The real price of cheap goods
"Six degrees of separation" is the theory that any one person can be connected to any other person on the planet by a chain of approximately five acquaintances. The theory was first proposed in 1929 by the Hungarian writer Frigyes Karinthy and popularized by a play written by John Guare.
The editorial board here at Foster's Daily Democrat would suggest readers ponder the possibility the theory is far more reaching. To that end we offer a sampling from recent news stories, letters to the editor, and the mad rush to shop for holiday bargains:
At least 117 killed in fire at Bangladeshi clothing factory.
$8.50 an hour not a living wage.
Restaurant chain avoids offering health insurance by cutting employee hours.
Major retailer posts loss trying to offer everyday low prices instead of coupons.
By now the six degrees of separation may be clear, but just in case there is doubt we offer some specifics culled from the news to make the connection - often in less than 6 degrees.
New reports indicate those clothing factory workers in Bangladesh were making cut-rate clothing for the American market to be sold by workers being paid cut-rate wages ($8.50 an hour) in order to offer shoppers cut-rate prices. This past fall, some national chains announced plans to cut workers' hours in order to avoid providing health care insurance, as mandated by the Affordable Care Act come 2014. And finally, JCP (also known as J.C. Penney) has been struggling financially in its attempt to offer everyday low prices instead of marking items up then offering coupons to bring prices back down.
All this comes into focus this holiday season as shoppers look for bargains without pondering the consequences. This is not to suggest that the death of more than 100 in Bangladesh is directly the responsibility of someone buying a $5 T-shirt. That $5 shirt will last a few months versus a $20 shirt well-made in a factory governed by a stringent safety code. But actions have consequences.
As shoppers we demand low prices, often without examining those consequences. There is a reason that the Black Friday flat screen TV you bought on the cheap is no longer made in the USA by someone earning $20 an hour. It is the same reason much of the clothing we wear now comes from sweat shops in Asia where the factories have few exit doors (lack thereof being something outlawed in the United States nearly a century ago). There is a reason that retailers who try to play it straight with good products for a fair price often go belly up.
But it doesn't have to be that way.
While other national chains were announcing they would cut hours and move more employees to part-time as Obamacare nears, the Denny's restaurant chain announced it would instead add a 5 percent surcharge to its food. Meanwhile, local merchants in cities and towns across the nation have been emphasizing the convenience of shopping locally (which saves on gas and time) while providing a personal touch, such as finding the right tool for dad's workbench this Christmas or the right jewelry to complement mom's new dress.
This is not to argue for a boycott of any kind. It is not to suggest a starvation diet that denies the occasional bargain. But it is to suggest the price you see is not the price you pay. The $1 screwdriver from the Asian-made bargain bin won't last. The colors will fade rapidly from the discount shirt you thought would remain a bright Christmas red for seasons to come. And just how long do you want that new sofa to last - a few years until the kids leave home or as a family heirloom to be handed down to the next generation?