THE BLOG

The Polar Express Terminates in Beijing Now

12/21/2007 05:44 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

China is where 80 percent of Santa's toys are made. That's where his suits are sewn too, the last American one having been tailored at Halco, just outside Pittsburgh in May. The 70 Halco workers who once stitched Santa's fuzzy red and whites got the boot.

They joined half a million U.S. apparel workers who lost their jobs to foreign laborers over the past decade. The "problem" with American workers, whose average wage is $10 an hour, is they just can't compete with Asian workers, who get closer to 30 cents an hour, who may be forced to work 14-hour days, and whose employers frequently ignore health, safety and environmental standards. HoHoHo! Merry Christmas!

If Santa now resides in a communist country of 1.3 billion where his elves may construct toys for American boys and girls in sweatshop conditions no American worker would tolerate, does that somehow make him less jolly?

If the suits he wears are crafted by Chinese workers who don't celebrate Christmas and don't even know who Santa is instead of by 70 union workers in Pennsylvania who now can't afford to fill little Johnny's fireside stockings, does that somehow make Santa's eyes twinkle any less?

If the shiny ornaments sold at Wal-Mart to hang on Christmas trees were spray painted without gloves or masks by Chinese 12-year-olds, forced to work 15-hour days, seven days a week, for half the Chinese minimum wage at the Guangzhou Huanya Gift Co., would that somehow make the cookies left for Santa any less sweet?

Why no, little Cindy Lou Who! Don't be a Grinch! Just Believe! Believe the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission will protect the Whos in Whoville from all that lead and cadmium in those imported toxic toys and from the magnets and small parts that keep falling out and off.

Believe the uncontrolled pollution from making them won't affect you, though there are those disquieting reports of China's fetid air wafting over California.

Believe that the skyrocketing trade imbalance with China will never be a problem and that unlike American companies holding all those sub-prime mortgages gone bad, China will never call in its debts.

Or, alternatively, you could stop just believing and make a list and check it twice. Check whether your U.S. Senators and your Congressman support free trade or fair trade. Free trade is what got us into the mess we're in now. Free trade enables multinational corporations to contract with Chinese firms like Guangzhou Huanya Gift Co. for the lowest conceivable price with no repercussions and no oversight. American companies that once hired American workers at living wages to manufacture tree ornaments are forced out of business when Guangzhou Huanya Gift Co. begins signing its 8,000 employees to "voluntary" contracts to work 15-hour days, 7 days a week at half the Chinese minimum wage. Fair trade agreements, by contrast, require foreign firms to meet international environmental and labor standards, making competition fairer.

Checking the list twice means putting a mark next to the fair trader's name on Election Day.

Also, you could make a list of products made in the USA and buy them. It makes a difference. If all the toy recalls for lead poisoning make you nervous, if you don't trust the CPSC to keep your family safe, buy toys made by local craftsmen and sold at neighborhood shops if you want to keep manufacturing in the USA, make an effort to buy things manufactured in the USA.

Demand proper valuing of the Chinese Yuan or, alternatively, duties on Chinese imports. China has undervalued the Yuan to promote exports by making its products less expensive in the world marketplace. This has acted essentially as a subsidy by the Chinese government for all Chinese exports. The U.S. government, however, has failed to treat it as a subsidy. It could, for example, place duties on the imports that would protect American jobs.

You better watch out. You better not shout. Santa Claus is coming to town. And unless you do something about it, every toy is the sack, every stitch of clothing on his back, and even his big red sled track, will all be made in China.