Saturday, December 9, 2017

The Quality of Quantity

"Quantity has a quality of its own" is a statement attributed to Joseph Stalin which summarized the Soviet Union's approach to victory against the technologically superior Germans during WWII.   It was achieved through overwhelming numbers both in terms of industrial output and the willingness to throw bodies at the problem regardless of cost.  The Russian made Mosin Nagant rifle manufactured during the war years that was symbolic of that philosophy.  It was rough. The metal work  was imprecise and loose, the bolt was hard to operate and it was not as accurate as other rifles from the era I've shot.  However, it was cheap and it worked well enough that millions of Germans could attest to its effectiveness if they weren't dead.

Whether the masses in the US currently realize it or not we are in an economic war and to date it hasn't been going well.   Over the years foreign competitors have used a Quality of Quantity strategy to defeat US producers by flooding the market with low price, low quality products that, while inferior, are enough to seduce people with low incomes or folks just looking for a 'bargain'.  Enough shoppers in the US fell for it to allow foreign products to gain a beach head, from which they invaded markets for bigger ticket items like appliances and cars.  This strategy works because at the bottom of the market products are less able to differentiate themselves and  profit margins are generally smaller.  Foreign firms could compete easily here because prior to their arrival in the market prices were about as low as domestic producers could get them without breaking laws. The newcomers could compete here because they were willing to "throw bodies at the problem"  by cutting corners on workplace safety and environmental protections.  They were also able to make products that looked passable even though they were made of lower quality raw materials and produced to a lower quality standard.

The long term effect of this strategy has been a retreat of US producers from the low end of the market, if they are able to hold on at all.   This has the effect of skewing shoppers perception of the price difference between US and Chinese made goods.   The bottom of the line, entry level product is now cheaper than ever.   The US made products that have survived are usually higher end, where quality and reputation still matter.    It's an apple to oranges comparison.    Jeans, a formerly American symbol, are a good example.    The bottom end, made in Bangladesh jeans sold at Walmart go for $12.   A pair of 100% US made jeans costs $54.   Does that mean foreign jeans always cost  four times less?  Nope, a pair of Levi's runs at about $40.   Only 25% less.

This type of incorrect comparison leads to false, defeatist arguments claiming US industry is gone for good.   In actuality, the difference between comparable goods is smaller than we are led to think meaning that QoQ attacks can be defeated in several ways.

The first way is to reduce the difference in cost between foreign and US manufactured jeans.   This could be accomplished by simply enforcing uniform standards.   If Chinese Widget Co No. 2 wants to sell a product in the US, or if  Traitors, Inc wants to move their US production overseas, they should have to pay the same minimum wages to their employees regardless of country and meet the same regulatory standards for safety, health and environment.   If that happens their competitive advantage goes away.   If the competition is unwilling to play fair, a tariff, in an amount equal to what foreign producers are saving by holding themselves to lower standards must be imposed.   That solution seems pretty simple but so called free trade agreements have worked in the opposite direction, making it easier to bring in goods (bads?) made under looser standards from outside our borders and undercut domestic industry.   Applying equal standards is a top down strategy that works best on a national level.   Unfortunately, as evidenced by the ravaged towns and cities all over our landscape, our leaders have embraced gloabalization, blatantly lying about how it is making us all more prosperous.   In reality, it enriches a few at the top while workers in both the importing and exporting countries suffer.  For decades before the election of president Trump, even questioning free trade and globalization was taboo.  I have mixed feelings on the man but I was thrilled when he withdrew the US from the TransPacific partnership "free" trade agreement since it would have obligated the US to play on a field tilted against it.   The impending tax cut may also help, but it really depends on how it is implemented and at this point I have some doubts.   That story is still developing and I will write more when I know more.

