Why "Buy American" Is Good For America: A Demonstration in Local Economics
November 8, 2011
Oakland, Calif. – A once obvious assumption for some, but recently under attack from Fox News is the thought that buying American actually helps America.
John Stossel quotes a supposed “economist” named Henderson who urges us to “buy things where they’re cheapest. That frees up more of our resources to buy other things, and other Americans get jobs producing those things…
“The nonsense of ‘Buy American’ can be seen if you trace out the logic. ’If it’s good to Buy American,’ Henderson said, ‘why isn’t it good to have Buy Alabaman? And if it’s good to have Buy Alabaman, why isn’t it good to have Buy Montgomery, Ala.? And if it’s good to have Buy Montgomery, Ala. …’
“You get the idea. You wouldn’t get very good stuff if everything you bought came Montgomery, Ala.”
Did you get that folks? Your “stuff” wouldn’t be very “good” if all of it “came” from Birmingham, Alabama. Therefore, it’s better for America if you buy in China. Good economics, guys, let’s go on break.
End Cartoon Break: Stossel is wrong, erroneous, incorrect, and urgently stupid. This is so proudly, egregiously and flagrantly false that it needs to be addressed.
Cleaning Up After the Dog Tipped Over the Garbage: Rebutting Stossel’s Arguments
First of all, we have the almost painfully obvious job of pointing out the errors in Stossel’s argumentation. This is easier than pointing at the clogged toilet when the plumber walks up to your door and asks, “What’s the problem?”
“Buying American” doesn’t require you to buy from Birmingham, Alabama, any more than buying “foreign” requires you to buy from Shanghai, China. It doesn’t require you to buy anywhere except America. You can get a hat with parts made from Birmingham, parts from Atlanta, maybe it was sewn in Maryland, inspected in Connecticut, whatever. No one’s saying all your stuff has to come from Birmingham. This is a textbook strawman argument, where one sets up a false argument (calling it representatieve of the opponent) and then knocks it down with great self-congratulation. I also call this the blowup doll fallacy of argumentation, because at best, it’s arguing with an inanimate object, the downgrade in satisfaction derived therein being roughly proportional to the difference in satisfaction between engaging a beautiful woman, or a blow up doll, in intercourse of your choosing, verbal or otherwise.
Making a purchase in America – instead of abroad – puts money in American hands earlier and more often. Buying American increases demand for American goods and services, which drives up employment in America. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that that’s good for America.
Stossel makes a second point, that buying abroad frees up your own money to buy more, which, uh, helps America. But what about that money you save? You probably should spend that abroad too! Stossel’s logic requires it!
I fail to see how spending the money you saved by buying cheap plastic foreign crap, on more cheap plastic foreign crap, helps America. Apparently, Stossel wants us to have many cheap things rather than fewer nice things. Maybe Stossel hasn’t noticed that much of the stuff coming out of China is of cheaper quality. Corners are cut on production – they know we’re paying bottom dollar for it, why should they make it top of the line?
Disposable Lifestyle, Economics, Attitude
It’s this attitude of the disposable lifestyle, the shirt that you’ll have for 10 weeks and then it dissolves in the rainwater, so you buy another – it’s the cheapest! Everything in your life, according to this philosophy, is disposable. Damage your floor? Replace it! Did something break? Throw it away and buy another! Solve your problems with cash! Just pour your savings into the machine of consumerism and all will improve. Don’t clean your dishes, throw them away and buy more!
Gross National Mindfulness, Not GDP
When the “economy” is measured by dollars exchanged for useless plastic junk, and when the prices in that economy do not reflect the real prices (including ecological costs) then that “economy” is invalid, irrelevant, and worth ignoring. Instead, it’s better to focus on raw utility, mindfulness, value, real benefit, as in benefit enjoyed by a conscious being in our shared physical reality. Errors in accounting are all that remain of the foundation of the economic paradigm favored by Stossel, and the mainstream of an economic discipline which has boldly led us into the worst stagnation / recession pattern since the 1930s. Gross national mindfulness is a much more difficult, telling measure of a society’s success.
Defining Demand: Econ 101
Economists have this magical thing called “demand,” and demand is basically whatever it is that we want, measured by however much we’re willing to pay for it. It’s their way of taking something complicated and confusing (figuring out exactly what all people should buy) and simplifying it by putting a ruler next to it, thus turning the ephemeral cloud of “demand” into a simple dollar amount.
