11
Jan
12

Why should you buy American?

You have heard people saying that maybe you should support American made products. But many of the times, you do not hear the reasons why. This blog entry will try to enumerate some of the reasons.

I know you have heard it before: “Buy American”. But this is not the same bogus call of the 1970’s when there was a push by the car manufacturers and workers to buy the definitely inferior American cars at the time over the superiorly made Japanese cars. Their reasoning back then was simply: Be Patriotic. This slogan worked a little, but the American car companies were neither innovating nor even trying to improve their quality. It left a sour taste on those that took the message to heart. So, now the message goes out again: “Buy American”. Should we believe them this time? The short answer is yes. The long answer is this entire blog entry.

I have prepared a list of reasons that may help you decide whether to buy American. I divide the reasons into the E’s – ethics, ecology/environment, and economy; and into the P’s – Patriotic, Personal Health and Patronization.

Ethics

I believe that ethics and the just treatment of all human beings is the leading reason why people have chosen to buy American.  There has been a mass exodus of American manufacturing since the late 1970’s due to numerous reasons: Globalization, Offshoring (Outsourcing); Free Trade Agreements; and Removal of Import Quotas. For a more detailed explanation see my blog entry ‘How Did we Get Here? Part II’. Because there is a scarce amount of American-made products we receive almost all of our products from third world countries. The factory workers in these third world countries work in conditions that if they were in the United States would be considered inhumane, even if it were to be done by prisoners.

Listing of some of the inhumane conditions are: well documented incidents of frequent use in children in factories, as well in cotton fields, not including the use of “work study students” usually ages 16 to 17 years old; exposure to toxic substances without adequate safeguards or ventilation; no air conditioning unless a foreign client shows up; working hours 6 or 7 days a week, 12 to 15 hours a day without overtime; dormitories which often hold 14 to 24 people to one room with annoying restrictions like no tea kettles or hairdryers; forced to stand for hours without taking a break; forbidden to speak to other workers; public humiliation for one that does not obey the rules; threats or actual physical abuse for offenders; sexual harassment is acceptable; no worker rights; no worker benefits such as disability, social security, retirement plans, vacation, sick-time, time-off for pregnancy, workman’s compensation or right to sue for wrongful termination; poor pay $ 4 to $6 per day (yes, not per hour), and even less after deducting for factory food. Because of these conditions, there is the now well told story of how at Foxconn (they manufacture the Apple’s iphone), there has been a rash of suicides from workers jumping off the top of the building. Nets have been placed and counselors have been summoned. To sum it up: “We are like prisoners…we do not have a life, only work.” -Teenage Microsoft worker. By buying the products of slave labor, we enable slave labor to continue and prosper. Buy American, stop slave labor.

Ecology/Environment

Ecology is the study of the relationship of an organism between it and its environment; and the environment is the set of circumstances surrounding that organism. Since these two issues are interrelated they have been brought together as one reason to buy American.

We have only one earth and only one atmosphere that we all must share. We dislike it when smoke is all around us, breathing in pollutants and carcinogens. We dislike it when our water is contaminated with unwanted chemicals and toxins. Most people would like to preserve our water, our air, our atmosphere, and our earth. Some do not care because they make money destroying the earth or they simply don’t care about anything that is not within a block of where they live.