Before there can be a top down solution people need to unite around the cause and work from the bottom up.   The masses have been lulled into complacency and distracted by advertising and cultural conditioning.   Most people don't think about where the things they buy come from.   That needs to change and it's where you and I can make the biggest difference.   We need to create awareness of the problem.   First, we all need to walk our talk because nobody wants to follow a hypocrite.   There are countless opportunities to bring up the subject of supporting American manufacturing in daily life.  When someone at the office is talking about what a great deal they got at the store, ask where it was made.   You don't need to lecture or shame them.  Just asking forces them to think about their decision.    You can use social media to show off a nice US made purchase once in awhile.  You don't have to shame people who buy Chinese, just emphasize that you like to buy high quality things and feel good supporting your economy.   We want to set a positive example since when people feel like they are being judged they become defensive.   We want people to want to be like us.   When enough people buy into our lifestyle then political change will happen organically because people who share our values will be in the majority. 

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Red, White and Blue Friday

Black Friday and the Christmas shopping season have been built up over the years into a huge display of consumerism.   I'm not going to lie, I loved it as a kid but now in adulthood it makes me sad to see so many people wrapped up in the pursuit of stuff.    I'm glad Thanksgiving comes immediately before the madness, as a time to do what's truly important - spend time with the family, share a meal and be thankful for all the good things already in our lives.  That said, going against social customs and family traditions would be awkward and probably hurt people's feelings so even if you're not a fan, chances are you are participating in the mass exchange of stuff that has become Christmas.   To get that stuff we have to buy it and to buy it somebody has to make it.   Sadly, the majority of that stuff is made in Asia, which means another year of the former wealth and power of the United States being siphoned away to foreign lands.

All is not lost though, there are still good US made options for those willing to do a little looking.   In fact, this is the most important time of year to make that choice because of the disproportionately large amount of money that will be spent in the next 31 days.   Retailers exist to make money and are always looking to provide what customers want so they can make as much as possible.   If they see more people are choosing to buy American, they will offer more options that fit that criterion, or even better, pressure suppliers currently producing overseas to shift their factories back to our own soil.   The story of Lincoln Logs, a toy I grew up playing with and remember fondly, is a good example of how perceived consumer demand resulted in an iconic American product being built in the land of its creation once again.   If you're interested and want to keep this success story going, you can find them for sale here:   Lincoln Logs  (This is an affiliate link, fyi).

Here are some additional ways in which you can help encourage retailers and manufacturers to offer products made in the USA:

  • Do people ask you what you want for Christmas?   Tell these people that you care deeply about supporting US workers and that gifts which do that are especially appreciated.    I've done this for years and now I've managed to get my dad partially on board as well.
  • When buying gifts for people who don't have a specific request, try finding a US made products first.  This scenario  also fits Secret Santa events and donations to Toys for Tots.
  • In cases where there is a specific request, like a good kitchen knife, look for American made options first.
  • When you're out shopping in physical store, if you can't find a US made options, stop by customer service and let them know the reason they missed out on a sale .   If you did find a good selection of US made goods drop a thank you note at customer service instead.   Many companies pay close attention to public feedback so if even a small number of us speak up, it may sway a decision maker to make the right decision for a change.
  • If you're shopping online and the product listing doesn't include a country of origin, ask a question or leave a comment if possible.
  • If you have a US made products you love enough to recommend, give them some love on social media.
  • Please share this blog on social media :)   You can find America Reforged on Facebook.
If you have an idea that you didn't see above, please put it in the comments.   This blog exists to spread tactics and encouragement in the fight to rebuild American industry so your thoughts are always welcome.    This Christmas, through our combined efforts we can help give a gift to all Americans - the gift of opportunity. 

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Repairing The US Economy Starts At Home

As  US made products become less and less common on store shelves, those of us who don't want to send our money overseas must get creative.   This is especially true when dealing with a sector of the economy that has been utterly destroyed by foreign competition and no US made option exists.  For example, try buying a new TV that says "Made in the USA."   Even in such cases, there is still something you can do to fight back - repair it.  Choosing to repair instead of replace may not bring US manufacturing back directly, but it starves our competition and allows us to invest the money we saved back into buying products that are still made in the USA.

