In 1985, this country encountered something new: a trade deficit with China. It was just six million dollars. In 1994, President Bill Clinton ignored criticism from his own party to renew China’s Most Favored Nation trade status, citing the eight billion dollars’ worth of export business this country did with China. He tactfully failed to mention the thirty-nine billion dollars’ worth of goods we imported, for a net deficit of thirty billion dollars. And then we were off to the races, as government policies under the Clinton, Bush, and Obama Administrations made it a no-brainer for American companies to outsource their manufacturing and technical operations overseas. That deficit doubled, then doubled again, within the first ten years after Clinton’s decision. It peaked in 2018 at a staggering $418 billion before dropping to $345 billion in 2019. We are currently on track for a 2020 trade deficit of $279 billion, the lowest figure since 2009.
Last year, I tried like hell to build a “dirt jumper” bike without Chinese parts. I spent nearly five thousand dollars sourcing a frame from Ann Arbor, rims from Grand Rapids, titanium crank components from Florida, brakes from Japan. In a few cases, notably tires and tubes, I had no choice other than Taiwanese-sourced items. Taiwan is Chinese but it’s not Chinese, I suppose. The front fork, made by Fox, was largely Taiwanese thanks to the company’s recent decision to move all production to that island. Having painstakingly researched my way out of mainland China, I then built the bike… only to see “Made In China” on a wheel bearing.
The American Giant hooded sweatshirt, pictured above in the Black Camo limited edition I was too slow to buy in 2018, is entirely sourced in the United States. Every single part. But it’s a sweatshirt. If you get any more complex than that, you will find that Chinese manufacturing, like the COVID-19 virus, is impossible to completely avoid. Bicycles are not complex machines by any modern standard, but you can’t build one without buying from China. This should have worried all of us, but with the exception of yahoos like your humble author it did not. Our media told us to accept globalization as an inevitable thing, even as they told us we could help the climate of the entire planet by buying “sustainable” clothing that just happened to be made in China.
The cracks in this Tower of Babel are starting to show. Ironically, bicycles are leading the way.