Feb 10

Cultural Differences: Can American Workers Compete?

Written by bianxiangbianqiao on Tuesday, February 10th, 2009 at 6:06 pm
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With the Big Three US auto makers begging the US government to bail them out of bankruptcy, there have been many images on TV and in newspapers of American auto workers at the production line. I watched closely and unconsciously compared them with images of Chinese and Japanese workers, mostly from the same media outlets. My brain computed a couple of differences between images of American and Chinese industrial workers. The most striking difference is that the American workers at the big three auto plants were not wearing uniforms. I saw many t-shirts and jeans on the floor, of different colors, styles and designs. Some of the workers’ clothing bore writings of little relevance to the work environment, the work they were doing or their identity as participants in the production process. I saw sneakers on the workers’ feet, but no hat on their heads. The Chinese and Japanese workers I saw on TV wore uniform, complete with matching hats that seemed to be fashioned after the American baseball hat. The Chinese preferred color for workers’ uniforms seems to be sky blue. The Japanese preferred color seems to be light brown. I understand the American culture of individualism and personal expression. However, when you are working at a billion dollar plant, you need to have some focus, and conduct yourself differently than working in your backyard on a Sunday afternoon. Anther difference between American and Chinese workers I noticed in the images is the way they work. The Chinese workers apply their mind and body, mental and physical energy to their work. This attitude shows up in the speed, precision and efficiency of their body movements, especially hand-eye coordination, and the focus and application in their facial expressions. In the Japanese workers, I see an additional element in their attitude, pride. In the American workers, I see some indifference, some disinterest. They are just going through the movements, like poorly programmed robots. Of course this is no a new observation. In the 1990s the Chairmen of Toyota and Honda got their companies into big trouble with the American congress for unflattering remarks about Americans’ inability to make good cars because of their workers’ poor work ethics. They hurt the feelings of the American people. I think the Japanese proved themselves right in that Americans have been unable to make good cars. But they are wrong in attributing the cause to the American work ethics. I say this because I have seen my American students work very hard outside of school, collecting tickets at theaters, bagging groceries, checking out customers at Wal-Mart etc. As a group, mainstream Americans’ work ethics is as good as any group I have seen, including the Chinese. I think part of the cause of the poor performance of the American manufacturing sector is that in the US professionalism is monopolized by people with “professional” jobs, doctors and airplane pilots, but does not generalize to industrial workers (the so called blue collar). I see this differential distribution of professionalism in the two countries in my recent trips to China. The difference starts at the border control. The American immigration officer that checked my passport greeted me with a boredom that clearly suggested he or she was meant for something much better than what he/she was doing. On the other hand, the Chinese officers at Beijing and Shanghai airports greeted me with enthusiasm and smiles. This impression continued in my travel in China. On the D-trains from Beijing to Shanghai the young women conductors with the soft Shanghai accent were much more professionally groomed, spoken, uniformed, capped and responsive than the stewardesses of United Airlines flying from Chicago to Beijing. I was also impressed by the police officer onboard the train that walked through the corridor urging the passengers to wake up and watch their bags when the train approached every station. Of course my observations are incomplete and biased because they are anecdotal. I admit that. My impression is that in China and much of East Asia ordinary people take their work seriously and with a sense of pride. In the US only people with “professional” jobs approach their work with professionalism.

American workers can call their Chinese counterparts “cheap” and blame them for taking away jobs. But my question to the American workers is “are you really worth that much, judging by the way you work?” Capitalism will make the final judgment. We shall see.

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97 Responses to “Cultural Differences: Can American Workers Compete?”

  1. TonyP4 Says:


    Americans can compete in certain industries: movie making, high tech, services that cannot be outsourced (like most telephone workers), music…


    With globalization, manufacturing has been moved to China, or any countries that can produce low-cost consumer products. Many foreign cars are assembled in USA and sold here. However, they do not have the same benefits/salaries as bargained by the union.

    With the high legacy cost (due to medical cost…) and the high cost of living standard, manufacturing jobs have to be paid well to maintain a decent living standard and that cannot compete with countries like China or the near-by Mexico.

    The high cost of running a business is the other major cost beside labor. It starts with high taxes, regulations, high cost of building, legal costs…


    Most jobs can be saved if US said no to most import products – one of the few countries that can do so and is totally self-sufficient. However, protectionism never works and we would lose the benefits from free trades.

    Culture may not have much to do with productivity and competitiveness.

  2. TonyP4 Says:

    On my first flight in a Chinese airline from US, I was surprised to see the thin, tall, young and beautiful stewardesses that we seldom see in US. They were helpful and efficient – a big leap from Mao’s era. We cannot fire any stewardess because of their weight and/or age in US. Did you see my other post on Bill Clinton’s suggestion of hiring strippers to save our airline industry? 🙂

  3. Raj Says:

    Tony, actually they can compete on quality – many of them already do. The problem isn’t American workers, it’s a number of American car companies that got used to government aid and unions that manipulated their members to strike at the drop of a hat. Sadly it’s difficult to say whether they’ll realise they need to change only when it’s too late.

  4. Ms Chief Says:

    I think the difference between American and Chinese workers is very much due to authoritarianism being an intrinsic part of Chinese culture whereas Americans are encouraged to be free individuals.

    Filial piety is where it starts and this penetrates into many aspects of life. Chinese schoolchildren are much more obedient than their American counterparts and this respect for authority permeates into the workplace. I can understand that factory workers are required to wear uniforms for health and safety reasons, but find it a tad too authoritarian for some companies to require that even office workers wear uniforms in China.

    In many ways, an authoritarian system is much more efficient, especially when it comes to well-established, repetitive work such as on the assembly line. Where it falls down though, is when it comes to innovation, especially in those industries mentioned by TonyP4 where if you don’t innovate, you fall behind. This is where Americans tend to fare better.

  5. bianxiangbianqiao Says:

    Ms Chief,
    I do not see the relevance of authoritarianism and obedience. The proper characterization of Chinese collective success in manufacturing in China and their individual success in academic achievement in the US is discipline, self regulation, delay of gratification and dedication. These same qualities drive the success of those Americans who are innovative. Do your think wearing colorful Hawaii shorts when you are working at an automobile plant would help innovation?

  6. Wahaha Says:

    They are thinking what they can do with the human right they have !!!

  7. Steve Says:

    I’m going to disagree with the general premise and for these reasons:

    1) When Saturn was established within GM, GM management kept their hands off the division which proved very successful, with high QC, excellent customer satisfaction and high profitability. There was no union but everyone was paid well. Job satisfaction was also very high. What happened? GM management couldn’t keep their grubby little hands off the division, reincorporated it into the rest of GM, and ruined the reputation of its product, job satisfaction of its workers and customer loyalty.

    2) The Japanese and European manufacturers have established plants all over the USA with high quality and job satisfaction. These plants tend not to be unionized but still pay well with good benefits. Most foreign brand autos purchased in the States are made in the States.

    3) When auto company management has sought input from their workers, the workers themselves have come up with many innovations that have improved quality, reduced cost or achieved both.

    4) The Ford F-150, best pickup truck ever made. It’s been the #1 seller in the USA for decades.

    So where does America get it wrong?

    1) Making cars customers don’t want to buy. If you even look at styling, most American cars are boring. Nissan greatly improved their market share when they stopped designing car bodies themselves and subcontracted it to companies in Carlsbad, CA near where I live in San Diego. Most Japanese companies have designers in southern California. Detroit only wants to use their own designers who haven’t been able to get a feel for what people really want.

    2) Unions have resisted increased production automation. China and Japan are under no such restraints. This has a direct effect on both quality and the bottom line.

    3) Legacy costs. Between insurance, pensions, health benefits, etc., the American companies have a huge burden they need to add to the bottom line on every car they sell.

    4) Subtle trade barriers. Try to buy a non-Korean car in Korea. Unless you’re talking a luxury car with a limited market, it’s just about impossible. In Japan, they need to “modify” imports to meet Japanese standards, usually adding $10,000 or more to the cost. Where these restrictions do not apply, such as in China and Latin America, American car manufacturers do very well.

    5) Resistance to new technology. Where are the hybrids, stop/start technology, lighter materials, etc. that would keep the auto manufacturers ahead of the curve? They’ve resisted every attempt by government to increase mileage ratings. They’re always playing ‘catch up’ to the rest of the world. For instance, how difficult would it be to add stop/start technology to autos? The cost per vehicle is only a few hundred dollars and in typical city driving, the mileage increase is about 20%. It’s already being used on manual transmissions in Europe so why not develop it for automatic transmissions in the USA?

    I have a feeling that if one of the “Big Three” was located in San Jose, CA, it’d be the #1 auto manufacturer in the world, regardless of manufacturing cost. Innovation alone would keep it in the lead.

    American, Chinese and Japanese companies have to manage their people in accordance with each of their own unique cultures. All three can be successful if each uses its natural, built in cultural advantages. Manufacturing techniques can be borrowed (such as Japanese kanban/JIT) but not managing styles.

    @ Ms Chief #4: Americans aren’t ‘encouraged’ to be free individuals, we ARE free individuals. It’s a part of our intrinsic culture. Managing Americans in any other way would be less productive. I did get a kick out of all the uniforms in China. Whoever wore them was obviously very proud to do so. I didn’t see it as better or worse, just different and another reason why traveling is such a learning experience and so much fun.

  8. TonyP4 Says:

    @ Raj #3.

    – The quality of Chinese products vary.

    If it is contracted from a major company like Mattel, in theory it should have good quality (except the lead paint case when the contractor has sub contractor to do painting both trying to save pennies) with better quality control in both ends.

    Most Chinese products for local consumers have poor quality. My socks I bought in China only last for 6 months while the ones in US normally last for 3 years – most likely both were made in China. However, they do have local brand name products in China that I believe they have better quality.

    @Chief #4.
    – The American education system teaches us to innovate and the Chinese system teaches us how to apply formula/knowledge. By rough estimate and for discussion only, 20% of jobs requires innovation while 40% of jobs requires applying formula/knowledge and 40% does not require any education.

    Movie stars, singers and scientists belong to the innovation group. Accounting belongs to the applying formula/knowledge group. Sweeping floor and picking up garbage belong to the last group. Most auto worker jobs belong to the last group too.

    This year China may have too many college graduates chasing limited jobs. When the country is more developed, the percentages will shift with innovation jobs more abundant.

    I guess Chinese are happy with the jobs than Americans. They do not have this kind of service jobs like air stewardesses. The jobs are better paid than their parents, so they’ve to be happy. How can the US auto workers be happy when the pay/benefits are getting smaller and smaller if they still have a job?

  9. Ms Chief Says:

    @bianxiangbianqiao #5
    I don’t equate innovation simply with clothing choice but rather the culture which shapes how the different organisations work, which can affect matters such as worker attire.

  10. TonyP4 Says:

    @Steve, #7

    Most ‘foreign’ cars are assembled locally to avoid the heavy tariffs. America free trade agreement is an exception.

    I went to San Jose State in Industrial Engineering. I remembered we went to an auto assembly plant close by in the late 60s. I saw a lot of hidden liquor bottles and a lot of folks dozing off. I will not buy a car assembled in this plant esp. it is assembled on Friday.


    The GM future electric car is about $40K while the Chinese is about $25K. Both are based on similar technology. With the oil at $40 or so, all bets on electric cars are off. The time span to build a car from scratch is too long for US that make marketing forecast not feasible.

    Malibu, the car I’ve, is still rated #1. However, it is a hard sell when the company may not survive and so is the warranty.

