All too often current events provide a canvas to project our political anxieties. Consider the recent spate of China-bashing resulting from contaminated pet food, toxic tooth paste and leaded children's toys. Early reports characterized China as "a marketplace teeming with unlicensed operations and entrepreneurs willing to cut corners to make a bigger profit." From Pinots to Firestone 500s corner cutting is hardly a uniquely Chinese phenomenon - its synonymous with capitalism.
Most revealing was a stunning reversal where Mattel delivered an apology to China acknowledging that design flaws contributed to many of the toy recalls prompting one Senator to say, "It's like a bank robber apologizing to his accomplice instead of to the person who was robbed."
Perhaps, but what if the bank is gouging the customer through high fees and excessive interest rates. In the same vein, the Senator's comments overlook the driving forces that create a set of market conditions ripe for manipulation. Lets begin with the gutting product and food safety infrastructure while we demand such infrastructure from others. Serious monitoring efforts would reveal a range of problems with foreign and domestic products. Reminder we still do not have a system for checking domestic beef for mad cow disease. Second, consider the "Wal-Mart effect" of demand-and-supply economics which creates systematic downward pressure on manufacturers to continue to reduce costs. Given the tightening of labor markets in China, producers are being pressed to the limit to meet customer price demands and satisfy quality - inevitably something will give.
China-bashing is in vogue because it scores points with a number of political constituencies. This rhetoric fails to recognize that until countries achieve a desired level of economic development, they will make limited gains on a host of social and ecological concerns that many of the rhetoricians seek. Such development continues to be challenged by market conditions of our own creation. It's the abstract art of politics at a time when we need realism.