Made In The U.S.A.

There are no more luxuries.

In Uncategorized on January 31, 2009 at 6:20 am

1.14.09: I mentioned the locally roasted Kona coffee to friend/coworker Leah and she asked about cost. I don’t know the cost, but any time the coupon is for $5 off you know it’s not going to be cheap. Then she said this:

“That’s the problem, right? You can’t buy American unless you’re rich.”

I started to tell her no, but then we were interrupted and didn’t get to finish. How would I have continued that sentence?

I’ve only been doing this for a couple of weeks, but I don’t think you have to be rich to buy American-made goods. Maybe when it comes to some things (suits, perhaps, or boutique audio and video equipment or furniture…) but for the most part, it’s just another alternative to imported goods.

I think the difference is that things that non-rich people used to afford, and then take care of and make last and whatnot, are now available in way less expensive versions from China. So now people who couldn’t necessarily buy them before can buy them now, so they no longer seem like luxuries or privileges.

I think it’s the same idea Michael Pollen says about steak. Fifty years ago Americans ate steak for special occasions; now the process and the product has been commoditized and we can choose from a dozen different discount strip mall steaks for dinner every night of the week and never eat the same steak twice. Suddenly a luxury became the standard; we’re all entitled to as much affordable steak as we’d like. Sounds great, except now we’re all fat and dying and unused to the idea of wanting anything.

When certain “durable” goods get so inexpensive, it’s easy for people to fritter away their money by buying and rebuying stuff that they don’t really need or want that much. At least, that’s my take so far.

I don’t necessarily think that regular consumption of American stuff requires wealth, but certainly some MITUSA options are limited and the manufacturers have found a boutique or high end niche for their brand (Joseph Abboud suits, Allan Edmonds shoes, etc). The nice part is these presumably better made, higher quality goods should last longer and essentially become a better long term value. Or even if they don’t last longer inherently, perhaps we’re more likely to take better care of goods we have to stretch to afford.

I also understand that if you’re struggling you’re more likely to look for a better deal on everything you buy. And you should. And I don’t begrudge anyone that option. But as someone who isn’t struggling that much (at the moment; knock wood; fingers crossed), it kind of seems like my obligation to be a smarter consumer and work a bit harder at it.

Wal Mart is a great place for people who need to stretch every dollar, but there are other “costs” associated with shopping there. I’m sure I’ll get into them at some point when I finally venture into that great blue building filled with American dreams. But until then, all I know is I feel slightly sick and angry when I see Audis and Beemers and Lexi parked in the Wal Mart lot. It’s offensive on so many levels.

Then again, maybe that’s how they can afford their fancy imports: by buying discounted stuff whenever they can. I guess they’re being deliberate consumers as well. Maybe just not in the same way I do it.

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