We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

I happen to think this is wonderful and amazing.

I have just moved into a new flat. As I am now living alone, and in my last arrangement I was not, I find that there are a lot of basic odds and ends that I need but which I don’t have already. I particularly need items for the kitchen.

One thing I needed was a microwave oven. While I did technically own a microwave oven already, that one is in Australia. So I went my local large Asda store, and looked for microwaves. They had a good, basic model of microwave oven on sale for £24.41. That is right, £24.41. (Excluding the VAT tax imposed by the British government, the price is even less – £20.77. That is well under 40 dollars). The prices of a great many electrical and electronic goods have collapsed over the last four or five years, but I still find it amazing. I can only have a modest meal in a London restaurant for that price, but somehow it is possible to make a microwave oven in China, ship it halfway round the world, bring it into a large London store, and sell it to me, while still making a profit, for such a miniscule price. The microwave oven I own that is still in Australia and that I bought in 1999 cost me more than three times as much. And through lower prices I am therefore more than $100 better off than I was in 1999, just through that one purchase.

There is not much to be said, other than:

Three cheers for free trade.
Three cheers for globalization.
Three cheers for the internet and other international communications networks, and the global supply chains and massive economies of scale that they bring.
Three cheers for container shipping, and the amazing logistical work that goes with it.
Three cheers for the industrialization of large swathes of Asia.

And, finally

Three cheers for Wal-Mart.

28 comments to I happen to think this is wonderful and amazing.

  • TIm

    Get yourself down to Ikea for all your other kitchen bits. Great quality at a low price, and all down to superb automated systems.

  • Re: microwave ovens… get one with a powerful grill and quick defrost option. I know that most models have these features but they’re really important. A few minutes on grill and the frozen pizza is almost acceptable.

    Hey, if many libertarians are young and single, then the project of mass relocation to Lithuania (European Free State, or something like that) might actually prove pheasable.

  • Stan Racansky

    My friend:
    Who said someone can not do your job for 1/10th you are getting paid. Then the 40 bucks will be too much.
    Ask the computer specialists in California.

  • Thon Brocket

    I read somewhere recently (I forget where) that burglary rates are down partly because most appliances are now too cheap to be worth stealing.

    Globalisation doesn’t just make people rich. It turns them honest, too.

  • Michael Farris

    Three cheers for Chinese slave labor!

  • Robert

    “Three cheers for Wal-Mart.”

    As much as I respect Wal-Mart’s rights you will never…EVER…hear me say that.

    At least not immediately followed by loud wretching sounds.

  • A_t

    Thon Brocket, you’re right about house burglaries being on the wane, & that’s part of the reason, but sadly the rise in high-value portable items such as mobiles & ipods has meant that many of those who would previously have burgled have now turned to street robbery instead, with attendent higher levels of violence.

    But whatever… it’s still great to get microwaves so cheap. I too recently purchased one, & was amazed at how little they cost. Viva globalisation.

  • Keith

    “Three cheers for slave labour” indeed–since I earn close to slave labour wages, at least it means I can afford household appliances too.
    (I also just furnished a flat for very little money, courtesy of the local Warehouse store)

  • APL

    Michael Farris: “Three cheers for Chinese slave labor!”

    Not sure why you characterise it so? The peasants have migrated to the industrial centers because they hope to get better wages than they could working the land.

    The industrial workers are paid are they not? If they demanded the same wages that are common place in the West then there would be no point in manufacturing in China.

    Stan Racansky: “Who said someone can not do your job for 1/10th you are getting paid.”

    We probably are in the grip of the second industrial revolution, lots of scope for much pain and suffering. Lets just hope the politicians don’t make it worse!

    Probably, rather a forlorn hope.

  • Buying a $40 microwave is ‘great’ as long as the country you are in is earning its keep. $40 or $400, it is still revenue leaking out of the country.

    Politicians will act like someone sitting in a bath in a freezing bathroom. Horrible to get out, but the water is getting colder and colder…

    I despair as long as we have such a high tax, highly inefficient faux-service economy.

    The one consolation is that the Chinese are rapidly becoming westernised in their consumerism, demand for higher wages and a leisure lifestyle. Look at Singapore, which is about to implode due to its inability to pay its way in the face of China.

  • How about the amazing fact that portable CD players are now significantly cheaper than the CDs that they play?

    I can’t unwrap a new microwave oven without going into a reverie about the thousands of people who somehow contributed to it, most of them without realising it: a vast, stable and “organised” social system churning out near-perfect goods, and yet without a single rational mind anywhere that can comprehend all the detail of the processes involved. Had any mind attempted to comprehend it all before work began, the result would have been a much shoddier product at a higher price.

