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One (Dim) Light Bulb at Time

A former friend sent me an email post that had been forwarded a hundred times. It went like this:

A physics teacher in high school, once told the students that while one grasshopper on the railroad tracks wouldn't slow a train very much, a billion of them would . With that thought in mind, read the following, obviously written by a good American .
Good idea . . . one light bulb at a time . . . .

Check this out ... I can verify this because I was in Lowe's the other day for some reason and just for the heck of it I was looking at the hose attachments . They were all made in China . The next day I was in Ace Hardwareand just for the heck of it I checked the hose attachments there . They were made in USA . Start looking .

In our current economic situation, every little thing we buy or do affects someone else - even their job . So, after reading this email, I think this lady is on the right track . Let's get behind her!


It goes on to talk about all the products she buys every day, including chocolate, tooth paste, light bulbs, washing products, and others. It ends with a request to read the labels before buying. It sounds so warm and fuzzy, who could oppose it? In fact, why don't we just pass a law to require it?

Well, for one, all the people in Mexico, Canada, China, France, England, Germany, Spain, Russia, India, and every other country in the world. Remember how well that Smoot-Hawley tariff worked out for the good old U.S.A.? It is widely credited with extending a small recession into what we know and love as the great depression. This is a quick summary of the tariff from an Econtalk podcast with Russ Roberts talking to Thomas Rustici on the subject:

The legislative history of Smoot-Hawley: Herbert Hoover was elected on a promise to impose tariffs--to protect the farmers in America. But America at this time--about half of its export income came from the farm sector. We were the world's largest exporter of agricultural goods--as we still are today. So tariffs would hurt farmers, not help them. In March and April of 1929, right after inaugurated, tariff went through the House of Representatives; passed the House in fall of 1929. The House was very protectionist at this time; it expanded the tariff to virtually everything, at very high rates. Senate at this time was more free trade; 16 free trade Senators blocking Smoot-Hawley in the Senate. On October 21, 1929, the 16 free trade Senators log-rolled; said they'd join in if you give tariffs for the industries in their states. The Senate then supported the Smoot-Hawley bill. Tariff increases from 38%-60%--almost a doubling. Immediate ramifications. The day the 16 Senators switched, on October 21, is when the market began its slide; lost 1/3 of its value before the Crash on October 29, 1929. When you read the financial papers--Wall Street Journal, New York Times--they have front page stories on one side with markets decline and other side Smoot-Hawley passes; nobody connecting the dots.

Another approach to the email is to have the sender consider it in terms they can understand. If restricting trade is such a good idea, then why stop at the U.S. border? Why not restrict trade between states, and keep all those great jobs in our state. In fact, I'm not really fond of those who live in the Eastern part of my state, so let's impose tariffs on goods from them. And why stop there? I really don't like the people in the next town over, so let's impose tariffs on them, and keep the jobs in our town. And since that's such a good idea, I really don't like my neighbor very much, so I'm going to stop buying anything my family didn't make in our house, from scratch. I'll have my son mine the rock to make steel, my daughter plant crops to grow our food, and my wife make all our own clothes. Think how many jobs I can save or create in my household if I don't spend money outside of it. And I really don't think I trust my son and daughter very much, so....


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Comments (15)

When I get a new redesigned... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:

When I get a new redesigned US bill it's fun to sit down with a magnifying glass and give it a good look over. If you have a 10x loop you can read the micro print such as the inscription just above "HAMILTON" at the bottom of the portrait on a $10 bill. I'm concerned though that one of these days I'm going to find "Made in China" somewhere on the bill.

I support voluntary buy American efforts, but none have been effective so far. Most people prefer cheaper prices over supporting US manufacturers unless there's an obvious quality benefit. That said, China cheats by artificially holding down the value of their currency, although that's getting harder to do relative to the dollar. You see, Obama's reckless spending has devalued the dollar so much that China is feeling pressure change strategies.

Mac Lorry,I apprecia... (Below threshold)

Mac Lorry,
I appreciate your sentiment, but the problem is that some people take that feeling and impose policies based on what feels good. The Democrats tend to make compulsory all that they approve of, and criminalize what they disagree with. And their lists are long.

