Cheap Stuff Makes You (and America) Cheap

This needs to be said, nay it needs to be shouted from the housetops. From Curtis Ellis, writing in American Greatness.

It’s well past time to ask whether procuring cheap imported consumer goods should be the goal of our foreign trade policy and if it’s the best way to raise Americans’ standard of living.

These questions have been the subject of debate throughout our nation’s history. America’s Founders answered with a resounding “No.”

The tea sold by the British East India Company underpriced the leaf colonial merchants were offering. King George’s prime minister Lord North believed that would convince Americans to buy it. “For,” as North said, “men will always go to the cheapest markets.” The Sons of Liberty tossed it in Boston Harbor instead.

The new nation’s first significant piece of legislation, the Tariff Act of 1789, among other things, sought to prevent lower-cost foreign goods from being dumped in America and smothering our own infant industries.

To those who said America should continue buying its manufactured goods from Great Britain, then the world’s low-cost producer, Thomas Jefferson advised “purchasing nothing foreign where an equivalent of domestic fabric[ation] can be obtained, without regard to difference of price.” (Emphasis added.)

Abraham Lincoln’s economic philosophy gave production primacy over consumption as the way to raise the American standard of living.

The goal is “to produce dear labour, that is, high-priced and valuable labour,” wrote Henry Carey, Lincoln’s economic adviser. High-priced laborers would produce more and be able to spend more. Consumption would rise in tandem with production and earning.

“Every man is a consumer to the whole extent of his production. To that point he will go, and beyond it he cannot go,” Carey wrote.

That is: by earning (producing) more is one able to consume (buy) more.

But the American attitude toward “cheap” was perhaps best summed up by William McKinley in a campaign speech he delivered in 1889:

They say “everything would be so cheap” if we only had free trade. Well, everything would be cheap and everybody would be cheap. I do not prize the word “cheap.” . . . It is the badge of poverty . . . when things were the cheapest, men were the poorest. . . . Cheap? Why, cheap merchandise means cheap men, and cheap men mean a cheap country; and that is not the kind of Government our fathers founded . . . We want labor to be well paid, we want the products of the farm . . . we want everything we make and produce to pay a fair compensation to the producer. That is what makes good times.

Fair compensation to the producer is what makes good times.

Indeed it is so, just as it has always been.

I can remember a day, probably about 40 years ago, when I suddenly needed a new dress shirt, likely I dumped a cup of coffee or something on it. So I did what we all do. I drove over to K Mart (then the most common low-cost retailer) and bought myself a new white broadcloth shirt, yes it had way too much polyester in it, but it got me through the day. The most expensive shirt I ever bought, even though I probably paid less than ten dollars for it. Why? Because I never wore it again.

And also a bad deal for K Mart, it was the last time I was in one of their stores.

In whatever developing country it was made, quality didn’t count for much, and this shirt had a collar point that I could not make lay down properly, even after I removed the stay and put in a removable one. And so the shirt was useless, it wasn’t even a useful rag like a cotton shirt would have been, it was just trash to be disposed of.

These days I rarely wear dress shirts, other than for casual shirts, but mine have labels like Brooks Brothers, Ralph Lauren, and some others. They fit, they’re made properly, and they’re made with quality materials. If I need a cheap one, I buy it on eBay, although I do prefer to buy new ones.

And that is true all through society, I’ve long since found that an American (British, even Japanese) product from twenty years ago is a much better value than the cheap junk from China than Wal Mart sells. Yes, I miss Sam Walton, he really did try to find low-cost American products, but the kids are more interested in lining their pockets, than in providing a reasonable product at a reasonable price.

The only catch is that you have to know a little bit more about what you are doing, and some products simply aren’t made here anymore, like TVs. Well that what we get for buying cheap Chinese crap, we’ve put entire American companies, and their workers, and those that could fix things, out of business. When is the Last time you saw an RCA repairman when I was a kid they were state of the art?

William McKinley had it exactly right:

I do not prize the word “cheap.” . . . It is the badge of poverty . . . when things were the cheapest, men were the poorest. . . . Cheap? Why, cheap merchandise means cheap men, and cheap men mean a cheap country;

And if you are having trouble finding stuff made in the USA, this may help.

About NEO
Lineman, Electrician, Industrial Control technician, Staking Engineer, Inspector, Quality Assurance Manager, Chief Operations Officer

19 Responses to Cheap Stuff Makes You (and America) Cheap

  1. audremyers says:

    I spent a good part of yesterday watching Christmas-y craft videos on YT. Without exception, every crafter of every conceivable construct, showed their materials and every single material was made in China – not a bead, bangle, or bauble made in the good ol’ USA. Considering the money crafters spend yearly, you’d think some enterprising Americans would open factories creating the same tiny things China seems to be so incredibly good at (must be tiny hands – or is that racist of me???). But America is a big country – we like big things. Just read that furniture construction is growing again in the Carolinas; that was a mainstay for that area for centuries (or at least a very long time, lol). Before I retired, I transferred from the credit dept. of a major retailer to sales. It staggered my imagination that most furniture is built in Vietnam!!! How in the world did THAT happen???

    Do you remember the jingle? I can still hear it in my head, “(musical notes..) Look for, the Union label…” and the occasional “Buy American!” The Unions killed themselves and we forgot, somehow, that buying American is really supporting US! – the average joe citizen on the street. How did we get so hosed up???

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Nicholas says:

    Complex problem, of course. As a businessman yourself, you know that the cost is passed on to the consumer and there are a lot of costs involved in making products, not just the wages of labourers:

    -Commercial rent
    -Business rates payable to the local authority
    -Utilities
    -Insurance
    -Legal costs
    -Ancillary wages for people not directly involved in making the product but who are needed because the law requires you to have them or common sense does
    -Marketing
    -R&D
    -etc

    Liked by 3 people

  3. the unit says:

    Just glanced about just now, looking at stuff I still have that was made in America. A bumper hitch from the ’50’s when cars had bumpers for bumping. And a wheelbarrow (with an iron wheel) and a pipe wrench, both were my father’s stuff. Gosh, if I really looked for more…like in my father’s watchmakers workbench which is right here next to me and my laptop. (Got to admit I have before and lots of stuff NOT made in America there, but his talent was)
    Also when you bought a fridge, you had it until the next hurricane came through. 🙂
    Nothing cheap and easy about hard work and perseverance.

    Liked by 3 people

    • NEO says:

      That’s the thing isn’t it? When I started wiring on my own, I used my dad’s kleins till I could afford my own pair, he told me he bought them in 1921, and except that the serrations on the nose were worn off, they were as good as new. Mine got stolen, otherwise I’d still be using them.

      Nope neither are cheap or easy, that why the snowflakes won’t do them. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Amen!
    Good article, good reasoning!

    Liked by 3 people

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