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Sobchak’s Retort: Where Lies The Blame?

By E Kinnersley

The 1998 Coen Brothers film, The Big Lebowski, opens with Jeffrey ‘The Dude’ Lebowski returning to his home only to be beaten by two men in a case of mistaken identity regarding a large debt. To add insult to injury, a man named Wu pees on The Dude’s rug.

When telling this story to his friend Walter Sobchak in the next scene, Sobchak, with one of the film’s many classic lines, says, “The Chinaman is not the issue here … also, Dude, ‘Chinaman’ is not the preferred nomenclature.”

I bring this up because people I don’t trust will tell you that the lighting industry was a beautiful harmonious thing, and local manufacturing was the rug that tied the whole thing together. And, some people believe that China, like bandits in the night, ruined it for everyone.

But as Sobchak continues to point out, Wu may have peed on the rug, but he wouldn’t be there for no reason. China isn’t the issue. China didn’t lay siege to East Cleveland until GE turned over manufacturing jobs, they didn’t break into the offices of Philips and leave with the assembly lines — they were invited in. And then, they were given the machines, the know-how, and the intellectual property. All protected of course by an NDA here and a Confidentiality Agreement there, but after four decades of technology transfer, nobody cares about some paper in a filing cabinet from 1985, 1995, or 2005.

Besides, who would enforce those agreements? The World Trade Organizations? See you in 10 years. The US Military? The simple truth is that the Chinese have the know-how, skills, infrastructure, capability, and diverse and robust supply chains needed to make light sources and light fixtures in 2022. They are the experts, not us.

Wu wouldn’t have been in The Dude’s house if some other “Jeffrey Lebowski” wasn’t more interested in looking rich than doing any work. China didn’t do anything to the American lighting industry that we didn’t allow them to do. And to what end? To cut costs? To get that quarterly dividend? To generate shareholder value?

These decisions happened year after year, and they were made by accountants. Yup, bean counters and desk pilots have ruled the lighting industry for decades and now all the “makers” are retired or dead. The infrastructure is gone, the supply chain is dried up.

You may not want to call it this way, but China is not the issue at hand. You look for the walrus that will most benefit from the situation and you’ll find the one responsible for your rug being micturated upon.

But I’m not any kind of expert, just a man reflecting on his place and time.


E Kinnersley has worked as an independent technology and policy commentator for the past years and has recently turned to work as a marketing consultant for the lighting and electrical industries.


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Discussion (2 comments)

    Gary Mann February 3, 2022 / 9:18 am

    Shortest and best answer on outsourcing to China.

    The Dude Abides….so did US lighting manufacturers.

    Dave Miller February 7, 2022 / 1:39 pm

    You are absolutely correct!
    We need to look in the mirror!

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