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. Some 80 percent of the toys sold in the United States -- from Barbie dolls to video games -- are made in China. Talking toys that speak English learned the language from Chinese workers. 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. While real Christmas trees are grown in every state in the United States and are marketed locally, many families now gather around artificial Christmas trees. 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.
This year Americans will spend over $1 billion on Christmas ornaments from China. And in perhaps the greatest irony of all, even nativity scenes are made in China. Last year Americans spent more than $39 million buying nativity scenes shipped in from the East. China's success in attracting foreign investment capital and mobilizing this huge workforce has made it the workshop of the world.
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, in a society where people save some 40 percent of their income, 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. As a society, we seem to have forgotten how to save so we can invest in a better future. Instead of leaving our children a promising economic future, we are bequeathing them the largest debt burden of any generation in history. 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.