Time to indulge our ‘Made in the U.S.A.’ consumerism

This is the sixth annual edition put out by the folks at the Alliance for American Manufacturing.

This is always a good post for Black Friday.

It’s been several years now since I scratched an itch to promote our American manufacturing by joining a (sadly ill-fated) venture called American Certified. One thing that short foray gave me, though, was a place on the mailing list of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, a union-backed promoter of (you guessed it) American manufacturing. Its president Scott Paul is perhaps among those I’ve most quoted on this site, and arguably first among non-Maryland non-politicians.

The AAM has, over the last several years, created what they call their “Made in America Gift Guide.” It actually worked well hand-in-hand with an effort by the Patriot Voices group (the people who keep two-time Presidential candidate and former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum in the news on occasion) called the Made in the U.S.A. Christmas Challenge, but that challenge has seemed to go by the wayside, leaving AAM as the sole purveyor and promoter of American-made Christmas gifts.

This is year 6 for AAM and they picked at least one item from each state – 83 overall by my count. I thought Delaware’s selected entry this year was a little bit off the wall, but then again RAPA ships its scrapple around the country during holiday time (November to February.) It may not be the gift for everyone on your list, but I’m sure there are some who now live in other regions of the country who wouldn’t mind a taste of home.

But in a neat piece of irony (and no pun intended) the selected Maryland gift comes from an Eastern Shore company called Butter Pat Industries. Their claim to fame? Hand-crafted cast iron skillets, which have drawn the attention and raves from cooking aficionados. (That’s why I’ve never heard of them, since I burn water.)

Since I quote him so often, here’s what AAM’s Scott Paul had to say:

Everything on this year’s list is new, and many of the ideas came from readers like you.

We think there’s something for everyone on your gift list. Our team made sure to include a mix of items at a variety of price points.

If everyone in the United States spent $64 of their holiday budget on American-made products, it would support 200,000 new factory jobs! But we know it can be hard to find Made in America goods in big box stores or at the local mall.

By putting together this list, we hope to shine a spotlight on some great companies who support local jobs and their communities — and make it easier for folks like you to find great American-made gifts during the busy holiday season.

Scott Paul, Alliance for American Manufacturing press release, November 26, 2019.

Of course, they also strive to not repeat gifts from year to year so Delaware’s list has varied nicely over the years: baby accessories, unglazed cookware, handcrafted gifts and furnishings, Jell-O mix (!), and – of course – Dogfish Head ales. (Too bad they didn’t give the late lamented 16 Mile brewery the same love.) The Eastern Shore has also been represented in Maryland’s selection on a couple previous occasions, including Paul Reed Smith guitars.

So if one of your Christmas goals is to shop local, this guide is a pretty good place to begin. And the job you save may be that of someone you know.

No problems at “our” Walmart

If you wonder why there’s just the average hustle and bustle at your local Maryland Walmart today, there’s a good reason – a court order given last year keeps pro-union protests off Walmart property. But the UFCW keeps trying, encouraging supporters to instead tie up the phone lines in protest.

If you live in Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Maryland, Ohio, or Texas, we ask that you remain off of Walmart property and tweak your action by calling the store manager on the phone to inform them that you/your group is there supporting #WalmartStrikers rather than delivering anything to the store.

I don’t have to go to Walmart today, but I did have to go to a different store close by Walmart so I took a look around. It’s near a corner where union picketers have stood before so in reality visibility is somewhat better for any who would protest Walmart anyway – although Wendy’s and McDonalds probably aren’t happy about it. Yet today the corner was busy with auto traffic and no protests in sight.

In other areas around the country, though, left-leaning news sites are gleefully reporting protests, including a major one in Washington, D.C.

But Walmart wasn’t taking this lying down, nor were they going to depend on media to share its side of the story. I noticed this commercial played during the football games last Sunday and yesterday.

In reality, Walmart is like any other large company – employees who perform better or do more to improve themselves by taking advantage of opportunities the company may offer tend to advance.

Moreover, the $15 per hour demand by the UFCW smacks of hypocrisy when, as Diane Furchtgott-Roth writes, union employees in other UFCW union stores make far less after years on the job. Perhaps the Black Friday protests should occur at UFCW headquarters.

But what happens if employers knuckle under and pay $15 per hour? Indeed, for many it would be a tremendous raise, but the increased labor costs for those employers would ensure those who survive the immediate wave of layoffs and automation which would naturally take place with the vast wage increase for millions of workers would watch inflation (and a higher tax burden) erode their gains to a point where the process would have to begin anew in a year or two as advocates would demand $20 an hour to keep pace.

You may recall earlier this year the CBO came out with a study that predicted a minimum wage increase to $10.10 per hour could cost at least 500,000 jobs, and perhaps as many as a million. (At the same time, a smaller increase to $9 an hour would only cost 100,000 jobs and have a slim chance of increasing employment.) While the study didn’t document a raise to $15 per hour, it’s likely job losses would be in the millions based on the data compiled.

Until the UFCW looks at increasing wages and benefits in stores they do represent, their targeting of Walmart rings hollow.

