Buying American

made in usaWhile I was skimming through my local newspaper this morning, I found an article on the op-ed page by columnist Froma Harrop.  Her question is, are we willing to pay more for clothes that are made in the United States?  While the liberal Ms. Harrop is not known for her civility towards the conservatives with whom she disagrees, her column hits the mark on a topic I have long wondered about myself.

Liberals and conservatives alike champion American jobs and American manufacturing.  There is nothing more patriotic than the politician who wants to put Americans to work by “bringing manufacturing jobs back home.”  I don’t know of a single person in my circle of friends who is pushing to trade solidly manufactured American products for cheap overseas imports.  But as Ms. Harrop asks, are we willing to pay more for American made goods?  She thinks not, and she is probably right.

Blame it on greedy American companies who ship their operations overseas to low-wage sweatshops so American companies can increase their profits, say liberals.  But there is more to the story.  Consider the cost of labor.  Politicians claim to want to bring these jobs back, but it is often their own doing through the passage of wage and benefit mandates, environmental regulations, OSHA regulations, and now Obamacare regulations, that raise the cost of making anything in America.  It is not other countries that are necessarily causing the American manufacturing downfall.  They want to provide jobs for their people as well, and can we blame them?  In reality, America shoots itself in the foot by saying one thing and doing another.  On the one hand, they want manufacturing jobs, they say, but not the dirty or unglamorous ones, not the ones for low-skilled or non-union workers, not the ones that involve sitting behind a sewing machine all day.  On the other hand, they don’t want cheap imports coming across the border either, but Americans can’t have it both ways.  There is somewhat of an elite mentality about what should be manufactured in America, and the government too often gets to call the shots at the demands of unions and other special interest groups.

On the other hand, conservatives miss the point as well.  They also want American made clothes and other products, but balk at the notion of paying $150 for a pair of American made shoes or $800 for a coat made in New York City’s garment district.  As one of my relatives often puts it, “Chinese made shoes don’t last, but I’m not about to pay twice as much for American made shoes.”  This is not the 1950’s.  Clothing purchases as a share of income has fallen dramatically since then due to imports and more mechanized production, but if households have saved so much money in the clothing budget, why shouldn’t they invest in a pair of American made shoes every once in awhile?  Short of the government becoming laissez faire, only demand more American goods will produce more of them.





Comments (13)

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  1. Lloyd says:

    Really worth doing your homework on what you are going to buy and where it is from. Way too many places are selling items at a competitive rate and therefore they seem a good price, but sacrifice something like quality in return. I cringed at buying higher priced clothing, but the temporary pain was well worth it. Most of the clothing has lasted 10 years or longer. When I purchase cheaply, the clothing has a problem within a year on average.

    American clothing may be more expensive than other countries, but the quality and durability could make it a cheaper investment in the long-run.

  2. Devon Herrick says:

    Most people probably have long forgotten that Walmart had a big “Made in America” campaign in the 1980s and 1990s. Sam Walton bought all he could from American factories when the domestic manufacturers could match Asian quality, and prices. Walton was more interested in doing what was best for his customers than his suppliers. He soon discovered his customers weren’t willing to pay extra just to have the Made in America label on their goods. He also found many of his domestic suppliers couldn’t match the price and quality of imported goods.

    I remember the cars that my parents drove back in the 1970s before automobile imports were as common. They routinely began burning oil and needed an overhaul at 50,000 miles. You knew your mechanic on a first name basis because you saw him several times a year. I remember the first car we owned that made it to 100,000 miles — we thought it was a miracle. I’ve had Japanese cars, German cars and currently own an American-made car. It’s not nearly as well made as the German my car. My next car will probably be German.

    I would like there to be more American products on the shelves of my local store. However, (like Sam Walton) I’m not willing to extend charity to American firms. The quality and price has to be competitive.

    I sometimes think back to my childhood and remember the tennis shoes I wore; the coats, the toys I received. I remember my mother buying me a $20 pair of canvas tennis shoes around 1975. I bet I could find a paid just as good for around $20 today — even though $20 in 1975 is equal to about $100 today. Even if you like to buy American and are willing to pay more for the privilege, you’re getting better prices and higher quality because of the foreign competition.

    • Thomas says:

      This is a really compelling argument for trade liberalization. It only improves outcomes for the consumer.

    • Wayne says:

      Plus, our trade imbalance is directly a response to savings and investment, not currency manipulation on China’s part. Their production lines are simply outcompeting US firms.

    • Wade says:

      I remember the Made in America campaign. It’s a shame it didn’t catch on. But what do you expect with a company that caters to low-cost niches?

  3. Buster says:

    Froma Harrop…

    A poll shows almost half saying they’d pay an extra $5 to $20 for what’s now a $50 sweater if the garment were made here.

    No they wouldn’t! Americans have consistently demonstrated their revealed preference for cheaper, imported clothing. If Half of Americans were really willing to pay 20% more for locally-made clothing, there would be firms whipping out clothing to take advantage of that fact.

    • Thomas says:

      I certainly would. Partly because the media has successfully confused the public into thinking that all Chinese products are of a lesser quality, and partly because people tend towards home-grown products – at least in the South we do.

  4. Weir says:

    American firms would only be hurt in the long run by giving them a preferential advantage. Minimum wage is such a controversial topic but we need to confront it.

  5. Allan (formerly Al) says:

    Get rid of the teachers unions for if one wants more than the minimum wage one has to be educated to a point that they can generate profit and create wealth. If we wish to promote American jobs then American workers have to be more productive than the third world. We also have to reduce the cost generating regulations that do more harm than good That requires a high information voter and a desire to be educated and work without too much supervision.

  6. Kevin says:

    I wonder if “cheap” clothing and shoes are really a bargain in the long run.

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