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Free market is hardly free

Monday, August 31, 2009 - 23:00
Larry Silvey free market

It's probably a good thing that most American consumers don't stop and think about the ground beef they eat because they don't realize it doesn't come from one particular cow. Heck, it doesn't even come from a particular country. Rather, it is imported from countries all over the world and mixed all together. For what reason? The Global Grinder, or "melting pot" if you prefer, is the cheapest way to produce ground beef.

Now check the labels on your clothing or in your shoes. More than likely, those labels will say "Made Somewhere Other than the U.S.A." – China, Thailand, Taiwan, Malaysia, the Philippines. If you're up to the challenge, go into any department or clothing store and ask the clerks if they carry American-made clothing and you'll either get an "I don't know" answer and/or a look as to why you're asking the question. Again, somebody else can make clothing for less than we can.

Just a few short decades ago, you could name just about any industry or type of product, and the U.S. was the long-established leader. Today, it is increasingly difficult to find products that are made in America. Usually you just don't come upon them while browsing in stores – you have to research what you're buying and go out of your way to purchase them. If you are intent on buying American products, be prepared to be underwhelmed by the selection and frustrated by the time it takes to find them. And more than likely, American-made will be more expensive.

When it comes to motor vehicles, you know the story all too well. The arrogant American automakers were on top of the junk heap, i.e., their products, for many years. They made inferior products and got away with it because there was little to no competition. Then came the Japanese with their high-quality, less expensive lineups that captured the attention and the loyalty of the American buying public, and the Big 3 became the Wayward 3, either unwilling or unable to respond to their new competitors. The American automakers finally did respond with better products, but so did the Japanese, and surprisingly, the Koreans came out of nowhere and started building world-class automobiles.

Although the American automakers have gained a lot of ground in the last few years, new concerns continue to erupt. Just consider a recent study conducted by research firm AutoPacific that found more than 10 percent of Americans would consider a vehicle manufactured in China or India – without knowing the specific brands or vehicles. Apparently, Americans have bought so much stuff from so many other places without giving it much thought that it is carrying over to vehicle purchases as well. If you build it, Americans will come.

Well, that's the free market. But is it? Let's turn to Pat Buchanan, conservative political commentator and syndicated columnist. He points out that the South "has become a sanctuary for foreign assembly plants, for which Southern states have been paying subsidies." This has been at the expense of the American automotive industry and American workers, he says.

Here's how Buchanan says his own party (Republican) gave away the automotive jobs: "By telling U.S. manufacturers they could shut plants here, get rid of U.S. workers, build factories in Mexico, Asia or China and ship their products back, free of charge." He continues, "Republican globalists gave U.S. manufacturers every incentive to go abroad and take their jobs with them, the jobs of Middle America. And for 30 years, that is what U.S. manufacturers have done, have been forced to do, as their competitors closed down and moved their plants abroad in search of low-wage Third World labor."

Perhaps the best we can hope for is that our products – from autos to whiskey – will become the products of choice in other countries. This is certainly something to contemplate the next time you're munching on a burger.

Larry Silvey, a 26-year veteran of the automotive aftermarket, is editor-in-chief of Aftermarket Business and Editorial Director for the Advanstar Automotive Group, which consists of Aftermarket Business, Motor Age, and ABRN.

LARRY SILVEY Editor-in-Chief/Group Editorial Director

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