    Equally true of something as humble as a pencil(Link), of course!

  • Snide

    Three cheers for Chinese slave labor

    Oh please. Sure, the Chinese state is vile but 99% of the population just has to jump on a train from their village and go find a job just like you do in the west. There are no vast “Industral Armies” toiling at Chairman Mao’s whim. Fact is there is probably little difference between the opportunities for realistic self-directed avancement for most Chinese people than, say, anyone in Brazil or India. No, I am not claiming the Chinese STATE is admirable or legitimate, I am just observing the realities. Slave labor? Oh just get a grip, fellah.

  • Verity

    TimC – “Singapore, which is about to implode from its inability to pay its way in the face of China.” Wha’?

    Yes, Singaporeans are ethnic Chinese (which may have confused you; they do all look alike), which may be the nexus created in your mind, but Singapore has a population of 4.5m against China’s 1.2bn and Singapore doesn’t manufacture anything to speak of. When was the last time you saw something stamped “Made in Singapore”? Singapore’s vast riches are based on its port, which is the largest in the world and operates flat out 24 hours a day 365 days a year, its free trade and its mega financial services sector. It also has some oil refineries. You get off the plane in Singapore and the first thing you smell is money.

    Could you please explain your mysterious statement?

    I think what’s happening in China is wonderful. Cheap goods for everyone and a big rise in the living standards of the Chinese.

    Walmart – not the Walmart here. Microwaves are selling at antediluvian prices of $90 to $120, which is absolutely ridiculous and I refuse to buy. I suspect the culprit is import duty and our old pal protectionism.

  • Noel Cooper

    Singapore is not going to implode, it has already moved from low wage assembly work to high value manufacturing (Glaxo Smithkline has a huge plant there), R & D (look in any science journal at the number of medical research positions on offer) and services (shipping and financials as already pointed out). It is an example of how people and economies, given the right circumstances, innovate in the face of low-wage competition rather than resort to protectionism and Singapore will succeed as a result.

  • John Rippengal

    The fact is of course that something happened which I and many others predicted. China did not take over Hong Kong. Hong Kong took over China.
    It’s true though that they have not reached the standard of human rights, rule of law and protection of private propertay that existed under the colonial administration but you can’t have it all at once.

  • Verity

    Thank you, Noel Cooper. Singapore is so mega rich that it takes the breath away. And this was all done by a tiny, miniscule population. TimC is incredibly ill-informed.

    In fact, not only are all the points you made correct, but something that is seldom mentioned, yet has been a 30 year programme – every Singaporean Chinese, for the past 30 years, has been encouraged by the governmen to learn Mandarin in addition to their mother tongue, English and Bahasa Malaysia. This was for one purpose and one purpose only: so Singapore could benefit from the opportunities that came gushing down when China began to open its doors. Singaporeans fluent in Mandarin went straight into the banks, high tech, pharmaceuticals – you name it. Singapore’s long term planning always pays off.

    Singapore has become even richer with the opening up of China – a long way from being threatened by it and imploding! I am still fascinated to know where TimC came by this odd notion.

  • Verity, are you in Mexico? I am just curious about those outrageous WalMart prices: they are nothing like their
    US prices.

  • The Wobbly Guy

    Verity-Uhm, actually, I have to confess that Singapore politicians only started emphasizing mandarin about 20 years ago, when China was just starting to rise, and even then in those days, it was out of a parochial desire to retain cultural roots than any far-sighted plan to take advantage of chinese business opportunities.

    At least, it seemed that way to me and my dad. Being chinese-educated in the seventies and eighties was bad, bad, bad.

    Then China started its rise, and suddenly the ability to speak mandarin didn’t seem quite as useless anymore. Still, the damage had been done: more and more youths are growing up with a meager grasp of the language. It’s gotten so bad that we now have a downgraded ‘B’ syllabus for those unable to even cope with Mandarin at the normal level.

    Besides, I’ve heard that in China they give you more respect and things get done more smoothly if you have yellow skin and can speak in english.

    Finally, TimC’s observation does hold several nuggets of truth. Singapore is maintaining its current position by emphasizing the service sectors, namely financial, trading, and R&D. But China is also churning out thousands of graduates with incredible competitiveness and ability, and many of them are scientists too. What’s to prevent R&D and high tech manufacturing from shifting to China?

    The trick, then, is to set them up in China, using their labour… with us the financers, managers, and owners. In terms of ‘getting things done’, China somehow still lags behind somewhat, often requiring foreign talent to go in and sort things out.

    We might never achieve the high GDP growth rates of yesteryear, but neither will we implode because of the ‘second/international economy’. We’ve come too far, learnt too much, let it happen.

