Whitman County Gazette - Serving Whitman County since 1877

By Frank Watson
Gazette Columnist 

Turmoil over Tariffs

 

September 27, 2018



My first new car was a Chevy Malibu made in Detroit. A few years later, my wife and I bought a few acres north of Airway Heights and thought we needed a small truck. I wouldn’t settle for anything but an American brand and was surprised to find that our new Luv Truck was made in Japan. The only thing American on it was the Chevy emblem. My next truck was a half-ton Chevy made in Canada. It was followed by a Ford made in Mexico. During my rebellious phase, I owned a Harley that was made in Milwaukee. Thus, I was a bit surprised that the loudest protests to President Trump’s decision to impose a tariff on imported steel and aluminum were Ford and Harley Davidson. They claim the added cost of materials will make their products noncompetitive on the world market. To my surprise, the national news is sympathetic. How dare our government put American manufacturers at a disadvantage? What is not reported is that Harley Davidson has assembly plants operating in India and Brazil and had already planned to close their plant in Kansas City. Ford makes cars in Portugal, Germany and Mexico. So, it was business as usual when they decided to build a plant in China. Ford has yet to explain why they don’t build their new plant in America. What happened to American pride?

When I was a kid on the farm, we wore Big Mac bib overalls with a made in America label. If you check the tags of the clothes you have on, you will probably find that all are made overseas. Several years ago, I decided to limit my Christmas shopping to things made in America. I found that impossible. I went into a department store in Pullman and told the clerk I wanted a nice outfit for my wife that was made in America. We searched the entire store and found none! So, I decided to limit my shopping to things not made in China. I found one blouse made in Indonesia. How have we come to this? Iconic American brands are no longer made in America. In 2001, I purchased Levi Strauss products from their factory outlet in Beijing. Nothing is more red-neck American than Carharts. Check the label. They are now made in China and India. We have become a nation of worldly consumers who seek the lowest price to the exclusion of all other criteria. Many factories that produce for the American consumer are sweatshops that would be illegal in our country. But their products are cheap, so we buy them.

Other countries are unapologetically biased. I lived in Japan for a full year and witnessed their national pride. Their language was never refereed to as “Japanese’. It was always called “The national language.” They were openly critical of ethnic Japanese who lived abroad for extended periods and were less than perfectly fluent in, “the national language.” Tangerines were proudly called, “Japanese oranges.” Rice claims a large shelf in their supermarkets. All stores provide a choice between locally grown rice and rice grown in Indonesia. The local rice is by far the best seller, even though it is much more expensive than the foreign rice. Japanese consumers are willing to pay more to support their local farms. Good wines from France and Germany were less than four dollars a bottle, but I was the only one who regularly bought them. Poor quality Japanese wines were preferred.

Bargain hunter mentality even seeps into our small towns. “Buy Local” campaigns seldom make a dent. We have neighbors who will drive 20 miles to buy gas because it costs two cents less than at our local pumps. The same shoppers will load up at Costco because it is cheaper than our hometown market, but have no qualms about calling the local store owner to ask for a favor if they run out of milk when the store is closed.

National pride is not a bad thing. We haven’t had a good old fashioned patriotic rally since World War II. We need a nation-wide campaign to buy American. If the campaign is successful, we won’t need tariffs.

(Frank Watson is a retired Air Force Colonel and a long time resident of Eastern Washington. He has been a free lance columnist for more than 18 years.)

 
 

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