Does anyone else remember when Walmart was first breaking onto the scene as a competitor against K-Mart, they advertised “Proud to sell ‘Made in the USA’” merchandise? Then shortly, Walmart faced its first scandal, being busted selling cheap junk boasting “Made in China” on the label. The “pride” was pushed to the side, the “Made in the USA” disappeared, and the price was all Walmart was going to compete on, “Prices are falling.” K-Mart is gone, Walmart is still selling, “Prices” are still “supposedly” falling, but where is questionable, quality is all but gone, and who has benefited?
I remember when my town got a Payless shoe store. I plunked my money down for a nice pair of shoes; they lasted less than 30-days of wear; I was told, “You get what you pay for.” The next pair of shoes I bought at Walmart turns out they were probably made on the same manufacturing line in China. Payless sold them for $20.00; Walmart sold them for $30.00. Neither lasted long enough for the new shoe smell to evaporate. Payless Shoes is gone, Walmart is still here, the quality has not improved, and I am still asking, who has benefitted?
I purchased some tools the other day; I was mystified at the following label on the tag, “Made in the USA, of parts configured mostly in the USA but manufactured in other countries of origin.” It turns out, if the assembly of parts is done inside the US, a finished product can be labeled as “Made in the USA.” If some of the sub-assemblies occur outside the USA, the manufacturer might, or might not, be legally responsible to declare such, depending upon the industry, the finished goods, and the lawyers and labor unions involved.
Country of origin labeling is real sketchy, full of hungry lawyers and fascinating self-interest, as well as enough political grandstanding to satisfy forests of trees being slaughtered for centuries to come. All in the name of, yes, you guessed it, transparency. I am oversimplifying the problem here to make a point. Your child’s pencils in school have to declare Made in China due to some lead poisoning issues in the yellow paint, but crayons can hide the country of origin because a lawyer said the transparency issue does not cause harm. This convoluted logic is rampant throughout the entire mess of country of origin labeling. Unfortunately, this is but the tip of the iceberg in manufacturing, cost, and value.
By the way, I guarantee, there are hordes of lawyers plotting ways and means of overturning country of origin labeling to hide or overturn legal decisions they find onerous, mainly to further remove any hint that “Made in China” could be traced to problems with poisoning to China.
Taking us to the first point in this article, when did America stop manufacturing? Why did America stop manufacturing? Why did stores stop selling American manufactured goods? In Home Deport today, I made a point of looking for “Made Proudly in the USA” stickers on tools, products, and other items for sale. There were no official statistics, no actual counts, just browsing shelves, looking for products, and I was not pleased. Walmart has long been turned into a proud repository for Chinese manufacturing; to see anything other than “Made in China” on their shelves would be a significant accomplishment.
Having ventured into a Hobby Lobby recently, I was again amazed at the incredibly talented people worldwide and wondered again, “When did America stop manufacturing goods?” Dollar Tree is another place where Made in China flourishes, and one has to wonder, “Why did stores stop selling American manufactured goods?”
Before anyone jumps to the conclusion that I am China-bashing or Big-Box Bashing, please note that I am sick to death of the excuses that “Manufacturing in America is too expensive to be profitable.” I detest hearing excuses that “Manufacturers cannot find enough unskilled laborers to work the machines, without illegal labor.” I am through listening to supposed experts declare that “Americans cannot compete with Chinese labor due to American expectations for benefits, job expectations, the cost of safety, etc.” The other day some ignorant putz declared that the “American worker is just plain lazy compared to workers even in Europe, which is why Americans can never work fast enough to meet production goals.”
Bringing us to the cost and value topics of this article. Long have cost accountants and operations managers had a professional love/hate relationship. We love to hate each other for one reason; we do not see eye to eye on basic fundamental reality. To a cost accountant, everything has a cost, but the difference between cost and value is not found in green money losses alone unless you are a cost accountant.
We have discussed the different types/colors of money previously. Green money is cold hard cash, and cost accounting is only, ever, concerned with the end of the day totals of cold hard cash! However, reality always has other types of money involved, relationships that cannot be qualified in monetary means, and humans are more than dollars and cents in a ledger. Value is always different than cost.
Simple explanation; a hammer costs your great-grandfather $1.00. With that hammer, your great-grandfather built a home and a cradle. That cradle rocked your grandfather, father, and you to sleep. Upon reaching the age of accountability, each, in turn, was taught how to swing a hammer, driving nails, and learning carpentry. That hammer holds four generations of value, beyond the cost of $1.00. Green money costs, that hammer has depreciated in value until it is worthless to the company and should be scrapped for a new hammer; but the value of that hammer is not measured in dollars and cents. Thus the disconnect between operations and cost accounting.
What does all of this have to do with retail establishments, manufacturing in America, and “Made in China?” What is the value of manufacturing in America; self-sufficiency in the time of trouble, pride of accomplishment, value in production, and upward economic mobility of dreams for employees. Why does America need retail establishments that will sell “Made in America;” to remind Americans who we are, why we are neighbors and provide an outlet for manufacturing in America to compete.
Ask yourself, why did President Bill Clinton pave the way for China to join the World Trade Organization and actively push to move manufacturing to China? Why did President Richard Nixon push so hard to “Open China?” What has been the cost, and where is the value in either or both of these decisions? Sufficient time has passed to evaluate both of these decisions without political rhetoric and bombastic bloviations from either political extreme. Both presidents possessed more reasons and desires than they admitted while in office for these decisions and actions; the consequences are the focus, and you can judge the consequences yourself.
Consider cost versus value, consider the toll on hometowns across America where factories lay idle, homes lay vacant, streets lay silent, and poverty is so thick generations of destitution have lived and died in its shadow. Consider how some towns have tried to restructure themselves and succeeded, others have failed, some shipped their children to schools far away, others have turned their towns into “sleeper communities” for cities 2-6 hours away. You decide! Think! Investigate! Talk to people laid off by unions and forgotten. Then remember when politicians discuss taxes, labor union special interest projects, and social spending. Remember the next time you, a citizen with a brain, are reduced to “Human Infrastructure.”
© Copyright 2021 – M. Dave Salisbury
The author holds no claims for the art used herein, the pictures were obtained in the public domain, and the intellectual property belongs to those who created the images. Quoted materials remain the property of the original author.