    Besides, worse comes to worse, we can always apply for statehood in China… Just kidding!


  • 50 Cents

    “Chinese slave labor” – they’re slaves because they don’t have the vote. – It must be wonderful to want nothing more out of life than 10 quid off a microwave.

    Re: Mandarin. The mandarins were overthrown in 1911. Surely a better term is National Language or Guo Yu? (Or gwok yue for HongKongers.)

  • they’re slaves because they don’t have the vote

    Really? How does having a vote make someone free? Freedom is not the ability to participate in politics, it is the liberty to live your life without undue coersion from others. By that definition I would say Chinese people are not ‘free’ but they are also not ‘slaves’ simply by virtue of the lack of day to day control that a genuine slave suffers. To use the term to just mean “someone who is not free” debases what the word “slave” means.

  • HJHJ

    What we need now is a global market in other areas which consume so much of our earnings – this will have a bigger impact than cheap microwave ovens (welcome as they may be).

    How about outsourcing legal services (and courts) and medical procedures to India, so we can get away from the high priced and often comically bad closed shops operating here? Anyone who has had to deal (or in my case has a relative who has had to deal) with the NHS recently (and paid over £3k per family per year for the pleasure) will know what I mean.

  • APL

    50cent: “…they’re slaves because they don’t have the vote.”

    I have the vote, and last time I checked I have worked exclusively for the government for the first six months of each year, for each of the last twenty five years. The exception was when I lived in the middle east for five years, when oddly, I paid no tax, had no vote, but was probably more ‘free’ than before or since.

  • 50 Cents

    Re: freedom.

    Where was this Middle East country? What did the women have to wear?

    Why not go to Somalia? Law and order has broken down (since ’91). You can have as many guns and drugs as you like. Not sure they have Ikea tho.

    The pt of the vote: to persuade other people round to your pt of view. If you fail to do that, well from a capitalist pt of view you haven’t tried hard enough.

  • unclejuju

    How is it good that all manufacturing jobs are leaving the USA? How is it good that corporations are nationless now? I am a VERY conservative person, and a professional, but not all of us can be. What are they to do for a living? I’m not being rhetorical– I have family members who have been downsized and can’t get anything other than McJobs now. How do they feed their families? Compete with the illegals to mow lawns for $5/hour? I’m serious– what’s the answer?

  • Robert Alderson


    It’s rather overstating the case to say that ALL manufacturing jobs are leaving the USA. It is also a rather narrow way to look at what is happening because the same pattern is apparent all over the rich world and although most visible in manufacturing is also apparent in services.

    A lot of very basic manufacturing jobs are moving to lower wage cost areas but this is not a new phenomenon. A hundred years ago people were worrying about gas lamp lighters being put out of business by electricity. Before that blacksmiths and horsebreeders worried about the railways. 20 or 30 years ago people worried about manufacturing moving to Taiwan or South Korea now S Koreans worry about China.

    What we are seeing now with globalisation is a great evening out and exploitation of global economies of scale. Those countries which have open economies and free market policies are more or less in the same income level; sure the US might be richer then Taiwan or Portugal but there is no longer a first world / third world level of difference between them. Wage levels are not the single biggest determinant of where manufacturers locate; how about access to resources, closeness to markets, worker skills, political stability?

    In 30 or 40 years time China and the US will be much closer in terms of general income levels and labour costs and the flow of manufacturing jobs might reverse.

    As to your specific question about how will manufacturing workers who have lost their jobs survive. I would say they stand a much better chance in the US than in countries like Germany or France which try to take governmental action to “protect” jobs and end up with an inflexible job market and twice the level of unemployment as the US or Britain. Those who loose their jobs will mostly find other jobs, they may have to move house or retrain but they will find something else. Their children will probably end up doing jobs we can’t now imagine (who’dve thought back in the 80s that so many people would end up working with the “internet”?)

    Economics and trade is not a zero sum game. Increased prosperity in China or India means a growing market for Western firms to sell their services.

    We are truly living in a golden age. As long as we resist the temptation to “protect” our own jobs we will usher in an age of global prosperity and thereby greater peace.

  • rosignol

    (who’dve thought back in the 80s that so many people would end up working with the “internet”?)

    Indeed. The industry I work in didn’t exist in the 80s.

  • 50 Cents

    Perry de H.

    Let me see if I’ve got this straight.
    The US Govt is not our friend. Agreed.
    The Chinese Govt is our friend. Because they send us cheap toys.

    It’s a lot easier to buy a gun in the US than China.

  • Verity

    Wobbly, when I was in S’pore, the government was pushing Mandarin and it was definitely with the purpose of Singaporeans being able to jump in when China opened up. This was well known and accepted.