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.



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