Chinese Coal Mine Explosion And Protectionism

Dave Johnson

At the recent Netroots Nation gathering in Pittsburgh bloggers toured the J. Edgar Thomson steel mill.

I asked the plant manager about competitiveness. She said that labor costs are not a big factor in the cost competitiveness of Chinese steel; a major component of the cost difference is the price of raw materials. (With Chinese steel mills producing 3 times the carbon emissions of American plants, another cost difference is environmental.) I wrote at the time,

The problem is not even labor costs. Labor is not a large component of our steel costs. The cost of raw materials is a larger part of the lower cost of imported steel. When you hear about hundreds of people trapped in mines in other countries you are hearing about lower cost of raw materials. Lives can be cheap and it is someone else’s problem when money is to be made.

So from today’s news, a reminder, Deadly blast in China coal mine,

At least 35 people have been killed and 44 are missing after a deadly blast in a coal mine in China’s Henan province.

Chinese officials said 93 men were working underground at the time of the blast but 14 miners fled to safety.

It seems that asking our government to impose basic wage, labor, safety and environmental standards on imports is always labeled “protectionism.” Yes, doing so would protect American jobs, American manufacturing infrastructure, the earth’s environment and the American standard of living. They say that is a bad thing. But, apparently asking for basic standards would protect the lives of Chinese workers as well. Is that a bad thing too? Is it too much to ask that the steel we import not be soaked in the blood of exploited workers?

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