By Markos N. Kaminis
Just ahead of the start of the Summer Olympics, controversy surrounds the USA Olympic Team. Team USA’s parade uniforms, produced by Ralph Lauren, were made in China. That has congressmen like Harry Reid saying they should be burned and replaced by American made clothing, even if that means they are t-shirts with painted-on graphics. He said that would be better than outsourcing the uniforms that will represent our entire nation on the world stage. The position crosses political parties of course, as “American made” is something both Republicans and Democrats can stand behind, at least on the surface. Obviously, views vary on how to handle trade with China and what to do for American manufacturing. On the patriotic topic at issue, House Speaker John Boehner sincerely commented, “You’d think they’d know better.”
Still, I found myself nodding as I listened to the wisdom of an anonymous C-SPAN caller. The unknown American on the line said the Congressional uproar was hypocrisy at its highest. He said most congressmen should be required to wear corporate and other logos across their sharp suits. That way we could see where they were made – those are my words. Instead of Perry Ellis, we would probably find the backs of our representatives weighed down by a slew of private interests. You know who I’m talking about, people like big oil, insurance companies, pharmaceutical makers, the food block etc.
Ralph Lauren shouldn’t be singled out. The U.S. Basketball Team will be wearing Nike gear made beyond our borders, and others will be wearing Adidas products – that’s a German company. You know who else will be wearing Chinese made uniforms? The Chinese Olympic Team will. A survey of the Team USA Shop website shows that a great majority of the products for sale were not made in America. I could find only one American Olympic Team outfitted with American made uniforms. The U.S. Rowing Team will be wearing uniforms made by Philadelphia-based Boathouse Sports. Both deserve credit for that seemingly obvious decision that turned out to be admirable because of its uniqueness.
Still, things are made in China, India and where labor is cheaper so that American companies can provide cheaper goods to Americans who demand them. Sure, profit margins have expanded, but truth be told, the American consumer benefits. It’s clear by the growth of Wal-Mart and other discounters that America demands these things. Would you pay more money for American made goods? In the past, you have not, and that’s why the American textile industry diminished. So maybe we have ourselves to blame for this embarrassing turn of events.
While watching a local TV news broadcast, I noted another view. A man on the street interview turned up a pure capitalist, who pointed out that these goods were still the products of American companies, not Chinese. He said that the design and the production specifics were still dictated by Americans, and that’s what we do best now. So should we be embarrassed or not that we do not manually produce goods we design and engineer? Maybe we can even be proud of our advancement, and direction of human capital toward higher level business activity. After all, made in China doesn’t necessarily mean Chinese. It can also mean made by American companies at a lower cost, with fattened profits for the companies we own in our retirement accounts and other investment portfolios. Yet, some Americans are made for manufacturing, and are left unemployed or working behind a checkout counter instead of on a production line. So, it turns out, there’s more than one way to look at this issue. What do you think?