If you're lucky, there still may be some businesses around you that repair major appliances.  If that is the case, please consider supporting them, since that recirculates money in your local economy rather than sending it to Asia.   The small appliance repair man seems to be a thing of the past however, so if you want to fix something that costs less than $500 or so, you may have to do it yourself.  Surprisingly, it isn't that hard most of the time and there is more information than ever before available to help you.   If you look on YouTube or elsewhere you can typically find info on diagnosing the problem and then see exactly how to fix it, usually specific to your exact model.   One upshot of mass producing a piece of shit is that most will break in a predictable way. 

I'm not talking idly.   Here is a recent example of  an easy repair I made that helped me keep some of my hard earned money out of China:

My house has a Keurig, which was here before I moved in with my girlfriend. It was made in China of course and unsurprisingly stopped functioning correctly after two years.  It would make a loud noise, like the water pump was running but then it would just keep going for minutes and then, when it finally brewed a cup of coffee it would only produce about half of a normal cup, even on the largest setting.   After about five minutes of research I narrowed it down to either a jammed water injector that shoots the water through the k-cup or a clogged water filter.   I tried cleaning out the injector with a paper clip but the problem persisted.   Next, I took off the water reservoir, emptied it and unscrewed the little screen over the water intake using a US made, long, Philip's head screwdriver.   It looked like a little lime scale had built up on the screen so I scrubbed the hell out of it, put it back on and when I fired it back up I got a perfect cup of coffee.   A total investment of about 20 minutes prevented us from having to spend $75 on another Chinese made POS.    Put another way that's like making $75 for 20 minutes of work, or $225 per hour - quite the motivation, like earning CEO wages but for doing actual work!   

Still on the subject of Keurig machines, the k-cups sold in stores are stupid expensive relative to a cup of coffee made with a normal drip style machine, 300-400% more in fact.   To my thrifty girlfriend's credit, she had already purchased a reusable plastic k-cup that worked well...until it broke.   At this point, when it comes time to replace anything I reflexively search for that item online and add a "Made in USA" to the end of the search term.   This time around I got lucky and found one not only from the USA but made.out.of.actual.metal.   It cost more than the cheap, plastic Chinese made ones but it works great and I also know that I will never, ever have to replace it.   For those of you stuck using a Keurig at home or work and want at least one part of it to be made in the USA I'm going to include a link:  Fill N Save Elite Series Stainless Steel Reusable K Cup for Keurig 2.0 and Backward Compatible With Original Keurig 1.0 Models. Silver   Full disclosure, it is an affiliate link so I may get paid if you click through and buy one.  This is my first time doing this, and, going forward I will always let you know if I am using one of these links.   All such links will point to products that have been made in the USA.  Amazon is a huge player in the retail economy and as such, I believe it is important to send signals, through the market and the way we spend our money, that we want goods that are made in America.

I've already got quite a bit of text here, and about 3 directions I could go with this discussion so my plan is to make Repairing Our Economy a recurring segment to cover some of the other projects I've done.   I could also get into the subject of coffee and globalism, so expect a post on that in the future.   I've also got a post about planned obsolescence in the draft phase at this point so some of what I was going to say here I will say there instead.   So in closing, give repair a try.  It's probably easier than you think and all it will cost you is five minutes to find out.   Better yet, if you have already made a repair you're proud of please share it in the comment.   Thanks for reading!

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Who Needs Who

You are the person responsible for making sure your life is what you want it to be.   You must look out for your own best interests and in order to do that you must know what they are with sharp clarity. If you don't there are legions of people seeking to convince you they know best and to follow them, sometime with altruistic intentions and other times with purely selfish aims.   It would be ideal if we could live a bubble, protected by our own unbreakable will but in the real world getting what we need means working with others.   Aligning with others whose goals are similar to our own can be a source of immense power but only if their intentions are true.

How do we know?   Discerning a true friend and ally from the cons, thieves, liars, leeches, the time wasters and various other pathological personalities out there is sometimes tough, but possible.  Again, the most reliable way to protect yourself is to know yourself.   Have a clear idea of who you are, what you want and how you plan to make that happen (not necessarily a thing, it could also be an outcome like good health).   These  things are your ruler with which to measure the claims of others.  If your ruler is flimsy and easily bent the measurements you make will be inaccurate.    One of the things I want is to pass this country on to future generations better than I found it, one whose economy is strong, creative and sustainable.   A life in which we get what we need by making it ourselves.    Having that ideal end goal in mind allows me to know who is is working against me and who is potentially working with me.

