The Global Economy and Me
What does your closet reveal about your place in the global economy?
- Whether you live in Manhattan or a small town in the American Midwest, you are plugged into the global economy — and it is very much plugged into you.
- If our cars are typical of even "American-made" cars, they contain plenty of parts from Mexico, Canada and even a few from outside North America.
- On the coat rack inside our front door hangs outerwear from Ukraine, the Philippines, Vietnam, Portugal, Sri Lanka, Jordan, Israel and Macedonia (with fabric woven in Italy).
- According to our international index fund portfolio, our modest 401(k) savings are providing capital to Japan, the United Kingdom, France, Switzerland, Germany, Spain, Australia, the Netherlands, Italy and Hong Kong.
Welcome to my closet, my multinational, middle-class closet. If you had cared to look inside recently, you would have found:
- Ten business suits and blazers: Two of them made in China, two in Canada, two in the United Kingdom (my tweed jackets from the 1990s) — and one each in Mexico, Guatemala, India and parts unknown (the label fell off).
- Fourteen dress shirts: Four made in Bangladesh, two in Honduras and one each in China, Mexico, Nicaragua, Vietnam, Peru, Costa Rica, Korea and Egypt.
- Seventeen neckties: Nine made in the United States (several of those from imported fabric, including “Finest Italian Silk”), three in China and one each in Costa Rica, South Korea, the United Kingdom, Italy and parts unknown.
- Sixteen casual button shirts: Five from India, three from Canada, two from Malaysia and one each from the United States, South Korea, the Philippines, Thailand, China, Bulgaria and parts unknown.
- Thirteen knit shirts with collars: Three each from India and Egypt and one each from Thailand, the Philippines, Honduras, Bulgaria, Vietnam, Brunei/Darussalam (time to get out the atlas), and China — the last with former CNN anchor Lou Dobbs’ worst nightmare on the label, “Hecho en China.”
- Twenty-seven colored and printed t-shirts: Nine from Honduras, six from Mexico, three from El Salvador, two from Thailand and one each from China, Singapore, Australia and four from parts unknown.
- Six sweaters: Two from China, one from Mexico, one from Italy, one knit by my dear wife and one from parts unknown.
- Twelve pairs of jeans and other pants: Seven from the Dominican Republic, four from Mexico and one from Guatemala.
- Six pairs of shorts: Two each from Sri Lanka and Nicaragua and one each from El Salvador and Egypt.
- As for shoes, if you include my spouse’s to increase the sample size, almost all come from China, the rest from India, the Dominican Republic and that real export powerhouse, “Parts Unknown.”
If you were to further snoop in my dresser drawers, you would find various under-garments and furnishings from the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Honduras and Thailand. On the coat rack inside our front door hangs outerwear from Ukraine, the Philippines, Vietnam, Portugal, Sri Lanka, Jordan, Israel and Macedonia (with fabric woven in Italy).
In the kitchen, you would find a drip coffee machine from Mexico, a quarter-century-old coffee grinder from Germany and from China, an electric tea kettle, a toaster, an electric griddle, an electric sandwich grill, a food processor, a bread machine and a hand vacuum.
As you move through the rest of the house, items made — or at least assembled — in China are everywhere: Two laptop computers and accessories, a label maker, a table lamp, a DVD player, a steam iron, folding chairs, an indoor/outdoor thermometer, a plastic electronic barking guard dog, three basketballs and a football.
A year-old desktop computer and a decade-old TV are from Mexico, and our 4-in-1 printer is from Malaysia.
Peek over my shoulder as I check the online balance of our 401(k) — alas, not what it was in the heady days of 2007 — and you will see 10% of our retirement assets parked in an international index fund. According to the fund portfolio, our modest savings are providing capital to Japan, the United Kingdom, France, Switzerland, Germany, Spain, Australia, the Netherlands, Italy and Hong Kong.
In the upper left corner of the web page is the logo for the Dutch insurance conglomerate that administers the plan. Inside my health insurance file nearby is paperwork from a South African company that used to administer our health savings account. My wife’s home page on her laptop is set to the BBC web site.
And sitting outside our townhouse in our two parking spots on a late winter day are a Dodge minivan and an Oldsmobile sedan. Both were made by Detroit-based automakers but, if they are typical of even “American-made” cars, they contain plenty of parts from Mexico, Canada and even a few from outside North America.
And before it went out of business, we would occasionally gas them up at a Venezuelan-owned CITGO down the road.
An inventory of your own closet, home and life would probably tell a similar tale. Whether you live in Manhattan or a small town in the American Midwest, or anywhere other than a primitive mountain cabin, you are plugged into the global economy — and it is very much plugged into you.
Editor’s Note: This article has been adapted from an excerpt from Daniel Griswold’s book, “Mad About Trade.”
Read Part II here.