I hate populist slogans. They’re a cheap attempt by politicians to simplify complex issues into 2-10 words. Why? They think American’s aren’t smart enough to understand the nuance of everyday political issues, so instead they throw catch phrases at you. Schools spend little time teaching civics and economics, which creates clusters of politically illiterate people. An uneducated electorate is a prime opportunity for politicians to spit out these simple slogans and kick their feet back.The modern political discourse has been completely taken over by these catchphrases, and the catchphrase I hate the most is “Buy American”.
The movement to “Buy American” has existed for as long as I can remember, but has gotten a second wind during the coronavirus pandemic. This phrase essentially represents the idea that we should support companies that make and sell products in the United States. It’s a mandate to avoid cheap foreign goods, and instead use only goods that were made by American hands in order to support the manufacturing sector of our own country. Sounds good, right? No. While the intention is good, this sentiment represents the lack of economic education present in most American citizens. The “Buy American” slogan represents the self sustaining American Economy adored by our parents and grandparents, which no longer exists.
For the purposes of convenience, we can break the manufacturing economy down into two parts: Small goods and Major Purchases. Small goods represent the basic products you would buy on a week to week basis: tooth brushes, pens and pencils, small appliances, clothing, etc. Major purchases are the big ticket items; mostly cars and high priced electronics.
First, the small good market no longer exists in the United States. You’re going to have a hard time finding American made toothbrushes and Tshirts. If you do, the price will be so inflated that it would be irresponsible to pay for it. Making these products takes very little skill. If the creation of a product doesn’t take a lot of skill, then the labor associated with it will not be very valuable. In other words, the labor to make a shirt is not worth minimum wage, so shirt companies outsource manufacturing. If you actually wanted Hanes to make clothing in America, either minimum wage would have to disappear or you would have to be willing to pay astronomical prices for a 3 pack of tighty-whities. In actuality, those products support the American economy. The businesses that you use to buy those cheap priced goods are American businesses with American owners. Those cheap products keep their shelves stocked and their prices low.
Small goods are only part of the picture. Major purchases make up an even larger piece of the argument; however, this is just another example of how effective free markets are at managing themselves. High priced electronics are a big purchase for most Americans. Foreign made TVs, Blu Ray players, cameras, and game systems are all better products than their American made counterparts. Using your money to buy an American made Television when you can get a better foreign made product for probably cheaper is not only stupid but irresponsible. As a consumer you can spend your money how you want, but buying a less reliable product means you are going to spend more money on things you shouldn’t have to. This is basic economics. The best product at the best price point will gain most of the market share, which forces companies to compete with each other.
When American products beat their foreign competitors, those companies take the market. American made pickup trucks are better than foreign ones. That’s why you see mostly F-150s and Rams on the street. The trucks are a little more expensive, but the quality is worth the price. As a consumer, the major priority should be forcing companies to provide the best product for the best price, not where the factory is located.
I think sentiment comes from the understanding that the money we spend doesn’t really go to supporting our neighbors and communities. It kind of just goes into the ether. A more effective and more noble cause would be buying from locally owned mom and pop stores. Instead of going to Best Buy, go to the local electronics store. Instead of getting a birthday cake from Walmart, hire your neighbor to do it. Support local businesses over corporate franchises, but don’t sacrifice your financial responsibility to support a corporation solely based on the fact that they manufacture in America.
The fact is “Buy American” is just another slogan in the cluster of buzzwords and catchphrases that make up our national dialogue. When put up to actual scrutiny it makes very little sense, but the internet rage mobs are bound to pounce. The truth is that you should focus on your own personal economy. Make the decisions that are best for your personal financial situation, and you will do more to help the economy than 1,000 people propping up poorly made American junk.