Why Chinese goods cost less...

you’ll have to wait for it…


I’m speechless.

I was waiting for him to get paid at the end…

Wow, the six year old boy in me is so jealous of that kid. Amazing.

A new drinking game - how many OSHA violations can you spot.

A new drinking game - how many OSHA violations can you spot.

On the not-so-OSHA compliant side

He isn’t wearing a seat belt (because he can’t reach the pedals if he sits down); for that matter, he can’t reach both control pedals at the same time (his approaches would be smoother if he could). He does however have his seat adjusted properly (to function as a back rest).

No head protection.
No hearing protection.
No eye protection.
No respiratory protection (it is a sand and gravel plant).
No gloves.
They probably don’t make boots small enough for this little guy, he’ll have to wait until he’s ten or eleven for that.
He’s task oriented and concentrating on what he’s doing, but
he sure as hell isn’t looking behind to see if there are any obstructions or PEOPLE. (A moot point, he more than likely can’;t see out the back glass anyway.

The camera man isn’t too sharp either… hanging onto a moving loader with one hand while it’s working.

On the positive side, he’s not doing too bad … considering he has to extend his body each time he moves from accelerator to brake. If they could kid-size his controls he’d be world class by the time he’s seven.

He’s learned to utilize his momentum when approaching the stock pile
He’s guaranteeing a full bucket load by “curling” the bucket back as he lifts the scoop out of the stock pile.
He’s optimizing his motions by lifting the load while in transit to the waiting hopper (while grabbing a hand full of sec ond gear to shorten his transit time).
He’s optimizing his time by backing away from the hopper (a lot of operators would waste time by turning around).
He isn’t spinning his tires to the extent that I’ve seen other operators which means he understands his tractive effort.

Judging by the nonchalant attitude of the plant operator (in the red shirt) on the catwalk above, and the lack of “excited-ness” on the part of the kid to be “playing” with this machine, to say nothing of his practiced motions, I’d say this is an everyday occurrence on this job site.

So, how do I know these things to be true … ?
Your humble Moderator.

OK - I’ll throw out the flip-side to the popular sentiment;

‘Why Chinese goods cost less’ is only a part of the byproduct of this mentality ‘that the finer things don’t matter’.

I like to remind my kids that I didn’t wear seat-belts in the backseat of cars, baby cribs didn’t have mandated slat spacing, no one wore helmets when we rode our bikes. Go back another generation further and no one cared about smoking, no one cared about alcohol (watch a few episodes of MadMen), no one cared about sugar intake and carbs and blood pressure…and for the most part, we were a more productive society during those generations…maybe because we craved more, we knew less & we had less.

My Dad sent me that video a month or so ago with the message, “Gage [my son] would LOVE this.” He’s right, my son would jump on that thing and go at it. And within reason, I let my kids try things at which my wife cringes, but I see the value in them knowing how to fix a car, build something, make something…and for them to know how much it hurts when you’re careless and get hurt (again, within reason). That kid (and another dozen like him) has learned a trade - that’s valuable. We might cringe as we think of protecting him like we’d protect our kids, but when you’re part of a family living in a single room on the 4th floor of a concrete ‘worker’ building on a backstreet in Souzhou and there aren’t regulations about you needing to go to school (because of who your family is) and a guy offers you $1 and a chance at operating a monstrous ‘transformer’ robot with a bucket, why not?! I bet his Dad is an operator and taught him the basics - and watch how refined he is at operating that thing - we’re not watching his second go at it, we’re watching something along the lines if his second YEAR at it.

China has its drawbacks (pollution, worker rights, lack of political transparency) but their willingness to get the job done and not complain about doing it is why they continue to kick our butts in the realm of ‘stuff’ - and all the while we complain and still buy the stuff anyway. That kid will probably excavate for the foundation of a plant where workers with his mentality will mold, stitch, assemble and package something you and I will buy - providing the owner with the funds to keep making more and building more plants, which will require a quick shout out to that kid to jump back on that excavator.

On the positive side, he’s not doing too bad … considering he has to extend his body each time he moves from accelerator to brake. If they could kid-size his controls he’d be world class by the time he’s seven.

My title is glib … but I’m totally on board with you Scott. Child labor laws preclude hiring children in the U.S., but I see farm and ranch kids operating equipment in our county, it’s legal if you are the son/daughter of the owner. I have an operator friend whose 12 year-old son can operate a backhoe with far more skill than I will ever have and he’ll have a job for life if he wants it.

Having more than one skill in life, especially now, is important.

Guys, with all due respect, you can’t be serious…

This is not the same healthy concept of “startin 'em early,” or riding without seat belts or letting your teenage son have a sip of beer or whatever. Judging by the video, this is child labor for industry. It’s inhaling dust and gravel and probably many other toxic particles during one’s physiologically formative years. I reeeeally hope this kid isn’t doing this daily.

I’m all for the resurgence of respect for trade, aka the Mike Rowe thing, but aren’t we taking it a bit far when we see a six year old operate heavy equipment and we say “Yeah, workin with his hands! Good on him”?

