Americans from all walks of life take pride in buying goods “Made in America.” The trust behind those words, knowing American hands created American products is difficult to capture with words. It feels good to support neighbors who craft goods or deliver services, and we know that we are getting quality products while doing so. From flags to pick-up trucks, many Americans take pride in buying American.
But in today’s globalized economy, buying “American” becomes much more difficult and confusing. Unfortunately, even the most “American” of products are often sourced and manufactured in countries far from our own, leaving many of our laborers without work.
One particularly sad anecdote comes from my Fourth of July experience. I searched up and down the Ocean City boardwalk in search of a patriotic shirt “Made in America,” yet after searching a dozen places, I gave up in disgust after only finding shirts made in countries other than my own. In shame, I realized my own “flag shirt” was not even American-made.
I should clarify that I am not opposed to our globalized economy. In fact, I fully embrace it: it creates efficiencies that will make more goods more affordable for more people. It encourages nations to specialize and allows the free flow of people, capital, and information between societies. This process is economically beneficial, and will ultimately make the human race more united. I am confident that Americans will continue to be a world leader in this economy.
With all that being said, I still don’t mind buying quality American goods that cost a little more. And I know I’m not alone.
Some people react to this desire for domestic goods–or, conversely, to the fear of international competition–by asking for tariffs, special protections for American goods, or generally adopting an isolationist or protectionist outlook. In short, Americans first look to government to “protect” the American economy. In this era of big government, Americans often forget there are other ways of solving problems besides appealing to the federal government for regulation and intervention. We are quick to fight battles in the political sphere that can (and often) should be solved outside of government.
In this case, I suggest American consumers to work together in the economy to get the products they want. Certainly this idea is nothing new. Consumers have banded together to boycott companies whose environmental practices, political stances, or general policies they disagreed with. Others have mobilized to support companies whose message or actions they agree with, from a local businesswoman to the giant Chick-Fil-A.
More importantly, as communication technology continues to evolve in previously unimaginable ways, Americans can connect with others around the country who share similar interests and desires when it comes to consumption. If Americans use these tools to form official or unofficial, permanent or temporary, consumers unions designed to show demand for certain products or actions, they can affect change in dramatic ways.
As mentioned before, groups such as the Better Business Bureau or the Consumer Federation of America already exist, as do specific interest groups who organize based on interests such as running or beer. Americans need to do more of this organizing.
This organization of consumers allows our free market economy to function more efficiently, enabling businesses to identify needs of consumers in the marketplace. It allows consumers to force change by increased access to information, threat of boycott, or identified demands. Individuals who want “Made in America” products can express that demand more efficiently and help match businesses to consumers. People opposed to (or in favor of) Confederate flags can express their interest without involving government.
Best of all, increased organization of consumers involves less government. Instead of politicians and bureaucrats interfering with free markets, consumers are able to effect change with market incentives, allowing different consumer needs to be met profitably. Instead of restricting business activity internationally, government allows consumers to work together to show businesses that there is a need to be filled in the market.
One might argue government is the ultimate “consumer advocacy” group. When it comes to issues such as workplace safety, this may be true. But for many other issues, consumer interest is far too diverse for one government action to fairly represent (for instance, the environment). Thus consumers working in groups can better show their preferences for businesses’ actions, policies, and products.
As I stated earlier, consumers organizing to identify and protect their interests is nothing original. Americans have been championing these ideas for decades. I simply encourage all Americans to use market pressures when they can, rather than immediately turning to government to regulate and restrict business. Individuals working together can further eliminate our need for government power and allow markets to direct resources properly and efficiently.