There have been numerous efforts to persuade U.S. consumers to “Buy American” and some even to boycott all products produced in China. The boycott proponents often cite unsafe foods, melamine-tainted plates, toxic toothpaste and other examples of shoddily-made consumer items. Yet, China continues to be able to produce many, if not most, household goods at far more competitive prices than U.S. manufacturers. Boycotting Chinese products seems to be more hassle than its worth………but don’t be fooled. There is a real cost to buying Chinese-made consumer goods and that cost has finally been calculated by a qualified economist.
For the past ten years, an economics professor at University of California, Irvine has delved into the question of how the purchase of Chinese products impacts American consumers, employees and national security. Dr. Peter Navarro has been examining this question and has written a few books on the subject. He’s also made a highly-regarded documentary about the issue and is currently involved in raising funds for a follow-up movie that examines the military tensions between China and the U.S. So impressive was Navarro”s work that he got drafted into the Trump Administration to spearhead China-American trade policy.
His first film, “Death by China,” succeeded because it constructively changed the way people think about the changing world and how their own actions impact their own homeland’s security. Because of the undeniable power of that film, no one who watches “Death by China” (currently available on Netflix) will ever purchase a Made in China product again without thinking about the economic and safety implications of that purchase. Navarro makes the documented link between when China began flooding U.S. markets with illegally subsidized products in 2001, and the over 50,000 American factories that have disappeared, more than 25 million Americans can’t find a decent job, and America owing more than 3 trillion dollars to the world’s largest totalitarian nation.
His proposed second film builds upon the message in “Death By China” as it moves beyond issues of consumer safety and American job losses and ventures into the foreboding threat that few wish to think about: China’s military build-up. You can find out more about Navarro’s second film here. But whether you want to support the film or not, you cannot read his book or see his documentaries without changing the way you look at the purchase of “Made in China” goods.
Here at SanDiegoCAN, we generally support precepts of free trade and unfettered access to markets. However, Navarro has presented well-researched examples of such breadth and depth that leaves the viewer’s mind clear enough to see that all of these seemingly disconnected things are LINKED. They are connected pieces in a strategic plan that delivers ever greater wealth and power to small group of men in Beijing and Shanghai, at the expense of America and other country-customers. Even if you do not agree with all of the arguments made by Navarro, you cannot help but be persuaded that the Chinese government does harm to people around the world and its military policy, economic policy, social policy, and environmental policy have direct impacts upon the pocketbooks and security of all Americans, not just the ones that buy products made by Chinese companies.
It turns out that Navarro’s thesis may have been more correct than had been initially imagined. Former Clinton and Obama foreign policy advisors Kurt M. Campbell and Ely Ratner recently published an article in the prestigious Foreign Affairs journal in which they conceded that: “Neither carrots nor sticks have swayed China as predicted. Diplomatic and commercial engagement have not brought political and economic openness. Neither U.S. military power nor regional balancing has stopped Beijing from seeking to displace core components of the U.S.-led system. And the liberal international order has failed to lure or bind China as powerfully as expected. China has instead pursued its own course, belying a range of American expectations in the process.” American’s hopes of changing China may have been wrong. The assumption that China could or wanted to be integrated into (our) international order was also apparently wrong. This means that Navarro’s thesis in Death By China has now, for the first time, become mainstream thinking in both major parties.
Read Navarro’s books. Or watch the documentary. Or peruse Navarro’s website. Or do your own homework. But please avoid the mistake made by so many U.S. consumers that purchasing consumer products made in China cause no harm. The harm is documented, profound and long-term.