Buying American is Patriotic but Difficult to Practice

It may be a more difficult choice, but taking the easy way out is part of what led us into this mess in the first place. If we stop buying from US companies then US employees lose their jobs. And people without jobs don’t buy homes.

By David Lazarus
Via the Los Angeles Times
May 27, 2011

You can’t knock Mark Bloome for his good intentions.

The Seattle philanthropist is head of a nonprofit organization called TAP America, which says it wants to strengthen the country by having consumers buy more American-made products.

And he’s no stranger to the business world. If Bloome’s name sounds familiar, that’s because he’s the son of Mark C. Bloome, who built a Los Angeles service station into one of the biggest chains of tire stores in the country.

His “buy America” campaign isn’t a bad thing per se.

Good intentions aside, though, the knock on Bloome is that buying American can be a challenge. And it’s unlikely most consumers will pay as much as five or six times more for an American-made product just to demonstrate their economic patriotism.

“Consumers are out to stretch their dollar as far as it will go,” said Lee Ohanian, a UCLA economist. “That typically means buying things from all sorts of other countries.”

Not always, of course. My colleagues in the Business section have reported on a wide variety of California businesses that make everything from helicopters to skateboards. And indeed, manufacturing remains a key part of the local economy.

But from the consumer’s perspective, it isn’t always easy to find everyday goods with a domestic pedigree, especially at affordable prices.

For proof, stop by any Wal-Mart, Costco or Target. Pick any type of merchandise — toys, furniture, electronics, whatever. Chances are, you’ll find few products manufactured in the United States.

And even if you could find a product with “Made in the USA” on the package, it’s likely that many if not most of the parts that went into making that product were manufactured elsewhere.

“When was the last time you tried to buy a pair of socks made in the United States?” Ohanian asked. “You’re just not going to find any. They’re all now from Vietnam and China.”

Be that as it may, TAP America is calling on U.S. consumers to do their share to restore the country’s economic greatness and buy American — even just a little bit.

The organization says that if each of us spend $1 a day on an American-made good, more than a million domestic manufacturing jobs will be created (a claim that Ohanian called ridiculous).

Bloome, for his part, is a true believer.

“Each American must take individual responsibility to purchase American goods to make our nation strong again, rather than simply relying on government to solve our economic problems for us,” he told me.

“For our country to remain strong — economically, militarily, socially — we have to have people working. Things are getting hollowed out.”

The “TAP” in TAP America stands for tolerance, Americanism and patriotism. Bloome founded the organization in January with a commitment of about $500,000 for the first three years.

Much of that amount will be spent trying to sign up businesses for a “certified merchant program” in which a seal of approval will be bestowed on retailers with at least 20% American-made goods in stock.

The organization also plans to partner with other groups in promoting tolerance in schools and elsewhere.

Bloome can come across as a little, well, colorful. For example, he said that one of TAP America’s goals is to encourage people to do five minutes of exercise daily to show support for U.S. troops.

But he seems sincere when he says that something must be done to unite people and turn the country around, and that promotion of U.S. manufacturing is an important way to boost our fortunes.

Still, his group’s own website highlights the challenge of trying to get consumers to buy American. It lists dozens of businesses nationwide where American-made goods can be purchased.

Most of these businesses are small companies that produce specialty products such as motorcycle saddle bags or pruning saws. They’re not where you’d go to get your kid’s back-to-school wardrobe, say, or a kitchen appliance.

Ultra-Sun Technologies, a Corona manufacturer of air purifiers, is on TAP America’s list. Robin Scott, the president of the company, told me it’s getting harder and harder to compete with cheaper products from overseas.

A few years ago, he said, Ultra-Sun had about 25 people at its plant. Now it has half that number.

“The only way we will save this country is if everyone says they won’t buy a product unless it’s made in America,” Scott said.

A residential air purifier made in the United States by Ultra-Sun sells for nearly $600. A Chinese-made air purifier is available from Costco for about $100.

Then there’s the question of the quality of jobs we’re seeking to protect. For example, another California company on TAP America’s list is Cequal Products, a West L.A. manufacturer of back- and leg-support products for the bedroom.

Daniel Hirsch, the company’s vice president, said he has about half a dozen people working at a local manufacturing facility. He declined to say how much his workers are paid.

But Hirsch acknowledged that none of the workers receives health or retirement benefits. He also said his company tries to buy its components from U.S. suppliers, but that’s not always possible.

“We source from all over, foreign and domestic,” Hirsch said.

It’s a global economy. Japanese cars are made in America. American cars are made in Mexico. Everything, it seems, is made in China. And parts for all goods can come from everywhere.

Moreover, many commonplace products are simply no longer manufactured in this country. You couldn’t buy an American-made TV even if you tried.

Bloome believes it’s just a matter of education. Once consumers realize the economic and political implications of buying foreign-made products, he said, they’ll be more open to purchasing domestic alternatives, even at significantly higher prices.

“American businessmen will supply American consumers with what they want,” Bloome said. “We just have to ask for it.”

We already have. We want the highest possible quality at the lowest possible price.

Generally speaking, that’s not made here any more.