So when we “demand” American goods, it matters not that other, irrelevant, or unrelated things are cheaper (like peanuts, bricks, or cheap foreign knockoff versions of what we want), because we’re demanding American. When economists go paternalistic on us and start telling us how to spend our money, they stop being economists and start being coaches for consumerism. ”Buy whatever’s cheapest,” they urge. But what about when it’s cheaper to buy quality, coach?
A Little DIY = A Long Way
I have this awesome cotton zip up that I bought, it’s made in America, it cost a little extra, but it’s going to last a long time and it’s ridiculous warm. I also got some fabric from a store that’s going to be a liner for the jacket, and it’s all going to be top quality – all made in America. I know I can get that cheap Chinese stuff at Wal Mart, but I’m not a knockoff human being. I’m an original. You probably are too, regardless of nationality. There’s something to be said for the efficiency, customization, and savings on shipping when you buy from the locality around yourself, or simply do it yourself (DIY).
I enjoy taking control of my surroundings. Probably too rarely, I just make it myself, and as a result, I refuse the trough of consumerism, the IV drip of global capitalism, and literally, I “buy” American. It’s “terrible” for the “economy,” but when that economy is measured by dollars exchanged for useless crap, that specific economy starts to be irrelevant.
Case Study on Buying American: Detroit
Rather than spend the discussion in abstract idea land, as Stossel is content to do, let’s do a case study: Detroit. Houses are boarded up, the city has shrunk size, entire neighborhoods are deserted. A town outside Detroit no longer has working street lamps, because they couldn’t even pay their city’s electric bill. But up through the 1960s, the place was happening, everyone had salaries, the companies were making money and life was good. What happened?
People stopped buying American. Drive the streets in any major West Coast city, cities that have grown quickly, and you’ll see an ocean of Hondas, Toyotas, BMWs, Audis, and just about every car company from a former axis power, plus a few from Korea, and if you’re lucky, you’ll see an SUV or minivan from Detroit. There’s still a solid group of loyal American car purchasers, but it’s nowhere near as big as it could be.
The collapse of Detroit is what happens when we stop buying American. It’s true that Detroit was one of the first to implement the philosophy of the disposable commodity, and that the engines of cars made in Detroit between roughly 1981 and a few years ago are engineered to turn to sand after about 80,000 miles. But regardless – the “Disposable Life” attitude is wrong, and is the product of an error in economic accounting, but favored by Fox News and crazy thought-averse people like Stossel.
Manufacturing Independence is National Security
Stossel’s attitude is dangerous, because it increases our reliance on foreign manufacturing. Everyone knows that energy independence is an important issue, but manufacturing independence is equally important, yet relatively undiscussed. Factories don’t just build themselves overnight. The US is uniquely positioned to be able to convert to an entirely robotics-based manufacturing sector, manufacturing everything we need within our own borders using advances in technology that are within our grasp. This goes deeper than consumerism, because as technology grows increasingly fast, nations with the ability to quickly construct large standing armies are far more powerful than nations with large standing armies. We need a vastly downsized military, but the ability to build it back up tenfold on a moment’s notice. The money we save on military spending will swing the doors wide for our own society’s investment in robotic manufacturing technology. Think I’m crazy? Check this out – the technology is here. We just need an entity to step up with the resources to implement it on a large scale. Not only that, but there may be brewing a global manufacturing race, similar to the space race or nuke building frenzy – who can build robots the fastest?
The Real Focus: Local Economics
The concept of buying “American” is itself a rough sketch. Would you buy from an American expat? Are you okay with buying from immigrants to America? Are there types of Americans that you won’t buy from? If you’re French, is it still best to buy American?
The answer is to buy local. Make something yourself, and add to the market of available things that didn’t just get in off the ship from Hong Kong. Buy something you needed anyway from someone in your own city. Maybe if we’re lucky, we can get that “stuff” we need delivered by a sustainably powered vehicle. Until then, the sneaky high eco-cost of shipping should discourage us from blindly buying the “cheapest” of whatever we need.
Buy from the people around you. We are watching the failure of global capitalism, because global markets do not reflect true price – especially including the ecological price. We’re literally shipping garbage and refuse across the world’s oceans, some pre-consumer some post-consumer, and we’re burning oil to power the whole operation. Prices don’t reflect real cost, and we’re in deep, deep trouble, exactly because of the kind of attitudes of Fox News talking heads like Stossel, and pseudo-economist consumerism coaches, to argue that buying American is bad for America. They’re wrong. Buying local is simple, beneficial, and needs to be repeated over and over. Buying local is good for America, it’s good for China, and it’s good for the world.