I get a little miffed when I call a company's customer service department and, if I can even get through the minefield of recorded messages and instructions to punch in various numbers depending on which category of information I want (none of which ever seems to fit my particular problem), finally connect to a live person I can't understand.

It seems to me that customer service departments for American companies should speak fluent English. Few do anymore. And it bugs me. But it's a common occurrence and a result of outsourcing, sending jobs overseas where workers are willing to take the kind of verbal abuse I would like to heap on them, but never do, for less money than workers in the United States would get.

As I said, that annoys me.

But outsourcing has an even scarier side. Consider tainted toothpaste, pet food with toxins included in the ingredients and, the latest, toys with lead paint or little parts that pose choking hazards to small children. I just heard this morning of a new recall of more toys with lead-based paint.

That's way beyond annoying. It's frightening.

The problem comes from our willingness to give away our capacity to manufacture goods in this country. It's no secret that developing countries can build toys, electronics and widgets much cheaper than we can in the United States. Their hourly wage is a fraction of ours. We've mentioned many times before that we abandoned textile manufacturing to the detriment of the U.S. cotton industry. And folks who are supposed to know, say cotton mills will not return.

Apparently, we've done the same with toys, all in the effort to procure goods cheaper. My wife and I sometimes look for bargains and at times we've bought cheaper products assuming we were saving money and practicing frugality. Usually we were disappointed in the quality of the cheaper goods. I don't mean to imply that expensive necessarily means better. Sometimes a lemon costs as much as a peach. But we've reconciled ourselves to the old saw that you get what you pay for.

Currently, Americans are paying for inferior products that pose hazards to their children, their pets, and to themselves.

A lesser, but still important, result of our willingness to give away a manufacturing base is the long-term effect on our own economy. Good jobs disappear, along with the buying power and tax base that goes with those jobs. Just drive through what we used to call a mill town back in the Southeast and see what closing cotton mills has done to downtown businesses.

And we're getting pressure to import more foodstuffs from some of the same trading partners who have shipped in tainted products. Can we expect quality control to be any better for food than for action figures? Probably not.

The least our own government should do is to ramp up inspections of goods coming into the country. An even better option is to find ways to maintain our own manufacturing base, keep plants operating in this country, and keep people employed.

Trade is a good thing, but so is safeguarding our own consumers, protecting our own economy and finding ways to decrease our growing trade deficit.