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.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

The Friend Of My Enemy Is My Friend - Part 1: Operation Razor Burn

Readers, today I am excited because it is time to go on the offensive. I'm going to lay down a little background in the next three paragraphs but if you're eager to get fighting by all means skip ahead. 

Buying American is absolutely essential to preserving our economy but there are not enough of us yet doing it. The papers still read like obituaries for the industry of our nation as they call out the death toll of our dead factories. Too many people are still indifferent and apathetic about the damage their choices are causing. Why is that?  

The primary driver of consumer preferences is advertising. Over the decades advertisers have become skilled at hacking our psychology to make us want what they need us to want without asking too many questions. Until recently advertising was expensive and controlled by large corporate gatekeepers at newspapers, radio stations and TV networks. Mass advertising is effective but it also expensive and imprecise. That began to change with advent of the internet and shifted into overdrive as social media became a phenomenon.   

When properly harnessed social media is an advertisers paradise for three reasons. First, conventional advertising is impersonal and customers are jaded from being subjected to ads constantly. However, when someone they know suggests or endorses a product it bypasses the usual skepticism for advertising because it is coming from a trusted source. A personal recommendation caries the weight of a hundred commercials and a thousand banner ads. Second, it is relatively inexpensive to run a website or create a Facebook page. Third, this technology uses information gathered by cookies, small programs that run in the back of our internet browsing software to record our online activity, in combination with complex algorithms to create advertising that accurately targets individual user tastes. This combination is extremely powerful, relatively new and those that master this medium will master the market. 

Social media advertising is powerful , and like with most powerful things, that power can be used to destroy or create. At the moment, unfortunately social media is being used as a highly effective vehicle to push products made in China and the host of other nations unfairly undercutting US companies. The power they are using is not their own however - it is OURS because we ARE the social network. This makes them extremely vulnerable to attack by the same people to which they are trying to sell their products.  

For example, a year ago I saw on Facebook a slick commercial for Dollar Shave Club and decided to check it out. They were indeed a little cheaper but of course I had to check - are they made in the USA? The answer is NO. Their website doesn't specify where just "Overseas."  To make matters worse their ads are now disingenuously smearing their competition, much of which produces their razor blades in the United States ( Gillette produces theirs in Boston, MA, Edgewell produces theirs in Milford, Connecticut). Fuck. That. Noise.  It's America, you can say what you want, but you'd better be prepared to catch hell from the likes of us.

I am calling on all my readers to go on Facebook and find Dollar Shave Club. They are an enemy of the American worker but “like” their page anyway, because in this game the friend of my enemy is my friend. Once you do so you can write on their page and post fun things like this:

 I'm sure I'll be banned from their page eventually but in the meantime a small part of their Facebook page is driving traffic to their American competitors.    Hopefully they won't notice and the post will stay up.   I'm just one man after all.  However, if hundreds, then thousands start doing the same thing then we'll have their attention.   We'll have their customer's attention as well and a chance to make them question their programming and realize that lots of people are starting to fight the status quo that is destroying the economy of our country.

 Like I said, I'm sure we'll start getting banned from their page and that is why we need to bring as many people into this as possible, keeping a constant stream of exactly the kind of attention companies like DSC don't want.   With your support we can make social media a place that the companies selling out this country will fear to tread.  

** I forgot to mention this when I first wrote this post that I have no connection to any of the companies mentioned within it.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

"I can't afford to buy American."

Long before I started this blog I've been spreading the word about the need to buy American.  As you might expect, I often encounter a level of willful ignorance that is staggering.   It's enough to drive a man to enthusiastically support one of the quality whiskey distilleries in this country.   However, I will focus my anger on taking apart one of the ridiculous arguments I most often hear and save the booze for celebrating if I manage to change even one mind with this post.

The self defeating statement I see so often usually goes something like, "I want to buy American but it's too expensive."   One of the first responses that I go to when this lame excuse comes up is, "How hard have you tried to find something made in this country?"   The fact is if you don't check, you don't really know.  For example, I was shopping for work socks once and decided to check labels. The Fruit of the Loom socks I looked at were made in the US.  The Dickies socks next to them were made in Pakistan.  There was NO price difference between the almost identical socks.  By taking  one minute to read labels I kept money circulating in the economy I live in and prevented sending that money to Pakistan, the country that sheltered Osama Bin Laden for years.  Label checking is the easiest way to start making choices that build this country up rather than taking it apart.  The next time you go shopping with friends and family is a great time to conspicuously set the right example.

The previous example was the optimum situation.   Unfortunately US manufacturers are forced to compete with manufacturers in countries with weak or non-existent laws to protect their workers by requiring fair compensation or safe working conditions, protect the environment from excessive pollution or protect their subjects right to speak out or organize.  Companies in those countries pay lower taxes because there are no safety net programs to aid the elderly, the ill or the poor. Those safeguards are a vital part of any modern civilized nation but they cost money and evading their responsibility allows these foreign companies to charge a lower price than something made here.

Buying products from these countries has put millions out of work in the US.  Some of those people get new jobs but many don't pay as well as their old positions.  People who can no longer make ends meet with their new service sector job or those that can't find a new job at all still need to live somewhere, they need to eat, they need to make sure their kids have a jacket for winter and can see a doctor when they are sick.  These people may prefer to earn their own way through life but if push comes to shove do you think they will let their kids go hungry and cold if there are programs to help them?   Buying foreign made products is putting these people directly onto programs like welfare, medicaid, food stamps, section 8 and HEAP.   Maybe you can save 20% on that "Made in China" frying pan, but how much do you wind up paying back out to support the people that lost their jobs because millions of other people made the same decision to take short term savings instead of making a long term investment in their country?   The best way to keep people off these programs is to make sure they have plenty of employment opportunities and that starts by supporting our domestic industries.

It would be naive to assume that if a company treats its own workers poorly that it would have any higher regard for its customers.  One subtle tactic they use is to entice shoppers with lower prices by using cheaper materials and methods that result in a product that looks similar but inferior in quality.   This shortcut is a form of planned obsolescence that only works because people are easily blinded by a so-called good deal.  Long term this is insidious because it conditions people to believe that prices that low are normal.  It is almost like a form of addiction - clearly bad in the long run but hard to break away from once the pattern is set. When they're buying that crappy saw from Harbor Freight they aren't taking into consideration that it may only last for a few jobs before it breaks and has to be replaced.  They may not think that their pet food while cheap contains materials that may sicken or kill their pet.  They may not take the time to research and see if the toy their young child puts in its mouth contains heavy metals.  The cost of needing to replace a given item is easy to calculate, but putting a value on destroyed health or loss of a loved one is nearly impossible because the loss is so great.  If the price of imports reflected these risks directly, right at the store chances are the ones with the "Made in the USA" tag would look a lot more appealing.

The one key message in this post is that there are costs you pay that are not apparent in the price tag at the store.  Foreign made products may sometimes be cheaper but we can't afford to pay the price of all the hidden consequences.  I may be preaching to the choir with some of you but many people do not think this way.   Our job is to get the message into the wider consciousness of the public.  By all means, help push this message out to the various corners of the internet but chances are the example you set and the conversations you have with the people you know the best will have the most impact.  I'd like to hear your stories about such exploits in the comments section of this post so others can use good examples and avoid the pitfalls others may have faced.  Thanks for reading and good luck out there.