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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

High Hopes: This Ant is Working on That Rubber Tree Plant

I love my country. But these days I'm feeling a bit embarrassed by it. When I watch the political news I get the feeling I'm watching a bunch of brats fighting out back, causing a desire in me to blow a loud whistle or knock some schoolyard heads together. It seems to me our politicians' carping about each other's faults and throwing roadblocks in front of any idea to lift us out of our financial mess has smothered the point: to come up with a solution. In any business -- big or small -- solving a financial crisis isn't brain surgery: if your company's in trouble, cut spending and increase revenue, and do so as a team. Of course America is a very big business with layers and layers of complicated issues, and I'm just an ant on a donkey's butt in upstate New York furrowing my brow. Still, can't we all set aside our own ridiculous self-involved needs for a little while, put our heads down, and together push this rock up the hill? Simplistic nonsense I suppose. What we need must be fantastic Washington DC minds working day and night as us common folk sit around drumming our fingers and mewling about our jobs dilemma and waiting for problems to be solved by others.

I was in a local store today, and every item I picked up had a stamp on the bottom. Not one said "Made in the USA." Not one. As I write this I'm in my office. A tag on my computer speaker says "Made in China." So does a tag on my calculator. There's a coaster on my desk: "Made in Italy." The little wooden holder where my business cards rest was made in Taiwan, as was my stapler and my mouse pad. My camera...made in Japan. I have a Zenith television...made in Thailand. A decorative mirror...India. My glasses case...China. The HP scanner and another set of speakers...China. My Samsonite passport holder...China. I drifted to other parts of the house. Dog toys...China. Dog dish...China. Hammer...China. Picture frame...China. Shoes...China. Finally, desperate, I went into the bathroom and looked at a roll of toilet paper. Made in the USA. How appropriate.

American manufacturing once dominated the globe, turning the tide in World War II, allowing us to help rebuild Europe and Japan, and providing all material needs for a robust middle class. In 1965 American manufacturing was responsible for 53 percent of the economy. By 1988, that percentage was 39 percent. Just seven years ago, U.S. manufacturing accounted for 9 percent. It's estimated that fewer than 10 percent of American workers are employed in manufacturing. Our industrial giants are failing.

We Americans don't make stuff anymore.

There is something about the trend of American companies outsourcing to countries like China, Taiwan, Thailand, Korea, and others that is heartbreaking. What with globalization (the increased mobility of goods, services, labor, technology, and capital throughout the world) and outsourcing (the performance of a production activity outside the U.S. that was once done by a domestic firm or plant), the outlook for American manufacturing -- and therefore jobs creation -- is grim. For this reason, and of course for countless others, our economy is in shambles.

So what can Americans in the new millennium do about this? The problems seem so daunting it isn't surprising that many of us are immobilized. We stare at news programs where Republicans and Democrats and Tea People and so-called journalists throw darts at each other and point fingers. We watch our friends and family lose jobs and homes. We wonder if our children will be able to go to college. Food prices rise, gas prices rise, and paychecks dwindle. Is it any wonder we live vicariously through reality shows where ghastly-faced women spend money on plastic surgery and dress tiny dogs in diamond outfits? We sit numb, wondering what will become of us as our beautiful country founders.

Personally, I don't have a great invention to offer up as a solution. I don't own a big manufacturing company, I can't rally the employee troops to work harder to turn out quality and innovative American products, and I can't stop outsourcing to foreign countries because I don't outsource in the first place. I am not a politician and can't step forward with a brilliant plan for change. All I can do is stop the bleeding in my own tiny world. I may only be an ant, but this ant will no longer support foreign-made products. I have a Japanese car: it will be my last. The next television I buy will be made in the United States, as will my clothes, my shoes, my dog's dish, and my mouse pad. This will not be easy. Shopping will be longer and more difficult and, probably, more expensive. I will have to study merchandise tags to see where my purchase was manufactured, and will need to search bins and racks before finding needed items made by American hands. This will be inconvenient and I don't care. I'm going to do what I can do to fill my life with products made in my own country because, indeed, there are still a few out there. My efforts may not make a bit of difference, but at least the numbness will be gone. I'll be doing something, which is more than I can say for the bulk of our current politicians who rant and accuse and hunt for fame instead of buckling down and figuring out what to do about the problems in my country. In our country. We want -- and deserve -- our country back.

As for China...well, that's a lovely place. She will not, however, get another penny of my hard-earned cash.

When you go shopping tomorrow, take a minute and look at a tag. Think before you buy, and imagine your ten dollar bill floating across the ocean to pockets of people who will not help to rebuild America. Do this, because it's just possible that if we can get enough ants working together, we can push that rock back up to the top where it belongs. Political rhetoric is not the answer. We the people are.


12 comments:

Wanty said...

