In the December issue of The 21st Century, an article appeared entitled, "Where are the REAL Americans?" This article seemed to pose the question, "Why don't Americans buy American products?" a question many people probably have, and I would like to answer.
The U.S. economy is no longer an autonomous entity. Rather it is increasingly part of a globally based economy. This means that companies which formerly existed only in the United States, like General Motors, are opening plants in foreign countries, thereby utilizing the cheapest labor and resources they can. It's the only way they can stay competitive. Furthermore, foreign companies are also building plants in the United States and employing our workers.
Another pertinent problem is the fact that people in the United States are very taken with the idea that the government should not interfere with business. This is the dominant ideology even though our best competitors are successful because they have their government's backing. Their governments provide funding for research and development and for public schools, which produce competent, knowledgeable workers.
Yet, instead of learning from other countries, we cultivate hatred and resentment toward them. We fail to examine what we have done wrong. And we have done a lot wrong. General Motors ignored a report that predicted the 1973 oil crisis and continued producing big, gas-guzzling automobiles. Meanwhile, the Japanese were paying attention and took the time to invest in small, fuel-efficient cars. Another example can be found in the VCR industry. The VCR was invented by a U.S. company. However, they felt that no immediate profits could be made and so did not invest in it. Meanwhile, the Japanese were willing to make a short-term investment in order to ensure long-term profits. So in both cases, the Japanese dominate the market and we don't. Whose fault is that?
So buying a so-called "American" car does not mean that U.S. laborers made that car, since a number of American companies utilize foreign labor. It does not even mean that the majority of the profits go to the United States, since that American company often also uses various services from other countries (like the engineers who designed it). Furthermore, a growing number of American companies' stocks are held by foreign investors. Therefore, it is often true that more money would have stayed in the United States if one had purchased a "foreign" car which was manufactured in the United States. So asking why Americans don't buy American products takes a different twist once you understand the nature of our economy.
However, there are many people who are unaware of these facts. Also, although I hate to say it, the fact is that, from the consumer's perspective, American products just aren't as good as their competitors' (in most cases). Given the choice between an American product and a product which is just as good as the American version, if not better, and is also offered at a lower cost, which would you buy? I think the answer is the same for most of us, no matter how much we love our country.
So, what can we do about this and, how can we become more competitive? There are a number of suggestions but the most elementary may include investing in education so that we can produce highly skilled and knowledgeable workers who will be better able to compete and who will be in demand worldwide. The answer also may lie in more reliance on governmental help, which makes our competitors so successful. And besides, isn't our economy our lifeline? Watching out for the economy doesn't mean monitoring taxing and spending alone. It means looking out for our industries and our workers. I think it's about time. ?
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.