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.