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BEACON Senior News

“Buying American” has gotten darned difficult

Jun 19, 2023 01:15PM ● By Arthur Vidro

Our political leaders of all parties frequently extol the virtue of buying American-made products. Best I can figure, it’s somehow patriotic, but it’s far from easy to do.

It used to be fairly easy. When I was born, a person buying a television usually bought a unit made in the U.S. because that’s what the stores carried. When I became an adult, the U.S. was down to one television manufacturer (Zenith).

Every town had television and radio repair shops, which restored the devices when they stopped functioning. Of course, those were the days before these devices contained anything more advanced than a transistor. Most of today’s tech is made from computers, which don’t always lend themselves to repair. Nowadays, a device that no longer works properly is discarded and replaced. Thus, repair shops have almost completely faded away.

There have been no U.S. television makers in the 21st century. This phenomenon evolved because consumers tend to opt for items that cost less money. Foreign-made units amassed more and more market share, regardless of their quality. Eventually, U.S. companies could no longer compete.

I’m not saying our leaders’ encouragement to “buy American” is good or bad. I’m saying it’s darned difficult.

We can summon up the will and the cash to pay a little extra for the privilege of buying American, but it’s nearly impossible.

The average gasoline-propelled car contains about 30,000 parts, making it impossible to buy a vehicle that is all American. 

Textiles. Woodworking tools. Thermoses. Shoes. The few American manufacturers that exist are in the minority—and they cost more. 

I’m willing to pay extra for New Balance shoes, not because they’re made in America (which they are), but because they’re kinder to my feet.

About 16 years ago, I was fed up with how quickly our light bulbs were burning out, so I set out to buy some quality bulbs. I visited a mammoth lighting store that had racks to the ceiling filled with all kinds of bulbs, from the commonplace to the ultra-specialized. But I couldn’t find what I was seeking.

A manager asked if he could help.

“Do you sell light bulbs made in the United States?” I asked. “I’d even pay extra for them.”

He seemed startled. “Don’t have any,” he replied.

“Can they be ordered?” No. 

“Do you sell light bulbs made anywhere in North America?” No.

“Do you sell light bulbs made by any country that isn’t China?” No.

Despite the upscale merchandise in the store, it stocked only the cheapest light bulbs—those made in China.

Buying the cheapest version of a product has become the American way.

Earlier this year, I found a pack of Sylvania light bulbs at a hardware store that said, “Made in the USA.” I bought the package before reading the fine print: “with U.S. and Global Parts.”

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