Buy American?

Since I am a knife collector, I have seen in recent years a number of the great American knife makers close and I have been thinking a lot about it. Last year Shrade Cutlery closed down after 100 years operating in New York. Just recently Shrade's sister company Camillus closed it's door for good. These were cornerstone companies in the world of knives. They employed 2nd and 3rd generation craftsmen and set the standards for quality cutlery. And now they are gone.

Like many American manufacturing companies, they cited increased competition from overseas manufactures as part of their demise. They simply could not compete with the cheaper labor and manufacturing costs available to the foreign competitors.

I hear a lot of people blasting American companies for moving their manufacturing facilities overseas and eliminating American jobs. In some cases I am sure that American companies do it for bigger profits. But, in many cases, I think they do it not for bigger profit, but for A profit. It is simply a matter of survival.

For several years I worked with a major American manufacturer of appliances. This was a big company, one of the biggest in their field. Yet their profits kept declining to the point that they had to do something or quit. The cost of American union labor kept going up. The cost of raw materials, delivering those materials, shipping the finished product out, insurance, utilities, everything kept going up year after year but the consumer was not willing to pay more for the product.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that you can't sell a product for $100 if it cost you $105 to manufacture it. So you make it as cost efficiently as you can, take on a small profit margin and then ship it to the showroom floor where it sits next to a foreign made product that is just as good but considerably cheaper in price. How do you compete with that?

So we blame the American manufacturer for moving their manufacturing plants to Mexico or China. But who is really to blame? We, the consumers, define the marketplace. If we were willing to pay more for American made products maybe it wouldn't be such as issue as it is. That sounds like a simple patriotic solution but in reality, many of us are struggling just to make ends meet these days.

When that washing machine or refrigerator suddenly goes kaput we are faced with a rather pricey unexpected expense that we must find a way to deal with immediately. So we go to the local appliance store to do some shopping. There are few American made choice left anymore. If there were, would we pay an extra 20%, or 50% to buy an American product over a comparable foreign made product? If I had lots of money, Hell yes I would. If I could afford it I would buy only the best of everything! But I don't have lots of money.

Like many Americans, I have to save where I can to make ends meet and maybe put a couple of dollars aside for the future. So, especially in the event of an unexpected big-ticket purchase, I will find that I don't have much logical choice other than buy the lowest priced product that meets my needs. Of course I want the best quality that I can get for my money but that really isn't that much of an issue these days. The stuff coming from Mexico, China, Taiwan, or India is often as good as those made right here in the good old U.S. of A., only cheaper in price. I often find that I simply cannot afford to pay the premium price for the American made product just as the American manufacturers simply cannot afford to sell them at the same price as the foreign manufacturers.

What's the answer to the problem? I honestly don't know. I'm just trying to make the point that it's not always the evil, greedy manufacturers screwing us over. Sometimes we give them no choice. Granted, many big companies like Exxon are just a bunch of greedy bastards who will reap every nickel possible without any regard to the consumer but some companies are merely trying to survive in a cut-throat world market.

It is a vicious circle. Sure, we all want more money for our labors but that has a direct effect on the cost of the goods that we buy with that money. Maybe if American manufacturers would would act more responsibly as a whole we as consumers would be more willing to turn the tide a bit.

I just read about Ford's new CEO being paid some $28 Million even while jobs are being cut and American plants are closed. Obscenities such as this make it hard for me to justify paying more to buy American if that money is only going to go into the already overflowing pockets of the fat cats and do nothing to help the average American laborer. This scenario is far too common. The average CEO of a Standard & Poor's 500 company made $14.78 million in total compensation in 2006, somewhere around 400 times what the average worker makes under them. The fat cats get these huge salaries and perks regardless of their performance while that line workers are being forced to take pay and benefit cuts or lose their jobs.

For me, if the American companies would demonstrate some reasonable responsibility and less greed, I would be more willing to do what I can to support them. Deal?

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