did anyone notice that China is not sending its big guns to the next G7 meeting? It could be closer than we think). All China will have to say is, All your underwear belongs to us!! Harharhar!!"
    •  Nope. And we're going... (none)
      to take it in the shorts.

      "Too many policemen, no liberty; Too many soldiers, no peace; Too many lawyers, no justice." Lin Yutang (1895-1976)

      by ogre on Thu Apr 07, 2005 at 12:51:19 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks for this...(n/t) (none)
  •  Great Diary (none)
    and a really good title for what will happen

    "Trouser War"

    I stepped up on the platform, the man gave me the news, he said you must be joking son, where did you get those shoes-- Donald Fagen

    by bonddad on Thu Apr 07, 2005 at 09:35:20 AM PDT

  •  So, which is the DNC on? (none)
    Which side are you on, boys
    Which side are you on
    Which side are you on, boys
    Which side are you on

    -- Arlo Guthrie

    Does the Democratic party support American workers only, in which case we should have trade barriers, wars to support our SUVs, and walls around our country?

    O does the party support the weak and powerless around the world, in which case the Chinese garment worker, Indian call center worker, and Mexican immigrant laborer are worth the same as the Detroit autoworker and the Northeast computer programmer, and the liberal college professor...

  •  This means a lot to me (4.00)
    I come from a textile family.  My father has been in the business since he was 15, from unloading garments off trucks to running his own manufacturing business.  He's gone from seeing 60 giant sweater mills in Philadelphia to 0.  In fact, he lobbied Congress to please save the American textile industry.  He was told "we're going to have to give it up for world peace."

    That was in 1979.

    A friend of his recently traveled to a medium-sized city in China, less people than in Philly.  There were 235 sweater mills there.  Le jeu sont fait, to quote Ferris Bueller's principal.  The game is over.  We've laid down our arms in this trouser war, and there's nothing that will be done about it.  There are a few things that CAN be done, but by now the textile industry is too small to be saved.  It's Norquist's dream realized; make the industry so small that it can be drowned in a bathtub.

    Many US textiles manufacturers support CAFTA because at least they could get in on Central American manufacturing and eat into China's market share.  But that's a stopgap solution.   The real solution, according to my father, the only one that would work, is protectionism.  I have another idea.  Tie buying American to port security.

    We all know that port security is woefully incomplete. A recent report by the Department of Homeland Security shows much of the (paltry) money supplied in grants for protecting ports is squandered on low priority problems rather than actual vulnerabilities. This was at least a minor issue during the election campaign. And both candidates agreed that nuclear proliferation was the biggest issue facing American security; basically, the prospect of terrorists getting their hands on nuclear weapons. When the port and container security issue was brought up in the debates, Bush complained, "I don't know how we're going to pay for all this... there's a huge tax gap."

    This was an opening that has not nearly been exploited enough. The President is unwilling to pay to protect America. Well, there are 2 solutions that don't raise taxes on ordinary Americans (not that it'd be a problem if they did; I believe my security is worth paying for):

    1. Raise quotas and/or increase incentives for American manufacturers, so that we are less reliant on the nation's ports to deliver practically every good to market. This can be framed as a security issue. American manufacturing makes Americans safer. The National Association of Manufacturing could run with that one.

    2. Add a "security tariff" to importers, specifically designed to pay for port security grants. This will increase competitiveness from stateside manufacturers, and give multinationals less incentive to purchase/manufacture everything from overseas.

    These basically play out as corporate taxes and protectionism, but tying them to national security is a way to get them sold to the public. The decline of the manufacturing base will eventually catch up with this country as it has with all consumer-based societies in history. Here's a way to stop the bleeding. Or, here's a way to strengthen ports without it being paid for by taxpayers.

    I don't know, I'm working on it...

    "Killing a man to defend an idea isn't defending an idea. It's killing a man." -Jean-Luc Godard, "Notre Musique"

    by dday on Thu Apr 07, 2005 at 10:03:09 AM PDT

    •  Great Comment (none)
      And I love the idea of an import tariff. You could charge per shipping container, which would incent you to import only small light things, not big things. And selling it as security is really key.
      •  Import tariff? Add an export subsidy! (none)
        The cool thing about this is that a uniform import tariff, plus a matching uniform export subsidy, would have no effect whatsoever on trade and production (after a price-adjustment period). It would be equivalent to devaluing the dollar, just messier and full of transaction costs.

        Trade policy is determined by a political process in which about 0.01% of the participants know this sort of thing, and in which about 1% can explain why a country that is inefficient at producing absolutely everything will have areas of "comparative advantage".

        Oh well. Please excuse my stating economic truisms that sound like false-isms.

