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The Social Reality of Outsourcing

DONGGUAN, CHINA - OCTOBER 18:  Workers wait to...

While corporations in America look to keeping their bottom line in the black – few of the consumers (as we’ve been reduced to) wandering around their local WalMart in a retail induced stupor realize or care how reliant North America has become of outsourced labor and factory work – and what the implications fo the downturn in the American economy means on a global scale…

Factories Shut, China Workers Are Suffering – NYTimes.com

The Pearl River Delta, known as the world’s factory, powered an export industry that pushed China’s annual growth rate into the double digits and provided work for migrants from interior provinces with poor farmland. But circumstances have changed quickly. The slowdown in exports contributed to the closing of at least 67,000 factories across China in the first half of the year, according to government statistics. Labor disputes and protests over lost back wages have surged, igniting fear in local officials.

I’m just as responsible as the next “Consumer” for the outsourcing of all our manufacturing jobs to Asia – most of us can claim to have been unwilling participants in this social experiment of our industrial, financial and political leaders over the last half century.

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China is suffering today from the expansion of their economic base on the back of western outsourcing and consumer spending. There is no simple short term solution to these problems that would provide an easy landing for all (or any) people affected. Here are some thoughts…

  1. We are addicted to the cheap disposable items being produced offshore.
  2. We have removed almost all ability to manufacture any goods of decent quality or quantity in North America.
  3. We have attempted to build a local economy fully removed from the production of real items of tangible long term value
  4. Peak oil will impact the ability to produce, ship, sell and buy many of the goods we rely on to maintain our quality of life.
  5. Asia will not sit back quietly if we were to take back the production of goods to the North American continent.

We’re in a pickle. Most of us use goods that are manufactured thousands of miles away every day, expecting that if it failed (or just got “old”) we could replace it with an upgraded item with a simple trip to the shops, or by logging onto amazon.com. Neither these goods, nor the economic model that drives them are sustainable, the current volatility in the North American markets have, from the above article, caused 67,000 factories to shut down.

People have told me the importance of changing all the lightbulbs in the office to compact fluorescent ones. The global damage that standard lightbulbs do is nothing when compared to the choices we make in purchasing everyday goods and technology for our home or office. One may represent less energy consumed, but the other has the power to direct economies towards localization and self-sufficiency, rather than the long supply line tail that whips about with the slightest flick of the North American wrist.

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Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas P.Eng. ENV SP, is the author of UrbanWorkbench.com and Director of Engineering at the City of Revelstoke in the Interior of British Columbia, Canada. If I post something here that you find helpful as you navigate the world of engineering, planning and building communities, that’s wonderful. But when push comes to shove: This is my personal blog. The views expressed on these pages are mine alone and not those of my employer.

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