Beliefnet
The Bible and Culture

There was an interesting story on ABC news tonight about the fallout from the lead paint recall of Mattel toys made in China. The story stressed that the Chinese workers now laid off were making about 18 cents an hour for their toil. Compare this to what blue collar workers would make over here performing the same task, but factor in the differing cost of living in the two places.

But the interesting sidelight to the story was an interview with a small toymaker here in the U.S. who makes toy trains. Suddenly he has been flooded with order requests, though this is probably short lived. There are some 10,000 toy making companies in China to which we out source, and only 50 made in the USA companies doing the same thing. Why? The answer is simple– America’s lust for cheap goods, which has destroyed more American companies than I care to count. Pretty soon all blue collar jobs will be out sourced, the way things are going.

I grew up in a furniture town– High Point N.C. There used to be about 25 or more furniture plants making excellent furniture. Today if you ask how many companies actually make furniture there the answer is one— just one. High Point is hardly furniture city any more. I think this is a loss. Americans have lost many opportunities to learn numerous trades which used to require artisanship, apprenticing, and the like. Now it only requires press board, and wood chips and slave labor.

Now I must tell you that I am not an advocate of no out sourcing of jobs, nor am I particularly enamored with protectionism. But I do think there is a heavy price that we pay for the right to buy cheap goods. And I wonder how as Christians we should view these things.

For one thing I wonder why it is that we have simply acquiesed to the culture of conspicuous consumption. Why is it that we feel compelled to buy so much stuff, ranging from junk to luxuries, neither of which we need? Shouldn’t we be wiser about our purchases, and seek to buy things that are of quality and will last? Of course that might mean we might have to save up for it, instead of buying on credit! Imagine that.

I used to know a lot of Christians who believed on principle that we ought to never buy anything on credit– no credit cards, etc. Sometimes they would make an exception when it came to a home, but that was about it. I am afraid we have not thought through, from a Christian perspective, either how we spend our money, nor what we spend it on, nor whether we ought to spend it at all, nor whether it is an ethical thing to buy cheap foreign goods to begin with. No we just stumble from one recall to another, and temporarily may repent and do better, but all the while ‘shop until we drop’ is the American motto, or “whoever dies with the most toys wins”.

When we buy shabby goods with built in obsolescence we simply cheapen ourselves– and frankly that’s an expensive price to pay for conspicuous consumption. From a Christian point of view a person should not be defined or judged by what they have, but rather by what they give.