I know Santa Claus is Chinese because each Christmas morning after all the gifts are unwrapped and things settle down I systematically go through the presents to see where they are made. The results are almost always the same: roughly 70 percent are from China. After some research, it seems that my one-family survey is representative of the country as a whole.
Let's start with toys. At the Earth Policy Institute, we have found that some 80 percent of the toys sold in the United States are made in China. Electronic goods—from Apple's iPod to Microsoft's Xbox—are made in China. Clothing—from the latest cashmere sweaters to gym suits—is also likely to have a "Made in China" label.The Christmas tree itself may come from China. Eight out of every 10 artificial Christmas trees sold in the United States are made in China. Last year Americans spent over $130 million on plastic Christmas trees from China.
That the U.S. Christmas is made in China is a metaphor for a far deeper set of economic issues affecting the United States. Today Christmas is celebrated in both the United States and China—but for different reasons and with far different economic consequences. For the Chinese, the manufacturing bonanza means record profits, rising incomes, and a sharp jump in savings. In the United States, Christmas shopping expenditures, headed for another record high this year, contribute to rising credit card debt and a soaring trade deficit. Underneath the American Christmas spirit and good cheer is a debt-laden society that appears to have lost its way, marred in the quicksand of consumerism.
At the personal level, credit card debt just keeps climbing, and at the government level, we have the largest deficit in history. At the international level, we have a trade deficit that moves to a new high month after month.
It's not the fact that our Christmas is made in China, but rather the mindset that has led to it that is most disturbing. We want to consume no matter what. We want to spend now and let our children pay. It is this same mindset that introduces tax cuts while waging a costly war. Economic sacrifice is no longer part of our vocabulary. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt banned the sale of private cars in order to mobilize the U.S. automobile industry to build tanks and planes. In contrast, after 9/11, President Bush urged us to go shopping.
The official national debt, the product of years of fiscal deficits, now totals $8.5 trillion—some $64,000 per taxpayer. Each month the Treasury covers the fiscal deficit by auctioning off securities. The two leading international buyers of U.S. Treasury securities are Japan and China. In this role, China is now also becoming our banker. This developing country, where income levels are one sixth those of the United States, is financing the excesses of an affluent industrial society. What's wrong with this picture?
Beholden to other countries for oil and to finance our debt, the United States is fast losing its leadership role in the world. The question we are facing is not simply whether our Christmas is made in China, but more fundamentally whether we can restore the discipline and values that made us a great nation—a nation the world admired, respected, and emulated. This is not something that Santa Claus can deliver, not even a Chinese Santa Claus. This is something only we can do.