Perhaps nothing crystallizes the theme of Ted Koppel’s excellent Discovery Channel series The People’s Republic of Capitalism like the production of Ethan Allen couches. Over four episodes, Koppel reveals increasing economic interdependence between the United States and China, and daily business for the American furniture maker is a case in point.
While couch bases are made in Chinese factories using cheap labor, those bases are then sent to the U.S. to be assembled with other components. The finished couches are then sent to China to be sold to a growing middle class with money to spare. Such is the cycle of globalization, pushing the U.S. and China into a necessary partnership that has an upside for some and a profound downside for others.
In order to understand that complexity, Koppel tells us, it’s important to grasp rapid changes in China, which has forsaken socialism—the very idea of a classless society—for a fervent embrace of new values and the goal of becoming an economic superpower.
Koppel shows viewers how China, on one hand, micro-manages people's lives in very real ways, such as the country's notorious one child policy for families, which is designed to lower the nation's enormous population in time. On the other hand, Chinese are enjoying the freedom to pursue aspirations toward economic success and the (sometimes illicit) fruits of hard work.
But others don't manage quite as well: Chinese factory workers who battle fatigue to make the equivalent of $20 per week, and the American workers who lost their jobs to their overseas counterparts. This eye-opening series is truly helpful toward understanding our complicated new world.