Sure, one attitude is “this is why they get things done” but as for me, I’d rather not encourage the flood of shitty plastic landfill fodder that is what we call imported consumer goods, if it means encouraging kids to stay home from school and push gravel around. In fact, it’s a disservice to everything laborers fought for in the early part of last century.

And sorry to be a pest, but:

we were a more productive society during those generations


Looks like our namby-pamby ways have treated us nicely, to be honest.

No one learns to operate this kind of machinery, to the level that this youngster is, on an occasional basis. Noting that his operation of the machine is interesting enough to video I’d guess that he might be the son of one of the owner of the plant.

We have no way to know for sure. But given China’s one-child law, and Chinese school attendance requirements of nine hour days, Monday through Friday, he’s probably been doing this for a while after school. Sadly, he doesn’t look too excited to be running this thing (as you might expect a child to be (I would have been)) which might lead us to believe that it’s de rigueur for him.


The idea that we are indirectly supporting this kid’s lifestyle (and many others like him) was my point by my subtle mention that we keep buying the stuff they make! We truly live in a different world on this side of the rock - that kid’s actions are not out of the ordinary and it’s no doubt a family thing (either his Dad or friend of the family operates or owns the rig and has given him extensive time at the controls) but there’s no way he is on a payroll as an excavator operator!

Everything’s relative; for instance, our coddling has created lower immunity to air pollution as well as overuse and thereby lessening effectiveness of antibiotics - and its getting worse generation by generation. You don’t see that in China, Taiwan, etc…or even Mexico. The body has an amazing ability to filter, function and heal on it’s own and those regions with harsher conditions might not be as detrimental as we think. Don’t get me wrong, I’m right here with you breathing the same quality air and making sure my kids have filtered water and FDA approved food, but I see the underlying effectiveness of less strict environments - they get stuff done with less resources and in less time. Sure, our take is, “they’ll be as civilized as us one day” as their median income rises and their water & air become more polluted but in the meantime they continue marching forward ‘making stuff’.

Is that chart Global or North American? And does it take into account rising inflation? Just wondering as it is a good chart to see.

Ah, so you aren’t saying “That country’s better because of stuff like this,” but rather “It’s hardly any wonder they’re able to churn out inexpensive goods.”

Chart is USA specific, dollar values accommodate inflation (“real”)

I think you also raised a really curious point; how will things change as their middle class rises? Many think their output will slow as their prices become less competitive but it’s also interesting to consider if their population will follow the same pattern of change as other countries (e.g. evolving labor/enviro laws). Do you think there’s any credence to the concept that rising Chinese prices will strengthen US-based manufacturing?

Correct - I was implying that their loose restrictions are enabling them to act quickly - but we all know there will be consequences, as their rivers are already showing.

I do think their rising median income will affect their production abilities but I don’t think that’s going to help American manufacturing. Instead, I think we’ll continue to see more stuff coming from Vietnam, Taiwan and Eastern Europe as they begin to compete with China.

I think only our support and buying habits (here in the US) will help American manufacturing - and from the consumer research we routinely conduct I’m only seeing a slight upward tick regarding the importance of ‘Made in America’. Ironically, Chinese consumers now value and strive to buy things ‘Made in America’ more than Americans, so US companies that have hard-to-duplicate products and services have a window of opportunity to establish sales channels there, since demand will only grow as their median income continues to rise.

I think a more relevant question is, “Why do American goods cost more?”.

Let’s assume that this kid does skip school and work with this machine every day and gets paid for it. He’s proficient with the equipment so let’s say he has a year of experience and he’s 8 years old.

…If an 8 year old kid can run equipment with this level of skill it kind of says something about the value of that skill does it not?

Why in the US would anyone act entitled to be paid $50/hr with bennies and a pension to do the same job?

… it kind of says something about the value of that skill does it not?

No, it does not.

This young man is eating at his father’s table, sleeping warm under his roof, being provided with clothing and his medical and dental expenses are borne by his parents. He does not have to drive himself to work, maintain an automobile, pay fuel and insurance. He is not saving any money for the day when he retires,

But more to your question of “worth”, while reasonably proficient at running this machine, I suspect that this is the only piece of equipment that he can operate. Most operating engineers, if they are going to be able to make a living operating equipment, must be able to efficiently operate many different makes, types, and sizes of machines beside a front loader; back hoe, scraper, bulldozer, motor-grader, excavator, etc. Generally, it takes both hands, and at least one foot simultaneously to “work” a machine to it’s maximum capability. Operating engineers are responsible for interpreting and converting the elevations specified on drawings to actual “grade” on the ground utilizing both conventional transits and modern laser and GPS “grade checking” equipment. I don’t think junior, in his current capacity, is able to do any of this.

Aside from the issues of common sense and judgement, as I noted previously, this little guy is unable to operate this loader in what would be considered a “safe” manner - he is frightfully unaware of his surroundings; meaning both other equipment and more importantly people on the ground are at risk. On anything other than this restricted concrete slab (rough terrain for example) he would be totally unable of maintaining control of the machine, if in fact he could even stay in it (given that he can not wear a seat belt).

