It may not be pretty, but it’s always interesting to live where I do. Southeastern Michigan in general, and the Detroit area specifically, is an area where the constant hue and cry is “Buy American.” This is because every other person and his uncle has a tie to the auto industry. The “other” major employer in this state is the government, most of whom are members of one union or another.Union members appear to be smug. They look down their collective noses at you if you’re an employer who doesn’t maintain a union shop. We don’t have a union here at our business, but we’re small; most of our people work part-time and have union memberships at their “real” jobs.Before you think, “That’s right; she’s the man who wants to keep her workers down,” I have to confess: in another incarnation I’ve been a card-carrying union member myself. In hindsight, I don’t see much of a need for belonging to unions. They may have had their place in history, but I firmly believe society has outgrown them.
In the first instance, we were fairly well paid and well taken care of. I believe we would have been even without a union. In the other case, my membership didn’t help me at all when my boss began to harass me. My union sold my soul and my lost grievance to management so they could win another grievance for someone else. (Schmucks.)Every so often in Motown, the Detroit News will give James Hoffa, Jr. editorial space. Just like his dad, in his editorials, Hoffa Junior touts the benefits of belonging to the union. He also uses this prime space to urge anyone with reading eyeballs to buy American. His best editorial treatises come right around the time of major holidays when consumers are spend happy. He admonishes one and all to keep America working by making consumer choices based on the union label.I have no argument with the man when it comes to his beliefs. If he thinks buying a Big Three car or anything else “Made in the USA” will keep the country from economic collapse, he’s entitled to his opinion. However, I believe his utopian ideal of buying American is just that – a utopian ideal.As a consumer who lives in the United States, I believe I have the freedom to buy from anyone I want, and I normally do. I like to think of myself as an informed shopper. For example, I drive a Prius. I didn’t choose this car just to be the thorn in the side of some cranky union member. (You know the type. They’re the ones who will key your car just because it’s Japanese.) No, I actually researched the different types of hybrid technology. I gave the Big Three a chance and still came back to Toyota. (At the time, GM’s hybrid made no sense and was only available in a pick up truck. Ford was using Toyota’s first generation technology for their hybrid.)Recently, I purchased an electric lawnmower. I didn’t want to buy gasoline and feather the nest of some terrorist-supporting royal family in a far away oil producing country. I also wanted to be environmentally conscious. Other minor perks to the mower was that it’s far quieter than my vacuum cleaner and easy to clean up. On the bonus side, my mower is made in Vermont.At the grocery store, I make every attempt to buy locally, but it isn’t easy. Most of the good stuff is imported from somewhere else. I can tell you from personal experience that Michigan wine isn’t going to hold its own against a similar one from Napa Valley, Australia, France, Italy or Spain. I’m not going to drink it, much less buy it, just because it’s made here. Much of our produce, especially during the winter months, comes from Chile or Canada. Should I give up fresh fruits and vegetables just because it wasn’t grown in this country or this state?In this global economy, even the Big Three would be hard pressed to manufacture a car using strictly American-made parts from start to finish because so many of the products we use on a day-to-day basis aren’t produced here. If you don’t believe me, just take a look at this short list I compiled during a slow day at the office. These are just some of the items we use for our business. Office supplies of this type are probably used by automakers in some form or another.Copiers: My copy machine (a behemoth Lanier) was made in Japan. The box of toner cartridges for this machine says it is “assembled in the US using imported products.” The staple cartridges this machine uses are also made in Japan.Fax machine/printers: Our Hewlett-Packard printers and fax machines are made in China. The certified HP refill toner cartridges are manufactured in Japan. We all know where the technical help is located.Typewriters: Some people don’t use them anymore, but we do. Our Swintec typewriter was made in Japan. Nukote ribbons and lift-off tape are made in China.Computers: While our computers are assembled locally, the parts inside are made in other countries. The LED monitors we use (JTX) are made in China.Calculator: The Sharp calculator on my desk was made in China.Other items I inventoried include Staples brand staples (China), blank Sony CDs (Taiwan), a Rolodex business card file (China), Papermate pens (Mexico), binder clips (China), Avery labels (Mexico), Liquid Paper dryline (Germany), and Swingline electric stapler (China). Staples brand file folders are made in Mexico, but Staples brand paper clips are made in the US. However, my Westcott ruler is made in China.My little inventory doesn’t even scrape the surface. Much of the electronic chips, paints, and many other items are made in other countries. In addition, the Big Three imports workers from other countries to work here, either on a limited or continual basis. Why not employ a homegrown, born in the USA citizen?This whole buying American sentiment leads me to exploring other tangents. Do we buy American cars and trucks if they’re made in Canada or Mexico? Many Big Three manufacturers have plants in those two places. Aren't they foreign countries? Do we stay away from foreign nameplates, even if hard working Americans make the vehicle in Oregon or Tennessee?While we’re on the subject of buying American, what about those who are American who happen to have a job selling highly un-American products? Do we decide not to patronize them, even though they are citizens? Do we penalize them because their products aren’t 100% American?