There is a serious problem going on that doesn’t get much press. Our environment is being destroyed. Because of our dependence on slave labor factories in the third world countries, these countries suddenly have a terrible pollution problem. These countries have very little rules regarding preserving the environment and avoiding toxic chemicals. If they do have laws about polluting, they are rarely enforced. And there are no lawyers going to sue the government to stop the pollution. China and India have terrible problems which have yet to be resolved with pollution of the air, the land and the water. China is the world’s most prodigious emitter of greenhouse gases from coal burning power plants, millions of automobiles and Industrial waste gases. The air is so polluted that Beijing’s air violated the World Health Organization standards more than 80% of the time in the last quarter of 2008 (in preparation of the Olympic games, the government halted all factories 4 months prior to the games). 70% of China’s rivers are too polluted to provide safe drinking water. It is expected there will be major water shortages in China by 2020. 10% of China’s farmland are too polluted by heavy metals of Lead, Mercury and Cadmium. India has major air pollution problems because of its numerous automobiles, many without functioning catalytic converters, and buying of unregulated biofuels. Land pollution is as abominable as is their water pollution. “It is no longer just their problem, it’s our problem,” says Kim Prather of Scripps Institute of Oceanography. (See next entry: Newslink: Pollution from China alters weather in U.S. West – CBS News). Remember there is only one earth, and only one atmosphere. It is ridiculous to think that destroying the planet on one side of the world would never effect us. One only has to remember that the Nuclear blasts on Hiroshima and Nagasaki dropped some of its fall-out on the United States. Some of the Tsunami’s effect on Japan this spring is now washing some of the remnants on the shores of the U.S. (Thank goodness, that the radioactive material doesn’t travel throughout the sea all that well). Imported fish often have banned chemicals that find there way back to the U.S. Buy American, protect the planet.

Economy

“The Great Recession” has uncovered just how tenuous the American economy has become. The United States for many years was the world’s leading manufacturer by a long shot. Since the late 1970’s, the United States had gradually stopped manufacturing and became a country that specialized in providing service, which became an even bigger problem as service jobs started getting outsourced as well. In 1965, we manufactured 95% of what we needed, (and accounted for 53% of the entire economy), now we manufacture only 5%, and for clothing, it is only 2% of what we need. When we had the computer and internet boom (two separate booms), we still manufactured our new products, jobs were created, the economy expanded. But now that we have outsourced most of our manufacturing, the present day and continuing boom of hand-held electronic devices has totally bypassed us. We get no jobs here for the new industry we created.

Let us be frank: “The Great Recession” was a depression. The only reason is wasn’t called a depression because of its negative connotations, and they didn’t want a run on all of the banks, not that it didn’t happen anyway. That is why there was the Bail-out. It is funny, back in the 1920’s and 1930’s, depression wasn’t a bad word, as long as it wasn’t a “Crisis” or “Crash”. The definition of a depression, by certain experts, is a decrease of the GDP by 10%: last quarter in 2008 – 6.4%, and first quarter in 2009 – 6.3%. We have gone through a depression, so now what? How do we get out of it, how do we stabilize our job market? Some people think that if we can come up with a new novel idea that this would save our economy, the problem with this reasoning is that if we come up with a great new idea, we will outsource it right away, and will get no benefit from it at all.

Some people, me included, feel that improving our manufacturing base will stabilize our economy. There are several reasons for this line of thinking. First, the strongest economies presently are the ones that continue to manufacture, China (of course) and Germany. Germany manufactures 25 – 30% of all that it needs. Second, it is a proven fact that each manufacturing job provides an additional 2.9 jobs that is associated with the manufactured product. Third, it makes economic sense, that every dollar spent on an American-made product goes back into the economy 100% (and Possibly 110%) versus a dollar spent on a foreign product may come back into the economy depending on whom one listens to from 15 – 40%. The goal would be to get our manufacturing back to at least 20%, it would make us much less dependent on other nations’ (some friendly, some unfriendly) imports. Buy American made, it stimulates our economy and it increases our manufacturing jobs.

