Made In The U.S.A.

What does Buying American mean?

In Resources on March 25, 2009 at 12:07 am

I pondered this question in the car yesterday, on my way home, stuck in traffic on the Forest Park Parkway. I wrote it on the back of a McDonald’s receipt and enjoyed the incongruity.

What does Buying American mean?

1. Buying American means not buying items that were made in sweatshops.

2. Buying American means the items you are buying aren’t traveling as far to get to you. This makes Buying American inherently greener than Buying from the other side of the globe.

3. Buying American means buying items that are made in facilities that–to one extent or another–are regulated by the government. This regulation means the items are less likely to be harmful to the people producing them, and to the people buying them. And to the environment.

4. Buying American means the items are made by people in America. (No matter where they came from originally, they’re here now. That makes them American.) That means our friends and neighbors are more likely to be able to feed their families. That’s nice.

5. Buying American means that, as the purchaser, I’m taking some control in the transactional process. Instead of accepting whatever is offered to me, I’m making choices. I have some power. I’m voting with my dollars–for all those things I just mentioned.

6. These days, Buying American means buying less stuff and sometimes doing without. I don’t know about you, but that’s definitely something I can use.

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  1. Government regulation does not inherently mean items are less harmful to the people producing and buying them. Each year, various parts of the government and regulatory legs of it are lobbied by all sorts of groups; this ruins the supposed value of the government labeling something as safe or appropriate. For instance, this is why some things that shouldn’t be given the “okay” are given it by the FDA. So long as lobbying (above the table or beneath it) goes on–and it always will–one cannot assume that government regulation is any better than a lack of it. In fact, if one takes a look at some of the most government-regulated countries in the world (e.g., China, Cuba, African nations, etc.), one will most often find that corruption is abundant, as are constant risks to the people. Unemployment tends to be high as well. Traditionally, when countries de-regulate, their economies boom. (Ireland’s is a recent example.)

    Speaking as an American living abroad in Australia, I’m also going to say that “buying American” is hugely overrated. You want safe products and products that are produced and manufactured thoughtfully, and I do too, but to assume that that comes as part of buying what is made in your country is not necessarily true. Plenty of other nations produce ethically and thoughtfully.

    In Australia, there is a very strong “buy Australian” attitude. From what I’ve seen, this doesn’t result in a better, safer product. All this does is give the consumer a higher-priced product that has some feel-good tag of “packaged by Aussies.” Never mind the fact that many of the items that people want to have produced at home are in industries that people prefer not to work in, in our more developed countries.

    On top of all this, this sort of attitude leads to a closed-off country. Australia has some of the tightest immigration laws you’ll see, and this is partly because of this sort of attitude. The only way you can have all-American stuff is if you close off trade and toughen up significantly on immigration. This makes your products higher-priced, in the end, and it doesn’t give some migrants a lot of incentive to go through your rigorous immigration process to come over and contribute to your economy.

    There’s so much regulation here in comparison to back home, in part to support buying and selling Australian, and I feel it every time I pay two and three times more at the register here. Buying American is all well and good, but if you want it to become part of the politics, expect your cost of living to increase.

    • Thanks for the wonderful comment. I very much appreciate it and I hope you’ll keep reading!
      I certainly can’t disagree with anything you’ve pointed out here, but it just makes me wonder what the right answer is. Is buying American bad? I hope not. And I don’t think so.
      I’m certainly not saying that we should buy American so that eventually we can only buy American. I’m just suggesting that, in an effort to become a more conscientious consumer, using the “Made In The USA” label as a starting point goes a long way toward a lot of positive buying habits–as outlined in my original post.
      I understand that buying locally-made things sometimes brings a higher price tag. But my goal isn’t to save money.
      Look at steak, for example. In the 1950s, steak was a rarity in average American households; a special occasion entree. Then we commoditized its production and figured out how to pump cattle full of hormones and antibiotics so that we can feed them corn so they’ll get bigger faster without getting sick (since they’re supposed to eat grass) so we can make them faster and cheaper and therefore sell ’em more quickly and make more money and so on ad infinitum. But I don’t think many people, other than McDonald’s beef buyers, think that this system is an ideal one. Perhaps the “better” system was the one in which steak wasn’t so inexpensive that we could eat it every day and get fat and have heart attacks and so on and so forth. The point is: sometimes luxuries should be luxuries. We don’t “need” all the things we think we do, and making them all so cheap that we can all have them isn’t always for the best even though the instant gratification sure feels good.
      My price demands are simple: I just want feasible “local” options. And if I can buy an item that was made locally instead of shipped from halfway around the world, it sure seems to be “better” in any number of other ways. And as more people like me vote with our dollars, we should (in theory) have more affordable “local” options.
      As for regulation equating inherent quality for the producers and buyers, that’s not what I intended to convey. Clearly there’s manipulation of the system–whatever that system may be. But I know, or at least I think I know, that we seem to have a better handle on fair working conditions (sweatshops or not) in the U.S. than in other parts of the world. And that when the U.S. minimum wage is $6.55 per hour and in Bangladesh it’s 22 cents an hour, it seems like we, the Americans, are exploiting them, the Bangladeshi workers, so that we can save a few bucks on our underpants. It just doesn’t feel right. And if I have to pay a dollar extra for boxer shorts, I should prefer that to exploiting another human being.
      And isn’t at least some regulation better than no regulation? The phrase “too big to fail” comes to mind…
      I’d reiterate all my other points, but really they’re there in the post above and probably scattered throughout every other post I’ve made.
      Anyway, I hope that my post–or my mission–doesn’t ring as jingoism. That’s not remotely my intention. I fully endorse buying Chinese, buying Australian, or buying Bangladeshi–especially if you’re currently living in one of those countries. And that doesn’t mean that I don’t want us to trade, I don’t want to put my head in the sand and ignore the global economy. It just means that there’s a lot of crap that a lot of big boats bring from China, and we don’t need it. Not buying it sure seems like a good idea.

  2. Also, I should probably just point out that I started writing about “buying American” at the beginning of the year–before “buy American” was all abuzz in relation to the Buy American provision of our economic stimulus political discussions. I did write a post about it–CNN & Congress on ‘Buy American’–and I DO NOT endorse “buying American” as any form of official government stance. That, as proven by our Great Depression, does not work.
    Buying American on this blog is all about individual people buying conscientiously.

  3. We are putting together a site of Made in the USA, it is more than a website or list, it is the connections that are important and the promotion of all “us” as one to help support and bolster each other as American businesses.

  4. […] my knees. Lelia, I’m beggin darlin please. In Adventures on April 4, 2009 at 12:38 am Lelia’s comment is really lingering in my peanut-sized […]

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