Archive for February, 2009

When we buy food, we don’t necessarily get that concerned about whether the product we buy is made in USA or is imported.  I think we should.  Did you know that the US has become a net importer of food products?  Yes, the breadbasket of the world imports more food dollars than it exports.  Although I don’t have figures on this, my guess is that we are importing things like fruits and vegetables and gourmet items, such as cheeses, chocolates, wines, spirits, spreads, fine meats, jams, cookies and more.  

Yet all these things that we readily snap up in the supermarket are available in just as high a quality domestically.  For instance, my family shops at Trader Joe’s.  By the way, I love TJ’s because they have both staples and high-end foods that are reasonably-priced.  They don’t cater to brands and don’t resort to gimmicks to get you into the store.  Prices are reasonable and you don’t have to have your “club card” to get them.  Anyway, in TJ’s, let’s take cheese – you can buy brie – American, Canadian, or French.  You can buy wine – Californian, Australian, or European.  You can buy spreads – Italian, American, etc.  You can even buy Californian (yes, you heard it here!) olive oil.  You can buy Colombian, Ethiopian, Hawaiian or even New Mexican coffee.

If you don’t care or you never bother to check the label, you are supporting the rising food trade deficit.  When my family shops, we try to buy American whenever possible.  We buy Californian wine, Hawaiian Coffee (Molokai Dark Roast, $10/lb.), American brie (probably from Wisconsin), American chocolate, and American meats.  Not every product is always available from the USA.  Many fruits, especially in the winter, are simply not available here.  However, on an average shopping trip, about 80%+ of the things we buy are domestic, which I think is pretty good.  I’m always looking for things that we could buy domestically that I never considered before.  For instance, I always assumed that olive oil wasn’t even produced here, until I found Californian estate olive oil at TJ’s for no more than the Italian stuff.  I also recently switched from Central American coffee to Hawaiian. (though if you do buy imported coffee, buy the shade-grown organic variety!)  Also, if quality of domestics is a concern, you can’t go wrong with buying organic.

So do an experiment with your next shopping trip and just check the labels on the things you buy.  What percentage of your shopping bill is going overseas?

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My 2 year-old just had her birthday party at the beginning of this month.  We invited a lot of her play group friends, friends of ours with little kids, and neighbors with little kids.  At first, we didn’t know what would be a good party favor.  We also didn’t want to give out some tacky imported toy that would make us sound like hypocrites about buying made in USA products.

It so happened that right around that time, my wife connected with one of her old college friends, Mindy, through Facebook.  On Mindy’s profile, she saw that she had a website which specializes in hand-decorated items that Mindy makes herself.  We thought it would be a great idea to get something made a by a friend, something hand-made, and something made in USA.  This fit the bill!  We decided on door hangers, which were only $4 each!  That’s way-cheaper than you’d expect.  We couldn’t believe the price, but Mindy confirmed that not only does she decorate them herself, even the plastic door hangers themselves are made in USA!

The door hangers came in time for the party and far exceeded our expectations.  (See the photo of two of them.)  I think that this sort of exchange follows a trend that I think will intensify and proliferate.  This trend is the de-branding of commerce.  People more and more are distrusting branded products because of all the problems associated with large-scale corporate manufacturing: outsourcing, poor quality, toxic materials, lack of accountability and lack of personal interaction with the maker.  This is driving a desire to seek locally-made, hand-crafted or at least personally-crafted, unique, rather than cookie-cutter products.  Would you rather that your dining table, for instance, be made by a local designer whom you can meet, shake hands with, see the manufacturing process and the materials and get him to fix something easily if there’s a problem, or would you rather get a random table from some impersonal website, such as West Elm, that imports everything from nameless manufacturers in Malaysia or China that are chopping down the rainforest to make it??  There are so many reasons to distrust and discard the phony messages that brand-advertising has led us to swallow like gullible consumers.  These message have caused us to ignore the dehumanization of the production and the retailing of what we buy. Mindy’s little door hangers are just the first salvo in the war against branding, materialism, outsourcing and the dehumanization of commerce in this country.

Here is Mindy’s website:  Mindysmagictouch.com

please check it out!Mindy's Door Hangers

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There were provisions in the stimulus bills making their way through congress that would have required that building materials used in infrastructure projects paid by stimulus money be American-made.  This was largely relaxed, but attracted quite a bit of criticism.  The basic critique of such buy-American pushes are the same hackneyed ones that we have heard for the last 30  years.  They basically go like this: we import and we export a lot too.  If we erect barriers to importation then our trading partners will retaliate and erect barriers to our exportation to them.  This will hurt us more than it will help us.

This is a really sad argument.  The fact is that our exports have been faltering while are imports have been booming.  If  you have a trade deficit in  your trading partner’s favor, just who do you think is going to be trigger happy about retaliating?  China?  I don’t think so.  Who’s got more to lose from a trade war?  Ok, so Caterpillar might lose some contracts.  But what about those millions of containers that come over from China and sit rusting in our ports?  That’s the measure of our trade deficit.  And while American’s might have to spend a few pennies more on their extension cords and their bicycle rims, they could at least resume making their mortgage payments for a change.   Can’t a country of our size provide anything that our consumers want produced in our country?  Maybe not overnight, but certainly producers would jump at the chance to make something that there is demand for.

The critics of economic nationalism (the basis of this blog) are inherently anti-nationalist and by definition, unpatriotic.  By nationalism, I mean devotion and loyalty to one’s nation; patriotism.  I am not saying that the rest of the world is our enemy, far from it.  What I am saying is that we should not try to take care of the whole rest of the world if it causes the disintegration of ours.  An example: we shouldn’t have to absorb the over-population of Africa and Latin America just because they can’t control their own birth rate.  We should help the rest of the world but not at the detriment to ourselves.  Another example: coming to the aid of our enemies at the expense of our friends.  This is was what happened and is still happening in Kosovo and Bosnia.  Why did we bomb the Serbians who were being attacked and retaliated again Islamic fighters from Kosovo?  Why did we attack a friendly country in Russia’s back yard (Serbia)?  Those same Kosovars and Bosnians that we risked our lives for, we later had to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq.  In just vengeance for this, Russia attacked our ally, Georgia, when it acted up.  Russia at least understands nationalism.  We are merely confused.  Russia helps its friends and punishes its enemies.  What do we do?  

The critics of nationalism would have you believe that all you have to do promote peace and prosperity everywhere in the world is to spread democracy and free markets.  While this may be good for certain areas at certain times, it is not necessarily good for you and me for the last 40 years.  As markets have been liberalized around the world since the 70’s, Americans have seen their incomes and prosperity stagnate, our industries crumble, and America itself lose power and influence.  The North American Free Trade Agreement may or may not benefit Mexico and may give us some cheaper goods, but it certainly does not create jobs here.  What is the purpose of all those manufacturing plants just on the other side of the border from Texas but to raise our trade deficit?  So I say, raise tariffs and if you want to retaliate, “bring it on!”  As GW Bush (one of our greatest economic destroyers) once said. 


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