Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Here's the story I posted yesterday, then deleted:

...In the past week, two retail chains stopped buying goods from American furniture makers who are supporting a so-called "anti-dumping petition" that could impose steep tariffs on Chinese products, thus dramatically raising import costs.

...American Furniture Warehouse Co. Inc., based in Englewood, Colo., which has nine stores across Colorado, and Columbus, Ohio,-based Value City Furniture, which has 80 stores across the East Coast and Midwest, are no longer buying bedroom sets from companies whose executives signed a petition charging China with illegally dumping cheap furniture in the United States....

...For the American furniture making executives who signed the petition, the argument is simple.

China has fixed its currency at about 40 percent of the value of the U.S. dollar, thereby insuring what they deem as persistently unfair pricing advantages over U.S. products. In addition, the petition supporters argue that the Chinese government subsidizes the building of furniture plants in that country and is not abiding by World Trade Organization standards to protect worker safety and the environment to further keep costs down.

...Wickes Furniture, a 40-store chain in the Midwest, has also stopped buying from Vaughan-Bassett. Wickes was spending as much as $1 million a year with the company, but has gradually cut back and shifted to buying from China manufacturers after Seffner, Fla.,-based retail giant Rooms To Go Inc. bought half of the company.

....Jeff Seaman, chief executive of Rooms To Go, said he isn't boycotting any American manufacturer company that signed the anti-dumping petition. But Seaman said he prefers to buy from furniture makers that are not backing the petition.

..."I'm against the petition because it's going to raise prices for consumers," Seaman said. "Anything that's anti-consumer is bad for larger retailers."

...Just in the wood bedroom furniture segment, the United States has lost 106,000 jobs in the past four years -- including more than 16,000 factory jobs in North Carolina -- according to the U.S. Department of Labor....

--MSNBC, from The Business Journal of the Greater Triad Area (North Carolina)

What's odd about this -- and about Bush's warning to Taiwan -- is that Bush and the furniture dealers (and other retailers, from Wal-Mart on down) clearly no longer fear that there'll be a public outcry. Some rightists still mistrust China, and some on the left worry about human-rights violations and lost American jobs, but the average American wants that $29 DVD player and doesn't seem angry at China the way, not so long ago, many Americans were angry at Japan.

Part of the problem, I think, is that average Americans can't figure out what would save American jobs -- protectionism? free trade? unionism? huge tax cuts for the rich? So Americans just shrug and, as long as they're employed, spend.

I can't figure it out either. I'd love to tick off a progressive laundry list of solutions, but the relentless ratcheting down of costs by corporations is a trend that isn't going to be reversed by one or two successful union organizing campaigns, or "living wage" laws. I fear that it's going to have to get a lot worse before people are really motivated to take steps to turn it back, and at that point it may require a (literal) class war.

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