A Short Meditation on America’s Loss of Manufacturing

By now most people are aware that the United States produces very little of its own furniture, carpeting, toys, textiles, shoes, electronics and appliances.  Those once flourishing industries are a thing of the past.  Indeed, hard as it may be to believe, a sizeable number of American flags are now made in China.

On a less urgent note, we’ve also lost our “novelty” manufacturing base.  It’s true.  Our plastic, artificial vomit and artificial dog poop are now being produced in Asia.  While some people might greet this news with apathy, I see it differently.  If we’ve already lost our fake vomit and dog poop to foreign manufacturers, how soon before we lose our truck nuts?

My concern isn’t confined solely to the economics.  Obviously, novelty items like plastic vomit and excrement—while venerated and reliable staples of traditional American humor—don’t play a significant role in the marketplace.

Rather, my concern is what the Chinese may think of us as they produce these things.  After all, America’s military aggression and corporate bullying have already saddled us with a fairly negative image in much of the world.  What additional damage will these novelty items do to our reputation?

The following is a dramatization of a conversation between two Chinese assembly line workers, Wong and Chang, employed by a plastics manufacturing company in Shanghai.

Wong:  Have you checked out next week’s production schedule?

Chang:  No, not yet.

Wong:  They’ve got us running two shifts of vomit… then switching over to dog poo.

Chang:  What kind of vomit?

Wong:  One cycle of gritty, two of chunky, one of heavily pebbled.

Chang:  What kind of poo?

Wong:  Medium grain, normal size, light brown.  One cycle only.

Chang (delighted):  Not too shabby.  Should be an easy run. (pauses a moment):  Wong, you’re a smart person.  Have you ever wondered why Americans buy this stuff?

Wong:  They think it’s funny.

Chang:  I don’t get it.  What’s so funny about a mound of dog poo?

Wong:  We shouldn’t concern ourselves with why they buy it.  As long as we get paid to produce it, that’s all we should care about.  Factory jobs aren’t easy to come by.

Chang: (reconsiders)  You’re probably right.  I should be grateful.

Wong: (brightening)  By the way, have you heard the news?  It looks like we’re going to get the truck nuts account.

Chang: (totally clueless)  Truck nuts??

WONG:  Plastic testicles enclosed in a plastic scrotum.

Chang: (genuinely curious)  Are these like… science exhibits?  Are they sold to medical schools?

Wong:  No.  They’re ornaments.

Chang: (stunned)  Ornaments?!?

Wong:  They hang them from the rear bumpers of their powerful, over-sized American trucks.

Chang:  But why on earth would they do that?

Wong:  Apparently, they find it quite hilarious.

Chang: (contemplates it)  I’m surprised.

Wong:  You’re surprised that Americans could be so juvenile, vulgar and self-absorbed?

Chang:  No.  I’m surprised they still make trucks.

David Macaray, a Los Angeles playwright and author (It’s Never Been Easy: Essays on Modern Labor), was a former union rep. He can be reached at: dmacaray@earthlink.net. Read other articles by David.