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.

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