  11. Allen Says:

    I’d probably tend to agree with Steve #7 that the main problems with American lack of competitiveness in certain (e.g., auto) industries have more to do with the institutions rather than characteristics of the American workers…

    But with that said, I also think that the typical worker you meet in stores in Taiwan (don’t know enough about Mainland workers) all tend to think more on their feet, work more quickly, and can do currency related math much better than the typical worker I meet in American stores…

  12. Allen Says:


    Maybe you should break up your posts into more paragraphs in the future. Lazy American bums like me have problem parsing through big un-paginated blocks of thoughts sometimes… 😉

  13. Ms Chief Says:

    When it comes to customer service in China, I’ve had quite a mixed bag of experiences quite different to BXBQ and think China still has some way to go.

    My experiences of Chinese immigration officers is that they have usually been clinical, curt and far from friendly. I’ve often found staff in retail, catering and hospitality to be rather rude and get irritated by the different ways in which they treat people with different colour skin. Sometimes I’m almost sure I can see the dollar signs go ‘ding’ in their eyes when they see a white face. I have a gripe with shop assistants following me around, trying to get me to buy certain things, and I’m tired of disinterested door staff reciting a flat ‘欢迎光临’ at me like ‘poorly programmed robots’. The friendliness of professionally trained service staff I get often seems rehearsed and very fake.

    Saying that though, I’ve also had many wonderful experiences, where people have gone out of their way to help me out and where I’ve been warmly welcomed like a member of the family. I’ve made good friends and have become a regular customer as a result.

    The good experiences have tended to come from family run businesses, the bad from disengaged employees. I’d be hard pressed to find better customer service than China’s best, but I’ve also never found anything nearly as bad as China’s worst!

  14. perspectivehere Says:

    @Raj #3

    I found your quip about unions troubling.

    A basic problem with Big Three auto company profitability and competitiveness is the crippling legacy costs of retirees.

    At GM, for example, it is estimated at each unionized worker supports 4.72 retired worker/spouse. What is the equitable way to treat such retirees? Cut them off?


    It did not have to be this way. In the 1950’s, the autoworker unions’ leader, Walter Reuther, proposed a different plan for supporting retiree costs, which would have involved spreading the costs among a much larger worker base, for long-term viability. The auto companies’ management rejected the plan. See:


    It is easy, those of us who have become accustomed to Reagan-Thatcher anti-union rhetoric over the past 30 years, to blame government and unions for all that “doesn’t work”.

    Those pat answers don’t fly today, when government is being asked to step in to make right what the market, in its unregulated splendor, has failed to do.

    I think people need to be more sophisticated and less reflexively ideological about solving the problems facing our economies and institutions: not “private sector good, public sector bad” or vice versa; not “management good, unions bad” or vice versa.

    The is only good management versus bad management; good policy versus bad policy; wise leadership versus bad leadership.

  15. Hong Konger Says:

    Hi Steve,

    This one is for you.


    (Indie Music, Hong Kong)

    Ms Chief
    # 13

    “I’d be hard pressed to find better customer service than China’s best, but I’ve also never found anything nearly as bad as China’s worst!”

    Quite true…..Same old story all over South East Asia., history repeating itself. In Thailand where 99% of the time I’d usually have no complain with their quality of service, except for this strange experience with this one Thai-Chinese storekeeper. He actually cussed at me in Cantonese for not buying after I had asked for the prices. They were just cheap beach pants and his was the first shop in a line of many down the street. Man, was I shocked by his horrible attitude.

    One of my favorite ads used to be one with the jingle, “Singapore girls, you’re the best way to fly…..” until I actually flew SA. Now I think Mainland airlines girls are the best way to fly…..while American Airlines inflight services and Airport security sux big time, but I do prefer North American retail service styles: They ask if they could help with anything and leave the customers alone to choose. HK in general has adopted that style.

    As for restaurant services? Oh, after having lived in China for a few years now, I have grown to loath the American mandatory tipping customs. So in terms of customers’ expenses and service providers’ services, I still think China is ahead, as in ya get what ya pay for.

  16. pug_ster Says:

    The main reason why Americans can’t compete is people like Nadya Suleman. People like Nadya Suleman gets rewarded for doing nothing, and taking advantage of other hard working American Taxpayers. People like Nadya got 165k in ‘disability’ but apparently not disabled enough to have 14 kids in the last 9 years, including the 8 kids 2 weeks ago and expect the paycheck to come in from writing a book while exploiting American Taxpayers thru disability, food stamps, disability, etc… Americans get rewarded for failure.

    Another major problem in the US is the lack of socialized health care for everyone. You actually get better healthcare if you are on welfare than you are not because you are qualified for medicare. So there are Americans who actually don’t want to earn alot of money because they won’t be qualified for medicare while people who barely broke above poverty can’t afford health insurance. There’s no incentives to work hard in order to get ahead.

  17. TonyP4 Says:

    All boils down to the simple business law: supply and demand. In 50s and 60s, there was no foreign competition, the US could maximize the profits by building shitty cars that need a replacement every 4 years. The union also maximized the benefits for its workers. When they do not adjust to the global economy, they do not survive.

    When the guy is 50 years old with the same job for 30 years, he cannot be re-trained for a job making less than half his salary. Some phone union workers are still making big bucks but their days are numbered.

    @pug_ster #16.

    That’s why the health benefit should be better for workers than welfare recipients to encourage folks to work. That lady has some mental problem. I feel sorry for the grand parents to take care all those babies and children.

  18. bianxiangbianqiao Says:

    Steve and TonyP4,

    Despite the finesse in your business analyses of the US auto industry, I think the fundamental problem remains the attitude of the workers, their approach to their work.

    About American education’s promotion of innovation. There is some truth to that. But how much of that is a myth? What percentage of the 300 million Americans have anything to do with innovation of any sort whatsoever? Ten percent is a gross over-estimate. What percentage of American Ph.D.s are awarded to native borns? (Last time I checked it was less than 50 percent in science and engineering.)

    Yes the American elite is the world’ best crop of innovators. But the American Masses are a completely different story, day and night. For the American masses the American education promotes no innovation, just very bad math, a mediocre command of the written form of their native language, and low expectations. Trust me, I have to deal with that every day.

    Ms. Chief,

    My experience with Chinese retail and customer services over the last two years have been mostly positive. It was a different story ten years ago.

    I can empathize with your experiences, the seeing the dollar sign in Westeners and being overly eager to extract money from customers in general.

    However, we need to separate two issues, business ethics and personal initiative. Overall the Chinese have more initiative; they are more alert and proactive in pursuing their trade and profession. They do not just sit on their butt and wait for good things to happen to them.

    Sometimes they take shortcuts and take advantage of people in vulnerable positions. However, one still has to appreciate their responsiveness to opportunities. Last month at the entrance of Summer Palace I was sorounded by a group of women insisting on serving as my tour guide (for a pay). As soon as I opened my mouth and revealed my local accent, they dispersed, abandonded me like a sinking ship. The Chinese people are not here to make friends, provide charity or serve the people. They are after the money. And they are out in full force to achieve that goal. Even the Chinese beggars and bums work harder than American beggars and bums. In the subway train in Beijing I saw them work in pairs. Usually one person holds a plastic bag for handout, while leading the way for another person, who usually has some disturbing handicap and carries a portable speaker, and sings very badly, and gives a speech of gratitude, with a lot of enthusiasm and sincerity. It is hardwork. These people are beggars and bums, but they are not lazy, not at all. In Shanghai’s Nanjing road, I was approached by young women with dubious offers and requests which I could not even comprehend. I knew they were up to no good but I was amazed by their initiative, again. In China people take the initiative to beg, to swindle and do honest work. They have a sense of ownership and responsibility toward their lives. They have the determination to make things happen with their own power, with their bare hands. This is what American workers need to learn from the Chinese. Cut your crap, get off your fat ass and get to work.

  19. TQ Says:


    “Americans get rewarded for failure. ”

    Hey, you know what, your above post just gave me the silliest idea…But then who’s to say what’s impossible? Compared to Beijing today, New York City beginning with the JFK airport, the NY subways, roads, high rises etc is one mega-delapidated-coastal city. 7 years later, the Twin Tower ground Zero site remains a city block of desolation. WTF?

    Anyway, the silly thought was, perhaps 50 years from now, China just may become the archenemy of the world’s most powerful authoritarian socialist nation in the hi\story of mankind, albeit with American Individualistic characteristics. What do you think about that, huh?

  20. S.K. Cheung Says:

    Interesting post.
    Realistically, I don’t think whether an American auto assembly worker wears a uniform or not will impact on the marketability of the final product. And even if you imply that they somehow seem less fulfilled by their work than their Asian counterparts, it’s a stretch to suggest that a different “system” (be it educational, political, or cultural) would have an appreciable effect on that. I think, on the one hand, that people in “dead-end” jobs may lack some motivation, exacerbated by the fact that they have a fantastic social safety net. I don’t think such a safety net exists in much of Asia, all the more to serve as motivation for individuals to continually strive to better themselves. On the other hand, I think this social safety net is important to prevent the truly downtrodden from falling into the abyss (not that this net doesn’t have holes).

    I think the US is an interesting phenomenon. The truly innovative cream of the crop can, dare I say, innovate better than any other nation on the planet. But those on the other end of the spectrum represent a huge disappointment given the opportunities, by virtue of living in a first-world nation, they have squandered.

    But at the end of the day, whether American workers can compete will not depend directly on their level of education, social system, dress code, or psychologic make-up; it will depend on whether they can produce things that are better, cheaper, and more desirable than that made by somebody else.

  21. TonyP4 Says:

    @bianxiangbianqiao #18
    The reason for the high # of PhDs awarded to foreign students is about 40% of top colleges in the world are in USA. It means if you’re good from a foreign land, there is a good chance you want to further your study in US. US still have the highest Nobel price winners in science – most are local born and a good percentage is from the second generation of the immigrants I bet.

    Check how many Nobel prize winners in China. My last count is zero (one if you include DL). I doubt the quality of the top colleges in China. China is in the second phase of my developing country model. It will stuck in this phase if they are not innovative.

    US high school students may not win a lot of science and math awards as they’re not trained to take tests only – I do not comment it is good or bad though. A Hong Kong elementary school can win a math contest with most of US high school students. However, being good in a math exam is only part of the education. If you do not pass the HK high school exam in good standing, your future is dim.

    The top US high schools are better than most of the world including China. China has its very good high schools and some are for genius. If these students have a choice, they would prefer to go to the states than in China I bet. We need genius and very smart students to move our technology to the next level, hence creating jobs for the masses.

    There are about 30% of US high schools that are really bad. Most of them are in urban cities with diversified minorities. The schools cannot really help these students if they do not want to learn. It is due to the social class and too many single parent families/teenager mothers. As long as these bad students be a good citizen, it is OK as about 40% of the jobs do not need college degree.

  22. bianxiangbianqiao Says:


    The American elite have been responsible for the largest amount of scientific breakthroughs in recent history. However, this does not make American labor worth more than their Chinese counterpart. Their constant calling Chinese labor cheap is simply annoying. As SK Cheung pointed out, there is a big gap in cognitive development between the American elite and the American masses. I think this gap is kept in place deliberately, so the masses can keep choosing intelligent people like Sarah Palin to represent their interests. Of course I digress outside my knowledge base. My question for American labor remains the same, despite your Nobel-winning smart cousins, are you really worth that much, judging from the way you work?

  23. TonyP4 Says:

    I like to see a product similar to iPod is designed in China one day (the electric car may be one)- Chinese has to be more innovative.

    Laws are needed to protect intellectual properties.

    Chinese can find the ingredients of a new drug from the west in a few days or translate the research findings in a few hours. It is all copycat techniques and we need to be more innovative.

    The current education system does not teach us to be innovative. I hope the top high schools are and the entrance to top colleges should not be judged by exams only.

  24. TonyP4 Says:

    Sarah Palin is smart? She wears lipstick, is more articulate and a little better looking than Bush. I bet she just barely passed her high school similar to Bush, but got a F in geography. You’re so funny. 🙂

    It is the difference between a developed country and a developing country? Manufacturing together with pollution and cheap labor belong to the latter.

  25. pug_ster Says:

    @21 TonyP4,

    First of all there are several Nobel Prize winners with Chinese background.

    # Tsung-Dao Lee, Physics, 1957 – Chinese American
    # Chen Ning Yang, Physics, 1957 – Chinese American
    # Samuel C.C. Ting, Physics, 1976 – Michigan-born Chinese American
    # Edmond H. Fischer, Physiology or Medicine, 1992 – Swiss-American (born in China)
    # Daniel C. Tsui, Physics, 1998 – Chinese American
    # Gao Xingjian, Literature, 2000 – French emigre

    I think the problem with China about the intellectual brain drain out from China is that China doesn’t attract overseas leading scientists back to China. In order for China to go to the next level, China have to create favorable conditions to attract them. This is probably the best time to do it because of the bad economy around the world as many research institutions are probably cutting back their budgets and China can fill the gap. On a recent article in Xinhuanet, they even acknowledged that it is a problem.


  26. jc Says:

    To Mr. Chief #13:

    China still has a long way to go on many things, but I tend to believe that pretty much all of which ultimately come down to their economy situation.

    The overall economy situation of the country/city can have a huge impact. This could be something similar to certain poor black community in U.S. Inside those communities you see rude, uneducated people and all sort of problems everywhere. You will see a huge difference between the immigration officers on the mainland side and on the Hong Kong side when you cross from mainland into Hong Kong, officers on the Hong Kong side are generally much nicer. They are nicer because the whole society is richer, most people are well educated and they grew up by being nice to each other.

    Financial situation on the individual can have a huge play as well. Try to think for a hotel worker who makes no more than a few hundreds dollars a month. They may have been trained well and did serve you well. But they did it well mostly because that’s what they have to do to keep getting paid. That is very different than the kind of sincerity that you may have experienced elsewhere, where people treat you well because they treat you how they would like to be treated. These low paying hotel workers simply do not have anything in their own life to echo with you.

    Having that said, I do agree with bianxiangbianqiao who pointed out that the service is a lot better than merely 10 years ago. I guess great improvement on economy well being has contributed that a lot.

    To Steve #7:

    One observation about American cars. I was traveling in Guangzhou and taking with a few friends there (all of them make good money) about cars. I asked them why they all chose American cars instead of Japanese ones? They told me it’s because American cars are bigger and heavier. From there they came up various points including tiny Japanese cars does not look good; It does not work well on China’s rural road; It is very unsafe when involved in an accident, etc. Efficiency does not appear to be something in their mind at all.

    I personally believe the trouble for American auto industry has a lot to do with union. These American workers believe being well paid is their basic rights while a lot of poor people all over the world can do essentially the same job for much less. Of course they will argue that their service is much better than that is offered by those low paying workers elsewhere. But the reality is their cars do not sell.

    To pug_ster #25 :

    China does try very hard to attract leading scientist back to China. But like a farmer trying to attract a rocket scientist back into the farm land, first, the farmers do not have much to offer; second, even if the scientist does go back, what they are going to do there without very well establish researching facility and community around them? It will be a waste of their talent.

    China is also trying very hard to recruit people from the west, both Chinese and non-Chinese, to help them on a lot of things ranging from managing their huge SOEs to foster little tiny private startups. So far it has mixed result because the nothing can go too far beyond where the society as whole is at. What they are doing is however keeping a trend forward which I would consider as a good thing.

  27. Raj Says:

    14, perspectivehere

    At GM, for example, it is estimated at each unionized worker supports 4.72 retired worker/spouse. What is the equitable way to treat such retirees? Cut them off?

    I think there is a better way that the status quo and cutting retirees off. It may, for example, mean that they’re the last lucky people to have pensions of the sort they do. The rest that are currently working and will follow may have to do with less or change their working practices.

    The 1950s was a long time ago, and it’s arguable that everyone has missed opportunities to make things better. People need to move on and deal with the problems that exist now. If they don’t, one day Washington will stop the bucks rolling (either out of necessity or attitude) and those businesses will crash-and-burn.

  28. TonyP4 Says:

    @jc #26

    It used to be the heavier and bigger the car, the more safer. Not any more. Air bags (all sides) is the key and the way the engine falling down upon impact instead of towards the driver is another one. 4WD in snow country is another one… Crash tests will tell you some lighter cars are safer.

    There are many return ‘turtles’ in certain areas such as biotech. With incentives from local governments, unlimited supply of rats (and even human ‘prisoners’), no consideration of stem cell issues and chances to own a business or advance their career, I bet more than 10% of Chinese working in the US in this field are tempted to go back. However, they have to deal with air/water/noise pollution and their family life.

  29. jc Says:

    To TonyP4 #23:

    When it comes to IP protection, it has a lot to do with the reality rather than what the school teaches.

    First of all, it has to do with the economy benefit they get or lose by doing it or not doing it. For most small scale companies, doing copy cat is a no-brainer because they can get from nothing to something overnight. For larger companies that are aiming to go global, they are much more conscious about IP protection and trying to play by the rules. Obviously people always think that if the government tries harder on IP protection, there would be less violation, but in reality it’s much more difficult to do it than to say it. Just like street pick-pockets, those small businesses don’t have anything to start with, so they have nothing to loss. Second of all, the situation is so rampant, there won’t be enough resource to get them all behind bars; third, a lot of such businesses are important revenue streams to the local government, so the local government a lot of times tries to protect these offenders. It will take a long time for all these to change.

    The second factor is that their market condition is different. iPod and iPhone are hits not only because they are innovative, but also because Apple have succeeded in finding the right balance point between technology and affordability. China, due to a much lower average income, has a much lower balancing point. So people there have to “cut corners” in order to make something that can sell to the mass. That directly results in cheap and lower quality products. In a way, for them to trying to come up a cool but pricy iPhone is like some venture startups trying to come up flying cars in the U.S. The idea is cool. But it’s not for mass production and it won’t be a good business decision for them. This will change gradually along with their economy development.

    The third factor is their relatively conservative consumption patterns. Chinese traditionally, especially older Chinese are rather frugal, probably due to the fact that they grew up during difficult times. Thus people tend to focus more on what works instead of what is cool. A simple LCD screen phone and a color touch screen phone is the same to them, as long as both allow them to make a phone call. Watching a lousy pirate quality DVD on a small computer screen is as enjoyable as watching it in an all digital movie theater with surrounded sound, as long as the plot is clearly rendered. Fortunately this is changing with the young generation.

    So in a way, American companies are able to keep cranking out innovative product because they are being rewarded by the market and appreciated by their intended audience. Chinese companies are not able to do so because innovative work neither sell well there nor get nearly as much appreciation from their audience, so it’s more of basic economy force at play here.

    Whatever the reason is, one thing that is crystal clear is that they need to move forward from this point on. The real question is how fast and how far. The west will never accept anything that is too far off the west standard and China will never be able to afford or accept anything that is too far off their reality. So until the Chinese economy finally gets there, hopefully in a few decades, China and the west will just be finger pointing and blaming at each other over and over. In the mean time, the best both sides can do is try to understand each other. That won’t solve the problem overnight, but will probably make the process smoother and slightly faster.

    As to #28:

    Can’t agree more. Things are forever changing. Chinese government does have a lot of incentive for sea turtles — while how effective they are remains to be seen, one thing is for sure is that with the American economy downturn and a heavily clogged immigration system, more and more sea turtle in U.S. might just see going back as a more attractive option than before.

  30. pug_ster Says:

    @26 jc,

    I disagree that Chinese government or private sector tries hard enough to attract scientists. The main issue is money, and from a financial standpoint, spending money on research has a bad ROI. I would bet at least 9 of the 10 times, a US government funded project will probably produce something that would not make a profit, but it does not stop them from doing it. Knowing that most research has a bad ROI, Chinese capitalists would not spend to build state of the art facilities to allow scientists to do their work at the full potential. Instead, it is probably cheaper and easier to license or copy someone else’s work to build their own products. However, in doing so, it does not allow the Chinese to innovate. In this recession, many Western countries would curtail government sponsored research spending and China can easily attract these scientists by funding them and building facilities.

    Edit: here’s an example on just spending money on research will produce dividends.


  31. pug_ster Says:


    Edit: sorry, I must’ve gotten the wrong figures. US spends 282 billion and China spends 60 billion in 2003. But I don’t know how they spent 60 billion though.

  32. bianxiangbianqiao Says:


    “It is the difference between a developed country and a developing country? Manufacturing together with pollution and cheap labor belong to the latter.”

    Yes. You are right on this one. This is pure exploitation. This is why I said at the end of my post that I hope capitalism will one day fix the problem. But maybe it will not; things are weird now. The poor Chinese have been partially financing the rich Americans’ consumption, on the pretense that the Americans have the ability to repay with an interest, since they are so innovative and ground-breaking and productive. I have a feeling that the US is running a ponzi scheme, like the Merdof guy, taking the life-savings of the Chinese, making false promises of high interest, and then spend them on things they have not earned. Watching the news about wall street and US banks, I get a feeling that the Ponzi scheme is just about to collapse. Then we will see the true value of American innovation.

  33. jc Says:

    To jc@30:

    The Chinese government certainly can spend more money on attracting scientist. But there are a lot of things can not simply be solved by investing more money.

    Take graduate students for example. Good quality graduate students mean a lot to professor/researchers. A lot of bright Chinese students came to U.S. to attend graduate/PhD program. They came not because they are enthusiast about research. They came mostly because U.S. as a whole is a much richer country. You can spend all the money to get a top class scientist back to a Chinese university and he/she won’t get the same quality of students/assistant to work with him or her. That is not something that can simply be solved with money.

    You will also have the problem of who has the authority/ability to decide what work qualifies for this kind of money. The current Chinese University ranking system is notoriously bureaucratic. And there aren’t enough good, influential, respected and able people on the top to make important decisions and judgments. The Motorola DSP incident was such an example. He is the one that eventually gets caught, but there is no doubt that many others will be able to fool the system.

    Even though the government establishes this whole system well and pours in huge amount of the money into it, it still faces other problems such as how other people would accept it. You might think you deserve such big money because you have worked for an American university for so many years and had turned out a few papers, but other professors may disagree. They think they’ve done something important as well. In another word, even if the government can give it to you, the society you live in does not believe you deserve it. And the government can not change this.

    It’s true that U.S. is spending a lot of money on research. But the amount they spend is somewhat balanced with the average income. A professor get a lot extra resource to do what he wanted to do, but personally he probably does not make much more than an average IT worker, very often a lot less. However the community, the enthusiasm and the resource he is able to get keeps him going. In a way, he is about on the same level of the society he lives in, with pro and cons on various sides of his profession. It is this nature and balanced environment along with a high average living standard that nourished the U.S. science community.

    China could match the same amount of spending, but the equation will be totally changed and out of balance if China does that. The researcher will be artificially elevated to a much higher level than the society that surrounds him. They will become some sort of celebrity. And the elements that fostered the American system will be lost. And that doesn’t do anything good about researching at all.

    China’s current strategy is multi-front. They do spend extra money to attract scientist, but may not be as much as you think it should be. However they are also investing heavily on the whole education system, building more university, etc so that more people will be educated. They encourage big companies to go oversee market to see how the rest the world plays so that these companies can catch up. They have favorable policies for certain “high value” industries in the hope that they would move up the value chain, etc. A lot are in the play, but it’s definitely not as simple as pouring in enough money and something will just grow out of it on its own. A lot other factors have to come together in order to work.

  34. William Huang Says:

    My two cents to the question in the title of this article is yes and no depending on what areas that US is, or Americans workers for that matter are, to compete.

