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I think educating consumers is the way to go.  I don’t mean bumper-sticker initiatives to buy American or boycott Wal-Mart.  And I certainly don’t mean buying union-made goods just because the people who made it have some spurious noble right superseding those of workers without collective bargaining rights.

I mean teaching people to spend money wisely.  And this means knowing the difference between preference, ethics, and common sense. 

Buying local, or union, or American, is a preference, much like giving to a community charity versus adopting a third world child.  There is also no moral superiority in supporting a mom-and-pop over a large corporation — each has their place in the economy and the world would suffer greatly if it were otherwise.  “Supporting” local jobs is no more grand than enabling jobs in other countries, even if they are what we would consider sweatshop employment — to them it is a grateful alternative to starvation and only extreme by contrast to our own tropospheric standard of living.  Closer to home, if a “local” company wants to thrive, it will certainly not put itself in the position of counting heavily on local consumers amidst a whole world marketplace of opportunities.  Thank goodness most people DON’T buy everything local (if that were even possible) or there would be few goods and services available to any given community, and it would mean a regression of society to the Dark Ages.  But then that, too, is the preference of some.

Now let’s talk common sense.

People have to have a reason to buy some goods over others.   Free Market ensures a populace’s freedom to determine the outcome of this game, as well as the continued diversity of choices through varying demands of preference and necessity.  However, if we limit the discussion only to price, Capitalism is reduced to the ignorant claims of its opponents that dollars is the only meaningful axis, stretching from corporate greed on one end to cheap consumerism on the other.

In reality, less than a third of consumers make decisions based solely on price, even during hard times.  The upper tenth or so rarely look at the price tag at all.  I, like most people, are somewhere in the middle, because I actually consider value — what something is worth to me in relationship to my ability to buy it.  I’m willing to pay more for a quality product if it’s quality will be realized by my use.

For many things, that means buying things that are NOT Chinese, in particular hardware / tools.  A mallet may cost twice as much, but it will last longer.  I use this example because I look at origin labels (that are often misleading and you have to pay close attention), and couldn’t believe how few American-made goods there are in places like Home Depot.  The one or two choices that are American are often twice as much as everything else, almost always made in China.  Some Chinese goods, such as screwdrivers, are lucky to last one or two uses.  I’m not exaggerating.  If I will use it once, I will want to pay less.  If I wish to use it for years, it would be silly to look back all that time and wonder why I didn’t pay a little extra for the next grade up, either being less happy with product performance, or having to buy it over and over, costing more in the long run anyway.

As a caveat, the Chinese do manufacture quality goods — we just rarely see them.  They export low-end products because that is what exporters are convinced America wants — CHEAP goods — and to some extent they are right.  (After all, we are brainwashed into thinking Capitalism is only about bottom lines and that affects our own obsession with price tags.)  After transportation costs, you’d think it would be more expensive anyway.  But they have to be REALLY cheap goods, since if the price was only equal, then the difference in quality would leave such inventories unmoved.

And then there is the ethical consideration, but this is also based on knowledge rather than assumed loyalties.

I don’t mind supporting foreign economies who can make products more efficiently than we can, but I do shy from Chinese goods that may be produced by forced labor camps that fund the [[People’s Liberation Army|PLA]].  However, I will not reward American companies that cannot or will not compete.  If we reward companies (often union shops) who provide a similar, or even inferior product for more, we can argue it is to help provide quality of life for an industry’s workers, but the consequences are similar to social programs — assumed good intentions soon eclipse accountability for efficiency and a larger context of what is fair. 

Ironically, some of the best goods are American, but are foreign brands, while American brands are made overseas.  In the auto industry, if you want to employ Americans, don’t buy GM, Ford, or Chrysler.  Buy KIA, Honda, etc., as they have more American-made components and assemblies by far.  Brands are just names and we should be more educated about what is BEHIND the name, not merely the owners, but what sort of corporate citizens they are in our back yard.

Like educated voters being a necessity for a sane Democracy, educated consumers are the heart and soul of a Free Market.  And in everyday life, the consumer does far more voting with their dollars than using a ballot box.  Let’s become educated, use common sense, grab our wallets and vote!