Wednesday, September 15, 2004

The Consumer-driven Free Market of America

I made the mistake of turning on Lou Dobbs last night on CNN. It was a commercial on Fox news, but even so, I know I have no excuse, especially since I was warned by an article in Monday's Wall Street Journal, which I'll talk about later.

But here's what I saw in those few moments:
A documentary type video showing high-school age kids sitting in a class room. A man was standing at the front of the room, smiling knowingly as the students talked about the tags on the clothing in their closets. They listed off the countries where the clothing was made and not one of them named "Made in America." Shocking, right?
Well, then there was a shot of the Capitol Building and a voice-over saying something to the effect of: Did congress realize they were exporting America's textile industry?

That statement is typical of a socialist mindset that has a fundamental misunderstanding of capitalism in America. Congress didn't allow the influx of foreign made goods into the country, and the so-called "Big Businesses" aren't going around looking to produce clothing overseas. In fact, it is average everyday American consumers like you and me that have "allowed" this to happen.

Case in point: From the time I was old enough to go shopping with my mom and pick out my own clothes I was told by my dad that funding for said clothing would only be provided if the clothing said "Made in the USA" on the tag. My dad was a big "buy American" guy and he had a point, and he made me realize it was possible. There were lots of clothing choices with Made in the USA tags, I just had to look for them. It was a good habit to get into and it helped me to become and discriminating shopper and to understand (in elementary school no less) that choices of American consumers affect worldwide textile markets.
Anyway, this practice continued all the way up into college until I got my own job and started buying clothes with my own money. Now, out of college, I still prefer to buy Made in America clothing, and all expensive purchases like business suits, dresses and tennis shoes are made in America. However, for more everyday items, I've become lazy about it and, to be honest, cheap.

And that's really what happened. Long before I figured it out, American consumers all over the country were making the cheap and easy choice of buying whatever they liked and whatever was low priced. They bought clothes at high priced stores like GAP and American Eagle, neither of which had a great amount of American clothing, or at low ends like Wal-mart. In fact, Wal-mart started off as a Buy-American store with Sam Walton in charge but abandoned the practice when it discovered that its shoppers really didn't care about that.

Meanwhile, mall stores like Sears, JC Penny and Dillards which would often have Made in the USA clothes, were forced to raise their prices and then, in many cases, switch to foreign brands.

So, there you have it. A far from expert timeline on how the majority of the textile market came to be of international origin.

Now, back to Lou Dobbs: If you haven't watched him recently then you don't know that he has a new book "Exporting America: Why Corporate Greed is Shipping American Jobs Overseas." I've seen him talk about it. I've seen him reference some website that apparently lists all the companies that are sending manufacturing over seas. In fairness, I haven't read the book, but I've seen him complain about this so-called "exporting" and the subtitle shows clearly how he feels about those companies. I've seen him imply that the President can do something about it or that Kerry has some big plan to stop what he mistakenly calls "outsourcing" (more on this confusion another day).

But I've never once seen him say "Buy American."

And really, it's about the money. That's what it's always about, and on some level, for a company that's what it should be about. Americans can't complain about business wanting to make money and then beg Washington for more jobs. Or I suppose they can, if they live in a Socialist country where no one makes any money and the government makes sure everyone gets an equal share. But that's not America. America is free trade, free enterprise.

Finally, if you don't believe that simply encouraging the consumption of American goods would have kept more textile makers in America, look at the Auto industry. I firmly believe the only thing that has kept so many auto manufacturers here in the US this long is the fact that the assembly line workers got the word out. They made a campaign of getting people to buy American cars. In some ways they may even have gone too far because there were points where people who bought foreign cars were ashamed of it. But the point is, for all their unionist, socialist mentalities, they understood how the American economy functions. The clothing guys haven't figured this out. The fact remains, it's not "corporate greed" that sent away those jobs, it's consumer greed(spending less money by buying cheaper clothes) and consumer laziness(being unwilling to look around for good buys that are made in the US). Which, in a new worldwide market isn't as bad as it sounds. America, after all, is about choices. We have them, and these are the results of making them. I, for one, don't want the government to interfere with my consumer choices because socialist consumers don't like the choices that I am making.

Even though I still do my very best to remember to "Buy American" :)