And why should we insist that China devalue their currency? We get a nice fat discount on all the products we buy from them, and they accept our fancy $100 bills in return. Made in the U.S.A. bills.

There is a huge difference ... (Below threshold)
Mike:

There is a huge difference between a tariff and consumers voluntarily expressing their preferences in the free market.

Several months ago, I began... (Below threshold)
GarandFan:

Several months ago, I began deliberately looking for MADE IN USA products. Yeah, they cost a little more, but the money stays here.

And why should we ... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:
And why should we insist that China devalue their currency?

We don't insist that China devalue their currency, only point out that they manipulate their currency's exchange rate to give their manufactures an even greater advantage. A free market can't operate correctly under such circumstances, and as a result, more American jobs go to China than would if China followed the same rules we and most of our trading partners follow.

Retaining a significant manufacturing base in the US is important to our long term survival as a nation.

Mac Lorry,China's ma... (Below threshold)

Mac Lorry,
China's manufacturers could raise their prices to compensate for the exchange rate differences but they chose not to. They sell for a lower price so they can win more business at the expense of profitability.

China's manufactur... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:
China's manufacturers could raise their prices to compensate for the exchange rate differences but they chose not to. They sell for a lower price so they can win more business at the expense of profitability.

It goes beyond just winning more business. We have seen entire US industries go extinct, and once gone we become dependent on trade with other nations. It's one thing to lose out to fair competition and another thing to be put out of business by unfair government practices. I'm not for tariffs, but neither should the US tolerate currency manipulation. The US does so because our trade policies are driven by political goals rather than economic ones, and that needs to change.

But the Chinese hose attach... (Below threshold)
greyrooster:

But the Chinese hose attachmensts at Lowes, Walmart, etc: costs less than the American made ones. Face it. America wants a $1.00 hamburger and don't care where it comes from.

When my patients without he... (Below threshold)
epador:

When my patients without health insurance state how excited they are to see WalMart may be coming to town, I remind them that they can get their meds just as cheaply NOW at a local big box that offers health insurance to their employees and won't siphon off Medicaid dollars. Then I ask them how much they enjoyed paying for those fancy fireworks at the Chinese Olympics.

Its amazing to see the dim light bulbs start to flicker a bit.

Freer trade helps both side... (Below threshold)
Jim Addison:

Freer trade helps both sides. Any economy is merely a structure for the delivery of goods and services, and the less artificial restraint imposed, the more efficient the distribution.

In the long run, it is actually harmful to "buy USA" by paying more for commodities we cannot efficiently produce - say, tee shirts and sneakers - because "saving" inefficient industries delays those assets and workers being retrained to more productive jobs.

The comments point out exac... (Below threshold)
Bill:

The comments point out exactly how tricky this problem is. We want to buy American because it seems like it helps, and in some ways it does. But more than wanting to help, we (as a society) want to buy inexpensive goods--from China.
Anyway, as an experiment, I spent all of 2009--literally--buying only American-made goods. No Mexican avocados, no Chinese toys, no nothing that wasn't born on our shores. It was an interesting process, and I feel like I learned a lot. If you're interested in the "Buy American" topic, you might find it of interest: http://mitusa.wordpress.com
Thanks,
Bill

The christmas cards i bough... (Below threshold)
Flu-Bird:

The christmas cards i bought at WAL-MART were american made

Hey Charlie,This l... (Below threshold)
Myronhalo:

Hey Charlie,

This lady is not talking about tariffs. The little people like us don't pass tariffs, all we do is buy the products we need. That may seem like a little thing, but if I want to buy "Made in America" or Made in Taiwan, I have freedom to do so. This lady, whoever she is, is a real American: She understands that she has freedom to spend (at least the money the government doesn't take away) however she wants. That's called liberty, so don't knock it. And if she wants to suggest that others do the same, that's also called liberty and freedom of speech, so don't knock that either.

By the way Charlie,<p... (Below threshold)
Myronhalo:

By the way Charlie,

By the way, you referred to this person as "former friend". Does that mean you threw him under the bus for sending you this email? Shame, shame!

flu bird. Are you sure they... (Below threshold)
greyrooster:

flu bird. Are you sure they didn't say printed in the USA? Big difference.




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