Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A lot of rambling, mostly off topic

First I'll touch on stitching. I reached the halfway mark in Rose and decided to give it a rest. Jon and I had a bit of discussion and came to the conclusion that I'm suffering burnout and maybe I should give the designing a brief rest. I wasn't stitching and I'm suffering severe blocks when in the design software. So after I finish my ornament for TGOS I'm going to do just that. I'm letting my concerns over whether the designing makes money take over my enjoyment of my hobby and my enjoyment of stitching in general and I never wanted that. I want it to be fun again, so maybe it's time for a short break and working on designs and models when I feel like it again and not because I feel like I have to.

I wanted to stitch something different so I started a HAED. Thoroughly enjoying it and have already finished a page and a half in less than a week. However, I cheated a little - I'm stitching it on black and omitting the black background stitches so that's how I managed to stitch so much. lol I'm doing Jasmine Becket-Griffith's Magnificent Wings. When I get motivated to do so I'll scan it for pictures - camera is on holiday in New York at the moment.

And now on to my rambling...

Two things I want to touch on today that got under my skin and are sort of tied together. Made in China (or Vietnam, or Thailand...) and education.

I'll start with the made in China thing. A couple of days ago, one of the message boards I frequent had an old message posted about avoiding products made in China to stimulate the economy here. Last night, my mother forwarded me the same message in an email. It's a message that's been floating around for nearly a decade, so you can already see how much difference it's made!!!

Here's my take on the whole thing.

When you're talking about food products, canned goods, dry goods and the like, it's usually possible to find products that are made here, grown here, and/or processed here.

Many personal hygeine products such as soaps, shampoos, toothpaste and other toiletries can also be found that are made here.

SOME clothing products can be found that are made here. Not all, but some.

And it is still possible to find furniture made here if you are willing to pay the prices.

The fact is though, that most products made by corporations that are owned and operated within North America are manufactured somewhere overseas for various reasons. Labour costs, taxes, lower production costs in general, manpower... and you can bitch and complain about it all you want, but we've done it to ourselves and here is how.

Everyone complained about how the prices of everything were getting too high. We didn't want to pay the prices and then stores like Wal-Mart appeared to save the day. Take a walk through Wal-Mart sometime and find me something that is made in North America. Good luck. A lot of the brands in Wal-Mart were virtually unknown, but hey, $5 for a t-shirt? Why not, right?

What happened then? Well because so many customers were being lost by major brands to stores like Wal-Mart, they had to do something to stay competitive. With unions and labour laws driving labour costs through the roof with things like pensions and benefits and higher wages, and corporate taxes on the rise, these companies profits were taking a nose dive. Sales were down, demand was down, and yet workers still wanted more and more. And so they said goodbye to the factories here in favour of factories overseas, where they could manufacture the same product at a much lower cost, and thus offer it to the public at a lower cost, while still maintaining profits. The result? The bulk of higher end brand name products went down in price and people started buying them again and the health of the companies started to climb back up. In most cases without sacrificing quality - though in a couple of cases the quality went into the toilet (Levi's for example, became absolute crap - whether they still are, I don't know because I haven't bought a pair in at least a decade or more). But consumers were happy because they could get all those things they loved again without having to take out second mortgages.

Just to give an example that I actually know about - my boyfriend Jon works at Al's shoes in Simcoe. In a store that carries over 1/4 million pair of shoes, mostly name brand, maybe 200 pair are Made in Canada or USA. I initially thought that number was probably 1000, but I was informed by Jon last night that I was way off. Nike, Reebok, Adidas, Saucony, Clarks, Doc Martens... all made overseas. Quality is the same, given that my last pair of Saucony lasted me close to a year of being on my feet 40+ hours a week. But I digress. Terra workboots have gone back to being Made in Canada, with only a couple models still being manufactured overseas, and New Balance make about 1/4 of their shoes in USA (though I'm frequently told that New Balance are crap these days compared to Nike or Saucony who have kept up with advances in technology), but for the most part, you'll be hard pressed to find much made here, and many of those are are overpriced in comparison. This is just one industry, and they're not the only industry affected.

Remember the days when a new computer cost you almost as much as a car? Those were the days when computers were made in North America. Sure, lost of computers are assembled here still, but those memory sticks, hard drives, video cards, motherboards and cpus they contain are made... you guessed it, in China. So are most electronics. Not just the cheap nameless crap that you find in Wal-Mart, but the high end stuff that everyone craves.

And then there are appliances. Sure, there are still a few models of a few brands made here, but most of them are the high end, really expensive ones that the average consumer can't afford.

So tell me how you can possibly avoid buying Made in China? Give up your cell phone, your computer, your cordless phone, your television, your washer, your dryer, your refrigerator, your oven, your microwave, your video games, your stereo... not easy is it?

