Thursday, October 14, 2010

On AA#109

I have noted, from time to time, how remarkable it is that the economists’ Law of Comparative Advantage comes into play. For example, you look at a label and find that your bottle of apple juice has constituent juices from around the world. But sometimes the reach of this law just hits you and you say, “It can’t be so.”

The latest example occurred for me en route to Boston after my visit to The Health Foundation in London. I had just read an article in The Economist about China’s trade surplus vis-a-vis the United States. A meal was served and I saw that my 100% polyester cloth napkin -- approximately one foot square, plain white with a machine-hemmed edge -- was manufactured in China (see label above).

I admit to being an unabashed patriot when it comes to buying American. In my personal purchases, I look for opportunities to find products comparable to the imports and am willing to pay extra to help save jobs for our citizens.

I know, however, that airlines have to be less sentimental, especially given their scanty profit margins. American Airlines flies all over the world and presumably has the ability to get the best price on a bulk purchase of cloth napkins, and it apparently found that deal in China.

But I have to wonder. Is there no textile manufacturer anywhere in the United States who could have met the quantity, quality, and price requirements of this buyer for this simple product? As there are two parts to this transaction, two questions arise: How hard did AA look? How hard did the US manufacturers try?

In contrast, the olive oil salad dressing for my meal, appropriately, came from Italy. When it comes to food, the Italians always have a comparative advantage.

But, OMG, the small tubes of Colgate toothpaste in the airline’s vanity kit were from Thailand!


lynnie said...

I'm no safety nut, but the toothpaste has a scary unregulated history!

Judy said...

Politics aside, you have hit on one of the most important considerations for the future of our country. If we, as a country, do not find ways to promote our own manufacturing and our own entrepreneurship, our greatness will be lost forever.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like someone was flying first class.... Chinese napkins, Italian dressing and vanity kits? Never understood why non profit management had these types of perks that cost so much more than what the rest of us experience.

Anonymous said...

Business class. It was not paid by my hospital. I was invited to speak at a conference and traveled to and fro to London within about 36 hours.

Anonymous said...

I can see you now,shooting photos of these items in your business class seat, Paul.

We share a similar interest in that I am always checking to see where good come from or manufactured and ask the same questions you did. It really bugs me that you can't find a pair of Levi's made in the USA anymore.

Please don't allow any outsourcing of jobs from BIDMC.

Anonymous said...

If this was buisness class, I don't want to know what first class has!


Anonymous said...

I would have been more impressed with a post that said you traded in your business class ticket for a regular ticket and donated the savings to your favorite charity.

Anonymous said...

I think it is reasonable to accept an offer to fly business class when you are 6'4" and are in airplanes for over 12 hours across two days to be of service to NHS hospitals in the UK.

BTW, how much I give to charity is a private matter. I don't write about that here or elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

I think it is very sad that I read this post early this morning and predicted to myself that someone would write in and snipe about where Paul sat on the airplane. Thank you, people, for fulfilling my poor expectations.

I have read this blog for over 3 years now and, while sometimes vociferously disagreeing with Paul on the issues, over that time I have been made aware, from comments by employees and others, of many contributions to charity that he has made - not that any such defense is necessary. I wonder why such small-minded people would bother to read such a blog, unless they had an ulterior agenda to pursue? Please go away and let the rest of us discuss issues civilly; we do not find these comments instructive.

nonlocal MD

Engneer on Medicare said...

The NHS in the UK needs serious help. I read the Telegraph (Times is no longer free) and there are regular reports that their failures kill people. An example is the number of infant deaths from heart surgeries that finally led to closing the practice in a number of hospitals.

I also saw some recent articles where the were congratulating themselves on how many lives would be saved now that they are doing fecal occult blood tests and have even gotten to the point of evaluating use flexible sigmoidoscopy for screening high risk persons for colon cancer. If you have a subscription to the Journal of Medical History (if there is such a thing) you can probably read about their next great medical breakthrough before it happens.