    US can do well in the industry where its products and services carry highly subjective factors. Take Hollywood or art and entertainment business in general, I mean motion pictures, television series, music, amusement park, etc as an example. Who is going to compete with US? As an interesting point, however, it is the US’ prosperity, leadership and power that brings the business to Hollywood not another way around. Art and entertainment, like everything else is a business and follows the law of supply and demand. Why demand is so high for US art and entertainment products? It’s simple because US is the most powerful country in the world. This status generates fascination and interest around the world about the country, its people and what’s going on in their daily lives. Coca Cola is another case in point. It has appeal simply because this is American’s favorite drink not because, say its nutrition content. So, as long as US maintains its world leader position, these business will continue to do well.

    US can also do very well in high tech where the intellectual property is the key ingredient of the product and service. Major chunk of scientific discovery and technological invention of the world happens in US every year. There is no sight in near term that this is going to change. Naturally, the combination of art and technology (e.g. video game) is another industry that US is very strong.

    Let’s also not forget that product and services themselves are not the only thing that’s competing. Competing on business model is as critical if not more as the product and service. US is particularly good at this. Henry Ford’s Model-T car is really an invention of business model rather than a technological invention. Walmart and Google are two recent examples of success in competing on business model. It’s worthwhile to point out that the labor cost, a factor often comes into mind when speaking in competitiveness, is not an important factor in determining the success of competing in business models.

    However, what US is not competitive in low tech/low margin commodity products (almost anything you can buy in Walmart) in a conventional business model. In these areas, labor cost is a key factor for the competitiveness (Agriculture industry may be an exception). As for the Big-Three in Detroit, it’s seems clear to everybody that they are operating in a commodity business with outdated business model.

    Last but not least, there are many other aspects to consider, the business structure, finance, labor skill, education system, investment in research and development, government support, regulation, the list can go on and on. I am not sure that there is any simple and clear answer to the question. Even we limit the topic to a few, you will need to write long post to get point crossed.

  35. bianxiangbianqiao Says:

    William Huang #34,

    You are expanding the discussion far beyond the issue I was focused on. I am not qualified to discuss the factors you brought into the discussion, such as business models, intellectual property rights and etc.. I am not in a position to discuss whether the US as a entire entity can compete. As you pointed out there are too many factors in that issue.

    I am focused on one issue and one issue only, the comparison between American labor and Chinese labor. Can American labor compete with Chinese labor on professionalism, dedication, and the eagerness to constantly update their skills??? Between Chinese labor and American labor, who is really “cheap”? Chinese workers are underpaid, over-worked and exploited, but they are not cheap on quality. American labor is overpaid by Chinese standard. My question is, do they deserve it? We need to focus on this one factor, and keep everything else constant. Everything else being equal, would not a sharp and alert Chinese worker dressed in full uniform be of greater value than a grumpy and out of shape American worker dressed in a colorful t-shirt and a pair of jeans at work? Why don’t they show up at work in flip-flops?

    A few years ago there was a story about a group of Japanese business people visiting an American factory. The Japanese executives arrived at the plant at lunch time, and saw an American worker eating a simple hotdog. They remarked among themselves, “the workers’ food is too poor, not enough nutrition, should be improved. This is not the way to treat workers….” After they toured the floor and saw the workmanship, they remembered the worker’s poor diet, and had new insights. “That was what they deserved to eat.” I think the Chinese workers are entitled to similar sentiments when they have the opportunity to observe how American workers work.

    Chinese scientists are fakers. Chinese intellectuals are useless, with their Chapter 08. Chinese students studying overseas have produced some infamous killers (beheaders). But Chinese labor is among the best in the world. Long live Chinese labor!

  36. Steve Says:

    To stay with BXBQ’s topic of American workers and not the different economic systems of China and the USA, I’d agree with him to some extent depending on the industry involved. I’ve had Chinese businessmen in the States tell me that they were amazed at how hard Americans work and that the “lazy American” is a myth. I’ve heard others say (and BXBQ is in this group) that the quality of work in certain industries is not as dedicated as in Asia. I’ve seen both in my career.

    The industries I’ve worked in have very productive and dedicated workers. I haven’t been involved with ‘assembly line’ type of production; mostly the oil and electronics industries but the average American worker in those industries is excellent. I think the higher the skill level required, the more productive the worker as compared to other countries. The lower the skill level needed, the worse the worker with the exception of Mexican Americans. No one works harder than they do.

    In China, I think the opposite applies. In ‘assembly line’ technologies, the workers are excellent. They can work long hours at a high level of proficiency doing repetitive tasks. Their engineers are very talented but as stated earlier, tend to have difficulties when faced with new situations they haven’t been trained for. In the semiconductor industry, new and unique problems came up all the time so that was a problem.

    In general, Chinese workers were less productive in white collar jobs. By that, I mean it took longer for them to accomplish a task than what I’d see in the States. I think there are two reasons for this, both cultural. One, they work such long hours that they’d have to pace themselves through the day or they’d burn out. Two, decision making tends to be a ‘group process’ rather than individual so a great amount of time would be spent in coming to a consensus opinion where no one wanted to sound like they were making a decision. In terms of intelligence and dedication, they were excellent.

    I don’t think the uniform matters, but I DO agree with BXBQ that many times you can tell a worker’s attitude by their expression and body language.

    To address perspectivehere’s take on unions: It really depends on the union. I’ll give you an example. The Phoenix, Arizona Pipefitter’s Union is in my opinion, the best in the country per their profession. They don’t have to force companies to hire their welders and pipefitters, companies want to hire them because they are highly trained, extremely competent and very productive. You get your money’s worth no matter what the union wage is.

    On the other side, I have a friend who owns a window business in the LA area. The majority of his business is putting in or replacing windows in the LA School District. For many jobs, he has to use union labor. He has to hire from two different unions, the carpenters and the glazers. I can’t remember exactly which one is good and which is bad, but one is good and the other is completely worthless. The worthless union works as slowly as possible to milk the job of as much money as possible, and the work they do is crap.

    So it really depends on the union itself, how it polices itself and whether the union workers bring productivity and competence to the job.

    @ Hong Konger: Thanks for the video. I found Joves’ MySpace site with six songs.

    Here’s a cool band I found recently from New York City. They’re called Asobi Seksu (means ‘playful sex’) and their lead singer is Japanese American; pretty cute too. This song is called Thursday, this one is called Walk On The Moon and the last one is Goodbye. The guitar work reminds me a bit of My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields.

    @Hong Konger & TonyP4, I got this in my email today~ 😛

    Economic Stimulus Explained

    “Sometime this year, taxpayers will receive an Economic Stimulus Payment. This is a very
    exciting new program that I will explain using the Q and A format:

    “Q. What is an Economic Stimulus Payment?
    “A. It is money that the federal government will send to taxpayers.”

    “Q. Where will the government get this money?
    “A. From taxpayers.”

    “Q. So the government is giving me back my own money?”
    “A. No, they are borrowing it from China. Your children are expected to repay the Chinese.”

    “Q. What is the purpose of this payment?
    “A. The plan is that you will use the money to purchase a high-definition TV set, thus stimulating the economy.”

    “Q. But isn’t that stimulating the economy of China?”
    “A. Shut up.”

    Below is some helpful advice on how to best help the US economy by spending your stimulus check wisely:

    If you spend that money at Wal-Mart, all the money will go to China.

    If you spend it on gasoline it will go to Hugo Chavez, the Arabs and Al Qaida

    If you purchase a computer it will go to Taiwan.

    If you purchase fruit and vegetables it will go to Mexico, Honduras, and Guatemala (unless you buy organic).

    If you buy a car it will go to Japan and Korea.

    If you purchase prescription drugs it will go to India.

    If you purchase heroin it will go to the Taliban in Afghanistan

    If you give it to a charitable cause, it will go to Nigeria.

    You can keep the money in America by spending it at yard sales or going to a ball game, or you can spend it on women of ill repute, domestic beer or tattoos, since those are the only businesses still in the US.

  37. William Huang Says:

    @ bianxiangbianqiao #35:
    I apologize for misunderstand your subject.

    To make a long argument short, I think you are comparing apple to orange. You assume everything else being equal but the problem is that everything else is not equal and this is the key. Salary is a valuation of one’s skill at a particular location and a specific period of time. Like everything else, it is subject to the law of supply and demand (assume in a free market economy). Unless the labor pool is freely flowed among different nations (subject to equal law and regulation) and accessible in a minute notice, this kind of comparison has no real meaning.

    A bottle of water is probably worth about 20 cents at your local supermarket but it can be worth $100 in the desert during a war. It all depends. An apartment unit in Hong Kong is worth $500K but an identical apartment in Shenzhen may only be worth half that much. Just a little off on location made big difference. Is it fair?

    A much more in-depth analysis is required with factual data not anecdotes and again I am not sure the space in this blog will accommodate.

  38. TonyP4 Says:

    @Steve #36

    I heard similar joke before. However, you did not emphasize on the punch line (could be because of your high moral standard) as follows.

    Q. What service go 100% to USA?

    A. Sexual service…
    unless s/he is on H1 visa.




    Q. How about the beer?

    A. It used to go to USA, but no longer. 🙁

  39. S.K. Cheung Says:

    To BXBQ #22 and #35:
    “My question for American labor remains the same:…are you really worth that much, judging from the way you work?”
    That reminds me of something that has always intrigued me. Forgiving the elephant-sized over-simplification, it seems to me that Chinese people (and by that I’m referring mostly to HK since that’s my experience) value intellectual white-collar work and de-value manual blue-collar activities. The result is that white collar work tends to be very well paid, while blue collar work is not. In the US and Canada, it is quite different. Just ask how much a plumber charges per hour. So when you ask how much they’re worth, it really depends on who you’re asking. And it’s really a question that should be posed to the respective societies: how much are you willing to pay for someone to do the work that you can’t/won’t do. The answer might be different is Asia vs North America.

    “Everything else being equal, would not a sharp and alert Chinese worker dressed in full uniform be of greater value than a grumpy and out of shape American worker dressed in a colorful t-shirt and a pair of jeans at work?”
    I think value is an inverse ratio of cost/worth. Low cost for good work is great value. So a Chinese worker may be great value, not only because they do great work but also because they’re being paid a pittance. But workers are also consumers. And a worker who represents awesome value but has poor spending power will eventually become an unemployed worker (since there’s no one to buy the stuff they’re making, so the company may as well stop making it).

  40. pug_ster Says:

    @Steve 36

    In general, Chinese workers were less productive in white collar jobs. By that, I mean it took longer for them to accomplish a task than what I’d see in the States. I think there are two reasons for this, both cultural. One, they work such long hours that they’d have to pace themselves through the day or they’d burn out. Two, decision making tends to be a ‘group process’ rather than individual so a great amount of time would be spent in coming to a consensus opinion where no one wanted to sound like they were making a decision. In terms of intelligence and dedication, they were excellent.

    I do agree that Chinese workers work long hours which leads to burnout, but I do disagree with the ‘group process’ is worse than an individual. I think the Chinese usually have a more thought out methodical process to make decisions whereas Americans have an individual ‘make it so’ process. To give an example, let’s say there’s a job that needs to be done as quickly as possible, and it takes 10 minutes if there is no problems, but it takes up to an 1 hour if there is a problem. (a) The Americans would say this can be done easily in 10 minutes ignoring any problems in the horizon, but when he does it, he encounters problem and finishes in 40 minutes because it took them 10 minutes to figure what kind of problems they are having. He is considered a failure. (b) The Chinese discussing the various senarios of problems that they might encounter and predicts that there might be issues in the horizon and gives a more pessimistic assessment that they will need up to 1 hour to fix. They caught the problem early on and it only took them 30 minutes to do the job. They considered the job a success because of the thought process they put into it.

    I can name a very good example of how this American half-ass thought process that results in failure. I recall that months ago that when the US credit market was frozen the banks came to capitol Hill and asking the government for money. The government makes an hasty solution by dolling out money hoping that they can loan out money to consumers. While some of the banks actually did that, most of the banks used that money on bonuses and lavish parties. Just today, the Senate grills the banking CEO’s for spending the money and not lending it out, it is the Senate’s fault that they lend it out haphazardly without thinking what they would do with it.

  41. Hong Konger Says:

    # 36, # 38

    LOL 🙂

    Steve, Tony, I had no idea America sex industry is such a major attraction.

    Nice songs, smacks of Faye Wang in her singing and U2, the Cars etc in music style.

    I was just shooting the breeze with an American friend last night, laughing at Biden’s innumerable Foot-in-Mouth examples. How as President, his verbal clumpsiness could start a war by accident etc, if, God forbid, that Obama should be assasinated etc etc…I mean, we are all the way here in China talking about these stuff. I wonder how concerned are Americans living in America are ?

  42. bianxiangbianqiao Says:

    Steve, William Huang and SK Cheung,

    You are correct in pointing out my over-simplification of the labor issue. Context does matters. In real life you cannot take labor out of the social and economic context. I am used to doing experiments in the lab, isolating one factor as cleanly as possible by keeping all other factors constant. I think this “simplification” is still a useful way of thinking about complex issues, as long as one does not compare oragnes with apples. My thoughts were stimulated by American labor’s blaming “cheap” Chinese labor and illegal immigrants for their plight. Call the Chinese labor underpaid. Don’t call them cheap, which implies low quality.

    The Chinese labor is in one of the most exploited and under-appreciated groups in the world. They have been responsible for much of China’s economic progress over the last 30 years. The part of the Chinese population responsible for scientific and technological advances have not put on an impressive show. Yet they are receiving a lot of resources and respect. This is partly cultural, like S. K. Cheung said. There was news last night that the Chinese state is going to spend another 600 billion (六千亿) yuan on science and technology, as part of the economic stimulus plan. I hope this money will prove well-spent. On the other hand the working people are denigrated and largely left to their own device.

    Another point is that I still think the role of innovation in the US economy is exagerated.
    TonyP4 says “40%” of jobs do not require college education. Actually most American jobs, I say 80% of American jobs require no college education. I say this because according to reliable statistics 48% of Americans start college, and only about 24% graduate with a four year degree. I think these data come from the college board. I could be wrong about the source but the numbers stuck in my memory. So only about 24% of Americans have four year college degrees. A quater of these 24% are college graduates in name only, with very limited academic skills. Overall the American population is not that educated, especially given the level of average income. “The US ecomony is driven my consumption…..” This is the sentence I hear on TV every evening, not by innovation.

  43. TQ Says:


    A lot of things are in reality simply ” 吹嘘” , propaganda, false advertisement, false flag operations, crying wolves, theatrics, inside jobs, conspiracies, cover-ups, diversions, distractions, mass control tactics, hot air, fertilisers, cow dung, FX, smokes and mirrors, steaming piles of Bullshit..feel free to continue….

  44. Steve Says:

    @ BXBQ: Your point about blaming “cheap” Chinese labor and illegal immigrants is well taken and I agree with you that it’s a gross oversimplication.

    “The Chinese labor is in one of the most exploited and under-appreciated groups in the world.”

    Who do you feel is responsible for the exploitation?

    I think the US economy is driven by both consumption and innovation. Innovation has created entire new industries which are world leaders. But even within these industries, most of the manufacturing is done offshore. The economics just push it in that direction.

    “Everything else being equal, would not a sharp and alert Chinese worker dressed in full uniform be of greater value than a grumpy and out of shape American worker dressed in a colorful t-shirt and a pair of jeans at work?”

    To which I’d say, “Everything else being equal, would not a sharp and alert American worker dressed in a colorful t-shirt and a pair of jeans be of greater value than a grumpy and out of shape Chinese worker dressed in full uniform at work?” The way you phrased the question can only imply one answer. 🙂

    However, to criticize another country for your own shortcomings is duplicitous at best. Under current trade treaties, as long as each country adheres to established rules, no one should complain about their success or lack of it.

    @ TonyP4 #38: I beg to differ, my good man. The domestic beer in America is now excellent. In fact, many Europeans come to San Diego county to sample the beers from our microbreweries, which are considered some of the best in the world. Being a “dark beer” kinda guy, this has been a godsend over the last 20 or so years. In Texas, order Shiner Bock; it’s very good. Even Michelob’s AmberBock is pretty good. I’m always up for a good Oatmeal Stout, which is made by several different breweries… and no, I don’t drink Bud. 😛

    @ Hong Konger #41: Sorry, I cannot comment on the American sex industry. I’ve already imported my own wife/girlfriend/sex symbol/boss so I’m not in the market. You’ll have to ask one of our Washington politicians to get a more accurate picture. 😀

    @ pug_ster #40: Politicians=lawyers=absolutely no understanding of money, excepting Allen, of course! I’ve noticed that politicians know how to make laws but tend to be fools when it comes to economics. How they can spend close to a trillion dollars after only a week’s deliberation is beyond me. Whenever something is politically related, something always seems to get skimmed off the top.

    I was thinking more of normal businesses where managers aren’t being paid million dollar bonuses. Something as simple as figuring out a gross profit margin can take a long time in China, so I would just make a decision and I could see the relief on my colleagues’ faces when I did so. They used to say to me, “We work hard but you work smart. We need to learn to work smarter like you do” because I could accomplish the same task much more quickly. I asked their input and made a decision. If I had not asked their input, then I would have been at fault as you pointed out in your example.

    I read something interesting yesterday, from Gregg Easterbrook who is an author, writer for The Atlantic but this was from his ESPN Tuesday Morning Quarterback (TMQ) column, which he always infuses with other non-sports topics. He wrote:

    Obama to Announce Voluntary Speed Limits: Given that TMQ has been railing against big bonuses to CEOs and Wall Street types, you’d think I would be happy about the executive-pay limits Barack Obama announced Wednesday. The announcement got fantastic press for Obama — our new president is the most gifted media manipulator since Ronald Reagan, and successful modern presidents have had media-manipulation skills. But the “limits” are not what they seem. For most firms that receive federal bailout money, the “limits” are voluntary. Golly gee whillikers, CEOs will voluntarily limit their own pay, won’t they? Corporate executives don’t need a presidential directive to place voluntary limits on their bonuses, they can do that on their own at any point. The “limits” apply only to firms that receive what the Treasury Department calls “exceptional aid,” meaning most of the millions and billions being handed out as gifts to banks around the country will continue to come with no strings attached. So far, three firms have received aid classified as “exceptional” — AIG, Bank of America and Citigroup. Guess what? AIG, Bank of America and Citigroup have been exempted from the limits. The “limits” announced by Obama would bind any firms that may receive “exceptional” aid in the future, but for now, bind no one.

    Perhaps some companies will decide to comply for public-relations reasons. But it’s disturbing that one of Obama’s first major acts in office is classic Washington make-believe — something that seems like a sweeping reform but actually is nearly toothless. If the country is to have the change Obama promised voters in his campaign, genuine reform is required, not more exercises in Washington phoniness. Plus, if the new president stakes some of his prestige on what seems like a dramatic decision and it turns out a year from now that CEOs easily evaded the seeming “limits” and stuffed their pockets with tax money anyway, Obama will seem an ineffectual leader.

    Change we can believe in???

  45. bianxiangbianqiao Says:

    @Steve # 44,

    “Who do you feel is responsible for the exploitation?”

    That is a tough question.


    “A lot of things are in reality simply ” 吹嘘” , propaganda, false advertisement, false flag operations, crying wolves, theatrics, inside jobs, conspiracies, cover-ups, diversions, distractions, mass control tactics, hot air, fertilisers, cow dung, FX, smokes and mirrors, steaming piles of Bullshit..feel free to continue….”

    TQ, thanks for the invitation. I wish I had more time. However as you know, unlike more privileged people, I have to work for a living. But I will try. Your encouragement means a lot to me.

  46. Steve Says:

    Today’s Stratfor podcast discusses the economic situation in China.

  47. jc Says:

    To Steve & bianxiangbianqiao & others regarding exploitation:

    It may be relatively irrelevant as to whether Chinese workers are exploited or who is responsible for that. The bottom line at here is if there is anything better for those workers, or for the Chinese government, to do rather than “being exploited”? If not, then accept that as the reality and do your best to try to figure out something better.

    A lot of Chinese tend to automatically put China as a victim. This understandably has a lot to do with its recent history, and may have a lot to do with what the school teaches. But in the real world being a crying victim will not help you one bit. They more you cry, the more other people look like you as a “xiang2 lin2 sao3”.

    I have a lot of sympathy for millions of poor and hard working Chinese workers, but if such “exploitation” is any indicative, it should indicate that China still has a long way to go on a lot of things. Unfortunately for those poor workers that’s the best they can get in the moment. What one side considered as “exploitation” is often considered as a “fair deal” by the other side, simply because if it was not that you presented such exploitation as an attractive condition, they probably wouldn’t be here to exploiting you. This is the similar as a typical employer – employee conflict, where employee think he is being taking advantage of, and the employer believes he is the one that gives you opportunity.

    As such taking a victim stand is the last thing Chinese should do. That is not say that exploiter does not exist or Chinese government should let loose those abusive business owners. But if you want to move forward, you should stop blaming others and do your best to move forward. Nobody else wanted to admit that they are responsible for your failure, even if they indeed are. So forget about blaming others.

  48. TonyP4 Says:

    Exploitation sounds funny to me in several occasions.

    – The illegal alien said he was exploited by his Chinese employer who paid less than minimum wages. But, who is going to employ a guy from South America who does not speak English/Chinese and have no skill/education in this economy?

    – The child laborers got at least something to eat instead of searching for food in garbage dump.

    – The hooker makes far more money than I just lying down doing nothing and says her body is exploited. 🙂

  49. William Huang Says:

    @ bianxiangbianqiao #42
    I understand your point of isolation on one factor. However, we have to be careful not to apply too much of scientific method to social/economic matters. The laws governing these matters are enforced by different entities (nature vs. human).

    As for the Chinese engineers’ contribution to China’s economic advancement, I am not sure that I agree with you. Skilled labor (I mean manual and non-engineering) is only a part of equation that determines the quality. If anything can be learned from Japanese innovation on quality, it is the quality control process not quality of manual labor itself that produces quality product. Look at this way; labor intensive product usually has lower reliability/quality than non-labor intensive products. Why? Because machine and technology can do much better job on physical material than human hand. For example, it is unthinkable to have a car made purely by hand tools no matter how skilled you are. In that sense, the quality of manual labor becomes less critical in comparison with design and process control for the production of quality products. To have high quality in design and process control, you will need knowledge and skill which means you will need good engineers. If you truly believe that China is producing quality products, then these engineers surely deserve a great deal of credit.

    I am not sure innovation is US is that much exaggerated. Let’s take a look at information technology, probably one of leading technology that changed our way of life and our productivity. The inventions that made it possible for you and I to discuss on this blog at our finger tip with very little cost, all came from US. They include integrated circuit, computer, Ethernet, internet, router/switch, and its associated software from operating system to application program, database management, search engine, and to transmit my message to you, and around the world via high speed optical fiber communication network etc, etc.

    These inventions and the process of conceiving them into useful products, all came out of US and US alone, not Japan, German, Britain, Russia, China or any other countries. This is breathtaking. Yes, there are some niche area occupied by some non-US companies but the significance on their contribution is really negligible. To top that, most of inventors who made it all to happen were born, raised, and educated in US. That says a lot about US on innovation, product quality, education and the labor skill.

    We, Chinese have a long way to go in order to be in that kind of position and I am not sure our labor force is the one to make it happen. We don’t want to be fooled by others but worst kind of fooling is fooling ourselves. Complacence and arrogance is our enemy. Only the recognition of our own shortcoming and our drive to do better will make China truly great.

  50. FOARP Says:

    BXBQ – Here in the barbarian west where us white monkeys live, we savages like to use things called PARAGRAPHS. Perhaps this word sounds uncouth to your civilised ear, trained as it is to catch the subtle intonations of a language more than 5,000 years old, however your just going to have to forgive this foreign devil for troubling you in such a fashion.

