Thursday, September 24, 2015

Buy American

Fall is upon us and with it some more temperate weather. As I pull out the sweaters to replace the polo’s in the dresser I’m reminded of the stories behind each garment. One I got as a student in Scotland two decades ago that no longer quite fits but I just can’t let it go. Another brings a smile as it was a gift. Other than these types of remembrances I’m not much for seeing where something is made. When I bought my first Honda there was a national discussion about the decline of Detroit and the uprising of Japan taking American jobs. The car came with a certification that 83% of the vehicle had been built in North America under NAFTA and nearly 70% was made in America…higher than most ‘American’ brands. So I certainly keep an eye on who owns what, but my purchase decisions aren’t driven by patriotism. The U.S. Government doesn’t have the same luxury, and they just proved it again.

During the last week of September 2015 the United Nations General Assembly is in full swing in New York and leaders from virtually every country in the world descend upon the city. The U.S. State Department virtually relocates to the Waldorf Astoria in New York. Not this year. By tradition U.S. Presidents have stayed at the luxury hotel which is run by the Hilton Hotel chain. A Chinese company with close ties to the government have bought the building and granted Hilton a 100-year lease to run the hotel. The company is investing tens of millions into a renovation. President Obama has announced that he’s not going to stay there – nor any of the U.S. delegation “due to costs and space needs of the U.S. government as well as security concerns.” China is the #1 suspect in a series of cyber thefts of U.S. government data and there are fears that the "renovation" is more about putting listening devices into the rooms. The renovation is not currently scheduled. (The U.S. Ambassador who also has an apartment in the building will likely be relocating when the lease expires as well.) Ahh, patriotism! 

Remember the ad campaign in the 1970’s “Look for the UnionLabel?”  It not only explained the benefits of the union but also had a snappy tune to encourage consumers to think about and make choices that benefited American workers.

In the mid 1980’s Wal-Mart launched their own campaign: “Made in America” to encourage consumers to go to Wal-Mart and make their purchases. Buying at Wal-Mart made you a better American. (This was pre-smiley faces.) In 2013 the company launched a $50 billion refreshed version of the campaign. It represents 1.5% of the company’s inventory purchases.

In 1990 the U.S. Government jumped on board with their own ad campaignIn the 15 years since, American exceptionalism has manifested itself further – especially in the political realm. Presidential candidates of all types must wear the stars and stripes. Rhetoric must frame the U.S.A. in a position of superiority in all instances. Any true observation and recognition that the country is askew runs the risk of being labeled a traitor.

The move from the Waldorf Astoria to the New York Palace Hotel is the latest example of misplaced priorities on the part of the Obama Administration. If the U.S. believes that China hacked and stole data: there’s an entire international justice system at their disposal. Instead they are making a symbolic statement. Not unlike “Buy American.”

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