“A Year Without…” is a first person account of how one American family, a husband and wife with a four-year-old and a toddler, spent a year without buying anything made in China. To be precise, that meant that if the label said “Made in China” the item was off limits. Products that might or might not have Chinese components were okay, because it was simply too hard to tell. Gifts from China were also allowed.
The premise fascinated me, and seemed required reading since I’m currently writing a book about competing with China and other low-wage countries. But “A Year Without…” failed to meet my expectations. When I head the author, Sara Bongiorni, interviewed on the radio, she provided some intriguing tidbits. Her husband couldn’t hang up his tools because it was impossible to find little hooks for pegboard that weren’t made in China. She was forced to reject $9 shoes from China for her four-year old in favor of a $68 pair from Italy, and she found these online only with great difficulty.
I thought, What else will end up on the forbidden list? Just how dependent are we on China in our daily lives?
I still don’t know. It turns out that the list in Ms. Bongirni’s book is pretty short. Sun glasses. A rubber inflatable pool. Birthday candles. Most of the book isn’t about the necessities China now provides for us, but about the author’s warm/cool relationship with her husband, her difficulties in dealing with her four-year-old’s desire for a light sword, her worries over birthday presents and so on… for 227 pages.
I’ll confess, part of the reason I don’t like the book is its style and, to be fair, that’s a matter of personal taste. But I also wish Ms. Bongiorni could have at least done some research to dramatize the scope of the “Made in China” issue and its potential consequences.
I myself am a little worried about the Chinese take-over of so many industries. And maybe I’ve been listening to too many conservative talk shows, but I think there might be national security implications here. Don’t the companies that make shoes for children also make boots for soldiers? And how about the pegboard hook companies? Do some of them also make the rivets that hold airplane wings together? What would happen there were a rift between China and the U.S. that significantly reduced trade? How much would it hurt? And, if we went beyond Ms. Bongirni’s rule that the label determined the buying decision, if we also ruled out items with Chinese components, could we buy anything?