Set aside our own ridiculous self involved needs? The needs that corporate america has been fostering for tens of decades? I don't think so. We need it cheap and we need it now (or possibly yesterday, if we failed to get enough yesterday). The american way is to feel underpaid, whatever benefits and prosperity one's job brings. Doctors? Teachers? Can you think of ANYONE who feels adequately compensated? Anyone who doesn't want, (or demand) a new everything + more time off + longevity guaranteed by the application of the furthest reaching science. It's not about a nation... it's about self. Richest country in the world? Utterly dissatisfied.

Betty Crocker said...

I watched a television show a few months ago (on my not made in America television) where a family was given the challenge of refurnishing their house with products ONLY made in America. The problems they had (if I remember correctly) was that they could find just about everything they needed to furnish a two bedroom home that had been made in America (albeit at a MUCH higher price tag) except for major kitchen appliances (fridge, stove, dishwasher) and televisions. So I guess we could live in a house with all products made in America, but we couldn't watch television, store food and cook food. (Since we can't cook food, I guess the dishwasher is not that much of a necessity. I assume one could wash dishes and silver by hand). What a sad state of affairs!

Kathleen Yasas said...

Betty: The good news for me is that I have more "products" in my life than any ten people need (ref April 22 column, "Stuff"). And Wanty, your words ring sadly true. But moaning about Americans wanting a new everything cheaper and faster doesn't help anymore than politicians shouting at each other. I'll make little changes in my life and hope others (many others) will do the same.

wanty said...

We should all buy all American, and soon the day will arrive when we can ALL have plastic surgery, new cars every year, diamonds for our dogs...no more vicarious living through television! let's get on with OUR american dream! Let's GROW!! Round up the world's oil, suck the gas out of the ground, and get some factories going! We need to get what we WANT and not let things start going backward. Like Rick Perry says: "we are a country of exceptionalism". We are the best, and we have all the right ideas! Is this a problem for anyone? Other than the evil doers? Nuke 'em....I wanna live large.

Kathleen Yasas said...

Goodness, Wanty, I sense a bitter tone...

Les Greade said...

Maybe we should worry about the planet more than "rebuilding America". All the Mexican and Chinese workers just want some of what we already have. AND they are as willing to work as hard for it as we once were. I guess this makes them the enemy? Enough with the rampant nationalism.

Kathleen Yasas said...

You're so right "Les"...how dreadful to love one's country. Then again, maybe you should get on an airplane and visit another. I suspect you'd come back and kiss the airport floor when you realize as bad as America is, it's far better than many. I at least have some global perspective. I get a feeling you don't get out of the county too often, much less the country. Maybe you should start your own blog where you and your survivalist readers can gripe about the way things are and share ammo hoarding tips. You can all have a happy time and avoid rampant nationalism, which seems so troubling to you. By the way, I never said any workers are the enemy, Mexican, Chinese, or otherwise. And if you're so enanmored with the work ethic outside our borders, maybe you should by a one-way ticket and check it out.

Les said...

That's not global perspective. That's sputtering.

Kathleen Yasas said...

Whatever

Rose 10e said...

My oven is made in Wisconsin - it's a Wolf oven, bought out of frustration when my 18 month, GE "out of warranty" unit died a scorching death. I was lucky the house didn't burn down from that "made in Mexico" piece of junk. Yes, the Wolf oven was more expensive, but get this: it should last at least 10 years and I'm hoping to get 20 out of it. And I actually use my kitchen appliances regularly. The GE oven, well, it wasn't built to last unfortunately.
One of the solutions to our unemployment issue is to bring manufacturing jobs back stateside instead of shipping them overseas. Too many of our young people are being sent to college for degrees they aren't truly interested in getting, that will prepare them for jobs that don't exist. So get government and other entities out of the way, make the work environment welcoming instead of punitive, and you'll see more jobs and more things made in America.

Kathleen Yasas said...

Thanks, Rose. The fact is many of the Made Someplace Other Than USA items are junk, cheap junk. We need to realize that one well-made expensive thing is better than ten cheap and poorly-made others. I'm not quite ready to give up on Made in the USA quite yet.

Pat said...

Get government and other entities out of the way? What other entities? Unions? That would make the corporate environment welcoming, but I'm not sure about the work environment. We could dump the minimum wage law, eliminate OSHA and the EPA, and trust that corporations will treat the workforce and environment with great respect and fairness. We'd better keep the government on call, though, in case we have any backyard issues like NYRI or hydrofracking.

About Me

Newspaper columnist; blogger; author of Delta Dead; author of 101 Tip$ From My Depression-Era Parents; author of Australian Fly; editor: ...And I Breathed (author, Jason Garner, former CEO of Global Music at Live Nation), "A History of the Lawrence S. Donaldson Residence"; "The Port Washington Yacht Club: A Centennial Perspective"; "The Northeastern Society of Periodontists: The First Fifty Years"; editor: NESP Bulletin; editor: PWYC Mainsail; past editorial director: The International Journal of Fertility & Women's Medicine; past editor of: Long Island Power & Sail, Respiratory Review; Medical Travelers' Advisory; School Nurse News; Clear Images; Periodontal Clinical Investigations; Community Nurse Forum