Big-ass globalization

Back on 7/1/16, in the posting “Big and cool and tangentially surreal”, I looked at an ad that had been appearing in the NYT Magazine for a while, an ad that was interesting in two ways: the American adjectival idiom big-ass ‘really big’ in the name of the Big Ass Solutions company (which makes the huge ceiling fans in the ad); and the ad’s caption Ceci n’est pas un ventilateur ‘This is not a fan’, exemplifying what I’ve come to call the Magrittean Disavowal.

The company turned up in a front-page story in the Times on the 16th, about the complexities of globalization (and the trade agreements that advance it).

Highlights from Peter S. Goodman’s story — on the 15th on-line as “One U.S. Factory Goes Global, While [REDACTED] Shrinks the World”, on the 16th in print, as “One Humming American Factory Braces for a Regotiated Nafta”:

Lexington, Ky. — Never mind the refrain that the American factory is supposedly a dinosaur in the age of globalization.

A test engineer looking up at a 24-foot industrial fan at Big Ass Fans in Lexington, Ky. (photo credit: Ty Wright)

Here in the heart of horse country, some 700 American workers are designing and building premium ceiling fans. They tap local engineering prowess and export their wares around the world using a whimsical brand: Big Ass Fans. (Yes, that is really its name.)

But if the company stands as refutation to the premature obituaries for American manufacturing, the people running the operation worry about a looming risk. Talk of trade hostilities from Washington could shrink the globe, potentially yielding policy that could limit American exports while impeding access to crucial components of manufacturing.

The latest concern unfolds this week, as the [REDACTED] administration begins to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, redrawing the terms of commerce with Mexico and Canada.

… But many of the imports encouraged by Nafta are parts and raw materials used by American workers in fashioning finished wares. If [REDACTED] limits such imports, that could increase the cost of making goods at many American factories. It could provoke Canada and Mexico to similarly restrict trade, diminishing their purchases of American products.

In short, [REDACTED]’s efforts to bring work back to the United States could eliminate some jobs that are already here.

… Big Ass Fans could wind up paying more for motors it imports from Mexico. It could lose sales to Canada and Mexico, now its two largest export destinations, and the destinations for more than a third of American exports over all.

Once again, it turns out that these things are complex, with different considerations — preserving jobs in the U.S., finding markets in other countries — again and again in conflict with one another, so that a smoothly, or at least serviceably, working economy requires an intricate set of compromises between the considerations, compromises that are often intricately dependent on the specific characteristics, needs, and desires of both the producers and the consumers.

There’s a parallel in matters of style. Some would tell you that it’s all very simple, a matter of just two basic considerations:

Clarity: Be explicit, be clear. (Avoid ambiguity and vagueness, Include everything that is necessary for understanding).

Brevity: Be brief, get to the point. (Avoid redundancy and prolixity. Omit anything that is not necessary for expression.)

The problem, of course, is that clarity and brevity will again and again be in conflict with one another, so that an excellent, or at least serviceable, style requires an intricate set of compromises between the considerations, compromises that are often intricately dependent on the specific characteristics, needs, and desires of both the writer or speaker and the audience.

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