All right, this week I'm taking one out of the "Be careful what you wish for" bin. By a show of hands, how many of you have ever had the strings that stretch from your heart to the on/off switch of your brain tugged by the "Made in America" theme? I admit it: it's one of the the things I think a lot about during the rare moments when I have nothing else to think about.
When I was in college studying economics, I learned in an introductory course that we shouldn't buy things just because they are made in our country and only to keep Americans employed. If we were to be true capitalists, we needed to shop and purchase the best product at the best price no matter where it was manufactured. This would increase competition and force everybody to make better products at better prices, and the entire world would end up better off because of it.
At the time, I also liked the Chinese better than many Texans who came to our resort and acted like idiots, as people who strike oil in their backyards oftentimes do, and because I'd never even seen an actual Chinese person swipe a parking spot from a local at City Market, and I'd be lying to you if I said this didn't affect my thinking on the matter. All things considered, I went along with the free-market economy theory and saw no reason why I shouldn't buy my calculator from China if it was half the cost of the Texas instrument.
And, I still believe this in spite of popular country music lyrics to the contrary and the fact that so many of my "neighbors" at the General Motors manufacturing plant in Detroit are out of work, while the Japanese are selling a lot of Hondas to clueless Los Angelinos who most likely are enjoying sushi five nights a week.
It makes me feel like a cold-blooded bastard when I think about it right before I go to sleep, but I rarely remember in the morning those moments just before I nod off, so this is only how I imagine that I feel then. Besides, I can cop out easily by convincing myself that it's true that people are people no matter where they live whether it be Omaha or Okinawa and thus every person in the world has a right to make a living and feed their family so what the hell difference does it make if the zipper in my trousers was made in Indonesia?
At any rate, getting back to the point - which is not that this column was written in America on a California-made electronic tablet - believe it or not, we are in the beginning of a resurgence in manufacturing in this country and are now making more stuff with the "Made in the U.S.A." label on it than we have in decades. Hooray! Except for the reason that we have become more competitive.
Some have called it The Great Recession. Whatever, the important thing is that it has reduced manufacturing costs here in the States, and manufacturers are combining wage cuts with lower fuel and shipping costs to make making stuff here feasible again.
The thing to understand is that wages have dropped because out-of-work U.S. citizens under extreme economic hardship figured out quickly that it is better to be working for next to nothing than for nothing at all. "Made in America" is working now because Americans weren't. We didn't suddenly get patriotic; we got poor. In short, life here began to get almost as rough as it is there. And, voila, now we are competitive on the assembly lines once again!
Stinks, doesn't it? It turns out we can't have high wages and good benefits and expect to compete in manufacturing with people in places who have dirt floors instead of granite and are happy with outdoor plumbing. Another way to say "Made in America" is "Now Living Here Like They do in China."
So maybe it was better when we were making things that don't even come with labels to begin with, such as engineering plans, patents, intellectual properties, medicines and technological breakthroughs. Nobody here should complain about sending jobs to where they can help others that are yet striving for the quality of life we had in the 1910s rather than keeping them here to bring our standard of living down. Be careful what you wish for, indeed.