The P’s – Patriotic

“It’s not what your country can do for you, it is what can you do for your country.” – John F. Kennedy. Your country needs you and you need to support your country. Buy American “made”, not just because it says it is American. It is better to buy a Toyota model, made in the US with 90% American parts, than a Ford made in another country with no American parts. Buying American made, is not only good for the country, it is good for the people of the United States. It is strange that the same people who used to say “Buy American” to support this country are very silent on this issue today. These same people who said “Beat the Russians” at every turn, have nothing but good things to say against the same “commies”, the Chinese. One theory why they are silent: Big Money. Money means controlling government policies and therefore the making of more money. So, where is this money coming from? Answer: owning companies in China. Certain American individuals have invested trillions of dollars in China and these certain people do not want to upset the goose that lays the golden egg, even if it destroys the U.S. and world economy. China is our biggest competitor, they own most of our debt, and we are dependent on many of their imports. Over the last 30 years we (the U.S. and its policies) have let this happen. We have put our selves in a position of extreme weakness, all the while, Communist China tries to bury us with their flooding the markets with artificially low, government subsidized imports while simultaneously manipulating the Chinese yuan so that it is extremely under-valued. You know, Communist China is not our friend, it is not our ally, they vote against in nearly everything global. It is funny that we do not treat them as the enemy they are. Buy American made, put an end to Chinese dominance.

Personal Health

We sometimes live in a bubble, certainly an information bubble. That is especially true when it come to our health and our exposure to chemicals, some toxic, some not. The United State used to be the pioneer in protecting the public from toxic chemicals. The U.S. passed the Toxic Chemical Act in the mid 1970s, but with a huge loophole that exempted 6,000 chemicals that were already in use. People think that just because a product is on our shelves that they are safe. That is not true. Many of our products and their ingredients are untested, or tested and a committee (whether biased or not) have determined that the chemical might not cause damage. The United States is at least 10 years behind the European Union with regards to testing chemicals (Europe had banned phthalates – used to soften plastics in 1999, the U.S. banned it in 2008). In Europe, each product has to have toxicity data. Not so in the U.S. In fact, some industries will reformulate a product for the European market, but keep the original (but banned in Europe) chemical for U.S. consumption. Europe has banned 1,371 chemicals, the United States one-eighth if that. Even China, which is not known to be progressive, has banned bisphenol-A (BPA) (the coating inside of cans and plastics), but not in the U.S. Europe had banned this in 1999.  Some of the known effects of toxic chemicals: cancer, birth defects, asthma, decreased female fertility, decreased sperm counts, decreased testosterone, altering hormones including thyroid, and neurological symptoms.

So, if the United States does a poor job in protecting its citizens from chemicals, how do you think it does at protecting its citizens from dangerous imports which have even less banned chemicals, such as the flame-retardant materials (grouped together as polybromodiphenyl ether (PBDE)-banned in the U.S. in 2005, but still made in China? The answer is poorly. How many times, do we need to hear another product from China has lead in it? If we did more testing, we would find much more. Lead? People may say, we used to use lead ourselves. Yes, but we didn’t know better, and that was many years ago. They know better and it still happens? They are purposely putting in a poison. In 2008, when China was found to be putting lead in their products, the company, Mattel and their executives had to apologize to the Chinese government – for the damage they had caused the industry. Furthermore, American clothing is rarely “Permanent Press” but this is frequently found coming from the Third World countries. Permanent Press is made out of formaldehyde or a derivative of Formaldehyde, Dimethylol dihydroxyethylenurea (DMDHEU) – its effects are unknown. For your own health, it is best to avoid third world products, the safest is from Europe.

Patronization

Patronize – to aid or support. When you go shopping and you buy from a place, you are patronizing that place. Next time you go out, find the store that carries American made clothes and buy their clothes. You are supporting: the store, the clothing manufacturer, and the United States economy.

Conclusion

There is a myriad of reasons of why to buy American: protesting unfair labor practices, protection of the environment, improving the manufacturing within the U.S., supporting the U.S., avoiding chemicals to protect your health or to support your favorite store, any one of these are a reasonable argument to buy American made. Keep up the good work.

Reference: “Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products and What’s at Stake For American Power” by Mark Shapiro

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2 Responses to “Why should you buy American?”


  1. 1 Menot Jingo
    January 11, 2012 at 5:34 pm

    There are many good reasons to buy American, but I think you failed to enumerate any of them.

    Ethics: Some foreign factories treat their workers poorly. I agree. So do some U.S. factories. Foreign workers want to work and have a right to work. Can you say it’s better to starve than work in poor conditions? So, instead of only buying American, how about buying from factories that treat their workers well, including those in the U.S.?

