Stamatakis: No need to buy American to support USA

By Nick Stamatakis

I like to think of myself as a pretty good American. I can fold a flag, swing a baseball bat and bake an apple pie with my eyes closed. I like to think of myself as a pretty good American. I can fold a flag, swing a baseball bat and bake an apple pie with my eyes closed.

Apparently, though, to fully express my love for this country, I will need to do something else when I graduate: buy a Toyota Camry.

Many consider such statements treasonous. Through a certain line of logic, people who buy Camrys are the ones destroying this country, sending jobs overseas and millions to unemployment lines. I might as well just be shooting bald eagles with that kind of language.

But according to the 2011 American-Made Index, which ranks car models by how American the parts and assembly are, the Camry, which is manufactured in Kentucky and Indiana, is the most American of all models, beating out the traditional American manufacturers in Detroit. Buying American isn’t necessarily the most American thing to do.

After all, if this list is to be believed, the $20,195 spent on a Camry sends more wealth to the United States than the $20,195 spent on a domestic car. The Chevy Cruze, for instance, a similar size and style car, is manufactured in Russia and South Korea, meaning that a well-meaning “buy American” consumer is in this case more likely to be helping a Russian get a Babushka doll than an American get a meatloaf. In dollars and cents, the Camry helps Americans more.

As the world continues to become more globalized, such situations will continue to occur more often. Those of us who want to help the American worker and economy by buying American can’t simply rely on our gut instincts to lead us to the best choices. Our natural and biological reactive instincts, after all, are designed to help us avoid lions on the savannah, not to help us navigate a global marketplace.

Producing an even stronger gut reaction than Toyotas is the label “Made in China.” Since China holds large proportions of our foreign debt and has a seemingly far more robust economy, many Americans consciously avoid trying to buy products made in the country. Earlier this year, ABC News emptied a family’s house of imported items, leaving it almost bare. Then the program replaced everything in the house with American-made products.

But much like how impulsively not buying Toyota cars isn’t the best thing for the United States, impulsively not buying Chinese products isn’t necessarily the best thing either. According a report from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, of the 2.7 percent of all consumer spending that “Made in China” represents — yes, we only spend 2.7 percent of our cash on Chinese-made products — only 1.2 percent represents the costs of the goods. In other words, about 55 percent of our purchase stays inside the country, going to services provided by U.S. businesses and workers who transport, sell and market those goods..

So people seeking a trade war with China and trying to win back jobs from overseas should realize that the best way to increase American manufacturing and jobs isn’t to try to make that 1.2 percent bigger. Low taxes or handouts won’t bring back the types of jobs that represent that 1.2 percent. These line jobs are gone forever.

Instead, we need to see why certain jobs are here and grow that piece of the pie. Toyota Camrys are manufactured here for a reason, after all. American workers are very productive, and our legal and economic structure is conducive to some companies being here. In other cases, it is engineering and business jobs that stay here because of an intellectual and cultural climate that supports science and creative destruction, which allows very high efficiency in output.

In other words, launching impulsive attacks toward foreigners taking jobs away isn’t a productive exercise. The arrows of economic history mean that things will be made where they are cheapest to produce relative to other products in that country. American workers will never be able to make clothing or electronics with the pay of a Big Mac a day.

However, with the right reinvestments, we will be able to maintain workers who can build more complicated equipment and a climate that enhances our ability to create and design.

So to really support the country, just buy what makes you happy. The consumption will make you happier, and even if whatever you bought says “Made in China,” chances are most of your dollars are supporting American designers and American industry.