Cheap goods have a high social costI was both horrified...


January 14, 1996

Cheap goods have a high social cost

I was both horrified and amused by the article on donating Chinese-made boots to Baltimore homeless people (The Sun, Dec. 22).

For some time the apparel industry has been shifting low income, low skill jobs to the cheapest labor markets, first to the South, now overseas. Much of this production has gone to the New Economic Zones of China -- no longer referred to in the press as "communist`, now that its cheap labor is for sale, some of it in forced labor camps. Perhaps three decades ago those boots, or products like them, would have been made, perhaps even purchased, by the same people who now accept them as charity.

To my mind this situation makes absurd the arguments for NAFTA, GATT and other so-called rational free trade arrangements. In the name of lower prices for consumers, we move offshore these low-wage jobs which were once an entry way into the working class. As citizens, we really save no money because the social costs of this now unemployable surplus population are shifted to government -- in the form of prison budgets, fighting an unwinnable drug war and harebrained economic empowerment zones. Then we say we have no money for schools and libraries.

The economic optimists may point to the latest unemployment figure of 5.5 percent. But the survey which gathers information for arriving at this figure includes only residents with fixed addresses, not the homeless population. I believe the actual unemployment figure is much higher.

For some accommodation to this problem, we might look to Japanese retail practices. Japan also lost low-wage production jobs to other Asian countries. But in Japan, standard American retail practices like category killer discount stores and self service are discouraged. For example a gallon of gasoline costs twice as much in Japan, because the customer always gets a small team of people to check the oil and clean the windshield. Economically inefficient? Maybe. But it keeps people working.

We American in these days of a cheap international labor market and corporate layoffs, need to start thinking about all our work arrangements. As citizens, not just consumers and


David S. Lavine


Budget needs compromise

President Clinton and Congress have many times expressed the desire to work toward a balanced budget. The disagreement is only on how to get there.

Each side says the dispute could be over quickly if the other side just agrees to ''our'' program.

Sooner or later they will all grow up, compromise and reach a mutually agreeable solution. When that time arrives, we hope both sides will have the good grace to announce that they have completed their work and wholeheartedly approve the finished product.

They might even apologize for taking so long to do it.

The one thing we do not need to hear is either or both sides taking credit for making the other cave in.

William H. Kelz


Don't rush to celebrate

I was intrigued by the arguments put forth by letter writers that the beginning date of the third millennium will be Jan. 1, 2000.

In presenting their positions, they seem to overlook the fact that there was not a year 0 A.D. If there had been, their arguments would hold. In actuality, the number assigned by the calendar makers to the first year of the first decade of the first century of the first millennium was 1 A.D.

When a new year begins on Jan. 1, the year number is, in effect, advanced. So, when 265 days passed to bring an end to the first year (year 1 A.D.), we were then at the beginning of year 2 A.D. Thus, year 10 A.D. had to end before the first decade could be considered as completed and the second decade could begin. Similarly, the argument holds for the end of a century and the end of a millennium.

Consequently, I would suggest waiting to celebrate the beginning of the third millennium until Jan. 1, 2001, at which time 2000 years (1 A.D. through 2000 A.D.) will have passed.

Raymond J. Herman


Wrong solution to save the bay

Land development patterns have a big impact on our lives. So, when a prominent protector of the Chesapeake Bay proposes major structural changes to government's power to direct future land use patterns, a close look at the suggestion is in order.

William C. Baker, president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, argues in his Dec. 28 letter that local control of land use is inadequate for prevention of development patterns harmful to the bay's health. Mr. Baker suggests that concentration of land use regulatory power at the state level will correct these growth patterns, which he calls ''sprawl.''

Only then, he implies, would the health of the bay improve. He therefore proposes to shift control of land use master planning and decision making from the individual county and city governments to the state government in Annapolis.

But Mr. Baker presents the reader with no evidence to support his thesis. Anticipating the need of such a presentation, I've developed some questions.

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