May 20, 2008, Category: Rants

Buy American? Really?

Since I was young enough to spend my own quarter, I’ve heard the slogan, “Buy American.” If we live in the US we should support our own, right? Well, I’m not so sure.

I’m not against helping my neighbor and supporting our nation’s economy, but when you consider that, generally, we live in luxury compared to the majority of the world it seems quite selfish to want to make sure our wealth stays within our own borders. So I ask you, where are the boundaries of our social community…the edge of town, the state line, or the fences we are building around our nation?

People asking me to draw the borders tight and buy locally seem to feel that helping my own neighbors survive and prosper is the highest priority. Doesn’t that imply one group of people (those in my vicinity) are more important, more deserving, or, ultimately, more human than somebody five states away? I’m all for eliminating poverty at home, but generally it less about that and more about the marketing campaign for those wanting my business.

Buying locally can reduce the impact on the environment by reducing packaging and transportation resources, which is a solid argument. But normally the message is crafted to appeal to my need to support and belong to the people around me. Again, where are the boundaries of my social community? Is it more important to “buy American” and help my neighbor who lives in a nice middle class house than buy a product from China (for considerably less money) and help somebody who lives in complete poverty?

Recently, Bush commented that food costs are rising because the standard of living in India is rising. Workers in India are willing to do a given job at a fraction of what US workers demand. This is sending money to India and creating jobs which has created a significant increase in India’s middle class. With more money, their demand for food and household items has skyrocketed. Higher demand means higher prices, and this has rippled through the world and directly affected our costs here in the USA. China is on the cusp of breaking into a new age of prosperity and I can promise you that will cause more than just a ripple through the world economy.

The ease of worldwide communication and travel has transformed us into a global society. No nation is an island, metaphorically of course. American business has branched out, reaching out across the world to subcontract and create factories where costs are low. We forced them to do it by shopping at Wal-Mart. We push jobs and business out of the US, but I don’t think it is such a bad thing. Why? Again, because we are a global community.

The world does not have the resources to support a population living the American dream…our high standard of living. That means one thing. If ever there is to be a more equalized standard of living, we are going to have to make some sacrifices. But you don’t have to consciously cut back; it will come naturally from our desire for lots of stuff at the lowest price possible. Our quest for a good deal slowly spreads the wealth across the world as jobs are sent to China and India where poverty guarantees lower production costs. Eventually, this business will help lift them out of poverty and then as worldwide resources diminish, costs in the US will increase. As we lose jobs, wages in the US will decrease to compete globally and the world will begin to become more balanced. This is good news for poor countries but not so good for the more developed ones. Unless of course, you feel that a more equalized standard of living for every human being, not just your neighbor, is a good thing.

You don’t even have to try, our own selfish desires drive this forward. Every time we try and save money by buying a less expensive product made in Japan, we have cast our vote for fairness in the world. When we complain about the cost of Microsoft Office, we cast another vote and drive outsourcing to India. It will take time. Initially there are sweat shops and near slave labor as industry takes advantage of the situation. I’m not against trying to put a stop to this sort of exploitation, but at the same time it is nice to know that it is the beginning of change as it drives jobs and money where there are neither.

But there is more good news, I believe. The scarcity of resources will also push research and development. I believe we will develop new ways to generate power more efficiently. Solar power, cold fusion, or some undiscovered process may eventually offer us an almost free source of energy. New methods to recycle will transform our reliance on metals and minerals. We will have to make sacrifices in the near future as we break out of our gluttonous ways (example: rising gas prices), but I also believe our standard of living as a whole will continue to increase. I believe the human spirit to be innovative, caring, industrious, and succor for a good deal…all characteristics required to move us forward into a better and more fair tomorrow. Just remember, we are no longer just the USA. We are a global society.

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8 thoughts on “Buy American? Really?

  • By Grandma - Reply

    Very interesting, War. I like the view point of our global world. I don’t like knowing that the country I love has so many people who think we are “better” than the people of any other spot in the world. We are not better. We have much better circumstances and for some reason that tends to make us feel we are entitled rather than that we should maybe share what we have. I haven’t got any qualms of buying whatever is the best buy. I do feel it’s too bad that some people work so hard to provide products that we buy below what they are worth considering more than the supplies to make them. People wouldn’t work in sweat shops if they didn’t have to. I don’t think it is the U.S. alone that causes those types of situations. If they were unable to export their products maybe they wouldn’t have jobs at all? I don’t know. I haven’t studied economics … but I know what feels fair to me … and fair isn’t having so much of the most. I have such a desire to give half of what I own to people who really need it. It is a slow process and it still won’t make any difference in my comfort level. My other thing is to try not to waste what I use. When I see the waste and how we as a people take everything for granted it makes me sad and frustrated.

  • Pingback: Grandma Henke » Global Buying

  • By Ayesha Lakhani - Reply

    There is a saying that “there are only seven meals between civilization and anarchy.” The riots and social unrest around the world bear witness to this saying.

    The severity of the global food crisis is undeniable. Prices of major commodities have increased substantially over the last three years, and especially, in the last few months.

    According to the World Bank, about 100 million people might be thrown back into the ranks of the poor because of these price rises. There have been riots in a number of countries, and the Bank has identified 33 as especially vulnerable.

    How do we cope up with global food crisis??

