It’s been decades since the label “Made in Japan” prompted jokes about cheap and inferior products. Most Americans alive today probably can’t remember the post-World War II years when that was the case.

But if it’s true that nothing is new in the realm of humor, Americans are now dusting off those old jokes and applying them to the “Made in China” emblem, except it’s not quality that’s the target. It’s safety.

“Recent and repeated reports of tainted food and product imports are causing fear and uncertainty in American consumers and harming the ‘Made in China’ brand here in the United States,” Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said Tuesday in a speech to the George H.W. Bush China-U.S. Relations Conference. He said both countries needed to work together to address safety issues that have been raised about a host of Chinese products from tainted toothpaste to toys containing lead paint.

A poll by Reuters News Service and Zogby International, 76 percent of the 1,000 people surveyed said they would not buy toys made in China, a decision that is magnified because of its timing. Christmas is only two months away, and this busiest retail season has been preceded by news of repeated recalls of Chinese-made toys that contain lead paint or that pose other health dangers. Other recalls of imports from China have ranged from pet good to tires.

Perhaps you have seen in Brownwood the plastic buckets with Halloween decoration intended for trick-or-treat use. An oversized sticker states, “Made in China — wash thoroughly with soap and hot water before use.”

That’s good advice whatever the country of origin before items handed to children, and Americans apparently don’t need to be reminded. If the Reuters-Zogby poll is accurate, Americans aren’t leaving the task of policing consumer goods entirely to the government, especially after the Consumer Product Safety Commission said it doesn’t have enough staff to inspect all of the billions of Chinese-made items brought into the United States each year.

Does that mean a less-than-merry Christmas for companies who have sent their manufacturing arms to China? Does that mean consumers will avoid those products, even if it means paying higher prices? Only Santa Claus and the cash register tape at the end of the season will tell. It may come down to the question of how much Americans willing to sacrifice in order to save money.

If low price is the top priority, as it has increasingly become in recent years, the tradeoff can bring us inferior goods made to a lower standard than we demand. The lesson that you get what you pay for has never been more apparent.

Brownwood Bulletin