Paul Adair is a 21-year Germantown resident, retired scientist, writer, and lecturer.
I have a Facebook friend, "Manny", whose politics are very extreme. Manny idolizes the racist cowboy who stole a million dollars from US taxpayers. He has a pathological obsession with Benghazi. And he actually believes the silly "Obama-phone" myth to be true. I enjoy reading Manny's FB posts, just to see what the crazies are talking about.
You can imagine my recent shock when, for once, Manny posted something that I agree with. He posted something that actually made sense. He posted an article that promotes buying American products. Economic patriotism is evidently a cause dear to the hearts of both a conservative like Manny and a progressive like me.
There are many reasons for buying American. Certainly, a strong manufacturing sector is critical for our country's military strength. During World War II, many factories that made peacetime products quickly retooled to make goods for the war effort. Loss of our manufacturing base would make us much less resilient in any future protracted war. Also, it is difficult to follow an independent foreign policy if some of your suppliers of critical goods are not exactly US allies.
Buying American makes us a more prosperous country. Our February trade deficit was $42.3 billion, up from $39.3 billion in January. For all of 2013, our trade deficit was a dismal $471.5 billion. That is almost half a trillion dollars a year that is sent abroad, making our people, communities, and nation that much poorer.
Buying American bolsters the middle class. Manufacturing jobs tend to be higher paying than service jobs, helping to provide family-raising incomes. And it is not just manufacturing job that are at stake. As US companies off-shored their manufacturing, well-paying support positions such as sales, design, management, and research have disappeared, too. During the 2000's, the US lost a staggering 5.8 million manufacturing jobs (34% loss). Since 2010, we have regained only six hundred thousand.
Buying American helps promote worldwide worker safety. An estimated two million people die each year worldwide from work related accidents and illnesses. Last April's building collapse in Bangladesh, which killed 1,129 workers, was only the most acute tragedy. Purchasing from the US or other advanced countries that have strong worker protection laws deters the worst safety abuses. Buying domestic products also ensures that no child labor was used in their manufacture.
In a more selfish vein, buying American could save your life. In 2007, at least 600 US dogs died and thousands were sickened after eating chicken jerky treats from China. That same year, 24 kinds of toys from China were recalled because they were found to contain lead-based paints. In 2008, six babies died in China and 54,000 were hospitalized after consuming milk and infant formula containing melamine. Sure, we have product recalls in the US, but we have much better inspection laws and we seem to catch product problems quickly.
And finally, buying American is better for the environment. Every mile that a product is transported adds to the atmospheric build-up of carbon dioxide. Cargo ships, which transport about 90% of the world's goods are especially polluting. In many lesser-developed countries, industrial pollution standards are lax or non-existent. In so many ways, buying domestic products helps to lessen the environmental burden you put on the world.
OK, you are convinced to buy American. You are in good company. A Consumer Reports poll found that, given two identical items, 78% of Americans would rather buy a domestic product than a foreign one (22% must be unpatriotic jerks). What can you do to buy more American products?
Well, you should always check the label on what you are buying. Most items have some indication of their country of origin. You can also do your homework ahead of time. There are two websites that list US-made items. Made in USA ! and Americans Working.com have searchable lists of domestic products.
Of course, there are many things that simply cannot be purchased from US growers or manufacturers. The US consumer electronics manufacturing base is pretty much non-existent. Try finding a US-made TV, laptop, or printer. And you can't buy US-grown bananas. Even in these cases, it would be better to buy from nations with good worker protection, adequate wages, and strong environmental laws.
I would like to encourage everyone to become an economic patriot. Whenever possible, whenever feasible, we should purchase American products. However, buying domestically alone will not solve our trade deficits. We consumers can only do so much though our conscientious purchasing choices. Improving our trade imbalance will also require strong, bipartisan effort from our politicians.
We need to have the political will to make needed investments in research, trade schools, and technology hubs. We should change tax law to no longer reward US companies that outsource jobs. And we must not enter into any trade agreements (like the Trans-Pacific Partnership) that will only make our trade imbalance worse.