  51. FOARP Says:

    Oh, and as someone who actually has worked in a Chinese factory, let me tell you that when Chinese people are allowed to assert their identity through clothing, hair style, or otherwise, they do. I have also worked in western factories in which everybody wore uniforms pretty much as you describe – what does this show? This shows that you have pretty much no idea of what goes on in industry, as one would expect of an academic.

    Let me put this plainly. I worked (as I’m sure some people here are tired of me repeating) at the Foxconn plant in Longhua, Shenzhen – one of Mainland China’s largest factories. We were all issued with company uniforms, but how many people wore them? Only those that had to – mine stayed in its plastic wraps for the entirety of my 2-year stint, and few of my Chinese colleagues bothered with theirs either. I also worked in a supermarket and several different factories whilst I was a student in the UK – in all of them wearing of coveralls or a uniform was mandatory, so we all did. The idea that this demonstrated any great differences in our attitudes towards work is simply way off.

    The problem with mass production manufacturing in rich countries is simply this – it cannot be done as profitably as it can in the third world, because most manufacturing in the main part does not require high degrees of skill but is labour intensive. Hence, whilst Rolls Royce will no doubt continue to produce jet engines and cars in the UK, no company would dream of trying to mass produce clothes here. The US car industries are similar – unionised labour has ensured that the modernisation necessary to cut worker numbers has not happened, and a population who until recently were willing to buy any old rubbish just so long as it had a US flag on it are no longer quite so gullible.

    Culture doesn’t really come into this, it’s pure economics.

  52. Think Ming Says:

    No real substance here, just some nationalist/racist generalizations.

  53. FOARP Says:

    @William Huang – By the way, information technology most definitely did NOT only come out of the US. As a Brit I am of course most familiar with the British examples (ever heard of Marconi? John Logie-Baird? Alan Turing? The Colossus machine? Clive Sinclair? ), the transistor was a Canadian invention, as was the use of Quartz timers, mass production of transistors was developed in Japan. Of course inventors in the US made many of the most important discoveries, but to say they ‘invented the computer’ or ‘invented computer programs’ as many Chinese and others seem inclined to do, is simply not true.

  54. Steve Says:

    Here’s a little story that you all might find interesting, where race actually made a difference.

    Back in the late 1970s, the Japanese started to build a semiconductor manufacturing industry with equipment from the USA. Once they got the processes running and tuned in, their yields (how many chips per wafer could be sold, it’s a batch process) were noticeably higher than in the States. American manufacturers went to Japan to try and find out why, since wafer yield is the single most important factor concerning profitability when comparing similar processes.

    Back then, the set up and movement from one tool to another was all done manually so there was a lot of worker interaction. What they found was that Asian skin sheds significantly less particles than Caucasian skin. So the racial difference created the yield difference!

    After that, any Asian applying for a clean room job in Silicon Valley got preferred treatment. 😛

    @ William Huang #49: Nice post! I found Chinese engineers to be very competent. Engineering is a skill that requires you to solve problems. Innovation is a skill that requires you to come up with new ideas, and is usually the domain of the post-graduate crowd. I’ve had many Chinese tell me they were taught to obey the rules, repeat what was taught and that new ideas were discouraged in school. In the States, we’re always saying “think outside the box”. So I truly believe that it is a cultural difference. Chinese Americans come up with new ideas all the time.

    I find it fascinating that if you go back into Chinese history, the old culture was incredibly innovative! Back in the Han, Tang, Song and early Ming dynasties, brilliant new inventions came out of China on a regular basis. So though China might have 5000 years of continuous civilization, that civilization has undergone tremendous changes since the mid-Ming period. If it changed once from innovative to non-innovative, then it should be able to change back if the educational system can make the necessary adjustments. In my opinion, by the time you get to University, it’s too late. It has to start early, not the first few years where most is memorization, but at least by late elementary school.

  55. FOARP Says:

    @Think Ming – For once, I wholeheartedly agree. BXBQ refers to expats in China as vermin, talks about the west as ‘the white world’, describes white people as being grasping, violent, and incapable of controlling themselves. He is a fascist, plain and simple.

    Oh, and BXBQ quite obviously never stood in the ‘foreigner’ line at Luohu border crossing to see the bored look on the face of the border policeman stamping the passports of me and about a thousand other foreigners back from a weekend in HK.

  56. Steve Says:

    @ FOARP #53: Alan Turing is very well known, but the guy I find most interesting was Tommy Flowers, who worked as an engineer in the Post Office before Turing brought him over to Bletchley Park. His “Colossus” was the first computer (ten were eventually used during the war) ever built, though the work was kept “top secret” until the 1970s, so he usually doesn’t get credit for what he did. Both the British and Americans broke the German code; the British did it with a computer while the Americans did it through sheer trial and error.

  57. Steve Says:

    @ FOARP #55: I think Passport Control Officers are exactly the same the world over. The bored look, a couple of muttered words, the check to make sure you match the photo in your passport, stamp (and in Taiwan, staple), slide across the counter and off you go.

  58. bianxiangbianqiao Says:

    William Huang,

    There is no question that most of the conceptual breakthroughs in science and technology will come from the US in the foreseeable future. China will not be in the position to match the American capacity to develop game-changing ideas in computer science and so forth in my life time. The system and institutions for nurturing science and technology will take time to mature, much longer than installing expensive equipments at the Universities. Given this fact, what kind of society China needs to build becomes a question. High quality and motivated labor is one asset that China has. It is just one part of the game, like you said. But it is going to be the best part of the game for China for quite some time. Can the Chinese labor be utilized in less exploitative ways? I like the new labor law and the idea of rudimentary universal health coverage introduced recently. I think more of that needs to be done. If you increase the workers’ income, labor cost will increase, foreign businesses that can only produce cheap products for poor foreigners by exploiting Chinese labor will move out of China. But if the Chinese workers are paid more, they will have more money to spend, and support economic activities, and start a virtuous circle within China. Once this virtuous circle gets started, it will shield Chinese workers from the exploitation of foreigners. Right now the west is not buying that much from China anyway. Is it a totally bad thing that the sweatshops producing cheap goods for foreigners in their (Wal-Mart and Family Dollar) type of poverty get closed? I am not sure.

    When looking at the way American workers work on TV, and comparing them with the way Chinese workers work on TV, I got a strong feeling that China must stop herself from internalizing the idea that Chinese labor is “cheap”. I have to admit I have little idea about how factories or other industrial facilities work. However, I have some intuitive understanding about a person’s approach to work; just compare the stewards and stewardesses in an Air China or JAL flight and those on United Airlines, especially the way they pay attention to the customers they are serving in the economy class. Yeah, some of that attention is fake. At least they cared enough to fake it.

  59. bianxiangbianqiao Says:

    FOARP ,

    Paragraphs are cool but I like writing things down before I forget them.

  60. Hong Konger Says:

    Agrees with FOARP, William Huang and Steve. Nice posts guys.

    # 57

    My first exprience at the first point of entry into the USA many many years ago was Honolulu airport. There were maybe 4 lines, and having heard all the horror stories of mean treatment of Asians, I purposely chose the one with a non-white immigration officer. Bad choice. The polynesian (guessing) officer looked at my passport, asked me a few questions and told me to go wait by some interrogation room. It felt like a long time, and the whole time I was thinking, OMG, I am going to be probed, interrogated, put in a slammer and sent on the next available flight back to Hong Kong! A few minutes later a Chinese lady officer summoned me into the room and asked me the same exact questions in English the Polynesian officer had asked me. Stamped my passport and said to me, “Welcome to America.” WTF?

    Later when I told a Polynesian friend of mine about my first experience in US territory, he laughed and said, “Dude, some of these brothers have to prove themselves more than others. You should have picked the White officer’s line.” He could be right, but either way, it was all silly generalizations.

  61. FOARP Says:

    @Steve – From asking people who have been through them, my three worst in the world immigration controls for unfriendliness and hassling visitors have to be

    3rd place – Australia (pointlessly officious, understandably anxious about people bring foreign flora and fauna to the country)

    2nd place – The UK (for some reason they seem to enjoy hassling Americans, and they have those idiotic signs telling you not to abuse the staff, something which makes me want to tell the first one I meet where they can put their sign. You’d think they’d realise that practically accusing visitors of wanting to hit the staff would not be a good way of welcoming people to the country – but then they are a pack of officious jobs-worths)

    1st place – The US (simply everyone I know has some kind of horror story about getting through immigration in the US, my parents were almost refused entry on arrival, as was my sister and a friend of mine – all for extremely minor issues which were no fault of their own. My sister was issued with the wrong visa forms by the US embassy in the UK – this having put her through their stupidly time-wasting interview interview before she could even get her visa)

    My favourite? Has to be Taiwan. Can’t remember the number of your flight? No problem, let me write one in. Forgotten to write in this piece of meaningless information? Never mind, you don’t need it anyway. Taiwan is a gem for this, and is thankfully free of all the other hassles (no liquids, no shoe X-ray etc.) which attend modern air travel elsewhere in the world (or at least were in 2007 since I was last there – hopefully this has not changed).

  62. William Huang Says:

    @ FOARP #53
    Well, information technology I am referring to is computer based information system not every thing that relates to communication of information. We have to cut a line somewhere. Otherwise, the invention of paper can be considered as information technology too. I don’t count radio and television as information technology. Therefore, Marconi (the inventor of radio) and John Logie Baird (inventor of television) are out.

    The Colossus machine (1944) was one of the early computers but it bears no marks in today’s computer technology and is certainly not the first one. A commonly acknowledged first electronic computer which eventually evolved into today’s form is invented by John Atanasoff (an American) in 1937 and confirmed by the US court (1973) to invalidate the ENIAC patent. Until then, ENIAC was considered the first modern computer, and also an American invention (well, one may say that the inventor of ENIAC stole the idea from Atanasoff).

    Transistor is invented by William Shockley, John Bardeen and Walter Brattain of Bell Lab. All three of them are Americans (no Canadian). They received Noble Price in Physics for the invention.

    I don’t think Quartz timers as a technology has much to do with computer and communication.

    Mass production of transistor started in US not Japan. This is how integrated circuit (IC) got invented, and again by two Americans.

    I am willing to make an exception for Alan Turing because of his important contribution in the theory of computing. However, he is not an inventor per se as I won’t call Albert Einstein as an inventor either. I made this distinguishing because my main topic was limited to technological innovation not scientific discovery.

    The concept of computing machine dates back hundreds of years and everything we do today is one way or another linked to the past. For example, binary number system used in today’s computer is invented by Leibniz, the famous mathematician but I won’t call him being one of the inventors of information technology as we know of.

  63. jc Says:

    To Steve #54:

    As to the rules…my personal experience is actually quite the opposite. I personally think Chinese has a tendency to be more disobedient to the rules rather than respecting it. You can see this in Chinese business/government all the time. In the States laws and rules are mostly being well respected and followed. In China it’s a totally different story. People try to get around rules all the time, and often do it in very “creative” ways. The popular thinking is rules are made by people (and for the people as they say), so it is people that are above rules (because rules serve people), not rules that are above people. You can see such thinking everywhere and especially among local officials (High level officials do get it). This creates a lot of difficulties and uncertainties among government and businesses. On the other hand, I do not feel school in China teach much about following rules at all (except for political propaganda). This is actually something I wish they could take more seriously in school.

    What I do see a lot in the State is that when people have an idea, they are much better at making a connection between the idea and the real world and much active on realizing that idea. They have a much better and much more sense of participation. This has a lot to do with the positive business environment in the States. Where as in China, there is often a huge disconnection between the worker class and the management class. This might have a lot to do with the huge social/economy distance between the two “classes”. It’s like when they are riding bicycles and you are riding Mercedes, you can’t really expect the bicycles guys to think like you. Or they wouldn’t be riding bicycles.

