Yet, at a time when many Americans are easily agitated about immigrants crossing
our borders, they seem to care little about the flood of foreign-made products.
While they decry the loss of jobs and the flight of manufacturing to cheaper
locales overseas, most consumers remain oblivious to distinctions concerning
where products are made and by whom.
"You see a whole bunch of Korean cars here in the United States," President
Obama noted last month, "and you don't see any American cars in Korea." That's
a slight oversimplification, but only slight.
According to the U.S. Commerce Department, for every U.S.-made car exported
to Korea, 30 Korean-made cars are exported to the U.S. (this does not count Korean
models assembled in the U.S.) In all, roughly half the cars Americans buy each
year are manufactured by foreign-owned companies.
No reasonable person would advocate slashing the tires of every Hyundai parked
on their block, but why isn't owning a foreign car more stigmatized? Remember
back in 2003 when some Americans had snit fits about France's reluctance to support
our military effort in Iraq? It prompted a boycott of "french fries," even
though the French have nothing to do with our fries.
Many Americans passionately object to telephone "customer service" agents
who sound suspiciously as if they're speaking from offshore - in the Philippines,
perhaps - but those same consumers drive Korean-made cars without giving it much
of a thought.
Is that consumer ambivalence or ignorance?
Part of the problem for well-intentioned Americans when it comes to buying
foreign cars - or, for that matter, foreign-made TV sets, computers and numerous
other high-ticket items - is that the information about where things are produced
is fuzzy. Some Fords, for example, are built in Mexico, using designs created
in Japan. At the same time, Hyundai is increasing its production here in the
Even many iconic American products aren't made here anymore. Barbie, perhaps
America's most famous doll, is made by Mattel in China. Levi's jeans are all
made overseas. Rawlings, the exclusive supplier of Major League baseballs, manufacturers
every single ball in Costa Rica. Laptops, cellphones, television sets, and even
light bulbs - none is made in the U.S.
In fact, it's virtually impossible to buy exclusively American these days,
although the situation is shifting slightly. The cost of foreign labor is inching
up, while shipping costs from overseas have climbed.
According to Fortune magazine, companies like Illinois-based Caterpillar,
the world's largest maker of excavators and bulldozers, is relocating some of
its excavator production from abroad to Texas. U.S. furniture maker Sauder is
moving production back home from low-wage countries.
Not surprisingly, domestic entrepreneurs are seeking to cash-in on the desire
of some Americans to buy U.S.-made products. The All American Clothing Co. in
Ohio, for example, boasts that its products are made entirely in America by Americans,
using American-made materials.
There are numerous websites, such as Made Here In America, and I Buy US Made,
dedicated to identifying American products. ABC's "World News" has
done extensive reporting on what remains of American manufacturing.
Not too long ago it would have been viewed as xenophobic for Americans to
boycott goods simply because they were made in other countries. Now, along with
other elements related to our troubled economy, that's changed.
Ponder this from Moody's Economy.com: If every American spent an extra six
cents a week on U.S.-made products, it would create nearly 10,000 new jobs a
(c) Peter Funt. This column was originally distributed by the Cagle Syndicate.