Buy American, save America


University of Kentucky student Shannon Frazer, pictured in the Kernel office on 10/14/09. Photo by Ed Matthews

Column by Shannon Frazer. E-mail [email protected].

Let’s get some things straight: Supporting a global economy, encouraging fair and free trade and outsourcing to provide employment opportunities to people abroad can all be good things. But there is a point when we as Americans have to realize the impact the government, corporations and even our own buying behaviors have on our domestic economy.

It’s no secret that American employment has had some setbacks as of late. ABC’s Christiane Amanpour said in a March 6 “This Week” segment that for the first time in about two years, the American unemployment rate has dropped below nine percent, with 192,000 jobs created in February.

Amanpour was wrapping up what the first week of the ABC series, “Made in America,” revealed: If Americans bought more products made in America, it would make a difference. And giving up products made with cheap overseas labor may eventually become too expensive.

According to Diane Sawyer of ABC’s “World News,” spending just $3.33 on American-made goods could create 10,000 new jobs.

ABC news anchor David Muir headed up a crew to replace all foreign-made products in one family’s home with American-made products (which included a considerable amount of furniture, appliances and other home essentials), and surprisingly it was less expensive to do so. On top of that, the quality was evaluated as just as durable.

And it may be impossible to buy solely from America. In one episode, finding an American-made coffee maker was an hour-long affair … which, once shipped, producers found was sold in New England, but was actually made in China. This begs the question: Are items partially made in America better than not being made in this country at all?

In his State of the Union address, President Obama recognized the discrepancies Americans have between our importing of products and our exporting of resources.

“We need to out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world,” Obama said.

Because of limited American markets in appliances, furniture and electronics, the products in these categories that really do originate in America tend to be very high-end and expensive.

The key to it is to look at the long-term investment. Buying foreign-made products can be cheaper up front, but how do these products compare in quality to their American counterparts? What sort of working conditions did the creators and assemblers of the product endure and how much compensation did they receive? By buying foreign products, these inequalities may perpetuate and continue to cost and burden the American economy in the process.

How much more convincing do you need to buy American-made products?

Or do we need to look back to the Buy American Act, enacted under President Franklin Roosevelt? I think exemptions from as early as 1933, when the Act was passed, have trickled into American consumers’ psyche today.

The Act said Americans didn’t have to purchase a domestic product if it was identical to, but more expensive than a foreign product by a particular percentage; if it was in the public interest to choose the non-American product; or if it wasn’t made in the U.S. in sufficient quantity or at the necessary level of quality.

Similarly, Americans justify their purchasing of foreign-made products today because they are noticeably cheaper, some items aren’t made in bulk in the U.S. and still others are “less expensive” to import from overseas or, simply, because that coffee maker from China is the only option available.

Americans need to condition themselves to question this more often. Buying from foreign markets should not necessarily be frowned upon; rather, there needs to be more transparency in how and where products are assembled.

Corporations need to look first to the American workforce before considering outsourcing. And consumers need to take a more educated view on what they are buying.

We are consumers, and we are Americans. As such, we need to embrace both of these roles in our future buying endeavors. Buy American and save America.