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Gary Horton: Do more now to encourage ‘Made in USA’

Full Speed to Port!

Posted: December 28, 2010 10:36 p.m.
Updated: December 29, 2010 4:55 a.m.

During Christmastime, my daughter Katie loves to break out the multitude of family picture books Carrie has so fastidiously compiled. Straight on, Katie focused on an early photo of me as a 4-year old, sitting in a bright yellow pedal car on the sidewalk outside our house, surrounded by neighborhood kids. That photo was from Christmas Day, and that was one Christmas I’ll never forget.

The bright yellow car was 100 percent American steel, built in the USA. I couldn’t believe my eyes when it appeared under our tree Christmas morning.

Back in the early 1960s, just about anything you bought would have been made in the United States. The Daisy 1894 Spittin Image Winchester BB rifle my best friend Ralph was shouldering in the same photo also was made in America — by the Daisy Manufacturing Co. of Rogers, Ark.

Photos show that our modest home was humbly furnished back then.

We did have a 19-inch black-and-white Zenith TV console, which was, of course, made in America. Our toaster was a General Electric, our refrigerator was a Hotpoint and our oven a Wedgewood.

While I could never quite understand why the icy refrigerator was called a Hotpoint, all that stuff in our 1960s kitchen was — you guessed it — made in America.

Roll cameras forward 50 years and a completely different picture emerges from our 2010 Christmas:

This recent Christmas evening, we gathered around a Chinese-made tree to open our presents.

Jon unwrapped a spectacular-looking device, an Apple TV. This little 3-inch square marvel lets you stream content wirelessly off your computer directly onto your big-screen. The Apple TV is made in China, of course, while your big-screen likely hails from a flat-screen factory in Korea.

Next up was a beautiful green tea kettle for Katie. The teapot was of modern design with a perfect green enamel finish. I thought, “China for sure,” but turning the kettle over, I was surprised that this nicely manufactured product made its trip to the United States from Thailand.

Katie and Dan opened his and her robes. From China. This one was a no-brainer. A beautiful leather handbag for Carrie from BCBG, meticulously stitched from super-soft, high-quality leather. The quality of this handbag had me hesitating to guess, but again — China.

One by one, we opened our gifts, and it became sport, guessing the country of origin. But not too tough a sport. China won hands down, followed by a smattering of lesser Asian and emerging countries.

Daughter-in-law Trish sent us tins of wonderful homemade cookies made right here in the United States in Ithaca, N.Y. Katie got some perfumed salon-grade shampoos, which, to our relief, also were made in the United States.

Come time for Christmas dinner, the Stars and Stripes were firmly back at the top of the pile. We had U.S. roast beef, Idaho potatoes, California lettuce and Wisconsin cheese. Thank God we Americans can still feed ourselves! To look at most of us, we do a pretty darn good job of it, too.

But comparing our kitchen to my mother’s kitchen of the 1960s, we see a much more international flavor today.

Our GE refrigerator is made in Mexico. Our toaster is from China. Our microwave moved in from Malaysia (I’m not kidding). And our Viking range from — no, not from Denmark — but, believe it or not, from Greenwood, Miss.

Recent American industrial policy is the primary catalyst behind this half-century shift from mostly American products to relatively few American products. At first, Americans didn’t notice so much because we were so busy making good money making our own stuff and we appreciated how far our money could go buying cheap foreign stuff.

Now, we turn around and look back after two or three decades and America has largely abandoned her manufacturing base, as our companies took off overseas for cheap labor, encouraged by lenient or nonexistent American industrial policy.

So here we are at Christmas 2010, with foreign-made stuff under the tree and all throughout the house, and 10 percent national unemployment we’re having a tough time shaking.

Many decry activist government policy as interference in sacred free-market capitalism. But most of the countries absorbing our manufacturing base have done so expressly because their central governments have strong, intentional policies that encourage their domestic manufacturing base.

America made all the stuff she needed before — and we can make it again. But what we’ll need is coherent, intentional, directed policy that deliberately rewards domestic manufacturing while removing the hidden subsidies in shipping and fuel.

Some may call such government policy “meddling,” but it was exactly the inverse policy that got us to our “made anywhere else” Christmas of today. And besides, take a moment to visualize Christmas Future another 50 years hence, should Americans no longer manufacture any hard goods at all.

A good gift to all Americans for this year and decades to come would be new, intentional government policies encouraging domestic manufacturing. Now, that would be a gift that keeps on giving.

Gary Horton is a Santa Clarita resident. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. “Full Speed to Port!” appears Wednesday in The Signal.


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