Cheap Junk

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No matter what anybody says, the decline of American manufacturing won’t be reversed by tariffs on steel and aluminum. I think there is more to this issue than just industrial metals. Possibly the largest economic problem America faces is the decades long onslaught of cheap crap. The reason we don’t have nice things in America in 2018 is that we don’t buy them. We want whatever we want for the cheapest price possible, quality be dammed.

Consider the last pair of socks you bought. They were most likely made overseas. Getting them on your feet was a difficult as it is to grasp a shadow and then you couldn’t get over the sensation that your socks were painted on. They most likely got a hole in them after being worn a few times. But who could refuse a deal like 12 pairs of socks for $12 with free shipping?

It is almost impossible to buy a pair of   jeans made in this country, and the ones that are made in the United States are made with foreign made denim. The last American denim mill, Cone Mills’s White Oak Plant in Greensboro, North Carolina shut down in December 31, 2017.  This was the last denim mill in the United States.

Most $30 jeans won’t last very long. It is ridiculous that this happens in the country that produced blue jeans for the world. Levi Strauss is rolling over in his grave. Denim jeans were invented when a woman asked Jacob W. Davis, a tailor from Nevada for a pair of durable and strong pants for her husband to chop wood. When Davis was finishing up making the denim jeans, he spied some small copper rivets that were lying on a table He used the rivets to attach the pockets.

In Michigan a small business that was building guitars according to old-fashioned methods, by hand was recently bought by a group of venture capitalists. The new owners fired most of the workers and instructed that their “handmade” guitars were to be built with computer controlled machinery. They spent several million dollars converting the factory into a tourist “experience” and connected with Rolling Stone LLC to, and I quote, “incorporate a wealth of music and pop culture into the renovation,” whatever that means. Heritage Guitar used to be a place where skilled tradesmen made beautiful objects. Now it’s going to be one more destination where tourists can watch screen exhibits, eat bad overpriced meals and buy officially licensed T-shirts.

Examples like this are all over. Appliances can now do 100 different things. They tell you what time it is, glow a luminous blue, allow you to write downloadable shopping lists into them, everything except what they are meant to do. Try to figure out how to make coffee after the LED screen goes out on an expensive coffee maker and you will be glad you own an old-fashioned percolator. Yes, it does not play music or give you the current sports scores but it makes a damn good cup of coffee. It will serve for as long as I need.

Most Americans seem to prefer to have junk. When they are given a choice between buying a few slightly expensive items and buying replaceable crap and getting free shipping, people frequently go the free shipping route. Spending a bit more money initially the only way to avoid the cheap stuff problem. I always advise people to buy the most expensive things they can. Buying cheap stuff over and over that breaks ultimately costs more than buying quality products.

It might be hard to buy jeans that will last very long, but you can get five of them today for about the same percentage of your wages that one pair would have cost in 1950. Just because cheap goods are constructed of inexpensive material by people in Southeast Asia who are paid slave wages is none of your concern.

I think the initial step to resolve this problem is to discontinue the agreements where it’s easy for companies to utilize cheap foreign labor. This doesn’t automatically mean tariffs. If legislation was written that required American corporations doing business overseas adhere to the exact same labor standards they have to if they were manufacturing things here, companies could decide that having a unionized workforce in Ohio is not really a bad thing after all.

But by increasing labor costs, prices would go up, people will buy fewer things. If you’re purchasing fewer socks that will last longer, or you’re buying a toaster that costs slightly more, you’re going to insist on quality. Companies will have to deliver.

Finally, I feel it’s absolutely necessary to boycott corporations  whose business model depends on a strategy of planned obsolescence. There is no reason that a telephone could not be manufactured to last 15 or 20 years. The corded landline in my house works fine. Our great-grandchildren will say thank you when they do not inhabit a world that looks like Pixar’s Wall-E because we felt the need to throw our “outdated” gadgets in the landfills every other year.

 

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