Have you ever wondered when you’re walking around you local mega-mart where all that stuff comes from? Probably not, but it may surprise you to know that the vast majority of it is made outside the United States. Clothing in made everywhere from Bangladesh to Cyprus, most electronics items are now manufactured in China or India and chemical items such as cleaners are made either in Mexico or China. Even in the grocery aisle, the fresh oranges you see are probably from South America during the summer and the bananas are most likely from Central America.
At the turn of the 20th century, the United States was the biggest manufacturer of consumer goods in the world. Millions of people were employed at factories across the country producing everything it took to outfit both a home and the people who inhabited it. North Carolina became the center of both furniture production centered around High Point, as well as garment manufacturing with mills across the state. The small town of Ft. Payne, AL once had over hosiery 100 mills and produced more than half the socks sold in this country. Even children’s toys are affected. Many longtime brands, such as Kenner from Cincinnati, OH have disappeared through mergers and off-shore production shifts.
Today we have become a country that is based not in production, but rather in consumerism. Our economy is simply based on buying stuff. That is evident in our national debt, which currently stands at a record $18 trillion, or $56,378 for every person in the country (source: informationstation.org).
So what does the national debt really mean, and how does that impact you? Simply put, it is the imbalance between what we, as a country lend or sell to others versus what we buy and borrow. Think of it this way, The U.S. is a big family with a budget to follow. It wants more, but doesn’t have the cash available to but it, so it puts stuff it wants from other places, since it does not have it or can not make it itself, onto credit cards. Only now, those cards are way over their spending allowance with little chance of being repaid. That, in a nutshell, is where we currently are.
In our never-ending quest for lower prices (thank you, Wal-Mart), companies were forced to lower costs by ultimately moving production overseas where labor and materials were cheaper than they were here at home. The furniture mills in the Carolinas are mostly long gone, Ft. Payne no longer produces socks, and my kids toys are no longer from Ohio. Wal-Mart, the world’s biggest retailer and this country’s biggest private employer, for years touted it’s “Made in the USA” program with signs all over the place showing what was made here and how many jobs they saved by buying those goods. Today, good luck finding any of that. And this is all because we wanted things cheaper that they were before without thinking about the consequences, which, in the end cost millions of American jobs.
And this is where the free trade fallacy comes in, and the reason for this article. In a November 2, 2011 article, Fox news reporter John Stossel, formerly of ABC News, wrote that buying American was a “dumb idea”. He said that economists he spoke with said that “The nonsense of “Buy American” can be seen if you trace out the logic.” However, the reality is that you can’t spend your way out of a debt crisis, you actually have to make things. When you actually produce goods other countries want, this puts people here back to work where they begin to have disposable income to spend on other things.
Think of the 1950’s for a moment. It was a much different time than it is now, of course. The economy then was centered around manufacturing and agriculture, and these jobs provided for a stable life for most people as well as gave rise to the middle class of the American dream.
Today, our consumer society is based around goods and services with many college educated people having to subsist on fast food restaurant jobs at minimum wage because they can’t find anything better. Free trade was supposed to help us by lowering prices so we could buy more, but it has in reality hurt. Countries we have signed treaties with have come to realize that America said “do as we said, not as we did”, so they’re not abiding by the trade regulations that are supposed to protect us. As we said before, you can’t spend your way to prosperity and the Great Recession that began in 2008 proved that.
So the question is can you really still buy American made products? Yes, you can, but it does take some work to do it. If you want to see how hard it really is, read A Year Without “Made in China”: One Family’s True Life Adventure in the Global Economy. Even a trip to find a pair of sneakers turned into a major undertaking for them. Are you hearing this Nike?
You can still get things produced in the United States, though. Kids toys and crayons are made by Crayola in Easton, PA. Tinkertoys are still made here, but now by K’nex, and the plastic Cozy Coupe cars you remember are still in suburban Cleveland, OH. For clothing there is America Apparel, Land’s End and L.L. Bean. Appliance manufactures include Amana and Maytag for bigger items such as washers and dryers, KitchenAid for small kitchen appliances, and Oreck and Kirby for vacuums. You can also still get American made cookware from AllClad and Calphalon, glassware from Pyrex or Nordic Ware and cast iron from Lodge.
For a more complete listing of products still made in the U.S.A., you might want to check out madeinusa.org , madeinusaforever.com, americansworking.com or madeusafdn.org. There are even a few stores across the country that sell merchandise exclusively made in the U.S. such as the Made in America Store in Elma, NY, the Hometown USA stores in Nassau and Clifton Park, NY, US Mart in Venice, FL and the Made in the USA General Store in Branson, MO, all of which also do mail and internet sales.
If you are concerned about a strong, stable economy and country, buy American. Things being cheaper does not necessairly mean that it’s better for the economy, it could have the opposite effect. Think about it the next time you see your neighbor out of work as you are on your way to buy cheap imported goods at your local store. It does matter.
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