When my father used to sell U.S. made gift wrap, which was the best in the world, this was the season when he really killed it. He had all of these beautiful rolls of American made paper in his workshop, which he called "the place," and gorgeous loose-leaf books of fantastic styles for the holidays, from kitsch and throwback to commercial and colorful. He repped so many mills that it was hard to find a paper he didn't have.
Then the Chinese decided to target the industry. They made paper so much more cheaply than the United States that, frankly, it didn't matter if it were of inferior quality. Who cared? It got ripped up anyway.
You couldn't see it coming, really. The Chinese started by taking over what pop called the "stretch band" industry, those golden giant rubber bands that replaced the beautiful Sasheen ribbons that 3M made that my father sold to so many small merchants along with the gift wrap rolls that they needed for the holidays. Sasheen was one of my dad's best sellers. I was so proud of it that I learned to make bows of it and demonstrated it in Mrs. Mixer's 5th grade class at Penn Manor.
Now if you google Sasheen it's a popular girl's name. You can't even find the real goods.
Once they got their foothold into the packaging, they went all in gift wrap. We welcomed it. But you know what we forgot -- meaning we, the government? That people in small towns manufactured the stuff and manufactured it better than anyone. It just cost too much versus what the Chinese government could make it for.
Now, this weekend, we are at last getting our revenge, we the people whose parents lost their jobs to the Chinese for so many goods that we used to make so well, from pajamas to footwear to tablewear to bathrobes.
Sure there's a lot of electronics: screens, laptops, phones, microwaves, clocks -- did you know companies still made clocks even as they are suboptimal versus cellphones? Toys, high chairs, ceiling fans, it goes on and on. With each of these I see a group of towns decimated like the towns that made gift wrap for my dad's jobbing business.
The economists are all decrying how much it's going to lower the standard of living for the working person in this country. I constantly hear numbers bandied about -- $1,000 per household is the one that seems to have the most cogency.
Anyone who studies retail as I do, knows what a crock that is.
More important, would we save the $1000 -- even if it were that number -- versus the layoffs and the loss of dignity from the job eliminations? Do we want to put a double price on it, the scourge of opioid use and killer Fentanyl that the Chinese send our way?
It seemed like a terrific trade off when it first happened. Now it seems pretty darned hollow.
Of course it doesn't have to be that way.
First, companies can always re-shore these businesses. If the labor costs are too high in the U.S. at least re-shore to Mexico, as Martin Franklin did so well when he ran Jarden, which made a lot of these electronics and switched factories from China to Mexico.
Second, U.S. manufacturers can chose to push at the Chinese, saying that they will move factories quickly to other countries as ports and infrastructures are built out. Why not? Most of the jobs are make-work anyway, just a way to put people to work in China as they take our jobs here. Do you think footwear or games are so precise that they can't be made in Thailand or Taiwan?
Third, the retailers with heft can squeeze middlemen until they move the manufacturing back to the U.S. If the tariffs make the goods more expensive than if they are made here, so be it. That's the damned point.
Finally, just give Apple (AAPL) an exemption for competitive reasons. If Apple doesn't get one, then the Koreans will be the big winners, not the Chinese as that is who Apple really competes with. That one exemption will be worth it as Apple has done so much more than any other company on earth to making things here, including the highest of intellectual property.
Or to put it another way: unlike these rapacious capitalists and their low-skill manufacturing jobs, Apple is a provider and a creator of so much good here, even as it assembles much over there. You exempt it and guess what? The rest won't even matter as all manufacturing can be moved from China just like it was moved from the U.S. With job growth this strong? You won't even notice it.
It's time for China and the job exporters to pay. The cost? Small for us. Big for them. If we want to stay a great power versus the Chinese by starving them of capital to keep their hegemony at bay, now's the time to do it. Things may never be this good again.