An American Black Friday

While Black Friday has spilled over into Thanksgiving Day for some retailers, the bulk of merchants still open extremely early on the Friday after Thanksgiving, promising loss leaders which normally fall into the realm of electronics. Sadly, practically all of these items are made overseas which means Americans aren’t making them or generally raking in the profits from their sale. More than anything, this change in operations over the last half-century has been blamed for the decline of the middle class.

Last year Scott Paul, who heads the Alliance for American Manufacturing, penned an op-ed for the Huffington Post where he noted:

The day after Thanksgiving, “Black Friday,” is also an American tradition, albeit a more recent one. Shoppers sometimes maim and maul each other to find bargains at big box stores and shopping malls. It’s ugly. And in a way, it represents the very worst of America.

Black Friday is also the most visible symptom of what’s really dragging down our middle class: we consume too much from overseas, and we don’t produce enough here to make up the difference. That burdens us with debt, and leaves us fewer options for jobs.

There is a solution, and it may sound quaint, but it’s never been truer than it is today: this Black Friday: Buy American.

They’ve also put out a list of American-made gift ideas from each state, a unique collection which features everything from lip balm to motor homes. (Representing Delaware is local brewery Dogfish Head – not a bad choice for someone like me although I prefer 16 Mile. Dogfish Head was selected based on nationwide distribution.)

Obviously I’m of the opinion Americans need to make more things; the same can be said of Maryland gubernatorial candidate Ron George, who has spent the most time of his cohorts touting the idea of bringing manufacturing to Maryland. Recently he pointed out the state is dead last in the country in certain key metrics.

The way I see it, there are certain things state and local government can do to accomplish this: among them are a stable and predictable regulatory regime, a corporate tax rate that’s fair and doesn’t punish achievement or investment, and the transportation infrastructure required to whisk goods to market in the most rapid fashion possible. Hopefully all these work to a point where counterproductive incentives like tax abatement or abuse of eminent domain aren’t necessary.

Unfortunately, it seems the AAM has a different idea on how to achieve the goal. Most of their federal advocacy is barely-veiled protectionism, which in the long run discourages innovation and results in fewer opportunities for the consumer. Of course I think trading partners should deal with us in a fair way, but one also has to figure out that there has to be some reason an American company can manufacture goods overseas, load them on a ship and wait a week or two for them to arrive – paying for that service – and still make more money on the products than they would in an American factory with American workers. It can’t all be labor costs.

It would be nice to be able to go to a Walmart or Best Buy and find American-made electronics rather than support a regime with missiles pointed at us. Unfortunately, we don’t seem to want to change the system to make this happen and protectionism isn’t the answer.

It’s funny because automakers from around the world set up shop in America to build their cars, so it’s obvious some industries prefer our workers. Granted, putting together a television exhibits nothing close to the complexity of building an automobile, but if the complex assembly of a car or truck can be made here profitably we should be able to make anything cheaper and better. Now that we know we have enough inexpensive energy reserves to last us for generations, let’s make our future Black Fridays more prosperous by encouraging the return of manufacturing.

Black Friday puts consumers in the red

Personally I don’t participate in the Black Friday madness, which this year continued a trend of working backwards into the Thursday of Thanksgiving. Some finished their dinner leftovers and hustled over to retailers like Target, Walmart, and Toys R Us which opened late Thursday evening to cater to those who didn’t want to get up at oh-dark-hundred to seize the best bargains. (I think KMart actually had some Thursday morning doorbusters as well.)

According to retail researchers, though, sales aren’t expected to increase as much as they did last year over the 2010 season nor will as many people participate in the Black Friday weekend shopping spree (although it may not necessarily mean those people wouldn’t have shopped Thursday night.) Still, I doubt America will anytime soon turn its back on the post-Thanksgiving shopping frenzy.

I’ve often said that the idea of having “stuff” for its own sake isn’t all that appealing to me, so perhaps I’m not the best arbiter of what would be a successful holiday season. Obviously these large retailers are pinning their hopes for sizable profit for the year on the last 33 days before Christmas, and if the promise of some off-brand big-screen TV for an unheard of price is enough to bring people in to buy the additional more regularly-priced items for which retailers use the loss leaders as a draw, then I guess P.T. Barnum is still right.

On the other hand, there is also a growing movement that tells us we need to eschew the big box stores and shop local on Saturday. Obviously they’re not going to have the gadgets and gizmos the behemoths of the business world can acquire at some low price from a Chinese distributor, but they have more unique wares that could fulfill the wishes of some of those hard-to-shop-for people on the list. There has to be a balance somewhere.

We are in a day and age where everyone is in debt, from the federal government to those whose equity in their homes is long gone thanks to the crashing real estate market. Considering that much of what is being bought this weekend will be all but functionally obsolete in the next few years, perhaps this is a good time to step back and reevaluate what Christmas is all about. If it’s about giving, maybe consider what you give and where you get it from.

Trust me, I am all about capitalism, efficiency in markets, and all that jazz. But over the years I’ve watched the commercialism of the season become more crass and those who partake in the buying frenzy act with less class. It kind of puts people out of the Christmas spirit.