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.

Showing their colors

On several occasions, since my brief dalliance with a company and website called American Certified – which, alas, is no longer in business – I have cited a group I first ran across around that timeframe called the Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM.) I have also pointed out that their perspective comes from their backing, as it is a conglomeration mainly composed of unionized steel manufacturers – so I always assumed they were more in line with the Democratic Party than the Republicans, which traditionally have been more in favor of free trade rather than protectionism.

So I had an e-mail in my back pocket that I was going to mention in a piece like this. Originally it laid out AAM’s plans for both conventions, but I received an updated version of their plans for the Democratic convention confirming that’s where the effort would be.

Here was their slate for the GOP in Cleveland:

AAM is hosting the Keep it Made in America tent, a space located just outside the Quicken Loans arena where we are chatting with convention-goers about ways to grow American manufacturing jobs. We also are speaking at a number of state delegation breakfasts, sharing with local, state and national lawmakers the issues that we think must be on their policy agendas.

AAM president Scott Paul added in a blog post last week:

(T)rade and the atrophy of middle-income factory jobs are dominating the national political discussion. Trump talks about it constantly. But he’s not alone, and this is the first time in the post-World War II era that we’ve seen both party candidates take the issue so seriously.

It’s better late than never. Before you write off Trump’s bellicose “45 percent tariff” rhetoric as low-brow protectionism – or find the change of heart on the Trans-Pacific Partnership that Hillary Clinton experienced on the trail a little too politically convenient – keep in in mind that a lot of our fellow Americans agree with this sentiment. They certainly do here in Ohio.

The logic behind free trade, though, is that nations benefit when value is maximized and it may be possible to add more value to a product in another location than it is in America. Yet the AAM argues – correctly to an extent – that nations like China take advantage of the rules by not dealing fairly through a policy of subsidizing industries and currency manipulation.

On the other hand, though, AAM will certainly be pulling out all the stops for the Democrats in Philadelphia, including what they describe as a “scene-setting Town Hall meeting”:

The Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM) is hosting a conversation about why these issues matter for our economy, our children’s future and our politics today.

Recent focus group and polling data show these topics are driving voters’ decisions on which candidate to select. Both Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump have been aggressive in defining their plans for trade and manufacturing.

Confirmed Speakers Include:

  • Gene Sperling, key economic adviser to Hillary Clinton
  • Leo Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers
  • Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA 3rd District)
  • Mark Mellman, award-winning pollster for Democratic leaders
  • Scott Paul, president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing
  • Mike Langford, president of the Utility Workers Union of America
  • Tom Conway, international vice president of the United Steelworkers

This to me represents less of an exchange of information as it would be an echo chamber.

Protectionism and punishing corporations that choose to offshore manufacturing is one possible answer, of course. But the thing I always think about when this conversation comes up is the East German Trabant automobile that was hopelessly stuck decades behind the times when Germany finally reunited in 1990. Because it had a protected market, what incentive did Trabant have for improvement?

Unfortunately, a short-sighted government-centered approach that saw manufacturers as cash cows for big government and favored the big guys over leaner, hungrier start-ups through regulation too burdensome for smaller competitors to withstand has done as much (or more) to curtail American manufacturing as our trade policies have. While I certainly don’t believe many of our larger trade agreements were tailored to suit our interests enough, for the most part it’s the complexity of the deals and how they worked out exceptions for certain industries and players that is the issue. If we simply said “we won’t tariff your stuff if you don’t tariff ours” and both sides stuck to it, eventually the market would find its own level. America should be able to use the advantages of a predictable legal system, well-educated workforce, abundant sources of energy, and outstanding transportation network, but they are negated by the policies in place that I describe above.

The generation of my grandparents won World War II by being able to produce within our borders much of the material and equipment needed to keep a two-front fighting force going. Can anyone honestly say we could do that today? I don’t wish us to be on a war footing, but I’m convinced America can be a place that makes things again. It’s a simple matter of policy over protectionism, and adopting a hands-off approach at the federal level (yes, there’s that limited government idea of mine again) would be the best course of action. I just don’t think AAM would be willing to listen to that argument.

A more colorful shopping day

This time next week bleary-eyed shoppers may already be ready to call it a day at a time when most normally arrive for work.

Playing on the theme of “black Friday,” the Patriot Voices advocacy group is seeking to make that shopping day a “red, white, and blue Friday” by encouraging shoppers to buy American. The “Made in the USA Christmas Challenge” is one that promotes both American-based manufacturing and small businesses by also promoting Small Business Saturday the following day. Patriot Voices founder and former Senator Rick Santorum noted:

This Christmas season, millions of hard-working families are struggling to make ends meet.  If we hope to lift up all Americans, we must first support those families and the jobs they hold.  This means supporting American companies and American-made products at the check-out line.  While our effort may be small in the grand scheme of the holidays, everyone must do their part to making sure we support our family, friends, and neighbors.

The folks at Patriot Voices also added:

The 2nd annual Patriot Voices “Made in the USA” Christmas Challenge will bring attention to the need to buy American-made goods and shop at local small businesses this holiday season.  Senator Santorum will encourage Patriot Voices members and Americans around the country to sign a pledge to shop locally and buy American made goods this Christmas.

Oddly enough, in doing a bit of research I found Santorum sought this pledge in 2012, which either makes this the third rendition or means they skipped 2013. Regardless, it’s a pretty good idea.

For several months I’ve placed an emphasis on manufacturing jobs, believing it’s a great way to grow the economy and also return our country to a position of prominence in the world such that we had during the Greatest Generation, a time when we produced our way to victory in a world war. This is a continuation of that effort and it’s a worthwhile one. (It also doesn’t hurt that I know a good source for finding American-made products, one which just happens to be based in Santorum’s home state.)

Realistically, it would be difficult to get everything on your Christmas list “made in America.” In particular, those loss leader electronics which will be fought over on Thanksgiving night and/or the wee hours of Friday morning when stores open are generally made overseas. Unfortunately, we don’t make Xbox or PS4 consoles here nor do we produce most tablets, iPhones, or other such gadgets. I don’t think this has to be a permanent problem, though – it just takes some sound reworking of tax and regulation policies along the lines of that which Rick has supported in the past. Those philosophies led a lot of people in the Midwest and South to vote for Santorum in 2012 – even I did after my top choice(s) dropped out of the running.

Honestly, I’m not much of a shopper. But those who power-shop are encouraged to join in this effort because the job you could create might be that of your neighbor or family member. A new opportunity for a struggling breadwinner can be the greatest gift of all.