Potentially?  Yes, because what people say and what people do is not always the same.   Talk is cheap and so it doesn't cost a faker much to spin a great story hoping to reel in a sucker.   History is littered with more examples of such people than I can list here.   The only defense is to watch closely what a person does and ignore what they say they're doing.   Lets consider a few scenarios:

Scenario 1:
You've been at Company X for two years as a long term temp with no benefits with hopes of getting hired on full time and moving up to a position doing what you are passionate about.   Every three months when you're contract is up for renewal you mention this to your supervisor.   They tell you you're a stellar, hard working employee and that if you keep it up, they'll hire you on full time and move you into department you want.   Once in awhile you get a minor role in some of the work you want to be doing but 95% of the time you're doing data entry and answering phones.   Then two months back they hired a person to do the job you wanted.   You mention it to your supervisor and they tell you the same story as before, we value you just hold on.

Fast forward a year from this fork in the road.   Fork A:   A year later you are stuck in the same job, hearing the same justification to keep doing what you are doing.   Fork B:   You say fork it, and decide to take matters into your own hands.   You do some calling around to other companies, bullshit your way past secretaries and HR and find people doing the exact job you dream of doing.   You ask them how they got there and what you might need to do  in order to accomplish the same.   You keep the same shitty job to cover rent and food, but at night you're working on getting certifications and reading up on everything mentioned in your conversations with the pros.   Eventually you get your skills leveled up, start dropping highly targeted resumes and a  year later you've got not one but two job offers for positions doing what you want and paying way more than crappy temp job.  Which option serves you best?   In that option who holds the power.

Scenario 2:

You've been on 6 dates with a girl you're crazy about.  The dates went well enough so you try to bring the relationship to the next level.   She tells you you're sweet and amazing but that she isn't ready for that right now because she's still getting over her abusive,cheating jerk of an ex.   "Well, I'm clearly better than him," you think, " I'll prove to her that I'm worthy and when I do she'll give me the love I want".   And so you go on more expensive dates, flowers delivered to her job, help her with chores, when her car breaks down you give her rides and even give her money to help fix it.   She happily accepts these things but you notice the only times you hear from her are when you initiate contact or she needs something.   One day you log into Facebook and see her and her jerk ex are now friends and she's commented on several photos of his.   Think forward a year.   You keep doing the same things hoping she'll come around.   Are you happy?   Do you feel in control of the situation?    What if instead you decide to let Miss Hard-to-Get chill for a while and talk to a bunch of attractive girls you encounter in your daily life.   To your surprise some of them have the same qualities that made your crush attractive, and some of these are attracted to you too.   A few are calling you first, making efforts to show you they care.   Maybe Miss Hard-to-Get feels a little jealous and ups her game, maybe you like one of the new girls better.  Either way, are you happy in this situation?  Do you feel in control of the outcome?

In each example one outcome shows the power which comes from seeing options and following those paths which align with your internal compass until the desired destination is reached.    The other approach is one of being impeded by external barriers that others were allowed to define.  Power is options.  It is the ability to walk away from a bad choice because better choices are apparent.   It is needing them less than they need you.   With that in mind consider a final scenario.

You live and work in a small town.   There used to be four factories but 3 have closed and went overseas.   The call center in town did too.  You still have a job with an engineering firm, but the big companies you contract with are sending more work to India or China every year.  Main Street is desolate.   You need both hands to count your friends from high school who are on heroin, in jail or dead.   The house rep for your district is seeking a 5th term.   He is a member of your chosen party and you've voted for him before because he says he cares deeply about the middle class and works tirelessly every day to help them.   His ads show how he got some grant money to help retrain people who got laid off when the last factory closed.   You do some research and see that program helped 10 people retrain.  100 were fired when the plant closed.  Your rep says free trade will benefit everyone and that the economy is improving.   It's decision time.   What would you do?  

