This started as a joke but why not? Even though the economy seems to be improving, its not growing fast enough to cut unemployment, and without more people working, earning, and paying taxes, the deficit will keep growing, and public programs, including Medicaid for the poor and Medicare for the elderly, will be subject to more cuts.
But suppose there were an effective Buy American program, one designed to increase demand for American made goods? If more people bought products made in the USA, insisted on American-made or nothing, companies producing in the US might rehire, companies that have sent jobs overseas might have no choice but bring them back. It could be done without violating any free trade agreements, without any government intervention at all. In fact, the program would only be aimed at people who could afford to pay a premium, the people who have the extra money from the high-income tax cuts that Republicans are so concerned about.
Consider that we pay extra for logos. We pay extra to have a picture of a polo player on our polo shirts, and have brand names on our underwear. Suppose there were a logo that said that a product was made in the United States, something like the blue eagle of the depression era National Recovery Administration (yes, it was called the NRA). Unlike the little note hidden away on the bottom of a toaster or the size tag of a shirt that tells where the product was made, this logo would be out in the open, so that not only was it easier to pick American products, but knew who else was supporting American jobs.
During the 2008 presidential election, Republicans got upset when then candidate Obama went out in public without his American flag pin we could all be upset if any politician, any corporate CEO, was seen without a collection of blue eagles, symbolizing support for American workers and American jobs. If the labels are on the outside, it would not only make it easier for those of us who can afford to buy American to chose those products, but it will give the rest of us a chance to see who is supporting us. It might even offer some benefit to foreign-branded products that are made in the United States compared to American-branded products that are rebadged imports.
This wouldnt be a repeat of the infamous Smoot-Hawley tariff, but it would apply a small amount of pressure on those who can best afford it to help put Americans back to work, and on companies to bring back jobs. It would help distinguish between a Ford Mustang with an automatic transmission (US) and one with a manual transmission (transmission made in China). It would be embarrassing to wear a shirt with a fluttering flag that doesnt have the made in USA symbol - possibly a blue eagle on top of the flag pole.
The details arent that difficult. The symbol would be licensed without charge to companies making products in the United States. It could be used only on new products, and would have to be an integral part of the product, not a label or decal. For clothing, it would have to be part of the weave, or at least embroidered. On cars and computers it could be molded into the plastic. It could be branded into the stock of rifles.
Counterfeiting wouldnt be much of a problem, at least not initially, since for starters, the people who can afford to pay a premium for US made products arent likely to be looking for street-corner bargains. If demand for US made products increases, more people could afford to pay a bit extra, but increased production would help lower prices.
This isnt protectionism at its most effective it would have only a limited effect, but a reopened factory would mean a reopened lunch counter, and more money in taxes to rehire police and reopen libraries. Every bit helps. Theres one more benefit to buying American it helps other nations too. Several countries have relied on exports to the United States to maintain their own economies. The sooner we get Americans back to work, the sooner we can go back to buying imported goods as well. China may rely on exporting goods to the United States, but if more Americans are employed, there will be more customers for Chinese imports .
It started as a joke, but the Republicans have blocked stimulus spending in order to assure tax cuts for people at the top of the pyramid. Would it be going to far to embarrass the recipients of the Republican largesse to do a bit of stimulus spending on their own?
Sam Uretsky is a pharmacist living on Long Island, N.Y. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
From The Progressive Populist, January 1-15, 2011
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