        I support decentralist media: ePluribus. You can too.

        by technopolitical on Thu Apr 07, 2005 at 01:07:59 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  And here I thought I was (none)
    the only one on Earth left who used the word "trousers."  I get all sorts of ribbing from my friends, but that's the word we used where (and when) I grew up.

    "The state has no place in the bedrooms of the nation." - Pierre Trudeau

    by fishhead on Thu Apr 07, 2005 at 10:34:44 AM PDT

    •  Oh I don't use it myself (none)
      I believe it's an official Department of Commerce category they use to track imports. Same thing with "blouse." Me, I'd call it the Pant and Panty War (hey, that's pretty good!), but I really only use the word underwear anyway.

      But look at it this way, you might have a future at the Department of Commerce.

      •  Me and the Department of Commerce (none)
        ...the only entities using the word "trousers"?  God, that's depressing.

        "The state has no place in the bedrooms of the nation." - Pierre Trudeau

        by fishhead on Thu Apr 07, 2005 at 12:27:13 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  One more, re, "trousers" (none)
        I've just come down from the Isle of Skye,
        I'm no' very big and I'm awful shy,
        And the lassies shout when I go by,
        "Donald where's your troosers?"

        Let the wind blow high, let the wind blow low,
        Through the streets in my kilt I'll go,
        All the lassies say "Hello,
        Donald, where's your troosers?"

        A lassie took me to a ball
        And it was slippery in hall,
        And I was feared that I would fall,
        For I had nae on ma troosers.

        Let the wind blow high, let the wind blow low,
        Through the streets in my kilt I'll go,
        All the lassies say "Hello,
        Donald, where's your troosers?"

        Now I went down to London town
        And I had some fun in the Underground,
        The ladies turned their heads around,
        Saying, "Donald, where are your trousers?"

        Let the wind blow high, let the wind blow low,
        Through the streets in my kilt I'll go,
        All the lassies say "Hello,
        Donald, where's your troosers?"

        To wear the kilt is my delight,
        It is not wrong, I know it's right,
        The Highlanders would get a fright
        If they saw me in the trousers.

        Let the wind blow high, let the wind blow low,
        Through the streets in my kilt I'll go,
        All the lassies say "Hello,
        Donald, where's your troosers?"

        The lassies want me, every one,
        Well, let them catch me if they can,
        Ye canna take the breeks off a Hieland man,
        And I don't wear the troosers.

        Let the wind blow high, let the wind blow low,
        Through the streets in my kilt I'll go,
        All the lassies say "Hello,
        Donald, where's your troosers?
        Donald, where's your troosers?

        "The state has no place in the bedrooms of the nation." - Pierre Trudeau

        by fishhead on Thu Apr 07, 2005 at 12:31:19 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  You and quite a lot of... (none)
      Great Britain.

      "Virginia Woolf's idea of a room of one's own has never been the place for middle- and working-class women. We work with interruptions." - Ananya Chatterjea

      by sarac on Thu Apr 07, 2005 at 07:33:46 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Chuck Schumer.. (none)
    ...went fucking ballistic on John Snow this morning in the Senate Banking Committee.  It's Schumer's bill (co-authored with Lindsay Graham) that passed the Senate yesterday on a veto-proof margin and also seems headed for House approval.

    Snow tried to pull, most appropriately, a snow job on Schumer, claiming, incredibly (and I use the term in the sense of "lacking credibility") that China was not manipulating its currency!!!

    Sigh...don't get me started on this one.  Instead, read this.  It's my own work, and the witnesses who testified on the subjects of textiles and currency manipulation put it better than I ever could.

    Piss off Frank Luntz: don't use Republican issue frames like "Social Security crisis."

    by DC Pol Sci on Thu Apr 07, 2005 at 11:02:52 AM PDT

  •  once again (none)
    this shows the truth of the saying "be careful what you wish for". american politicians, both demo and repug, yelled and screamed for an end to communism and the total victory of capitalism. and this is the end result, a worldwide beast-eat-beast economic system.

    and in the "they never learn" department, the politicians yelling and screaming for "worldwide democracy" is going to result in the same painful lesson.      

  •  Citizens in other countries (none)
    ... have been living in poverty, with no access to all of the things that allow us to live in great luxury.  Even the poorest Americans, until recently, were better off than most people in "third world" countries.  Now, the world economy is changing all that.  People in Bangladesh have access to tools and information that allow them to become part of the world economy, and they are using those tools to create things to sell to us, raising their own standard of living.  

    We call what is going on in Cambodia "sweat shops" and decry the working conditions.  But in reality, until the early 1900's the working conditions in our factories were no better. Right now, the people working in those sweatshops are happy to have work, because the alternative is digging through garbage or selling children into prostitution or slavery.  In time, the social structure of Cambodia will change and those people will demand better working condition.  And in even more time, they will develope a standard of living closer to that of the U.S. and become consumers of goods rather than just producers.  It's a process that many societies have gone through over the centuries. They are simply a few decades behind us on the time line.