Thursday, April 6, 2017

A Small Taste of Victory

In my younger days my supply of cash was chronically tight so I got into the habit of cooking many of my own meals since it is wayyy cheaper than eating out or eating prepared foods out of the box or freezer.   I especially like recipes I can cook in bulk like chili, soups and curries that I can stretch even further with a little rice.   My financial situation has improved since then but the habit of home cooking has stayed with me.   I still like saving money because now I can build it up and invest it in high quality, American made goods that last a long time, usually paying me back eventually since those things don't break or wear out like cheaper, foreign made stuff does.

When I'm at work I generally stay in instead of hitting up a McDonalds or pizza joint.   I've done it for years but I've really got a good system going now.   These days I will will cook a big batch of something and move it from the big pot right into a pint mason jars while it's still hot.   A few years ago they were also selling a canning kit with a funnel that fit their jars perfectly.   I'll freeze those jars so I have a constant variety of frozen meals ready to go.   That also makes it easier to avoid the fast food circuit.    I've found that if I leave a jar to defrost all morning it is usually defrosted enough to pour out into a dish to heat up.   In a pinch you can do it right in the jar.   The added bonus?  You're not microwaving plastic.  In the event of a long power outage you could also throw them all right into a pressure cooker and can them for indefinite storage.   This method of food storage is cheap, versatile and durable.  Best of all it is made in the USA.

The jars can be heated but I do like a wider bowl.   My old one, a piece of USA made Corelle-ware, was great for use at home but a full pint jar was just a little too much to comfortably fit in that bowl without spilling.   Instead I bought, at a very reasonable price, a Pyrex bowl, also US made (see a pattern here?).   It's a little bigger and has a lid, so I can microwave stuff without exploding beans or carrots coating the inside of the public microwave.   All told it's a perfect system that allows me to conveniently eat a variety of delicious, nutritious, money saving food.   And with that money I can re-invest in more quality goods that were made in my home country and economy.

Here is a little recipe that is an example of what I like to cook and put in my jars:

Chicken Lentil Soup


  • 1 package of chicken drumsticks (5-6 drumsticks)
  • 1.5  chicken bouillon cubes
  • 2 medium onions
  • 5-6 stalks celery ( about 2 cups diced)
  • 4-5 carrots (about 2 cups diced)
  • 1 can of crushed tomato (14.5 oz can)
  • 2 cups dry lentils
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/2 tsp dried parsley
  • 1/2 tsp dried sage
  • salt (to taste)
Cooking Instructions

  1.  Heat about 6 cups of water to a boil.   Add chicken drumsticks and bouillon cube.   Maintain boil for 40 mins.
  2. While chicken is cooking rinse lentils and dice onions, carrots, and celery.
  3.  Remove chicken from pot to cool.   Add lentils, veggies and spices.   Cover and cook on low heat until it boils lightly.
  4. When chicken is cool enough to handle remove and discard skin.   I use my hands to pull the chicken off the bone and break it up into bite sized pieces.   Add to pot.
  5. Cook for 1 hour or until lentil are soft.   
  6. Makes 6-8 servings and costs about $8 dollars to make.  Enjoy!
If you have any of your own recipes or links to such I encourage you to share them in the comments.  

Thursday, March 30, 2017

America Reforged Reforged

I managed to get a few essays into this project when life presented a possibility to improve my financial situation through several related opportunities.   It took most of my free time for several months, but one of those paid off.   Life was busy and it was easy to let this blog slip.   However, the message is bigger than me and more important than ever so I will try again.

In the time since I last wrote we had the ugliest election in living memory.   It was the money and power elite who have been getting ever richer off of globalization and automation facing off against several populist candidates speaking for everyday people.   In other words the people who run the world vs the people who actually make the world run.   There has already been much ink spilled over the election and it's aftermath, so I will focus on the specific implications it has for our fight to save the American economy and also the course this blog will take.