Another really big factor in the decision to build overseas is the stock market. A healthy company on the stock market is an attractive one to traders and the better a profit margin is, the better the trading. Got an RRSP? A mutual fund? An RESP? A GIC? A high yield savings account? Want those to keep growing? Then don't complain about companies trying to keep profits up. Those same people who complained about climbing prices, and now bitching about Made in Canada or Made in USA are really glad that their portfolios increased. (Maybe not THIS week, lol)

It's a double edged sword really. You can complain all you like about it, but if you don't want to pay inflated prices and you want to see your investments increase, then perhaps it's best to let it be?

Here's a scenario, which ties in my second gripe. Let's imagine that we successfully demand that all of these companies who are manufacturing overseas begin opening or re-opening plants in North America. Who is going to work in them?

Sure we all think that with unemployment so high, it would be easy to fill all these new jobs. But just WHO is going to fill them?

My generation and my parents' generation sort of guaranteed that factory work would fall to the wayside by doing one thing - convincing our children that education was the end all be all and that going to university or college was mandatory. That they wanted a better life for their kids. In doing that we've also convinced our children that anything involving manual labour is somehow inferior and beneath them and that the better life means not getting dirty. It's obvious when you see how many people on unemployment have degrees. They simply WON'T take a job where they might get dirty - not matter how much the job pays. They're content to wait for that perfect office job. Need some extra cash? Go and work on a farm for the season. It's money. But oh no, we can't do that, it's belittling. So the farmers' bring in Mexicans and Jamaicans to do it. Someone has to do it, but it's not going to be us. Do you think if the factories here reopened it would be much different?

At first, probably not. But as all those college and university educated people find their office jobs staff will start to dwindle and someone will have to fill the jobs. So they'll start to import workers from elsewhere because they have no choice. Not to mention the fact that the sheer number of people needed to staff all these factories to meet consumer demands is much higher than the population here can support. So look for an influx of millions of offshore workers to flood into North America to fill the demand. Then we can bitch about immigrants stealing jobs from Canadians - jobs that most of the next generations wouldn't want anyway.

When I told some friends that my son had chosen not to go to college and had instead chosen to work in construction while doing a tattoo apprenticeship, they kind of scoffed. Why? He's employed, making good money, studying to do a job he really loves. He wants to take a few courses in college to hone his drawing skills, and that's enough for him. He doesn't need a piece of paper to tell him he's a good artist, his portfolio shows that. And I'm happy that he's pursuing a career that will make him a happy, well-adjusted adult. I'd much rather he do that than waste thousands of dollars on an education that will not benefit him in the slightest. Yet that has become the expected route for all kids graduating high school and it's become taboo NOT to go. Half these kids going to college or university have no idea what they want to be when they graduate. They take a smattering of courses they think are interesting and graduate with a knowledge of lots of useless facts that will in no way help them in life.

This has led to employers demanding college or university educations for the simplest of jobs, most of which have no need for the type of education they demand but because there are so many over-educated, unemployed people out there, they can demand it. Which of course means that having actual job and life experience means nothing in the workplace anymore, and people who are actually qualified to do a job are denied opportunities because of a lack of education. Between two people, a 40 year old with 20 years of secretarial experience and a 23 year old with a bachelor of arts, the 23 year old is more likely to get the job. Yet the 40 year old could probably do the job with little to no training from day one, will likely stick with the job for a long time and be happy doing the job because it's what they want to do. The 23 year old will take the job, be lost until they are trained because they don't actually know how to do what they've been hired for, will not enjoy the work because it doesn't pay well enough, and will most likely only stick around until something in their field of study becomes available to them. And then the cycle will start all over again. It's a sad state of affairs when a degree only guarantees you a job making little more than minimum wage.

We should have left well enough alone. I know people who spent thousands of dollars on a university education that have gone on to become housewives. WHY??? Because their parents convinced them that education was necessary. Yet they've not worked a day since they graduated. A bit of a waste of money don't you think? Leave university to the doctors, the laywers, the scientists, the teachers... they need it. We're educating ourselves out of a middle class. Those that get those degrees feel that they should be making higher salaries, but because of the huge number of degrees now earned, there are no jobs out there for them. Maybe we should go back to encouraging our children to pursue careers in things they enjoy instead of insisting that they better themselves with useless facts?

Whatever happened to an honest day's work for an honest day's pay? What's wrong with getting your hands dirty? Many of these manual labour jobs pay better than the office jobs that are so desired. I remember when being a factory worker or construction worker commanded respect because it was hard work. Now all of a sudden it's looked down upon.

