Made In The U.S.A.

Does it matter?

In Adventures on October 22, 2009 at 12:22 am

Does it matter if you buy American?

– If a product can be made “more efficiently” by another country’s less expensive workforce, why shouldn’t it be?

The ship has sailed. No amount of my buying American-made T-shirts is going to reverse the trend of making 99% of American-purchased T-shirts in foreign countries. The only way we’ll get those jobs back is if we figure out how to make shirts so great that American buyers are willing to pay a premium, or so inexpensive that we can compete with other markets and their cheap labor. But that begs the question: do we really want or need those jobs? Obviously we need jobs, but do we really need those jobs? Wouldn’t we prefer something a little farther up the skill ladder? Isn’t that how a country’s economy naturally evolves, as it moves of the food chain?

The part that I most don’t understand, then, is how some companies still find it more economical to produce their products in the U.S. These companies’ products are on the shelves right next to imports that sell for roughly the same price–sometimes less, sometimes more. Like light bulbs, for example. Or beer. Or power tools. If it’s so damn less expensive to make stuff overseas, how come some companies still make their stuff here? Sure, some of them are the top quality brands in their respective fields, but others are just the also-rans.

– There are personal benefits that come from buying American.

Mostly because it limits the junk you can buy. That’s sort of the opposite of the intended outward effect of spurring the creation of more and more junk from within our borders. And also because you start paying attention to the particulars of the origins of the junk you’re about to buy.

– There are environmental benefits to buying American.

It’s just a different degree of buying locally. The less distance your stuff has to travel, the less of an impact it has on the world. That makes sense I suppose. I can wrap my head around that. Plus, don’t forget about the expensive rules and regulations that make making stuff in the U.S. more expensive. It’s because it’s harder to follow all of those environmental (and social) production rules. Like not dumping your waste in a river, for example.

So really, the American tag on a product is like a bonus. It represents a lot of good stuff. But what it doesn’t represent is a return to our manufacturing-based society. It may represent quality, it may represent safety, it may represent ecology, it may represent expense, and it may represent personal growth. But I don’t think it represents what most people think it represents. I think it matters, but I don’t think it matters for the reasons most people think it matters.

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