The reason that American goods left was not due entirely to foreign goods being cheaper and better. A lot of the blame goes to management of American companies who made shoddy products. The auto industry is a prime example, US cars sucked and fell apart before 100k miles or about 5 years. People realized that a Honda would run for hundreds of thousands of miles and last much longer. So whose fault is that, the American worker or the CEO? Now we see Honda and Toyota and others making cars in America with American workers, albeit in states with no unions. But we can't blame the worker for the foul ups. Same in the motorcycle industry. Harley, once the icon of bikes, when taken over by AMF went straight to hell. It took getting the company back to get them going again with a quality product. Again, not the workers fault, but the worker suffered. Now we see everything coming from China, India, Indonesia, et al. Korea is emerging as a major player as well. I was in Korea when they were just beginning to make things. Their government had immense tariffs on foreign goods so as to protect their fledgling industry. That would be one way for the US to get jobs back. Yes, it would make goods more expensive, but it would also bring some manufacturing home. As it is now, people just don't have money to spend on quality products, so they buy cheap Chinese goods. That would change with some reinvestment in the middle class by our government and business. And yes, I think we can vilify manufacturers and CEOs who put profit as the single most important aspect of their business. Maybe we can blame investors and shareholders for wanting a quick buck as well, rather than putting long term strategies on their priority list. It's all about greed. Look no further than the bankers and wall street financiers, laughing as they all remain out of jail. But there is another thread for that here.
And yes, if it weren't for the Walmarts of the world (I refuse to shop there), maybe people would spend an extra few bucks for American goods. It is hard to actually find American goods these days, but whenever I run across them, I gladly pony up the extra bucks for them. This Christmas, for example, I made an effort to google American made for anything I wanted. I found that there are a lot of small companies making things that can be purchased at a reasonable price. Electronics, not so much, but I am optimistic enough to believe that can be done as well, maybe a tariff is what we need, worked in Korea. So next time you need some jeans, socks, shirts or whatever, look for a company in this country that makes it.
Busting unions is certainly not the answer to providing a decent wage to workers, why do you think they came about in the first place.
My point, perhaps not made with sufficient clarity, is not that we should be busting unions, but that we should be busting demagoguery. Ascribing the nation's economic ills to the avarice and venality of capital or management only coarsens and cheapens public discourse about topics of mind-boggling complexity, without doing much to develop solutions. I didn't much care for Mitt Romney's brand of demagoguery in castigating 47% of the American people as takers who refuse to accept responsibility for their lives, and I don't much care for equally banal and inflammatory generalizations about those who invest in or run American businesses.
Are the ranks of investors, financiers, and corporate managers plagued by greed, arrogance and incompetence? Sure. What else is new? These seem to be pervasive and enduring human traits, though, thankfully, not our only ones. And, if you think the same cannot be said of butchers, bakers and candlestick makers, you just aren't getting out enough.
The problem with traiffs and other barriers to international trade is that they necessarily result in someone's ox getting gored, and that someone is not always rich in oxen.
One response to continued loss of domestic textile production, for example, might be to impose protective tariffs on imported garments which would push their prices up to those of garments produced domestically. American textile workers would obviously gain (at least in the short term) from the consequent preservation of jobs and resistance to downward wage pressure. The textile mill owners and, presumably, their managers, would also likely benefit. The single mom, working two jobs and trying to figure out how to stretch her paycheck to clothe three kids in the coming school year, might not have quite as rosy a view of the measure, however.
And, then, there is the problem of retaliation. Sometimes a nation, believing its manufacturers are being unfairly hobbled by barriers erected to participation in another country's markets, will respond in kind. This may be of little concern to businesses, protected by the tariff, which derive the bulk of their revenue from domestic markets. It would likely be a matter of graver consequence, however, for businesses (and their employees) dependent on sales of their products in the retaliating nation. Another ox gored.
Quick fixes, like tariffs, tend also to have debilitating effects on the long-term competitiveness of the protected businesses. Competition provides impetus for innovation in design, production and distribution. When producers are able to insulate themselves from competition, and to continue earning profits without innovating, there is less reason to undertake the effort and investment required for improvement. Business may proceed happily enough for a time, but ultimately a day of reckoning is sure to come, sometimes with devastating effect.
The matter is further complicated by the reality that the imposition of trade barriers -- always an act of government -- does not proceed so much from clear thinking about their economic merits, as from the political clout of those who favor them. That clout is frequently purchased with the profits (or the union dues) the exponents of trade barriers are seeking to protect.
Domestic trade protection also poses an ethical issue. The championing of the economic interests of American workers is only the latest brand of chauvinism. Why, ultimately, are our workers any more entitled to jobs than their counterparts in India, Malaysia or Peru? To the extent cost advantages of foreign producers reflect oppressive practices (e.g., child labor, absence of environmental and safe work place regulation, etc.) which we believe conflict with fundamental requirements for civil society, we should exert what pressures we can (hopefully, in concert with other nations) to rectify injustices. But, if foreign capital and labor are playing fairly by the rules of the game, on what moral basis does the U.S.A. get to steal away the benefits for its own?
To return for a moment to the issue of employer avoidance of ACA health care expenses, please understand that I am not opposed in principle to imposing burdens on businesses, whether they are directly financial or regulatory, to achieve social ends. I only ask that more thought be devoted to selection of the mechanism by which the desired benefit is delivered and the attendant costs imposed. It should have been evident to the architects of the ACA that, as economic actors (whether capital, management, or labor) pursue their own interests, some employers would reduce their labor forces or cut their employees' hours to escape or minimize the costs of compliance. To assail these employers as greedy pigs, rather than criticize our legislators for failing to build a better mousetrap, is naive and does nothing to deliver health care services to the working poor.
The problem is just not as simple as white hats and black hats.