It also stands to reason that not every kid out there is capable of gaining a higher education. Not everyone has the brainpower to do it and they're made to feel inferior because of that. It's not right. The world needs all kinds - construction workers and CEO's. We need to stop making everyone feel that the CEO is the only choice.

To prove the point? I've worked in lots of different jobs in my lifetime. I've been a receptionist/secretary, I've been a landscaper, I've been a computer intructor and technician and I've worked in a grocery store. Out of all those jobs, the two that made me the happiest were landscaping and working in the grocery store (the first time I did it, not my last job). Sure, I made great money doing computer services, moreso as a technician working for $45 an hour. But the job stress, the commuting, the changing jobs every six months, the long hours and being on call all the time are just not worth it to me. I went home at the end of the day worrying about all the things I had to do the next day and half the time couldn't sleep. I was always mentally exhausted. Landscaping made me ache and made me exhausted, but at the end of the day I could go home, take a shower and leave work behind. Yet the people who knew me as a computer tech told me I was selling myself short and I could be doing so much better. Nobody stopped to think that maybe I enjoyed my job and I didn't care that I was only making $15 an hour. I felt better mentally, physically and emotionally. I'd still be doing it if the job still existed, but the company went under (long story which I won't get into here).

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for education when it's warranted and for those whose career choices deem it necessary. The point I'm trying to make is that we've created a vicious cycle where everyone is encouraged to reach for the stars and nobody stops to consider what will make them happy. Working hard for a living shouldn't be looked down upon. Not everyone in this world is meant to be a doctor, lawyer or CEO and we shouldn't frown upon those who aren't. We should encourage people to follow their hearts rather than the almighty dollar. Because in the end, as long as the bills get paid, it doesn't matter how they got paid, and you should be proud that you can do it whether you do it as a doctor or a ditch digger. As long as you're happy doing what you do, NOBODY should make you feel inferior for doing it.

Bottom line is we've created a society that's made it very easy for these large corporations to turn to overseas manufacturing because we've made the jobs they offer undesirable to the masses. And I think that is a big reason you're not going to see them flocking to re-institute manufacturing in North America. It's been made unwelcome.

So sure, it's wonderful to look at labels and try to buy locally grown or locally manufactured products and we should all try to do just that as much as possible. But don't kid yourself into believing that everything you buy can and should be made here, because what may be possible is not always probable. The world is evolving into a global economy and we had all better get used to it.


  1. What a wonderful post. I agree with you wholeheartedly - especially in regards to the education portion. I did the college-after-high school thing and I was NOT prepared to be making career decisions at 18-22 years of age. I ended up with a degree that I never used. The skills I use in my job now came from on the job experience that I earned from someone willing to give me a chance to learn something knew. I work in support role, I get to work from home and I couldn't be happier. I'm not going to strike it rich by any means, but I'm content. For my children, I hope they can find that contentment as well - be it as janitors or doctors. There is pride in every job. Good for you for pointing that out!


  2. Fascinating post! Alot of it is very relevant to us in the UK too. My husband says the same thig about manufacturing as you do. What is interesting here is that a few years ago we started outsourcing alot of work to India (Call Centres, HelpDesks and Customer Services, that sort of thing). It is all now coming back to the UK. Companies actually advertise "All UK based Call Centres" as a selling point for their businesses.
    One thing I disagree with you on is educated women "wasting their money" by becoming a housewife. For a start who said education is for financial profit? Be educated and learn for the love of knowledge. Secondly, it has been proved that a child's prospects in life are greatly improved in direct relation to their Mother's level of education. Father's does not make any difference. The more educated a woman is, the more likely she is to breastfeed (and for longer). So what if a graduate woman doesn't use her degree for paid employment, nurturing the next generation is just as important!
    Okay, off my soapbox now :-)
    Personally I want my boys to love learning, be as highly educated and widely read as possible then if they want to build stages for a living like their Dad - go for it! (Being a tattoo artist would be even cooler....)

  3. Fair points, Jo. I suppose I look at it differently knowing that competition for university here is huge and those who would use their education for employment missed the opportunity because of someone who just went because it was the thing to do. In one case, their parents re-mortgaged their home to pay for that education that never got used. I'm not sure what the cost of university is there, but here it's averaging $100,000 (62,000 pounds) for four years (all included), higher in some cases. Tuition alone for sciences is up to $12,000+ per term now. College is a bit less expensive. I'm not university educated, but I'm not uneducated by any stretch of the imagination. I've taken a lot of part time courses and I read constantly on a huge range of subjects. I'm more knowledgable and intelligent than a lot of the graduates I converse with. I'm just saying that piece of paper is given far too much weight in society, especially in places where it really isn't necessary. University is not the ONLY place to educate yourself, but without that piece of paper, you rarely get a fair shot at showing people that.