    Schools in the States indeed do a lot work on encouraging different thinking and new ideas. That’s a very good thing and that should be something schools in China to think about. However it is very hard for them to follow because students in China have to study very hard in order to get the scores that are high enough to be admitted to the college.

  64. William Huang Says:

    @ Steve #54

    You said:
    “I’ve had many Chinese tell me they were taught to obey the rules, repeat what was taught and that new ideas were discouraged in school. In the States, we’re always saying “think outside the box”. So I truly believe that it is a cultural difference. Chinese Americans come up with new ideas all the time.”

    I agree with you 100%. This kind of culture difference can be measured by something called “Power Distance Index” (PDI). It is in a way measuring the degree which one respect the authority. A country like US has very short PDI which means Americans are constantly thinking beyond the rule and authority, and to them, their supervisor is just another co-worker. Orientals like Chinese, Japanese and Koreans have long PDI and the supervisor often has this “fatherly” authority.

    They (myself included) tend to have the idea that my job is to follow the order not to question merit of decision by the authority. This kind of attitude not only affects innovation but also has other consequences. For example, international airline safety is one example where multiple levels of ranking and culture are involved. You can image yourself being a co-pilot and you have a boss, the Capitan and control tower. To talk to a New York tower controller who likes to bossing around and your Capitan is a nasty son of bitch, you can image the situation you are in if you are afraid of authority. In an emergency situation, short PDI helps a lot where long PDI cause problems because people are reluctant to speak up and think on their won. Worse yet, you do have enough time to sort things out like in the office.

    My understanding is that in Europe, the PDI for each country varies. Some are long and some are short. I don’t know enough to say why.

  65. Steve Says:

    @Hong Konger #60: I think your Polynesian friend was correct; best to find the bored white guy working customs, ha ha. At least you didn’t get probed…. he might have thought you were a “mule” smuggling drugs across the border. Bend over, please… 😛

    @ FOARP #61: Sorry you and your family got the stupid treatment coming into the USA. The only time my bags were ever searched was in Osaka, but I remember driving into Canada a couple of years ago, took me five minutes to cross over but over 2 hours to get back into the States. Bush tightens up security but doesn’t bother to open any more lines into the States, so everyone gets backed up. Taiwan has always been a breeze to enter, and the wait through customs is usually about ten minutes. The worst airport to enter the country in the USA? It’s got to be LAX. Endless waits and stupid people. I’d fly into San Francisco and take a flight down to San Diego from there, 1/10th of the hassle.

    @ William Huang #62: Thanks for the info about John Atanasoff, I hadn’t heard that name before so now I can look him up. ENIAC was like Columbus, the computer that led to the development of computers. Colossus was great, but after the war they were mostly destroyed and not developed. It doesn’t matter if you figure something out if if doesn’t develop from there.

    I had also heard about the transistor being developed at Bell Labs in NJ. My mom’s cousin worked there for many years (he’s the genius in our family; undergrad at MIT and PhD at Cal Tech) and I’ve also been there on sales calls. It’s a fantastic R&D lab.

    Your statement about technology being built on the back of earlier technology is soooo true! There are no new ideas in this world, just variations of earlier ideas.

    @ jc #63: Thanks for the education. I think you brought up a lot of good points and great observations. I was talking to a physics professor at Cal State Fullerton (originally from Taiwan) and he was telling me that his grad students who had gone to Qinghua University had no ideas when he offered them use of the lab for their own experiments but the American students had all sorts of ideas. The Chinese students were very competent, but they just hadn’t been trained to think inventively. Your post is one of the reasons I like this blog so much; everyone has something to bring to the table and we all learn from each other. I really appreciate your insights.

    @ William Huang #64: I hadn’t heard of PDI before but it makes sense. Personally, I don’t care what anyone says if it doesn’t make sense to me, so I tend to question authority a lot. I only have one “father” in this world, and I don’t work for him. 😀

  66. Wukailong Says:

    @William, Steve: Here’s an interactive map in which every country is ranked on PDI and a number of other factors:


  67. Hong Konger Says:

    # 65

    ::LOL:: T

    Question is, Would they send a Chinese LADY officer to probe a male “Mule”?????

  68. FOARP Says:

    @William Huang – Check it out, a patent was filed in Canada for a field effect transistor in 1925. Likewise, ENIAC is only generally accepted as the first computer in America – it really does depend what your definition of computer is. To say that the computer was invented only in America is quite simply incorrect.

    I guess I should add that the American genius is not so much in invention (although there are many outstanding examples of this) but in the exploitation of technology. It was not an American who invented in the motor car, but it was American industry (especially Ford) which realised its full potential. It was not an American who invented the jet engine, nor even the first commercial jet liner, but it was American companies like Boeing which brought it into general use. Really it does not matter who invents something as much as who makes best use of it.

    @Steve – I guess I should add that both my sister and my folks went through LAX.

    To my list of good welcomes I guess I should mention Dublin. As an EU citizen all I need to do is show my passport on entry so I don’t know if non-EU citiznes get hassled, but they did have the most gorgeous border policewomen I’ve seen anywhere – long red hair, emerald eyes etc.

  69. William Huang Says:

    @ Steve 65
    One of the ENIAC inventors, John Mauchly had a number of correspondences (letter) with Atanasoff and it was proven in court that Mauchly got some real critical ideas from Atanasoff.

    @ Wukailong #66
    Thanks for the link. I tried before but couldn’t find it on the Internet. It is interesting to note that France (78) is very close to China (80) in terms of PDI.

    @ FOARP #66,
    I agree with Steve (#65) that it doesn’t matter if you don’t develop your idea into something useful. The computer I am referring to is today’s computer not all computing machines invented in the past. You can trace small portion of today’s computers’ DNA back to ENIAC (or Atanasoff’s) but you will find no trace at all to Colossus or any other early computers.

    Even ENIAC computer itself is nothing more than a piece of gigantic calculator for scientists and engineers. It has nothing to do with the functions of today’s computer with the exception of calculation. Today’s computer is a very different animal. Just look at graphic user interface, a technology has nothing to do calculation or solving equation. Its open windows, pull-down menus, and a mouse to point and click made possible for everybody to use not just experts. This is a revolutionary step. Every piece of this technology is invented (at Xerox) and developed (at Apple and Microsoft) in US. There was not a single company outside of US ever get involved with the conception and development.

    This FET transistor patent in Canada may have an interest idea ahead of its time but I won’t say our lives will be any different without it. The concept of transistor has been around before William Shockley and his colleagues started. What they invented is not just a transistor but a semiconductor transistor which can be made into a very small size. Consequently it made integrated circuit possible. It is this ability for miniaturization that changed everything and without that, your computer will be bigger than the house you are living in and this Canadian patent will not make it any smaller.

    Your assessment on American’s exploitation of technology and lack of innovation was true but outdated. This kind of thinking is as old as 50 years. We need to be careful. Otherwise, like they said; sometimes when you are so far behind; you start to think you are ahead.

  70. FOARP Says:

    “sometimes when you are so far behind; you start to think you are ahead.”

    True, in fact what I’ve just said has been generally true since I was born, so it’s due to become untrue – and sooner rather than later.

    As for the rest, we have already discussed Alan Turing, and the Colossus designs were communicated to the Americans so they could develop their own machines along similar lines – and ENIAC did receive some help in this fashion. If you like, the designs for Colossus did borrow from Polish designs which were also meant to decrypt ENIGMA. The Germans and the Australians also created similar machines. I am not claiming that British people invented the computer, I am just claiming that it is simply wrong to say that the Americans and ONLY the Americans invented the computer – a review of the historical evidence does not bear that out.

  71. FOARP Says:

    @Raj –

    “I’ve had more coherent discussions with random sentence generators.”

    Your friendly local Markov chain says “interesting-would you like to tell me more?”

  72. William Huang Says:

    @ FOARP #70
    I am not sure we can resolve the differences but I put a stop here.

    However, I do want to say that I have a great deal of respect for British people and their contributions to the civilization which includes the computing. For example, to me, DNA is a 100% British discovery (even though one American was involved) and some poeple in US may not agree. I may someday run into a different blog and defend for British on this matter.

  73. No99 Says:

    I don’t know if I can add much to this. It kind of depends on the individual because there are both good and bad American and Chinese workers. Then there’s the management issues and the entire process/operations of the production line and quality assurance and control. Then there’s economics. Some currencies are peg to certain ones, like the US dollar. While salaries are significantly different when converted into an equal denominations, in terms of lifestyles, sometimes you can live just as well or even better than places with higher salaries. Within the US, each region, state and city is different. The living expenses are different enough where a person that makes 1/3 of another can possibly live better than that higher wage person. Of course, this is relatively speaking, because there’s so many different variables involved.

    As for innovation, some American companies and institutions are good and some are not. The competition within America is very intense, often more than between different countries. They also actively recruit people all over the globe. Either bringing them to the States, are setting up places in other countries for those people to work in. Japan, the European countries, even China and others do the same. So, it’s not entirely surprising why one country might outstrip entire countries in this matter.

  74. TonyP4 Says:

    $20 (at one time $75 counting all benefits) per hour just cannot compete with $2 per hour labor. It is not attitude, but just simple maths.

    At one time, 10 or so auto workers support 1 retiree, then 4 on 1, and now how many auto workers supporting 1 retiree?

    Some jobs have already moved from China to Vietnam that is China 25 years ago.

  75. UFO Says:

    “Our problem is that when the Chinese standard of living does increase enough to allow, let’s say, a couple hundred more million folks to become consumers, corporations will pull the plug on America – used up and no longer needed. Unless the US government adopts pro-domestic manufacturing policies, but it will only happen when we are so beaten that we agree to work for $3,600 per year.” Reader’s comment:


  76. Steve Says:

    @ TonyP4: If a high wage cannot compete with a low wage, especially when it comes to exports, then why can Germany not only compete but export more per capita than any other nation in the world, including China? They certainly have high wages and benefits. They have run a trade surplus for as long as I can remember and continue to do so.

  77. sids Says:


    Germany has a very favourable logistic advantage, they link up to the whole European continent. Also you need to factor in that Germany is the only European country that has an export oriented economy therefore it allow them to dump their goods at European country with no competition at all and with favourable exemption since they are dumping in EU zone.

    This is Germany top 15 exports partner in 2005

    •France … US$99 billion (10.2% of total German exports)
    •U.S. … $85.5 billion (8.8%)
    •U.K. … $76.7 billion (7.9%)
    •Italy … $67 billion (6.9%)
    •Netherlands … $59.2 billion (6.1%)
    •Belgium … $54.4 billion (5.6%)
    •Austria … $52.4 billion (5.4%)
    •Spain … $49.5 billion (5.1%)
    •Switzerland … $36.9 billion (3.8%)
    •China … $31.1 billion (3.2%)
    •Poland … $25.3 billion (2.6%)
    •Czech Republic … $23.3 billion (2.4%)
    •Sweden … $21.4 billion (2.2%)
    •Russia … $19.4 billion (2.0%)
    •Japan … $16.5 billion (1.7%

  78. Rhan Says:

    During a conversation, the MD of the Japanese firm I work with told us that many Japanese manufacturers realize that to move their production line to a lower wages country to compete on pricing could be a fatal strategy in the long term. Canon, which is the famous brand for camera, preserves most of the core technology within Japan, and succeeding to evade the similar peril face by the rest.

    I notice we still use an unbelievable vast number of machine produce by German though pricing wise, it is at least three to four times more expansive than a China made. I think Germany walk a different path compare to US : (1) Emphasize on technology/quality (2) Labour cost occupy a lesser percentage of the overall cost and (3) Think long term and less profit oriented, a corporate culture that have no more appeal in US.

  79. TonyP4 Says:

    Many good points. I add my thoughts randomly.