The most important thing the election showed was that voters of every political affiliation see that despite what we hear from the media and politicians our country is declining, that the jobs are leaving and that business as usual means the situation will only get worse.    Hillary Clinton was the culmination and human embodiment of the status quo - working for it's own power, saying or doing anything, no matter how wrong or hypocritical, to make it happen.   She had the entire system on her side but she still narrowly lost.   Despite the best efforts of the elite the voices of the average working person in the US were heard and they said, "If you ignore us YOU. WILL. LOSE."

The tone of this blog will continue to reflect that reality.   If you want to fight to restore the American economy you are welcome here.   Party affiliation or lack thereof is secondary.   In the election I saw Sanders supporters and Trump supporters saying similar things on the subject of jobs and free trade.   On social issues the two groups are pretty far apart but it would be a mistake to never talk or work together because of that.   The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) was a great example - both opposed it.   Trump happened to win and now it is dead.   Had Sanders wound up in the White House the same thing would probably be true.   That was a huge victory for all Americans, except for the wealthy elite who would have used it to get even richer by firing people in this country and sending their jobs to China.

The point here is that politics is not a basketball or football game.   In sports there is an emotional appeal to picking a team to stick with through thick and thin, to see them win the championship and opponents leave in defeat.   In politics it is tempting to do the same thing, however, athletes are only there to win or lose.  It's a simple arrangement.    They are not there to represent your interests.   That is the realm of politics and the purpose of that realm is much more complicated than winning or losing a vote.  When laws are passed or repealed there are broad economic and social consequences that can span generations, and which affect some people more than others.   Often laws are an attempt to address complex problems.   "How do we provide and pay for healthcare for 300+ million people?" is a much heavier question than, "Which group of guys is better at moving a ball around?"

For decades prior to the 2016 election voters were presented with two options.   A Republican candidate who supported globalization vs. a Democrat who supported globalization.   Looking at it through a sports lens, each election one team won, yet through an economic lens most Americans lost.   The US political system is ideally suited for those in power to bury ideas that would benefit the average person by instead proposing two ideas that promote their agenda and then getting the two sides to attack each other, their anger clouding their ability to clearly see the game in which they are used as pawns.    One of the key purposes of this blog will be to find and spread the better option that is missing from political dialogue in this country.   The best way to defeat a stupid system is to show that it can be better.  I realize this will probably alienate potential readers that have been highly polarized to one party or the other but my hope is that there are still enough people out there looking for a better way who resonate with the ideas here.   More optimistically, even if we disagree on specific political actions that could help restore American industry, there is plenty that can be done on the individual level to help and I will be posting plenty of ideas/field reports on that as well.   Until next time, keep that fire burning.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Want to sell it here? Then you'd better make it here.

Analyzing the trade policy of the US government using the "Watch what I do, not what I say" method it is obvious their goal is to expedite the outsourcing of US jobs while enriching the people doing the outsourcing.  It is a happy accident then that the foreign policy of the US government has had the unexpected consequence of actually bringing the production of an iconic foreign product to the US.

In reaction to the 2014 Russian takeover of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine, the Obama administration issued an executive order prohibiting the import of Russian guns.   This includes civilian legal versions of the AK-47 rifle - one of the most recognized and sought after firearms on the planet.  Within days the remaining Russian made guns were snatched up by AK enthusiasts, collectors and savvy investors.

The ban  disrupted the old supply but where there is demand the desire to make money will always create a new supplier. The company that used to import the rifles from Russia is now set to begin producing them in Florida instead.  The gun issue stirs up a lot of emotion on both sides, so please realize this post is just using a story about guns as an example to illustrate a much bigger picture.  This story shows that if the government of this country insists on keeping out a foreign product it can  succeed if the political will is there.  It shows that the market will still provide the products customers want and that it will produce them inside the nation's borders if necessary and friends it is beyond necessary.  It raises the question:  If a simple policy change means we can make something with fundamentally Russian DNA in America, why can't it also mean that we can make something quintessentially American like a pair of Levi's or a Ford pick up in America?  

This story can be repeated but like I said, that will take political will.  The presidential primary season kicks of today, the perfect opportunity for members of both parties to remind their prospective leaders that standing up for American industry is not a partisan issue - it is the will of the people and a requirement to get elected.