Sunday, March 6, 2011

Valuing the Hands that Build

I’ve been fascinated by the ABC news feature, “Made in America.” A Texas family emptied its home of all items not made in this country (i.e. practically everything) and refurnished it with only U.S. products. The first big challenge was to find an American-made coffee pot.

Why is it so hard to find American products in stores? One answer is that the consumer demand for inexpensive products, the obsession with short-term profits by corporations, and the predatory behavior of the financial community has devastated America’s manufacturing sector. The relentless pressure caused by outsourcing means that the median male American worker earns less today, adjusting for inflation, than he did thirty years ago.

According to ABC reporter David Muir, “Economists say if we spent 1 percent more than what we're spending now on American goods, we could create 200,000 jobs immediately."

Why am I writing about this in a blog about trustbuilding?  Because a primary cause of mistrust in America today is the collapse of the social contract of a fair day’s work for a fair day’s wage, along with any sense of shared sacrifice for our national community. And our emotional connection with other Americans is weakened when so few of the things on which we depend are made by those with whom we share a common history and culture. 

 If “buying American” caught on, would it have a negative impact on workers in Bangladesh, China, Indonesia or Honduras? Experts say the effect of a modest shift would be minimal. Buying American-made products might cost us more since our labor costs are higher, although the Texas family found that some domestic products were actually cheaper.  But new spending habits, a revived manufacturing sector, and a better-paid U.S. workforce would ultimately lead to a healthier, less debt-burdened economy which, in turn, would be good for the world as a whole.

We should not stop buying products from overseas, but we can pay more attention to what we purchase. Discovering the communities in our country where pride in craftsmanship thrives might lead to enriching conversations and connections. And by valuing what we build and the hands that build, we might just build a bit more trust.

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