    Even using all the robots, Japan cannot manufacture cost effectively inside Japan as the wages are too high and the diminishing young population. Japan assemble cars in the US trying to cut the tariff and lower the anger of American workers. Most are new, young, non-union workers so they do not have the legacy cost like pension.

    Japan, US and the west are in a cross-road to trade high tech stuffs with China, where most projects have transfer technology built-in routinely. Do you want to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs? If others do it, what choice you have?

    Germany belongs to a different group of EU where Euro should be used but not for all EU members. They have high tech., prestige… They make good money in selling auto in China. They have cheaper labor from the former East Germany. Until China catches up with high tech stuffs, Germany can enjoy their high living standard.

    China is soon #2 in GDP, but very low in GDP per capita. You can live with $3,600 per year in US by collecting the generous welfare and barely in rural China.

  80. Steve Says:

    @ sids, Rhan & TonyP4: Thanks for the input. sids, I guess my questions would be why is it only Germany in the EU that manages to export so much? Wouldn’t France and England have the same advantages? Isn’t the high tech/quality model one that other countries can also pursue in the face of lower labor rates in other countries? If Germany doesn’t have an advantage over any other EU country, then how can you call it dumping? Dumping is when you sell outside your country at a lower price than you sell inside it. I’m not aware that this is happening in Germany.

    Tony, most of Germany’s exports come from the western side of the country. The labor rate is lower in the east and there have been some successes, most notably in Dresden, but the productivity rate is much, much lower in eastern Germany and so the lack of success in increasing exports from that part of the economy.

    Rhan, good points. What many people don’t realize about Japan is that outside of the auto and electronics industries, they don’t really export all that much. Their internal distribution system is very antiquated and inefficient. They’re starting to modernize but are very slow in doing so, and along with Korea they still have very protected markets.

  81. TonyP4 Says:

    Hi Steve,

    The labor cost of high tech products is a very small fraction of the total cost. The German products are far ahead in technology than most other countries except US. Hence, labor cost is not important for high tech products that Germany is exporting. No one can compete in cars made in Germany except the cost to maintain them. We also have to consider their military spending that US subsidizes their defense like Japan.

    France is having a high living standard with long vacation and short work week now. Britons spend too much money in the military and they follow US to the wars no country can afford. Immigration as a short-term solution like cheap labor causes long-term problem and importing Muslim is one of them. I do not know too many immigrated to Germany and Japan.

  82. HKer Says:

    “I do not know too many immigrated to Germany”

    Tony, I wonder why?

    A Mainland Chinese friend of mine did exactly that 4 years ago, because he owed his wealth
    to business with Germany. Soon after his divorce he decided to immigrate to Germany with his
    10 year old daughter. He is so pleased with his decision. Now his daughter can speak German,
    English, French and of course Chinese. I loved it when I was there for month. Europeans are
    generally more open minded than most other culture. Wonderful social system.

  83. No99 Says:

    It might be appropriate to think of Europe as separate parts rather than the whole. Out of the places and people I’ve interacted with, I do have to say that Germany was my favorite place. The one I felt most comfortable with in terms of living standards and social atmosphere. However, it’s only what I’ve been exposed to. I went to Bonn and Cologne and have family friends in Berlin. Other places not really.

    France, well, forgive me for saying this, but I think France is kind of backwater in several ways. Of course it depends which part, so I’ll just focus on Paris. It’s rude as any city would be, kind of dirty and dangerous. Not chaotic danger but just be careful…in terms of urban areas, it’s not that uncommon but just a tad bit more than usual. The people seem kind of depressed in many ways, since I have family that lived there for decades, you do get exposed to a lot of which normal tourists or students may not see or contemplate. All this is relatively speaking, and there’s definitely some positives of course. Also, it’s true what many people say about French arrogance, though it’s more like French ignorance, like they’re circle is kind of small.

    The UK is a little over-rated but orderly. If I had a choice, I would still pick Germany over that country.

    Again, this is just what I’ve been exposed to so of course there are exceptions. There’s several other countries I’ve visited, and almost had a chance to go to Norway and Italy.

    I think one reason why Europeans tend to be more open minded (generally speaking) is they kind of have to be. Due to history and geography, Europe has pretty much been cosmopolitan ever since mankind evolved. A lot of Europeans I’ve interacted with aren’t that different from other people around the globe. They kind of complain about the same things as well as enjoy the same things as most people in the world. There’s a mixture of people who would be considered as conservative, not so open minded and vice versa.

    Don’t get me started on the food though, that’s an handful to talk about.

  84. TonyP4 Says:

    As a tourist I find France and Italy fascinating. London is over-priced for my US dollar and Germany is same as Boston to some extend as I stayed in Holiday Inn over there. I cannot stand the superiority of Germany in every aspect in life. Just jealous.

  85. HKer Says:

    “Don’t get me started on the food though, that’s an handful to talk about.”

    Hey, No.99 – don’t stop there – man, that’s the BEST part. OK, people are people, you’ll get no arguments from me there. There were many reasons why I loved Germany during the short month or so that I was there. And that was because I had a great time visiting their excellent pubs, spent an hour or so in the morning enjoying the wonderful breakfast with beautiful strong coffee, and then on sunny afternoons spent hours at some free for all public nudist park. I was also staying with a German PhD student who was almost never home. I was actually there for work, but it felt more like a great vacation though. So, please talk about the food there, No. 99.

  86. No99 Says:

    I forgot if it was Bonn or Cologne but basically my family and I went to this restaurant, which kind of looks like a pub and just sat at a table there. Took a little while but then a waiter came out with an accent saying what to eat and what to drink. Basically, we got light beers in tiny glasses. Had like small sea shell shaped noodles and mushrooms in a cream sauce, two kinds of pork shoulders, one roasted and one boiled, and a giant sausage. Then out of no where, when we were done and walked out, saw a giant cart with wheels and a bunch of guys singing, drinking beer and peddling it together, with one man in the middle (imagine a mobile bar) who was the bartender steering the wheel. Kind of interesting. This was a sunday after they finished going to Church.

    There’s this dish I was tempted but kind of afraid to try. Raw pork on bread.

    French food, well I did get a lot of homecook food rather than restaurants. My family made something they call galette. Sweet, kind of like a flat pie. Then of course, the restaurants in tourist areas like Champs elysees and others where they bring out menus in different languages. Had a giant tub of seafood chilled in ice and pork loin cooked in herbs. Had pate with bread. My relatives brought me to a small restaurant near their place where it’s only locals with hardly any tourists. It was close to a college, and apparently it’s all females I assumed as I saw a lot of French college girls go there. Anyways, breakfasts were simple, croissants, pain au chocolat and coffee or juice. Lunch we had basically a plate of kind of a flat steak, with cured meat inside of it served with French fries.

    UK food, yes I ate at those pubs, the fish and chips, meat pies and Indian food.

  87. No99 Says:

    I actually wanted to say that my experiences with the food in Europe was so so, like I expected more.

  88. HKer Says:


    You remember all the names of the things you had? Wow, I am impressed. Speaking of pate, that is chopped liver pate on coarse bread. That was all I had three meals a day for 3-4 days in East Germany in Nov. 1989. Maybe that was why West German food tasted so good, ha ha ! And then it got even better in Switzerland when I stayed with a family with a basement wine cellar ! Oh, and another thing, I simply adore the English accent of German / French / Swedish women 🙂

  89. Rhan Says:


    Steve, don’t you find the Japanese a bit odd, they are extreme equally on both modernize and conservative?

  90. jxie Says:


    Actually the immigrants as a percentage of the overall population in Germany, is about the same as in the US. Supposedly near half of the German football team in the recent WC were either immigrants or growing up in immigrants’ families. If one looks at the their starting 11, it’s apparent that Cacau isn’t an ethnic German — he was born in Brazil and looks mixed. If you look more closely, Ozil doesn’t look like a very typical German — he is a Germany-born Turk. It’s virtually impossible to tell Podolski apart, though he was born in Poland.

  91. jxie Says:

    @Steve #80,

    The best explanation I know of about the outperformance of Germany’s manufacturing industries and its exports, is Germany’s vocational education system, which is head and shoulders above the rest. Most of the manufacturing jobs don’t require you to “think outside of the box”, or be the creative/innovative type. Rather these jobs require you to do a few repetitive things exceptionally well.

    BTW, in a more broad and philosophical sense, if everybody is taught to think outside of the box, would those few who still remain in the box, actually be the proverbial “outside of the box”?

    BTW2, I don’t buy the theory that labor cost is a small portion of the hi-tech industries. If you narrowly define the labor cost as the labor cost of those who assemble the final product together, yes it’s a small portion. In the case of iPad, it amounts to a few dollars. Yet you have to add up the labor cost of those who design, market, and support the whole cycle from conceptualization to post-sales support — plus the labor cost of the components made by other companies going into the final products. Actually, the opposite is true: the labor cost is by far the largest component of any industries or economies. An extension of that is, the quality of the labors of a nation, determines the wealth of that nation.

  92. No99 Says:


    According to my experiences, even if a classroom of a 100 people were immersed in the thinking outside the box axiom, you will still end up with about 90 people staying safe and being within the box sort to speak. Some of these attitudes can’t be taught. They need to be developed from within. Sometimes, education helps. Often, it’s really personal experiences or added responsibilities that force a person to be open minded.

    Regarding your previous comment about the German sports team. Europe as a whole has kind of been that way since the beginning of time. The movement of peoples has been just as profound as the new countries established during colonialism. The French, Italians, Germans even British today are a product of many peoples not indigenous to their land. This is not including the immigrants who are more visibly different. Some people complain about those from Muslim countries, African countries or the Indian subcontinent. Well, there has always been people from those places in Europe since Antiquity, and contributed plenty to the local communities, sometimes more than the natives. Looking back at genetics, there’s a good chance a significant number of Europeans that have been there for generations are descended from them as well. Asia as a whole is like that as well. China has always been an accumulation of different peoples, hardly anyone with an healthy mind denies that. The ancestors of the Japanese were pretty diverse, it’s just a lot of people aren’t aware or don’t like to think about it. Overall speaking, it is kind of humorous to think about whenever you see these right-wing nationalistic movements sprouting all over the world.

  93. Steve Says:

    @ jxie #91: I guess if most everyone thought outside the box, the rate of change would increase significantly and “outside the box” would be considered normal. In fact, there wouldn’t even be a “box”. 😉

    When I wrote that high tech industries were mostly capital intensive, I was thinking of my old industry which was semiconductor manufacturing. The cost of labor is quite low compared to fabs costing several billion dollars in tooling. I don’t consider assembly and test to be high tech at all but I can see your point, that if you’re looking at a TV, you have to factor in the cost of every component from initial chip through design and assembly labor. I’d still think that parts would make up the majority of the cost if you broke it down, but I could be wrong on that one. I have a friend who used to be Sony’s monitor expert and he knows the costs of most electronic devices. I’ll ask him about the breakdown next time I see him just to satisfy our curiosity.

  94. TonyP4 Says:

    Thinking out of the box reminds me of the management training when my old company had too much cash to burn. Here are some of the crazy seminars/topics:

    Thinking out of the box. Most likely you need a very small minority to think out of the box. It could cause most of the factory workers demanding better pay and many arguments inside the office…

    Building a first class company. does it mean when I travel I stay in first class hotel and fly first class?

    Avoid having sex with your co-workers and your sub ordinates in office place. Is it OK to have sex with your boss or sex during company trips? Basically they tell you how to have sex with your office mates without getting the company into trouble.

  95. HKer Says:


    Chinese schools have to get their students to be creative and think for themselves, Premier Wen Jiabao told officials

  96. TonyP4 Says:

    Chinese need to protect intelligence property first. If anyone copies music, who wants to be create music as an example.

  97. Alex Says:

    If Japanese put trade restrictions on imports why cant americans do so. You have to give some edge to american automobile manufacturers specially in the domestic market. When the price will rise the so called japanese and chinese manufacturing superiority will go in trash as it is the game of price afterall.

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