    Ecology: Many American manufacturers treat the air, water, and soil poorly. Why use a broad stroke against all foreign manufacturers that certainly cannot bear scrutiny? All manufacturing pollutes or consumes resources, not just those in foreign countries.

    Economy: Much of the world has been in a decades long depression, and enforced by the U.S. economic machine and our military. Maybe it’s a good idea to buy locally in order to reduce shipping and minimize consumption, but doing it so that we work at others’ expense is unfair if we aren’t doing because we deliver the best product at the best price for the best value.

    Patriotic: American corporations control our government with our permission. Buying simply because it’s American-made does nothing to break this system of greed and corruption. If buying American made all corporations ethical, you might have a point.

    Personal Health: There’s an apparent contradiction in your argument where the U.S. failure to protect us from chemical exposure is noted and foreign countries are doing a better job. Then, it’s noted that protecting Americans “from dangerous imports which have even less banned chemicals” is also a failure of the U.S. Buy safe products that provide the best value, not American products that meet no such requirement. Corporations have paid our government to allow very dangerous practices such as fracking, potentially poisoning our drinking water for millennia.

    Patronization: There’s very good reasons to buy at local shops, but I can’t quite see how that necessarily leads to buying American. Sometimes, we must shop online to accomplish that.

    Conclusion: Buy American because the product we have carefully chosen is safe, provides a good value, did not exploit labor or the environment, and is safe for disposal. In fact, buy any product because it meets these criteria.

  2. January 12, 2012 at 6:13 am

    Dear Menot Jingo,
    You make some great points especially at the conclusion. Please realize that each of the E’s & P’s could be the length of a chapter each, and to be concise I had to make many generalizations. Also, realize that I am talking about manufacturing jobs with its low skills requirement and I am talking only about third world countries which means I am excluding the U.S., Canada, Japan, the European Union (Western Europe) and Australia, but including countries like the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Honduras, Vietnam, mainland China, Thailand, Cambodia, Singapore, Eastern Europe, Bangladesh and India.

    You are absolutely correct that some American companies maltreat their workers and pollute the environment and we should not patronize these places. But the conditions of the U.S. vs third world countries are extremely different. The U.S. and its workers are working under the U.S. conditions of 2012, third world countries work under U.S. conditions of 1962 or in same cases, 1912. Also, American workers and citizens have a chance of legal redress and compensation, whereas third world workers do not. And it is certainly a false assumption that their workers will starve if they don’t get into the slave factories. In fact, many Chinese factories have trouble finding workers and often do recruiting out in the rural farming areas to find help. Plus, on a different point, some affluent Chinese families are leaving their homeland because of the terrible pollution and unregulated toxins that are a health menace to themselves and their children.

    Regarding the patriotism criticism, my issue is not about eliminating corporate greediness, corruption and making them ethical – there is nothing that can stop that – my issue is to increase awareness, increase American manufacturing and American jobs and to make us less dependent on imports. And I believe you should spend your money on the brick and mortar stores that continue to carry American made products, I believe that in the end, on-line shopping will shrink American jobs, decrease the number of small businesses, decrease business real estate values and,ultimately, decrease your choice to personally examine a product before purchasing it.

    Your criticism on Toxins and Personal Health is spot on. I realize that I have criticized the U.S. for falling down on the job (mostly due to politics) as compared to the European Union. But, I do not feel in any way that the third world countries have anything remotely as sophisticated as the U.S. in monitoring chemicals and toxins. The U.S. studies many chemicals and some have reams of studies on them. The quality of studies are for the most part, beyond reproach. So, I do think that the U.S. monitors toxins much better than say the Dominican Republic. That is the reason why the U.S. periodically tests products coming from other countries, because we know they do not do a good job as we do. But we test only i/1000th of what comes in. So, should we feel safe knowing all this.

    Thanks so much for the well thought out feedback. Sincerely, Jack A.


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