Cheap and nasty? No way.

Reading the ads for Mothers’ Day I was once again stunned by the cheapness of electrical goods from China and S.E. Asia. At a time when a meal in a restaurant is rarely less than $50 you can buy an electric wok for the same price. An electric rice cooker sells for as little as $29. Such appliances are so inexpensive that when they break down the manufacturer doesn’t even bother repairing them. It wouldn’t be worth his while. Instead, the manufacturing company replaces any faulty appliances in the first year.

Can anyone ask for better than that?

We all know why China can afford to manufacture electrical goods so inexpensively- cheap labour and a large volume of sales. It’s good for China and certainly great for the consumer. Since these appliances are so cheap, we can afford to keep up with the latest developments in electrical goods and so are not stuck with some archaic appliance that doesn’t work well but did cost an arm and a leg.

I remember when a favourite wedding gift was the Sunbeam electric frypan. We received several of them at our wedding and they were luxury items then. They were also made in Australia and the manufacturer had to pay his workers much more than the Chinese employees are earning.

How long will this small appliance paradise last, I don’t know, but I think that the Chinese are quite happy to flood the market rather than increase the cost of their goods. What the Chinese can offer the world is a very large and available work force who are willing to accept competitive wages. That is an advantage for them and a great benefit for the consumer.

The perceived disadvantage is that manufacturing is not a major contributor in Australia because we simply can’t compete with Third World wages and conditions. Nor should we.

The second factor is that the quality of the manufactured goods from China is excellent, in spite of their low cost. It’s good value for money.

Basically, Australia will have to make its money through the sale of primary resources such as coal, uranium and wheat, but more importantly, it will have to develop its service industries in education, research and development and specialised manufacturing.

We can’t compete in fields that depend on the size of the work force and should concentrate on specialisation. Volume is not for us, except in the supply of minerals and even that should be monitored so that the sale price remains desirable as happens with oil in the Opec nations.

I think that it is important that Australia not attempt to be a Jack of all trades to the rest of the world because it is a ridiculous aspiration. Finland has Nokia and is renowned for it.

We are a very small nation and although we strut the world stage as if we mattered, in reality, we are very small by comparison with the big boys in the school playground. It honestly doesn’t matter what we do with our carbon emissions except as a token gesture to keep friendly with the school prefects.

What would be sad, though, is if we restricted our emissions needlessly just to be one of the big boys. Cause we most certainly aren’t in their league. Let’s enjoy the cheap electrical appliances which the big boys can produce without pretending that we can do it too. It’s pragmatism that counts and not futile slogans.

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