Do you know who built your Etch A Sketch?
BY FROMA HARROP Syndicated columnist: Dec. 24, 2003

  I’m checking out the Christmas ornaments at the tree nursery. The air smells of warm cider and resounds with familiar tunes. The line of ornaments, which went by the brand, "Midwest America," reflects the tastes of yesteryear.
  I pick up a Santa - a dignified, slimmed-down version - and look under his boot. The "Made in" label reads, "China." I examine a boy on a sled. Again, "China."
  Simple wooden boxes sit stacked on a nearby table - each bearing a painted scene of a fisherman in a rowboat. If some woodsman in Michigan's Upper Peninsula didn't craft this box, I think, I'll be darned. I am darned. "China," it says on the bottom.
  And that is the label on nearly every Christmas item I've seen this season. "China" on the holly tablecloth. "China" on the candlesticks. "China" on the china.
  The Chinese seem to be making nearly all the things we buy, which means we're not making them. Some 3.1 million manufacturing jobs have disappeared since March 1998 - a big chunk of them moving to China.
  Even jobs that go to Mexico end up in China. China's labor is so cheap, factories are leaving Mexico and heading west.
  Fashioning a response to the crisis in American manufacturing is not easy. But clearly the Bush administration should be doing more than it is doing, which is next to nothing.
  For example, it could force China to raise the value of its currency, the Yuan. China keeps its currency value artificially low to undercut the prices of U.S. products. Some economists put the Yuan's discount against the dollar at 40 percent.
  Leading the charge is Rep. Phil English, a Republican from the industrial northwest comer of Pennsylvania. His demand that Treasury Secretary John Snow push China to revalue the Yuan was met with a yawn. The Bush administration regards cheap consumer goods as a bedrock value. It won't do anything that would raise prices. Wal-Mart wouldn't like it.
  But chances are good that the president will make some gestures toward the industrial heartland as the election approaches. Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan are all "battleground" states - and they are bleeding badly from losses in manufacturing.
  Business looks especially grim in places like Meadville, Pa., 40 miles south of Erie. Meadville calls itself the "Tool and Die Source for the World." Its small precision machine shops are run by good bosses who employ good workers at good pay. But their Chinese competitors are crushing them. Meadville has lost 30 of its 150 machine shops in only about three years.
  Policymakers should note that Meadville's factory owners are not asking Washington for cheaper workers and weaker environmental regulations. Rather, they want China to raise its own environmental and labor standards - as well as the Yuan's value.
  But their future is rather depressing. A recent Federal Reserve Bank of New York study says that most manufacturing jobs lost in recent years are gone forever. There will be no replay of the Japanese threat to American industry, which reached its heights in the '70s and '80s. The problem then was not sweatshop competition: The Japanese were simply making better products using newer technology. Americans followed suit and prospered.
  China's economic weapon is something else: an enormous workforce toiling for fractions of an American's wage. When labor becomes a significant cost in manufacturing, Americans are sure to lose out. Add to that the Wal-Mart mentality - whereby discounters replace American suppliers with any foreign sweatshop that can shave a few pennies off the price - and we have a disaster in our industrial sector.
  I've just read that the Ohio Art Company is sending its Etch A Sketch operations to Shenzhen, China. A moment of silence, please. Workers in Bryan, Ohio, made these drawing toys for 40 years. Etch A Sketches have been a rite of passage for American children since most baby boomers stopped crawling.
  The move overseas has not entirely surprised the 100 replaced workers. They've been training their Chinese replacements to do their jobs.
  It's hard to imagine an American economy - or culture - that doesn't include making things. Many of us have come to view possessions actually made in America by old-line American companies as treasured relics.
  I hope that no one threw out my Etch A Sketch.

Providence Journal columnist Froma Harrop's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. Her e-mail address is