As a card-carrying Member of the International Union of Operating Engineers I can attest that you won’t find anyone making $50/hour on a “normal” basis; specialty equipment and extreme conditions being the exception. My wage is $38.18/hour; out of which is deducted union dues, health & dental, vacation fund, and pension payments. The journeyman scale only goes down the further east you go; in Florida it’s roughly $26/hours (less “bennies”).

Thanks for putting it in context Lmo, in that case yes as an operating engineer there is much more value in being skilled in all of those things and I agree. Getting to the level that you’re at takes more training, experience, and certification and should command more pay, etc.

The scenario I was assuming was more simplistic in that this was his only job, if it was assumed to actually be his job. Of course it isn’t safe to have a kid doing that job and that’s probably what freaked some people out. But the question still stands on why Chinese goods cost less, if they can get away with having a kid do the work, whether safely or not, they can pay him less so why not? If you can get away with substituting materials, specifications, saftey, etc., then why not? I do think the Chinese are more pragmatic about how they approach work, but I don’t think that child labor is even close to why the goods cost less (i know you said this jokingly).

I apologize if I offended you, I was trying to correlate what I assumed was a low skill job with why the Chinese can produce goods cheaper than in the U.S., outside of the child labor issue. I still do think there is a valid argument there in that there are a lot of low skill/high pay union jobs in the U.S. that the Chinese beat the pants off of us on because they don’t seem to approach work, pay, and standards of living as entitlements.

I worked in a large union for a time where people pushed a cart and picked parts 8 hours a day for $35/hr, it was incredulous.

Of course there was no offense taken greenman.

I still do think there is a valid argument there in that there are a lot of low skill/high pay union jobs in the U.S. that the Chinese beat the pants off of us on because they don’t seem to approach work, pay, and standards of living as entitlements.

I think you are correct. “Labor” is a union “craft” that every construction project utilizes. These men and women, unskilled* for the most part, are who do the down in the trenches, dirty, physical tasks. It’s literally life-shortening work. Many of my friends that work as laborers look like they are my age; 62. Most are only in their early fifties, having been in the trade for thirty years. They are at, or near their retirement age, having been broken by all the years of hard labor. They make, even after thirty years, nothing near $38.18/hour

  • Unskilled is a misleading term. Everything has a way to be done right or wrong. Efficiently or inefficiently. I never realized that digging a trench with a backhoe required the assistance of a laborer until I tried operation one in tight quarters at night the first time. The operator can’t see what’s going on himself, but an experienced laborer knows what needs to be accomplished and how, he can see obstructions and knows how to direct the operator. After a life like this they deserve to be able to retire, they are entitled to retire. They earned it. Since I do not personally know any Chinese construction workers I can’t say how they expect to live the senior years. Perhaps if they have extended family they are taken care of… As a person with no children I can not expect this, and there are a lot of other folks around the world that fall into that category.

Sorry for the rambling thoughts … just trying to get it all out. So many variables; sociology, geography, culture, cost of living, etc.

i dont think there are many of those jobs anymore. in the early 2000’s maybe, but anyone who had those jobs were either bought out into early retirement, or have retired ans since seen their benefits slashed. the jobs at the local factories in flint/saginaw/detroit michigan (that are still in business) where some employees got paid upper $20’s/low 30s per hour (mind you those were employees that likely had 15-20+ years in) are now getting paid $10-$14 an hour at best.

those are assembly line jobs, other unionized jobs i really dont know much about.

Im not fully to one side or the other on this issue, but the whole “union workers getting paid $40/hour to tighten a nut” argument is about 10-15 years obsolete in my opinion.

also the chinese for the most part dont have ANY entitlements, so yes it makes sense that they are in a different plase on maslows hierarchy. Do we have too many… maybe. but just so hard to compare the US worker and the PRC worker.

It appears our young Operating Engineer may be in training for a more lucrative career than we are aware of.

Over the past decade, the number of new graduates from Chinese universities has increased sixfold to more than six million a year …

Among Chinese age 21 to 25, university graduates have an unemployment rate of 16.4%, four times the rate for those who quit school after elementary school…

Nearly half of college graduates in 2011 started at wages below those paid to migrants who come from China’s farms to fill its factories and construction sites …

Decisions about curriculum and fields of study were made largely in Beijing at the Ministry of Education or by provincial officials, with little input from local employers. The result was a mismatch between graduates turned out by many schools and the skills sought by employers.

Last year a record 1.1 million students took the national civil-service exam, 13% more than the prior year … 3,000 college graduates last fall applied for about 1,000 jobs to be street cleaners, drivers and other sanitation-department workers …

“If you work for private-sector [Chinese] firms, your family will lose face,” she says. “Those aren’t famous firms.”

Source: > Chinese College Graduates Play It Safe and Lose Out

I think because of less quality and not more educated on this.:slight_smile: