Economic Patriotism

By Lloyd Graff

The day after Memorial Day weekend I pose the question, “Should we be economic patriots”?

When I wrote the car buying stories for the April and May TMW issues, I took heat from readers who felt I was derelict in not coercing my sons to buy American cars rather than Hyundai Sonatas.

It turns out that the Sonatas are made in Montgomery, Alabama, and have more than 50 percent American content. Hyundai spent $1 billion to build a factory, and the workforce is almost entirely Alabaman, but ultimately, my sons’ buying decisions were based entirely on the products and price. Economic patriotism had nothing to do with it.

I ask you my readers, do you buy a Haas vertical machining center because it is American or because it is the best machine for the money? Do you pass on bananas because they come from Honduras? Do you shun an iPhone because it was made in China at a FoxComm plant that has had 10 suicides among its workers this year. Where does your economic patriotism start or end?

Personally, I am not an economic agnostic. I have never considered buying a German Mercedes or BMW, because of the Nazi atrocities of 70 years ago. But considering most of the taxis in Israel are Mercedes I know that economic discrimination is now ridiculous.

Many of my long time screw machine customers have shops in China now. Are they economic Benedict Arnolds?

I recently talked with Joe Arvin who owns a big aircraft gear company near Chicago. He considers himself an economic patriot because he will not put up plants in China even though his clients are pushing him to do it.

Do you think our soldiers died for Ford or for allowing us the opportunity to use our economic and political freedom to buy oil from Saudi Arabia to drive our BMW to the sushi restaurant?

Question: Do you consider yourself an economic patriot?

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8 thoughts on “Economic Patriotism

  1. Larry Clayman

    I think the time to “Buy American” was 20 years ago when that cry first began. Back then, China was not as much of a factor and we were not as entrenched in a global economy as we are today. It is virtually impossible to be an economic patriot even if you wanted to be. Try to buy anything electronic made in America or any clothes for that matter. The cat is out of the bag and he is prowling the land. Time to move on.

  2. richard

    I couldn’t aggree more. To add to the car arguement, any so called North American car will have a significant portion of it manufactured off shore.
    Any one that says they are a patriot is an instant hypocrite. I hear people won’t buy machine tools that are made in China because they are stealing their buisness, however they will buy machine tools that are made in Tawain and Korea???
    It all comes down to money, how can someone make the most and buy things at the cheapest price (why is Walmart so successfull?). And at the end of the day the Chinese situation is what it is, deal with it.

  3. J Friedman

    It is a matter of perspective without sharp differentiation lines.

    From one perspective, it could be argued that China owns title to more U.S. property (real and persona) as well as holding more of our debt than China could have taken had it beaten us in a war. So, in other words, without a shot being fired, we may have lost a war we didn’t know we were in.

    From another perspective, purity is hard to find in many products today. Many electronic, manufacturing and automotive products are of mixed origins containing pieces made in different countries, yet the individual item is assembled somewhere else. Some products are made by American companies in foreign lands while some items made by foreign corporations are made wholly in the U.S.

    Look, thirty years ago it was a no brainer to make a mistake on a sheet of paper, crumple it up and toss it in the nearest wastebasket. Today, before crumpling it up we consider whether we can use the other side and we consider which wastebasket or recycling basket to put it in. We are overloaded with decisions. Trying to decide if the BMW made in Kentucky is a foreign car is beyond our ken.

    Making matters worse is the idea that buying American is not necessarily in our best interest. As China has become a first world power and India, South American countries and even a few in Africa are becoming second world countries, the target for being capitalistic that used to be solely on our backs is now clearly on the backs of other countries. We are not only less of a target these days, but it is in the interests of China and other importing nations to make sure that we continue to be able to buy. So, they have less of an interest in hurting the U.S.

    So, buying solely American is too hard to figure out and in the long run may not be the best idea. Yet, that leaves for me the self destructive activity of buying gas guzzlers and paying high prices for gas, the profit for which is being funneled to terrorist organizations that continue to target the U.S., on general principles. We are not helping ourselves and I mean we are actively hurting ourselves. Will any of you be surprised when Congress mandates that all oilrigs in operation anywhere in the U.S. are to be shut down and one of those explosion proof cut off spouts is to be installed before the rigs can be operated again? Likely not, But that is dealing with a problem after it has occurred. Our Congress has been focusing on steroid use in Baseball when it should have been focusing on bigger, more important issues (baseball is just entertainment, after all.) So, to protect ourselves it seems to me that rather than focus on what we buy, I would like to focus on getting a new crop of Congress people in place who will attend to the important issues at home. Without that, we really don’t need to even focus on the terrorists, we are hurting ourselves worse than they could hurt us.