    We can try to improve the conditions in Cambodia, but it probably won't work.  Capitalism dictates that if people are willing to work for sweat shops, and the government/society is willing to allow sweat shops, someone will find a way to create sweat shops.  We can worry about how this is effecting the U.S., but we can't change the reality that we like cheap goods and we like the lifestyle afforded to us by being able to buy things cheaply.  

    What to do? Educate yourself and your family.  Education is the best bulkwark against poverty. The time of U.S. ecomonic superiority is ending. This is not entirely a bad thing. It's wrong for one group to live in wealth while millions of others starve.  This is going to be hardest on the poor, who have the least skills and face the most competition from hungry people in Cambodia and elsewhere.  The best hope we have of continuing to be prosperous is to develop and market new technologies.  The faster we can bring up the level of the poor members of other countries, the sooner they will become consumers, which will enhance theworld economy.

    But above all, remember that those Cambodians working in sweat shops are human beings who have basic rights and few options.  Focus this fight on the corporations who are greedily marking up their work and making a fortune, not on the workers who have so little.

  •  shooting ourselves in someone else's pants (none)
    I've tried to keep abreadt of this subject, but it's very complicated.  There is no question that "Free" trade lowers costs and increases the efficiency of markets. Any correction to the inequities of such trade -jobs, the environment, working conditions- is liable to produce unintended consequences.

    We might be better off concentrating on the $150 Billion trade surplut that China runs with the US.  The value of Chinese imports should not exceed the value of our exports to them.  Once the zero-point is reached, progressive, self-limiting duties should kick in.  The Chinese would be free to buy whatever they want from us: presumably those goods that we can produce efficiently.

    All sorts of reasons are presented as to why other country's interests should supersede our own, but I find them unconvincing.  If an American company wanted to close its US plant so that it could set up shop in China -the Wal-Mart syndrome- they would be free to do so, there just wouldn't be any gaurantee that they would be able to profitably import back into the USA.

    A popular equivication about China trade is that China merely assembles goods produced elsewhere, so the deficit isn't as bad as it seems, but what difference does that make to a worker who has lost his job to greed, not necessity.

    Finally there is the allure of all those cheap goods.  The theory seems to be that wages are now so low that Wal-Mart has become both the answer as well as the problem.  an increase in the minimum wage would allow workers to decide for themselves.

  •  The problem is in the US (none)
    There are fundamentally two ways to compete effectively against low-wage countries.

    1. Join the race to the bottom.  This is a recipe for global economic collapse.

    2. Compete smarter.

    OK, how would a U.S. textile manufacturer compete "smarter"?

    - Product differentiation.

    Product differentiation could include overt quality differences (better fabrics, better durability, different styles or functionality that low-cost manufacturers can't easily replicate.  The idea is to have a unique product and to maintain control over that product.

    - Marketing strategy

    Better marketing of "Made in USA" as a brand.  (Hire some prominent models or designers to endorse it, and back it up with media support.)  Generally, more attention to branding, product placement, and all the other mechanics of sound marketing.

    - Manufacturing process

    A much larger investment in automated flexible factories -- low-wage countries can't compete with a variable labor cost of zero.

    Why doesn't this happen?

    1. Because American business is still dominated by cultural conservatives, senior management is increasingly a clone of the values of the idiots in the Bush administration.  ("Faith."  "Gut instinct."  "Driven by values."  "Leadership.")  All of this is bullshit.  The product and production and distribution fundamentals -- sound business strategy -- are not wins, not how dashing a figure the CEO cuts on the cover of Forbes Magazine.

    2. All those automated, zero-direct-labor-cost factories produce the kind of high paying manufacturing jobs we want.  They presume highly educated workers.  With the "Every Child Left Behind" educational strategy of the Bush administration, that's not going to happen.

    3. All those automated, zero-direct-labor-cost factories produce high paying manufacturing jobs staffed by well-educated workers.  Even though this model is capitalism at its best, conservatives are opposed to it at a gut level.

    If only we could find a way to fit all this on a bumper sticker.
  •  American brand made in America? (none)
    I think we should push for MORE American made products and tie our National pride to them.  For example, why not require that anything with an "America Brand" symbol, e.g., American flag, bald eagle, or even dorky magnetic car ribbon be made (or mostly made) in America, or pay highly for the privilege of using OUR BRAND?  Tariffs to be used to retrain displaced textile workers etc.  Make it an American pride issue to wear, drive, watch or play America-branded items. Just tossing the idea out for consideration and reaction.

    Democrats give you the Bill of Rights; Republicans sell you a bill of goods!

    by barbwires on Thu Apr 07, 2005 at 01:35:55 PM PDT

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site