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Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Truth or consequences


Laura is a twelve year old sixth grader this year, middle school. She changes classes during the day, and even changed a teacher and a subject at the new semester in January. She’s always been strong in math and science, but this year social studies is also holding her interest.

The current unit seems to be Asia’s role in global economics. As Laura wandered from room to room recently, investigating items we have and use, I inquired. Her assignment was to inventory a multitude of items and their country of origin.

Not being certain her teacher would cover some topics dear to my heart, I asked if she knew why America produced few textiles, at every level of manufacture. Hamilton and Emily knew that answer, and we all discussed offshore operations to take advantage of cheap labor. Certainly lower tax rates, too, but my point involved labor, and she is only twelve.

I told her that in Asian countries girls from half her age spent long days in garment factories, and I did not skip the deadly Walmart garment factory fire in Bangladesh. We had recently purchased a pair of novelty socks for six dollars. I took her through spinning the thread, knitting and sewing the socks, shipping them across the ocean, driving them to Jo Ann Fabric, all for six dollars. How much was the little girl in the factory in Bangladesh paid? We agreed on pennies.

Listening to PRI on the way home from jazz practice tonight, Hamilton and I learned 1100 RadioShack stores will be closed, after three bad sales quarters. The report laid the blame squarely on internet sales. Radio Shack, and other electronic and appliance stores have been reduced to showrooms, where people kick the tires, take pictures on their phones, and then go purchase from the largest distributor of electronics in America, Amazon.

I understand it, but I don’t. I wanted a new camera. I spent two weeks on the internet looking at options. Then I went to the camera store to make my final selection, where, ironically, I learned I wanted a feature I’d completely overlooked, a USB connection. Where, more ironically, I bought the camera for about fifty dollars less than it was offered on Amazon.

Hamilton and I kicked the topic around the block on our way home. The idea of a price differential , the possibility of paying less on line than at a store, caught his attention. “Aunt Janice explained to me that if you aren't getting fifty percent off, it’s not really a bargain,” he informed me. “It’s to entice you to buy more, in the store or on line.”

I think about the economic lesson I got from my mother. Stopping by a display of boots and rubbers in the department store somewhere in the forties she upended a boot, then loudly demanded to know, “Why is this store selling rubber boots from Japan when we live in the rubber capital of the world?” These three will remember their Dormitory 61 economics, I hope.





20 comments:

  1. I am certain that they will remember this, and many other lessons. Economics, social justice, equity and more.
    LOVE your new header - and hope that it is new and I haven't just been missing it.

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  2. I think it is a simular story all round the world, China and India have large populations and are not paid very much but I don't know what the solution is, the only thing I can say is improve their working conditions and what they are paid in comparison to the owners of these factories profits.
    Merle...........

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  3. I remember my father fulminating about the import of cheap Japanese motor cycles into the U.K.
    As he predicted, they saw off the British motor cycle industry in short order.
    And a nation that can't make what it wants is one in terminal decline.

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  4. You're teaching great lessons.

    I order from Amazon and the other online behemoths as little as possible. Until they start contributing to the greater good by paying taxes to my local schools and government I'd rather patronize brick and mortar stores.

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  5. It's good that you pointed out the children who suffer and work as virtual slaves. PBS made a very interesting documentary called (I think) The Triangle Factory Fire. I believe it was on The American Experience. It's about a shirtwaist factory where, long ago, young women worked as seamstresses, and many were killed when they couldn't get out of the building during a fire. Now young women, or children, have similar jobs, but they tend to be in other countries. It would be a very educational video for young people.

    Love,
    Janie

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  6. Tough issue, eh? Do we save 40 bucks a week by going to WalMart grocery or it's ilk, or shopping at a locally-owned grocery? Some of have that option, some don't. Those who don't are just putting off the time they'll have to pay more, because there is no competition for the chains, and the prices go up. But, you do what one has to do to survive in the here and now.

    I fear my oldest had less parental prudence than the 12 year old........as a 5 year old she was up at 4am on May 1st, hanging May Day baskets on people's door, with the words of 'Joe Hill' and the tune...and, sadly, the sayings of Chairman Mao......she's fine now, a 39 year old mother of 2, with a wicked sense of humor.

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  7. You are certainly teaching your grandchildren life lessons and making them relevant. My son is in Bangladesh right now and he tells me life there is very hard on the poor and especially girls and women.

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  8. I think those $6.00 socks were green/black and I thank you.Yes, I watched the Triangle shirtwaist fire special..This still goes on in our country as well as abroad..I NEVER shop Walmart as my friends know..It is local stores-no matter what they charge. I want to keep my local merchants.

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  9. I think your grandchildren know more about economics than my now 25 year old does :) Awesome how they are learning and how you are teaching. I must admit, Amazon is a "friend" of mine these days when I'm looking for curriculum for Sunday school lessons; half of it is being too lazy to go out to the local store and not wanting to take too much of my weekend searching for things. Easier to click through on a weekend night and find what I'm looking for. I would buy more American if I could find more American made products, impossible to do sometimes. Sadly, my job is either going to electronic medical records where doctors point and click their own reports or to India or the Phillipines where they can do the work cheaper (but not the best quality).

    betty

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  10. I lost a job I loved because the company closed and moved off-shore to where their costs are cheaper. It's a sad situation, but there are many reasons why companies here in Aus do this, one is the high payroll tax all employers must pay, a major disincentive to small businesses hiring more staff and for the same reason larger businesses are letting people go so the few that are left have to work much harder to take up the slack. Another reason is high profits must be maintained because Shareholders are demanding their "share" their profit on their investment.
    At the other end of the scale are the poorer people who buy what they can afford and if that is made in China that is just too bad. I try to buy Australian where I can, especially foodstuffs. When it comes to clothing, which I buy rarely, there is no way I can afford to buy locally made Australian goods, the few times I have, I found the quality to be no better than things made in China or wherever.

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  11. You are a great teacher Joanne. Child labour is heartbreaking.

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  12. I've been trying to get a pair of those boots all winter, but they stop at size 11 (UK) and I need a 12. Probably because Asians cannot conceive feet that large. I was roasting some lamb the other day, and couldn't be bothered to walk 1/2 a mile in the rain to pick a bunch from a huge bush down the road, so I bought some from the supermarket. The tiny sprig cost almost £1 ($1.67 today) and was air-freighted from Morocco....

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  13. Those kids of yours are learning to think things through...something I hope they take with them through life.

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  14. Touche :) I have never understood why we don't manufacture and sell from our own country anyway. :) Thanks for stopping by the other day. Sorry it took so long to get back to you, had to have more eye surgery done. I fixed the follow button though so all is well.

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  15. It is sad how little these people in 3rd world countries make. But, it is better than nothing.

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  16. It's impossible to buy locally made sometimes but I always try to buy local, support the local establishments. I'd much rather pay more for a better made item. Cheap shit from China or wherever isn't really worth the cheap price in the long run. When my kids were little, I bought their clothes from a cheap place because they outgrew them so fast but I would still have to restitch the seams when I got home or else they would be falling apart after the third washing.

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  17. The old house on your header looks like a film set does it not?

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  18. Wish every teacher would teach global economics as it applies to our everyday reality -- like you did with your grandchildren. -- barbara

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  19. I echo exactly what Delores is saying. Joanne, you're a good teacher.

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  20. It's so cool how you're using their own experience to teach them about complicated concepts. I think that's the best way for children to learn.

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