  • By Alice - Reply

    I’m not well verse in economy either, but I do have opinions…and observations. Like you I feel we all need to start thinking globally in all areas, economic and healthcare included. My comment will address only India because it’s a country I’m familiar with and I’ve seen it grow richer since my first visit in 1980. The trouble is, no matter how rich India’s economy gets or even how much healthier it is today, they will continue to have the same problems that we’re facing in this country. The top level of society (already rich) are getting richer, the upper middle, educated, classes are getting rich, but the people at the bottom who work for pennies a day or still getting the shaft. Regardless of the “no caste” system (a pile of bunk actually, there’ll always be a class system in every country!) people will still stay within their class system if they can’t afford education. I watch in astonishment as people there become more and more like us; there are young women willing and able to work and spend a week’s wages on a Gucci purse, Vogue is thriving and they resemble us more and more. I remember shopping there and bringing home eggs stacked one on top of the others in small bags (me holding my breath so as not to break one). Now chain grocers are taking over the door-to-door farmer’s market system. Big business is taking over the food distribution more and more, just as happened here. The little people, the ones on the lowest portion of the totem pole, are always the one to suffer. Becoming a richer economy shouldn’t just be about buying more stuff. I’m with Edna. I think we should all stop and consider every time we whip out our wallets to buy something else, “do I really need this?” We’d probably decide probably not. Let’s leave resources enough that everyone will have enough of what every living being needs for a decent life. Sorry, I know this probably makes no sense because I feel too passionate about the subject to articulate clear enough to measure the depth of my feelings. I hope you get the drift.

  • By Reed - Reply

    I think the position to support our own or to support a world, would depend on which side of the fence you live on. For the person down the road from you who is trying to earn his/her way in life, the “support our own” is very important to them.

    We are all trying to find our golden egg or cash cow. We all look for the best deals we can make. It’s a natural desire and it’s OK.

    The sweat shops are a sad situation for those in them and for us as people of the world. Why do these workers continue to go to them? I suppose because they are just hoping to be able to support themselves and their family. These shops are not fair, they are not right. So, are we supporting them to some degree when we buy globally? Are we looking the other way when we buy globally? I wish I had a magic or simple answer.

    I agree with Alice. There are class divisions in all societies in all areas of the world that will not change no matter how we shop. Often I have thought; I wish I were wealthy. There have been many times in my life that I have wished I could reach out to assist an individual my path had crossed.

    Many times I have watched on TV, a plea from organizations to donate to their cause. I have felt good at times I have donated. Often after we donate, I have wondered if what we give is really going to help someone. I guess you need to do a little homework on the organization, and hope what you find is truthful. Then give with faith.

    So, is shopping globally the best thing to do? That’s a really good question Warren. Both sides of this question have valid positions. Both sides are important points of view that deserve our time to look at.

  • By Warren - Reply

    I appreciate the comments and agree with what has been said. I don’t advocate buying the cheapest stuff we can as a way to support developing countries, although I think that is what people do as a whole and that it will quite possibly drive the outcomes I have described. I do think one key to resolving the core issues (hunger, poverty, and disparity of wealth) is that we all make a greater effort to conserve resources: buy less useless crap, push against marketing that drives us to think we need certain products, recycle, and get used to the fact that in general, our American standard of living is unfairly high.

    Eventually, I think we’ll become more balanced with the world because of our desire for the best deal (as I have described above). Pending a break through discovery that replaces our need for diminishing resources by creating new methods to manufacture goods and power, life will change for us in the future. There just isn’t enough raw materials to meet the world’s demands. We are seeing it happen now.

    We do have poverty here, and certainly they are excluded from this judgment. But a huge chunk of us (myself included) are very guilty of taking more than our fair share from this earth. Just think of all the stuff we buy. Plastic knickknacks, luxury cars, big TV’s…I don’t think its right we live the way we do while there is so much suffering. But at the same time, I don’t know what to do about it. Maybe the first step is admitting it.

    …Hi, I’m Warren and I abuse the world’s resources. (Hi Warren…)

  • By Kim N - Reply

    I really enjoyed this. It gave me a new perspective on the subject.

    I have always felt that it is best to buy fresh food locally. I want to support the local farmers so that they can continue to provide food with less preservatives and pesticides and chemicals that the larger national brands have. We also can buy much fresher food by doing that. It hasn’t been sitting on a truck for several days before we buy it at the grocery store. I don’t always do this…but it is how I prefer to get produce in particular.

    I am also looking into buying our dairy products from a local dairy. They don’t use growth hormones or added chemicals. The prices are slightly higher, but they also deliver, which is well worth the extra cost.

    I can get these products a lot cheaper at Wal-Mart or watch the sales and get them at a grocery store, but if enough people do that it will force these local business out of business or will force them to start using chemicals and preservatives so they can ship their products somewhere else.

    I would love to see our country help third world countries by educating people in farming, sanitation, irrigation, and other life sustaining skills. I think this would be far more beneficial to them than building a factory to make American shoes and paying them next to nothing to work in them.

    So that is mostly just my opinion on perishable food. We buy a lot of foreign products at our house, but I am starting to be more aware of where things come from and what it takes to get them to me. Sometimes it is for good and sometimes bad. I think it is just important to be aware.

  • By Anon - Reply

    I hate to write this on a blog like this and dont support communism over a mixed economy but Karl Marx’s ideas are played over and over especially of the dynamics between the working class and elite. The only difference is that the scale will be global now.

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