Saturday, August 16, 2008
The candidate with the fern-sounding name is truly living up to his pledge to compete for American votes everywhere. Barack Obama hopes to tip Pennsylvania by appealing to Harley-Davidson riders and their fellow-travelers. The slogan is "Buy American, Vote Obama," and the logo looks like, well, this. Dan Riehl thinks this is a bad idea, and I agree with him though for slightly different reasons.
First, it is transparently inauthentic even by the standards of Democratic politics. Barack Obama, like virtually all graduates of Harvard Law School and similar institutions in the last thirty years, is nothing if not a "transnational". He correctly considers the world to be his oyster, generally believes that we're all in this together on the pale blue ball, enjoys consuming the things that other countries have to offer in trade for our stuff, and does not believe that the United States should advance itself at the expense of others just because we can. There is nothing wrong with these views; generally I share them (except maybe the pale blue ball part). But I do not run around claiming to "buy American," either.
The campaign fumble in this case is a bit more specific. Harley-Davidson has done a brilliant job of marketing authenticity. The people who are wild for Harley because of its marketing want some of that Harley "authenticity" to rub off on them. George Carlin was brilliant on the subject. Yes, it is nonsense, but Harley has persuaded millions of people that they should ride Harley bikes because they, the consumer, can't be bought. In suggesting that they can be, I think the Obama campaign has blown it again. I am not alone.
The second problem is a bit more obvious. If a politician runs around demanding that we all buy American he had better be very careful about the products that he and his family buy. Henceforth, it will matter if somebody spots Michelle wearing something designed by, say, an Italian.
If I say, "Buy American", it is a demand?
I guess it was a demand in the eigthies, when everyone except the most rabid internationalists was noticing that if we want to keep manufacturing in the country, we have to buy things manufactured in this country.
I buy American every chance I get, and I buy local every chance I get. However, when I buy something from China, Thailand, or India, I'm not disgusted with myself. It's not a good v. evil thing, it's an economic self-interest thing.
If I can get a good pair of American made shoes in my budget, then I'll do it. If I can't, then I won't. Same with arugula.
It would be just like the righties to gin up negative publicity based on a candidate telling folks to Buy American. ...Oh, he's driving in a car that has the windshield wiper blades made in Myanmar! Hypocrite! Great Pretender!
The vapors will certainly ensue.
It is kind of fun.
On one hand Americans are stupid for not interacting with other countries and knowing only one language.
On the other hand Americans are stupid for interacting with other countries and not building trade barriers.
I view this as a major flaw in the Obama campaign operations. In 40 years of being on and running software projects one lesson stands clear: If you have more than three people with authority you've got a death march project.
Much is made of the size of the campaign - 300 foreign policy advisers. The problem is that everybody has to get their strokes. You let some of their work filter up - even if it stinks - just because it's the best they've done.
The campaign is run by Chicago pols and academics. None of them has ever been in a real election.
This issue - as lightweight as it may seem - is one that needs to be considered seriously. I’m particularly sensitive to it because I have friends and relatives in Mobile, Alabama, where the “foreign” Air Force tanker would be partially built if Boeing doesn’t manage to snaffle the deal again.
It is true that “McCain opposed legislation that would have forced the U.S. government to buy American-made motorcycles” as the Obama camp claims. He had a number of reasons for doing so, one of which was, “as a fiscal conservative, I want to ensure our government gets the best deal for taxpayers and with a ‘Buy American’ restriction, that cannot be guaranteed.”
In a way, this is the Wal-Mart dilemna: Wal-Mart is bad because it buys stuff cheaply in China and thus undercuts US manufacturers; Wal-Mart is good because it sells stuff cheaply in the US and thus increases the buying power of US consumers. The same dilemna exists with regard to forcing the government to “Buy American” - with a couple of national security twists:
1) If the government must buy American, it makes sure the supply of government goods can’t be cut off by a foreign power - which is good for national security.
2) If the government must buy American, it benefits American producers - which is good for American workers (who are also American taxpayers).
3) If the government must buy American, it may not get the best product for its needs - which is bad for national security.
4) If the government must buy American, it may not get the cheapest product for its needs - which is bad for American taxpayers (who are also American workers).
Problem 4 is especially severe in the case of Secret Service motorcycles and Air Force tankers. If the government must buy American in those cases, they will almost certainly have only one vendor to deal with (Harley, Boeing). Somehow I’m thinking that’s not the best situation in which to get a good deal for my tax dollars. I think Pennsylvanians are smart enough to appreciate the complexities in this issue if the McCain camp pushes back.
Are Floursheim shoes made in the US? I would think they would mention this on the website but I just looked and they don't.
Re manufacturing: Look up the figures. We still manufacture lots of stuff and the amount has been trending up, with a few blips, for decades. What we don't do is employ a large percentage of people in manufacturing. We don't need to because of productivity.
I agree that the Buy American meme is nonsense.
Well, thirteen years ago, I bought a 1992 used Honda Accord Station wagon. About +90% of it was made in the state I live in (Ohio). Last year we bought a new Ford Edge. About 70% of it was made in the US, the balance in Canada and Mexico.
Many of the low-value added factory jobs have disappeared from the landscape, making present manufacturing jobs look pretty productive.
My nephew works for AK Steel in Middletown, Oh. They buy a lot of raw steel from a mill in Brazil and do various things to make it a higher grade, more valuable steel product (rolled, tempered, new alloys). Part of this is because coke for raw steel manufacturing has become more expensive, because the coke-making process is pretty dirty and polluting.
If there is one thing that the government could do to promote American manufacturing in a general sense, would be to get health care costs under control. This is one of the biggest drivers for the disappearance of low-productivity jobs, as the cost of medical insurance makes it hard to employ relatively low-productivity workers, who sometimes make up the bottom of the manufacturing pyramid. The "bottom of the pyramid" jobs have been outsourced to Mexico, China and elsewhere. The same thing has happened in Japan, but they have compensated with an incredible amount of robotic factories.
The EU, on the other hand, tends to protect these jobs, which is one reason why the Euro is so expensive versus the dollar; why Audis, Volkswagens, and BMWs are so expensive. Why you don't see Peugots and Renaults in this country. They have a tough time selling a lot of stuff made in Europe on the world market.
Another snafu from Obama, and a transparent one too. Is he really advocating protectionism?
For American-made shoes, try Johnson and Murphy. They are priced above the 3rd world shoes but below the European brands. With a little maintenance, they can last 20 years.
If everything I want (not need, but want) was made in America, I would buy all American. But the fact of the matter is, other countries make some pretty cool stuff. Just ask Harley-Davidson...they recently bought the Italian sport motorcycle company, MV Augusta. So not event the most American company out there buys into Obama's new slogan!