A short while ago I mentioned on Twitter that I was considering an experiment for 2012 where I would try to go Made in USA for at least 50% of my consumer goods purchases. It spurred some nice conversation, including a note from Jonathan Julian wherein he inquired as to the “why” and also linked out to a counter-argument.
Twitter is far too limited a format to fully address the issue. The discussion, however, got me thinking that it’s past time to explain myself.
The top level answer is actually very simple: I live here. This is my economy and I want it to grow. When the United States does well that means increased economic opportunity for me and the people around me. I want America to make things because making things leads to employment and trade. Employment and trade contribute to prosperity. One need only look to the abandoned factory towns of the midwest (and elsewhere) to see the devastating effects of outsourced production.
I’m aware that the issue is complex. I’m aware that we have a need for a service sector in our economy and that the service sector includes employers who work in industries like importing and logistics. I’m furthermore aware that the global economy is reality and that blind provincialism is no solution. “Buy American” is not a panacea and I’d never suggest that it is. Anyone who does is shortsighted.
Luckily, there’s no need to think of it as an either/or issue. Suggesting that it’s a good idea to buy US-made goods when you can is not the same thing as suggesting that we should reject the global economy. For me, it’s simply a matter of supporting small-scale and/or domestic production whenever and wherever we can because doing so helps strengthen our grassroots.
Companies that today employ one or two or ten people are the companies that, with support, could in a few years employ twenty or thirty people. Down the road they might employ a hundred or a thousand. Indeed, I fully believe — though I’m admittedly no economist — that we need this kind of growth to fix our economy in the long term. This is precisely what I aim to support when I buy American and ask others to do the same.
Beyond this, I also like to buy American for reasons of quality. I’ve found that for the most part I’m getting more value for my dollar with US-made goods. I suspect — though I don’t have data to back it up — that this has something to do with survival of the fittest. To manufacture in America now generally means you have to charge a premium, and you simply won’t survive the marketplace for very long if you charge that premium for inferior goods.
Finally, there is the less concrete but no less significant matter of provenance.
Earlier this year I bought a bag from Duluth Pack. While not nearly as expensive as “premium” or “luxury” brands, a Duluth bag is pricey enough that I consider it an investment. When it arrived I was pleased to find that it not only met my expectations but exceeded them. The craftsmanship is outstanding and I doubt I’ll ever need the lifetime guarantee (though it is a nice touch).
I noted as much on Twitter. The folks behind the @DuluthPack account replied and said that I could check under the bag’s “Made in USA” tag and find the name of the person who sewed it. Sure enough, I looked under the tag and there was “Diane,” handwritten in ballpoint pen.
I like that. I like the idea of buying something from a factory I could tour if I found myself in the neighborhood. I like knowing that my purchase helps Diane and her coworkers keep their jobs, which in turn helps keep their communities alive.
Parse this out far enough and what I’m really advocating is a considered approach to what’s bought, why, and where the money is going. I’ve only got so much to spend and I suspect the same is true for you. So when I have a choice, I think it’s better spent a little closer to home. Your mileage may vary but one thing I know for sure is that approaching one’s buying decisions this way certainly can’t do much harm. And, in the long run, it might very well make a difference.