I know this one will be a bit controversial. That’s okay; I’m no stranger to controversy. I’ve seen a lot of comments on Facebook, Twitter, and on LinkedIn saying, “When this is over, we all need to stop buying our stuff from China. Everyone needs to look for American stuff and buy it!” Sounds great. In theory. In reality, it’s anywhere from “extremely difficult” to “impossible.”
You see, many things nowadays simply aren’t made here – or are so expensive that most people can’t afford them. Start at your feet. I wear dress shoes a lot for work. The cheapest pair of USA made dress shoes – not a certain brand or quality, just the cheapest I can do, period – is Allen Edmonds, starting at $395 a pair. I do OK financially (or at least I did before this madness started), but I can’t spend almost $400 on dress shoes. Want sneakers? New Balance has some Made in USA sneakers. They start at about $170. I found Made in USA cowboy boots for $1500. Work boots are better – Wolverines are $120 (although not all Wolverines are made here) and Red Wings are around $300. The point is this – many, many people simply can’t afford that.
What about jeans? That’s not an awful situation; All American Clothing has men’s jeans for $55, and women’s for $140. Again, the cheapest I could find. I was surprised to find out that my “All American” Duluth jeans were actually made in Vietnam, at $70 a pair.
How about dress shirts? I wear a lot of those, and finding an American made dress shirt under $100 is impossible. Period. Again, that’s a big spend for most people. I have two dress shirts from a high-end Italian brand. I looked – it turns out they were made in Bangladesh. If you wear suits as I do, even spending $1000 or more is no guarantee it’s not made in China.
The point is, unless you have a LOT of cash to spend, and are VERY selective in your purchasing, you’re not going to be able to even get dressed in the morning without wearing items made in China. It’s not a consumer choice that most people can even make.
Household goods are the same way, as are appliances. Even our food. I love Ritz crackers, and I’ve noticed that they have a tendency to crumble nowadays. As I was throwing away part of a box this morning, I looked. Made in Mexico.
And then there are the things we don’t even know about. I take Losartan for blood pressure. It’s probably made in China, my doc told me, and I have no control over that. If you live in a house built in the last fifteen years, it was probably nailed and screwed together with fasteners made in China.
Why is this? Is it simple corporate greed? That’s the popular line, of course. Some might be, but more of it is due to corporate (and small business) SURVIVAL. Like consumers, businesspeople can only play within the rules that are on the table, and since 2000, when China got Most Favored Nation trade status, those are the rules. Think about this. China can import our raw materials, take our designs, make products, and ship them back to us far cheaper than we can make them ourselves. It’s not just the cost of labor, although that’s a part of it. We have massive built-in costs in taxation, regulation, and other soft costs that drive the cost of manufacturing in the US higher than in many other countries – and results in the fact that for many goods, small, high-end boutique manufacturing is all that can be done.
If we really want to make “buy American” more than a bumper sticker or a Facebook virtue-signal, the rules must change, and that’s out of the hands of consumers or corporate America. That’s in the hands of our elected officials. Whether we want that is a different story, and perhaps a conversation for another day (arguing about that is not the purpose of this post) – but until then, businesses and consumers can only play the hand they are dealt.