  4. Jim Flaherty

    The Asian merchantilists don’t have any such qualms about being economic nationalists. How many US robots and machine tools do you see in a Hyundai plant? I’ll bet you can’t even find an American Cresent wrench. The Koreans placed a 300% duty on American cars while they were building up their domestic industry. Do you really think there is a Ford factory in South Korea? Just 28,000 US soldiers covering their butts. The trade wars are over – and we lost.

  5. Dirkson

    Upton Sinclair’s Law: It is difficult to make a man understand something when his paycheck depends on his not understanding it.

    It is difficult to be an economic patriot when so many paychecks now rely on imported products, but the reality is that as the U.S. removes itself from this recession, it will be a jobless one. One of the reasons is that the jobs have been sent overseas. If you want to buy a car from a Korean company, you must also know that U.S. manufacturers sold 7,000 cars in Korea in 2008, compared to the 370,000+ that Hyundai (alone) sold in the U.S. The U.S. sales were stifled by taxes, import laws and internal restrictions. The Koreans practice ecomomic patriotism.

    I remember a few years ago when sending ‘low skilled’ jobs overseas was considered OK, because the U.S. would keep the skilled and innovative jobs. Guess what, when these companies moved the jobs overseas, they were required to share the technology; and there is no innovation left when you don’t make cars, machine tools, semiconductors, electrical power equipment, aerospace materials, etc. The U.S. is becoming a third-world country, exporting raw materials and importing finished products.

    One car isn’t going to affect the economy of the U.S., but I bet that more than a few mortgage brokers told themselves the same thing as they closed just one more “no-income, no job, no asset” subprime mortgage.

  6. Daniel Richter

    Do you want the profits to go to an American Company (Apple) or do you keep an American worker employed (Hyndui). In some cases we don’t have a choice. We own a Mazak that was built in KY because we though it was the best machine for our needs, but almost all of our raw material (semi finished wheel components) is made in USA for a mixture of patriotic, economic, and marketing reasons.

    In China, it’s not the cheap labor. It the subsidies (over 2600 coal miners were killed last year – so the subsidies begine there), the lack of regulations, the currency manipulation, etc. It simply costs more to do business in the US.

  7. Bill Hopcraft

    The day will come when China will want what we owe them and we won’t be able to pay. “That’s OK”, they’ll say, “just give us a couple of seats in Congress instead”. Far fetched? Maybe, but would our fathers have ever imagined the might of American manufacturing dwindling to the extent that it has? Never say never.

    If economic patriotism is defined by only buying American-made goods, then I’m afraid we’re all doomed to be traitors. It’s awfully easy to just throw in the towel if you look at things this way. I prefer instead to think of economic patriotism in terms of small goals rather than a single large one. Imagine someone telling you to walk fifty miles uphill. Sounds pretty tough. But if the walk is broken down into a series of one-milers, it becomes do-able.

    It took the Wall Streeters and the knuckleheads in Washington decades to destroy American industry and the lopsidedness of our trade with China, India, et al is something that none of us is going to straighten out. But there are small things we can do. I, for example, stick to American-made tooling and hardware in my shop. I consider ‘country of origin’ as a big factor in many of my purchasing decisions, both business and personal, and I encourage my friends and family to do the same.

    Does what I do matter? I don’t really know, but it’s the best thing I can do for my country now. And isn’t the heart of patriotism all about doing your best?

  8. Machining Partners

    I am the founder of a Machining Networking place, strictly for US based machine shops, manufacturers, engineers and buyers. Our main challenge was local buyers moving offshore. I can tell you just locally in the Bay Area I have seen dozens shops close, entire blocks are now empty where shops used to be. Employing local people and supporting local economy. We can do just as good job as oversea shops but it comes down to local buyers having pride in giving job to people their kids go to school with, go to the same grocery store and retail outlets. Over and over our members share the same message “we had big buyer who moved offshore” well the problem is the money moved there aswell. We should not provide stimulus or tax loopholes to the ones who move jobs out of the country to increase their profit margin. Who Benefits? The very few, while hard working Americans are left to pay the bills.We need to invest in our future and what made this country so great ” ingenuity”

    Revive American Manufacturing – One Shop at the Time


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