Tuesday, July 24, 2007

An initial inquiry to Arcadia Press has resulted in some interest in a postcard book featuring Springield. I'm working on the proposal and rounding out my collection.

In the meantime, I published this rant this week. I received a reaction from a reader who stated that tariffs and other protectionary trade policies would only result in a greater trade imbalance. He advised folks who could afford to buy American to do so, allowing "the poor people to shop at Wal-Mart."

The trouble isn't the fact that Wal-Mart has policies that have weakened American manufacturing, the problem is that it's the only game in town for many Americans. It's great to have free will but your free will as consumers is controlled by your paycheck and the availability of products. Control the distribution and you control a shopper's free will.

And perhaps there is a rich person store where one can buy top-of-the-line tube socks, dish racks and other mundane necesssities of life that the poor folks like me couldn't afford. We have to settle for the stuff made in China at the Wal-Mart.

And in Springfield, a city of 152,000, we have a sputtering K-Mart and a dirty nasty (literally) Wal-Mart. Take your choice! Thank the consumer gods there is a Target and a Costco nearby.

You know we like to fool ourselves. We go through life thinking that walking around the office is going to take care of that extra donut we had that morning or it doesn't really matter if that empty water bottle makes its way into the trash instead of the recycling box.

All of us do it.

Recently I needed a pair of jeans. I went to the Wal-Mart because they have fat guy sizes and selected a pair that cost me under $20.

They fit fine. The price was right, but I did something that I shouldn't have: I supported the gross trade imbalance in order to get something quick.

At this time when we're at war, some people would think how we buy a pair of jeans is a pretty trivial matter. It is, of course, unless you're a person who has worked in manufacturing and have seen the steady decline of that sector of our economy for years.

The all-American blue jeans a fashion icon representing this nation around the world is scarcely American any more. The company that invented the denim jeans, Levi Strauss, moved its last American manufacturing facility to Mexico in 2003.

Here in Western Massachusetts we ought to be pretty sensitive about such things. Since the end of World War II, our manufacturing has seen a steady erosion.

In the chase for increased profits, we seen businesses relocate first to the South to avoid union labor, then across the border and finally to places such as China.

Add the country-destroying legislation of NAFTA and the ballooning trade imbalance with nations such as China and we have a huge problem on our hands that few politicians want to talk about.

I'm all for making money, but the short-term effort to boost the bottom line has meant a decrease in the number of people who can afford anything but the cheapest of goods. The more cheap foreign stuff one buys, the less of a chance that American manufacturing can come back. It's a vicious circle.

Without having decent paying manufacturing jobs, there are less opportunities for people to have a vehicle to reach middle class status.

I've not decided whom I want to support for president, but I can tell you I'd be interested in the first candidate who speaks of repealing NAFTA and reinstituting tariffs that protect our manufacturers.

I doubt that any of them will want to tackle such an un-sexy topic of re-building the manufacturing base, though.

So the next time I need jeans, I'm getting a pair from Gusset (www.gussetclothing.com), one of the few American-made brands of jeans left. They cost about double than what I've been paying, but at least I know my money is staying here paying some fellow American a wage hopefully something close to a living wage.


Speaking of fashion, I've been wearing my summer Panama hat (made in the U.S.A, by the way, and bought locally at The Brim and Crown in Springfield) and from some of the reactions I've received one would think I had dyed my hair purple and spiked it.

Wearing something other than a baseball cap is considered radical these days.

It's just a hat and a venerable style at that.

I must admit I'm compelled to wear hats. It's my DNA. My dad wore a wide variety of hats and the hat-wearing habit was imprinted at an early age.

I'm not going to apologize.

Now I must admit I've been tempted to cram a press pass under the band and whenever I wear it I feel the spirit of Karl Kolchak (you young people can look him up on the Internet) bubbling through.

Thankfully, I don't have to chase any vampires.

Just a warning, I'm going back to the Brim and Crown for a snap brim fedora for the fall.

© 2007 by Gordon Michael Dobbs


Mark Martin said...

Good luck on the book. And save me a copy!

As a journalist and activist you may inspire a few other people to boycott Wal-Mart. But you'd probably be more effective writing to your so-called reps in Washington about trade policies.

As you say, that's un-sexy, and printing your letter to them may be duller than the Wal-Mart story. Decisions, decisions...

Serious question, not a "challenge" - I'm genuinely curious. Are you pledging to buy American exclusively in all your purchases? (within reason - I realize there may be some necessities that are simply no longer made in America).

Good thought-provoker, Mikey!

Mike Dobbs said...

I already do what I can to buy from non-chain local businesses (or American-owned regional chains) and try to buy products made in this country on the budget I have.

Let's face it: the majority of clothing and shoes are made elsewhere and many other categories of merchandise are dominated by imports.

We bought an imported car because of one issue alone: price. Up until the Hyundai we had bought American cars (Ford specifically), but I couldn't afford it this time.

In my opinion, the bottom line to the education and crime issues confronting this country have far less to do with social programs and far more to do with the opportunity to find work that allows a person to rise in economic standing.

We need the kind of manfacturing jobs that led to the creation of the middle class and these are a vanishing breed.

Service jobs are creating a new social class of the working poor who are not upperly mobile. They're stuck and being stuck creates problems.

Wal-Mart is more of a sympton, not a cause, of the problem. The more you lower the standard of living, the more their cheap goods mean to a growing class of people. Everything a manufacturer goes out of business because of foreign competition or goes overseas you lower the standard of living in this country.

SRBissette said...

Now that the Supreme Court, swayed by Bush's pair of appointees, has made price collusion possible (after a century of standing law outlawing that practice), it really doesn't matter. The race to the bottom is over; price-fixing is the new norm, and we'll see that creep into our lives steadily.

As for buying US goods, it's impossible in the 21st Century. Labeling of products is deceptive and minimal; almost every DVD you by in US venues is actually manufactured in Mexico, and any affordable printing is Canadian or Asian these days, so give up that comics habit, folks.

The current situation is the result of 35+ years of Republican and Democratic collusion with multinational corporate law, really, arriving at the 21st Century slave labor states, wherein foreign workers are so grossly underpaid and work under such grueling conditions that US manufacturers will never be able to compete, unless child labor and slavery are reinstituted. Really.

With Clinton's sorry NAFTA decision sandwiched between Reagan's erosion of anti-monopoly laws and Bush's pro-corporate policies across the board, US manufacturing is history -- even Hershey's is moving from its venerable Pennsylvanian base to Mexico. Good luck buying US only!

In terms of cars, though, I gave up on US goods after I turned 24. It's Toyota for me, baby -- though ironically, most of those are manufactured stateside and/or in Mexico. So much for turning Japanese.

Mark T. Alamed said...

A postcard book of Springfield...cool.