You can’t buy a newspaper these days, or watch TV or listen to the radio, without reading and hearing about China. Not free China mind you (Taiwan), but Red China. The Workers’ Paradise. According to all these popular accounts, Red China is a new Colossus ready to bestride the earth. America, with its’ silly free market, is headed for the — what did Marx call it? The dustbin of history? — so the Dictatorship of the Proletariat will now hold sway. And why not? According the press, China’s economy is going like a Cheetah while ours is moving like a glacier.
But two weeks ago, I had a couple of beers with a colleague who, by the time you read this, will be working in Red China. My chum hired-on as V.P. of Operations at a manufacturer owned and operated by Chinese and located in a suburb of Beijing. He was hired because the company’s biggest customer is one of America’s largest retailers, and that retailer wasn’t happy with what’s been coming over on the boat. Tremendous spoilage rates, inferior materials, poor workmanship and defective products. The retailer told the Chinese company to hire an American who would come over there and shake things up. So the Chinese company hired my buddy. His job: Cure all the ills, solve all the problems and get the American retailer smiling again.
Big job. We all know how poor most Chinese products are. I bought a GPS made in China, as did three of my co-workers. One fellow’s GPS was bad out of the box. His replacement unit failed inside a week and the second replacement unit often drops the signal. The other two guys got some use out of their GPS units, but all failed inside a month, as did mine. I’m on my second unit and, so far, it’s OK. But that’s not all; a few years back, I bought a portable CD player made in the Peoples’ Republic and it failed before we were out of sight of the store. It took two more replacements before I got one that worked. And let’s not forget the poisonous baby formula, killer cribs and other such dandy examples of Communist ingenuity.
The popular press tut-tuts and tells us these things are just growing pains . . . the understandably over-eager enthusiasm of a joyful and gung-ho people chomping at the bit to get their country its rightful place in the sun. The general gist is that Red China, with all this energy and verve, is on an ascendancy. It will bury us, just the way Khrushchev said the USSR would.
Anyway, we took our seats and I asked the waitress for two drafts. After belting half the glass, my chum he told me what things were really like in Red China. His new employer, he assures me, is a typical mid-level manufacturer and what one sees there, one sees everywhere. The major problem, he heatedly assures me, is this: Employee morale is in totally the crapper. The folks in the factory are worked like draft animals 24/7/52 in a place with poor lighting, poor safety, poor ventilation and for this they are paid the astoundingly poor sum of $200 a month – $250, if you’re a stellar performer. My buddy told me the jobs are mind-numbing, that there are no career paths and the poor devils are treated as expendable meat machines. If one dies at his work station, a replacement will be installed within minutes. Depression and despondency are ways of life and on-the-job suicide is a plague in many places.
“Consequently”, he said, “they just don’t give a shit. They get the same miserable pay whether they do good jobs or bad. There’s no incentive. In fact, to strike back at their tormentors, they’ll make a game of sabotaging product. It goes on all the time”.
“Jezzus”, I said, “what do you plan to do?”
“Well,” he replied as I called for two more drafts, “I can probably improve working conditions somewhat, but the one thing I can’t do is raise pay”.
“Yeah. The owners absolutely will not give the workers another dime”.
“Do I smell the hand of the government in this? Maybe the company is under orders,” I said.
“Well, not directly. But if pay were raised, there’d be some blowback from the Forbidden City. The government is afraid that if pay were to go up, American companies might stop setting up plants and exports would fall off. I’m probably going to be limited to awarding prizes and buying pizzas”.
“So Chinese government actively suppresses their own people’s incomes,” I said.
“Yup”, he said, “that’s about it”.
“Sounds like you’re going into a no-win situation”, I volunteered.
“Probably, but they pay well. And I need the job. But I’m keeping my return ticket with me at all times”.
“You think the place is about to blow up?” I asked.
“Do you remember Tiananmen Square?” he asked.
Dictatorships always collapse. The one in Red China will too. It probably would have already, were it not for the puppy-like worship of western businessmen who prop it up with exported jobs. And propped up too, by western consumers who still buy the Chinese junk after they’ve been burned time and time and again. But collapse it will. The only frightening thing is that after such collapses comes civil war. Just imagine the consequences for the whole world when over one-and-a-third billion people start tearing at each other.
My friend had better not lose his plane ticket.