Low Bid

Dear J-

With industrialization comes the commoditzation of goods, right?  Mass production made the car affordable — well, more affordable, at least — and the same things happened for computers, DVD players, food (industrialized farming and ranches), and any other number of things we touch and see every day.  The cheap nature of goods has made them almost disposable:  drive production costs low enough and it becomes cheaper to replace than repair; such is the fate of so many electronics.

In China, there are some theories linking rice to population in that rice yields scale very well with the amount of labor put into the fields.  In other words, the more hands you put on the plants, the more mouths you can feed.  This also partly explains how cheap Chinese labor is used to drive down costs:  at some point it’s still cheaper to ship raw materials to China and ship the finished products back out than to set up factories closer to destinations or sources.  Competition for manufacturing contracts keeps people employed at low wages and low prospects.

It’s the intersection of lives and productivity that concerns me tonight; we reach a saturation point with goods (or, we should reach a saturation point with material items; me, I keep trying to find it but somehow keep missing) and keep consuming without considering who or how our items are made.  Would we be able to afford the lifestyle we do if not for some faraway toiling serfs keeping manufacturing costs artificially low?  What should we consider as we purchase items?  Are the sources sustainable?  Were the suppliers paid sufficiently?  How about the factory workers?  The delivery system?  It’s too easy to get paralyzed into deciding solely based on price, but even with, say, a goods content and origin label, how many of us would choose to use it?  How do we reward risk without slavishly subsidizing the low bidders?

Mike

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