In his recent Rethinking Prosperity lecture, renowned economist Richard Wolff noted that during the 1970s, capitalists have left high wage countries in favor of what he referred to as the “hinterland” where people are poor and wages are low. This move of production, he pointed out, was a result of the profit motive that dominates capitalism and that has had a significant impact on the American economy. For example, in 2005 The Economist reported that the percentage of Americans working in manufacturing had dropped from 25 percent in 1970 to 10 percent in 2005. As most manufacturing jobs have moved abroad, “Made in America” products have become a novelty and the majority of stores have essentially turned into import stores—though they generally don’t advertise this fact as they used to back in the days when import stores were the new kids on the block. As Patricia Marx noted in her New Yorker article entitled “Made in U.S.A.,” “it’s homegrown goods that feel special” nowadays.
Numerous articles and books, such as Sara Bongiorni’s “A Year Without ‘Made in China’,” have pointed to the fact that it is increasingly difficult to find products that are made in the United States or other industrialized nations with high wages and benefits as well as relatively strong environmental regulations since these factors minimize corporate profits. Anyone who pays attention when shopping quickly notices that finding anything that is “Made in the USA” is often a rather insurmountable challenge.
But why is it relevant and important where a product is made? First of all, locally manufactured products do not need to be transported half way around the globe thereby saving energy and reducing the amount of CO2 emissions released into the air. Furthermore, the environment also benefits from production in industrialized nations because they generally have more stringent environmental regulations, which prevent pollution. Finally, buying local products strengthens the economic and social fabric of the communities we live in, as they provide jobs and opportunities for our neighbors. Of course, the supporters of free, globalized trade never fail to point out that the free market provides for competition that leads to the availability of a broader range of cheap products, which means we can buy more products than we would otherwise be able to. But is more always better—for us as individuals and for society at large? Not necessarily. Consuming more stuff does not make us happier and the trash produced from increasing consumption leads to further environmental degradation as indicated, for example, by the great Pacific Ocean “garbage patch.”
So for this year’s holiday shopping season consider taking the buy American shopping challenge, it will make you more conscientious of the production and supply chains of the goods we consume. It is rather difficult—and in some sectors close to impossible—to find products made domestically, so here are a few resources:
- NPR Series “American Made”
- Still Made in USA – A Directory of American-made products
- CNBC’s “10 surprising brands that are made in America”
- CNN’s “Made in America – The short list”