Monday, September 07, 2009

The usual 'If you don't buy American you're a traitor' vibe at a Labor Day parade in Macomb County

Macomb County Michigan. I find this interesting because it was promoted most heavily by a Republican representative in the parade who was running for re-election. Very convenient of him. The truth is that the buy American campaign has always been misguided and semi-racist. It started in the early '80s when Japanese car companies were catching up to those in the U.S. in quality, and was part of a bigger campaign by 'Reagan Democrats' to focus on the Japanese as a kind of Yellow Peril instead of on what the car companies themselves were doing to sabotage their sales. The truth is that the Big Three were lazy coming out of World War II. The workers certainly weren't, but the designers and the executives found themselves essentially unchallenged in the world market because their traditional competitors had been destroyed by the war. So instead of keeping up with the various money saving and quality increasing innovations that came about in subsequent decades they stuck to the past, and then paid the price when Europe and Japan had recovered enough of their industrial infrastructure to challenge the U.S. for supremacy.

The current bout of 'If you don't buy American, you're a traitor' rings hollow. It's a lot harder now to argue that people buying foreign cars are responsible for GM and the others failing. It's fairly obvious that this was part of a broader economic trend triggered by the bank failures, that were in turn triggered by sub-prime lending in the housing market. But the old slogan is being trotted out again, with the same misdirection, only this time the bosses face the unwashed workers seeing what's going on a lot more clearly than before, and so have more to lose.

*I have to qualify all this a bit. A big reason why people in the Detroit area don't like folks around them buying foreign cars is that many of them have made the cars that are on the lots themselves. It's sort of a point of pride---you made these cars, your family's livelihood comes from making these cars, so it's not really cool to buy the competitor's cars. But I think there's some confusion between taking personal pride in the auto industry and giving a blank check to whatever the management of the auto industry does. The reason why people outside of Detroit started to buy foreign cars en masse, despite the best of campaigns to keep buying American, was that the quality of the product decreased and decreased, and folks were faced with the choice of either buying a shitty car out of some sort of patriotic duty or buying cars that actually ran well and lasted long.

In relation to the current economic downturn, the idea that folks buying foreign cars either in the Detroit area or outside of it are responsible for jobs at the Big Three going away, is a null concept. It might make people upset to see folks buying foreign cars while they've been fired or laid off, but there's no real connection between the two.

No comments: