‘Made in America’ not as impressive as it used to be

I remember just a short decade ago people in this country yearned for American-made products. Media campaigns encouraged us to “Buy American.” At the same time, the Clinton administration was pursuing the North American Free Trade Agreement that sought to create a “no tariff zone” across our continent. This was no coincidence. Rather, it was a reaction to the simple fact that free trade would flood American markets with goods from Canada and Mexico.

This, of course, was the point of NAFTA, to promote free trade and provide Americans with cheaper goods. The rationale being that the loss in jobs would be offset by increased consumer spending on less expensive goods. The “Buy American” campaign was the last gasp for those workers who saw the future for what it has now become. As globalization and free trade have spread around the world, American workers of all sorts have found a shrinking job pool awaiting them here at home.

The reason for this phenomenon is simple: With free trade comes increased competition for labor and thus the movement of jobs to destinations with people willing to work for lower wages. So jobs that Americans once held are now being outsourced to countries with cheaper labor; first it was textiles and auto parts. Now, knowledge industry jobs are also being sent overseas to educated workers in places like India and Thailand.

The whole idea behind free trade is to create a global marketplace for goods of all kinds, even labor. As it stands today, people of developing countries have only benefited from this regime by acquiring jobs from the U.S. worker. We benefit by getting an ever-growing list of cheaper goods made by people overseas. This is why “Made in America” is a joke.

No one wants products made in America anymore. As long as the price is right, American citizens don’t care where their new DVD player or cell phone was made.

So shut up, I say. Stop protecting American jobs with federal legislation and stop complaining to corporate America that they are starving American workers. They aren’t; you are. Every time you buy a product from China, you put your fellow citizens out of work. When you buy those overpriced brand-name goods made in sweatshops, you tell President Bush and Nike and Compaq to continue moving those jobs to foreign lands. Expecting these companies to keep jobs in America is to sacrifice the very goods you gobble up day in and day out.

Any legal measure taken to protect workers would be against the spirit of this great free trade movement we have embraced since World War II. It would be hypocritical and — dare I say — harmful to American credibility. How can we continue to expect other nations to open their markets when we enact protectionist policies preventing them from enjoying the fruits of the free market endeavor?

Interestingly, the federal government has waited all this time before considering enacting legislation to protect workers. Why? Because prior to now, the only jobs going overseas were manufacturing jobs. As usual, politicians and other elites do not see a problem until it comes into their backyard and affects their children. So, all of a sudden, it is great idea to start writing laws protecting workers and encouraging private business to follow suit. How elitist.

The United States has been championing free trade all over the world for decades. It has sought to open markets all over the world for American goods like computers, rice and oranges. But Americans will not believe in this free trade idea unless it benefits them and harms others.

During Christmas break, I challenged some of my family members to find a product under the tree that was “Made in America.” In the entire week I spent with them I do not recall any product that was made by American labor. Do you want to help American workers? Stop shopping at Wal-Mart then, but do not blame big business for providing cheap goods to you at your request.

Christopher Grey is a senior majoring in political science.