April 29, 2010

Made in the USA

I ventured into one of Fond du Lac's many dollar stores yesterday for the first time.  I normally don't frequent these types of places; it's not because I'm a snob, but I find that if I shop at stores like this I wind up buying stuff I don't really need.  I'm sure my logic is, "Well, it IS only a dollar!  Why not?".  That adds up, though, doesn't it.  If you think about it, that's probably the logic behind all discount stores - it's why I avoid Target (one of my FAVORITE stores!) like the plague.  And it's the reason why I started writing this blog entry.

While I was in the dollar store, I noticed that many of the items for sale now have the place of manufacture right on the packaging.  And, not surprisingly, most of the items were manufactured in such-and such Province, China.  This is nothing new, but somehow I was a little startled by the blatant statement where everyone can see it.

Let's flash back to a couple years ago, when I first started hoarding old Life magazines.  If you read this blog regularly, you already know that my main reason for buying the magazines is to use them in my collages.  But along the way, I've grown to appreciate the magazines in and of themselves.  And in reading these magazines, one of the things that really stuck out for me is the difference between products of yesteryear and products today.  If you look at almost any advertisement from, say, 1954, you'll notice that at the bottom, it'll say where the company is located.  And almost every company's plants were right here in the US.  Very shortly after WWII, magazines like Fortune had advertisements for companies to consider relocating to "more affordable" locales - like Oklahoma.  Or Kansas.  What sort of reaction do you think these people would've had to the suggestion of moving their operations to China or India?

Think back to your childhood.  I grew up in the 70s - I was born in 1968.  As a little girl, I LOVED my Barbies!  We had all of the accoutrements, too - the camper, the plane, the clothes, the little shoes, the whole nine yards. The 70s were probably Mattel's heyday.  They had already moved some of their operations overseas by then, but still had a major presence in El Secundo, CA, their headquarters.  Another toy giant, Fisher-Price, which began in East Aurora, NY in 1930, was VERY popular in our household! We had the Play Family house, the Sesame Street neighborhood, the plane, the A-Frame, the Bus - oh, I loved those toys!  They are now owned by Mattel and most of the F-P toys are now made overseas as well. 

Now, this is not a commentary on the quality of these toys.  But if you ever wonder why the Wal-Marts of the world can sell these toys at prices that seem a little too low, it's not just "volume"; the main reason we have more "toys" than ever is because someone in China is making those items for a buck a day.  If we still had all of the plants operating here in the US, that $25 toy would probably cost $55 (which, if you think about it, would be about right, factoring in inflation and economy).

On the surface, this seems like a not-too-shabby deal for us, doesn't it?  I mean, who DOESN'T want to save money, especially right now?  But, as we know all too well, it doesn't matter how much that toy costs, because Mr. Jones lost his job a year and a half ago due to the plant relocating overseas.

The cycle is maddening, isn't it?  We want our manufacturing jobs to stay here, but now that people are used to the ridiculously low prices at stores like Target and Wal-Mart they would never stand for paying double for those things, even if it meant that unemployment would be back down to a reasonable level, with better-paying jobs at plants and factories.

I don't pretend to be an economics major, nor do I have a solution for this dilemma.  It just seems to me that if we made more items here in the US, we would all win.  Sure, products might cost more, but wouldn't it be worth it to know that most people could afford to pay the higher prices because most people would be employed, which would have benefits that stretch far beyond just a steady paycheck?  (If you don't know what I mean, ask someone who hasn't worked in over a year.  They'll have plenty of reasons for you).

One last thing - on my trip to the dollar store, I picked up a couple of Twix candy bars - they were a new flavor, "Java", and they looked yummy.  As we were eating the Twix last night, I looked at the wrapper - and noticed that the Mars candy bars were made not in New Jersey, their headquarters, but Russia.  Yes, my Twix made the 14 hour journey from our former "sworn enemy".

Such is the 21st century, I guess.


  1. I really do think someone from China figured out the long term formula for ruining the US about 70 years ago and has been laughing all the way to the proverbial bank since. Either that, or aliens abducted Sam Wall and set this whole evil plan in motion. Either way, dependence on anything foreign is never good for the 'hood.

  2. Not to mention that food coming from China (among other countries) is not inspected or regulated like it is here. We get fed enough domestic chemicals as it is - who needs food packed with lead and sewage to boot? Going to the store is getting scarier and scarier!

  3. Mel, your posts are so thought-provoking and well written I never know where to start responding!

    When I think about the US/China trade situation, I think back to a Tonight Show episode I saw in 1980, when I was still in high school. Johnny Carson was interviewing Bob Hope, who had just returned from a visit to China. He was invited to travel there by President Carter as part of an initiative to begin our first post-Mao trade with China. It started out as a very small scale thing, and I remember thinking, as I’m sure others did, that it would involve products like gift items, etc. (very stereotypical I know) and that this was a very altruistic thing to do.

    Who would have thought that then that Chinese-produced goods would become the lifeblood of our consumer economy? It’s like a drug – for both politicians and the consuming public. There are no easy answers for this one, I agree.

    Life today is both so much better and so much worse than it was when we were kids!

  4. WOW! Thanks everyone! I must say it makes me happy that I'm not the only one who thinks about this kind of thing!

    You're all right - our consumerism is driving this madness, and we have the power to curb it. It's interesting to me that shows like "Hoarders" are on the air - it certainly shows in no uncertain terms what can happen when you have too much stuff. What would happen if we started buying fewer, better quality items, and then fixed or mended them as needed, like people used to do? There is a book out called, "Not Buying It: My Year without Shopping" by Judith Levine. She tries to go a year without buying anything but the necessities. She breaks down a couple of times, of course, but what a compelling idea! I've certainly spent less since I quit my 9-5 job but I still loves me my good coffee. :D