Saturday, October 4, 2014

Thorsday Book Review on Saturday!

I know this is way out of character for me.  Wednesday our water heater sprung a leak (and didn't get replaced until Friday), and Thursday I had to take Mark for a flu shot (we parents got ours at the pharmacy last week).  So here I am, finally getting to my Thorsday Book Review.

Our oldest son, the finance professor, has had a long running dispute with his parents as to whether globalization and moving all of our manufacturing overseas is a good thing.  He says it's better for everyone to get cheaper stuff, and we say that those people who worked in manufacturing can't buy the cheaper stuff without those good jobs.  Service jobs can never pay as much, and not everyone is college material.  Sorry that's not politically correct, but it's the truth.  It's also the truth that not everyone can get an education in the "STEM" fields - science, technology, engineering, math.  Some people's brains just aren't wired that way.  Anyway, this book was reviewed in the Wall Street Journal a couple of months back, I bought it, my dearly beloved read it and sent it on to our son, so I had to buy a second copy for myself.  And now I can review it for you.

by Beth Macy
copyright 2014

This book takes a look at globalization from the point of view of the affected: the factory owners and workers.

Beth Macy states that this book started as the story of how the recession affected ordinary people and displaced workers; when she started it, of the articles published about the recession, 98% told the story from the point of view of big business and the Obama administration, and only 2% about the people affected. This book certainly addresses that imbalance. The opening paragraph in chapter 1:

"Once in a reporter's career, if one is very lucky, a person like John D. Bassett III comes along. JBIII is inspirational. He's brash. He's a sawdust-covered, good old boy from rural Virginia, a larger-than-life rule breaker who for more than a decade has stood almost single-handedly against the outflow of furniture jobs from America.
"'He's an as****e!' more than one of his competitors barked...."

Early on, Beth Macy quotes Thomas Friedman from his book The World is Flat: "Globalization saved American consumers roughly $600 billion, extended more capital to businesses to invest in new innovations and helped the Federal Reserve hold interest rates down, which in turn gave American a chance to buy or refinance homes." This is my son's argument also; however, my point has been that those former furniture workers in Bassett, Virginia can't buy those terrific cheap goods without the furniture jobs to pay for said goods.

"To most economists, factory work was a throwback. It was still okay to work in health care, retail, recreation, insurance, hotels and haircuts. But it wasn't cool anymore to actually make stuff." As a result, 5 million factory jobs have been eliminated since 2000. There are an awful lot of people out there who don't want to go on to college for whatever their reasons: financial, inability or simple lack of interest - maybe they like making or fixing things. But increasingly, there's no place for them to make a good middle class living. This book looks at some of those people.

But it does take a while to get to that point. Beth Macy starts out looking at the history of the Bassett family, from their settlement in Henry County in 1791, through the Civil War, when the extended family had over 21,000 acres of land; then through the period of trying to figure out how to make a living, initially by sawing lumber for the railroads, then through a sawmill, and finally to making furniture. It details the history of the founding of and expansion of the Bassett Furniture Company, and the family's assistance to other relatives in starting furniture companies of their own in southern Virginia. The book covers the feud between John Bassett ("JBIII") and his brother-in-law, ultimately leading to JBIII's founding of the Vaughn Bassett furniture company, and his strike against the Chinese furniture companies copying his designs and dumping them inexpensively - below cost to manufacture - in America.

I don't know that this book alone would change the minds of people who believe that we ought not to manufacture things here. And I certainly don't think that we could continue to employ the vast numbers of people in manufacturing that once held such jobs - automation will always preclude that. I also question whether Western companies should move their production to wherever the labor costs are cheapest, at the expense of their own countrymen's financial well being. But this book does give a rarely-expressed look into the subject, and is well worth the read.  5/5

(There was one more thing that made me want to read this book.  Back in 1986, we made an offer on one of the Bassett family houses in Bassett, Virginia, which is mentioned in this book.  It was initially accepted, and the acceptance was rescinded, because our offer was 1/3 of what the Bassett heirs had claimed the house was worth when  they donated it to a college in Virginia.  Reading what has happened to Bassett, I'm not sorry we don't live there.)

AND, the final item: My giveaway of The Yellow Room.  I had two people who wanted it: Audrey and Pam in Oregon.  Audrey, you can have it; just leave me your address (which I will delete as soon as I read it) so I can contact you.  And Pam, I have another book I think you will enjoy, and I'll send that to you, if you give me your address!

Happy Weekending, everyone!


Pam Greer said...

This was one of the things that bothered me so much while I was teaching. The way that all of the students had to take classes like they were going to college, even though some obviously were not!

altadenahiker said...

In the early 2000's, I had the unhappy task of helping fire hundreds of people, and pushing their jobs to Wisconsin, first, then to the Philippines. What the LA Times saved in salary and benefits, they lost in the trust and loyalty of their customers. To my credit, I spoke against the move, but no one listened. Yes, newspapers were on the decline in any case, but keeping customer service and PR close-by would have made a huge difference. When readers found out they were talking to folks out of state, then overseas, they no longer felt the LA Times was their hometown paper or had their interests in mind.

Food, Fun and Life in the Charente said...

Ha, flu vaccines are not even in stock here yet, maybe next week! Have a good week Diane

SissySees said...

Heh... I guess we're close enough where this is where I tell you I'm friends with a Basset and his wife... (And I think you and he might agree upon his relatives.)

Pam said...

I have to agree with you & your beloved! It sounds like an interesting read. I wonder what your son will think of it??

I'll send you my address - I am always up for a new book. Thank you Marjie!!!

Sue said...

The lack of manufacturing saddens me. I know we can't go backwards, but there should be room for creativity and making of things.

We did the flu shots at the pharmacy last week too. Had a sore shoulder for a couple days and now I'm all set for whatever.

Dexter said...

It's a complicated issue and I would say that we are all complicit in one way or another. An unwillingness to admit that production strategies need to be vastly changed until it is too late has undone many manufacturing facilities. However for consumer goods, so often I see people sacrificing long term gains for short term benefit. If I pay $100 for a pair of boots that last 10 years, that's cheaper than $30 boots that only last two years (10 year expenditure of $150).