Monday, February 16, 2009

Buy American, Buy Local

In spite of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's opposition to the "Buy American" provisions in the stimulus bill, the progressive movement (i.e. unions, consumer groups, the blogosphere) won according to David Sirota.
First, the Buy America provisions survived the conference committee and remain in the stimulus package. These provisions, which were vehemently opposed by multinational corporate lobbyists, encourage government agencies to purchase American-made goods in spending the stimulus money, so as to make sure the money creates as big an economic multiplier effect for our economy as possible.

Second, I'm told by Capitol Hill sources that the Sanders-Grassley amendment prohibiting bailed-out banks from using taxpayer money to outsource jobs remains in the final bill. The amendment followed the Associated Press's report that many banks were using the cash in conjunction with their ongoing efforts to abuse the H-1B program and outsource information sector jobs.
Of course, you won't hear the Mackinac Center, Republicans, or conservative mouthpieces like Lesley Stahl singing the praises of Buy American. They argue we're being protectionists and other countries will look upon these provisions as hostile. That's garbage according to this CEO who told 60 Minutes...
"The whole purpose of your stimulus package, and it's the right purpose, is to stop the bleeding of jobs and to create new jobs here in America, not overseas, not in China, not in Europe," Dan DiMicco, the CEO of Nucor ...

DiMicco said that the counter argument - trade retaliation by other countries - is not true. "It's all garbage," he told Stahl. "People can say what they want. What we have around the world, all right, is a trade war against the United States that we have not showed up for."

DiMicco denied he is a protectionist. "I am a person who says there's no such thing as free trade. Free trade is an academic luxury the real world doesn't enjoy. If you want to study it at Harvard, study it at Harvard. It doesn't work in the real world. It has no application."
The EPI agrees: "These companies are self-interested, simply wanting unlimited access to imports, many of which are illegally subsidized and unfairly traded."

Our economy is badly crippled and people are hurting. Taxpayer money should be used to help Americans and put our own house in order first, and that means the government has to make sure the money isn't used to widen the trade deficit, not if it wants to create and preserve jobs.
Suppose the government spends, say, $100 billion on bridges and buildings, and that $500 million of that is used to buy steel. If it is used to buy imported steel, and if that $500 million doesn't come back to the United States in the form of demand for its exports, then you can subtract $500 million from the stimulus. And you can be pretty sure--given our current trade deficit--that something like that would happen. So, without a requirement that these government projects use domestic steel (with mills currently running at 43 percent capacity!), there is a very great possibility that the government would be throwing away money rather than doing anything about the problem. [emphasis added]
Republicans are hoping Obama fails. What better way to make sure that happens than to push to use the stimulus money to buy materials from foreign countries?

How do most Americans feel about the "Buy American" provisions? A national poll found that 84 percent favor the requirements and only 4 percent strongly oppose them. The overwhelming support was consistent regardless of gender, age, income level, education, or region, proving once again that Republicans are out of touch with mainstream America.

Republicans are out of touch with local Michigan communities too. A group in Genesee County says it's important to think about the American economy, and they're going even further with a campaign to buy local. A series of business leaders in Grand Blanc, Swartz Creek, Flint and other communities recorded a series of messages that play regularly on four radio stations that are part of the local Cumulus Radio Group.

Jet Kilmer, President of the Grand Blanc Chamber of Commerce, recorded one message that explains how 83% of money spent with a local merchant stays in the community vs. 43% spent outside. The message urges people to consider buying local, or to hire local contractors to do needed work.

And according to Crain's Detroit, "the state Agriculture Department projected that if Michigan households earmarked $10 a week in their grocery purchases to made-in-Michigan food products, it would generate $30 million a week in economic impact."

What's good for big business isn't always good for Americans. If we don't have jobs and decent wages, we won't be able to buy what they're selling no matter how much they mark it down. That's why we need to keep the stimulus money in this country. Americans should come first. Period.


abi said...

It's hard to understand why, in an economic stimulus bill, anyone would protest a buy American clause. Or maybe they think this is a stimulus for cheap steel from China.

You're right - this is just another area where Republicans are way out of touch with what Americans want.

BTW, I thought DiMicco made great arguments on 60 Minutes and made Stahl look a little foolish.

Kathy said...

Abi, I thought he made Stahl look foolish too, although she didn't need his help to do so. Did you catch that remark she made to the steel worker who lamented that his $87,000 salary had been cut by 50% and now they were eating peanut butter and jelly? She laughed and said as opposed to caviar, and the worker then jumped in and said they had been eating turkey previously.

What a snobby remark to make, and how out of touch she is with mainstream America. A 50% cut in income may not be a joke to someone with millions of dollars, but to a middle-class worker it can mean the difference between being able to feed his family or starving.

It wouldn't have killed her to make a sympathetic statement instead of turning it into a joke, but then again, she would have had to feel sympathy in order to do that. She obviously could have cared less about the worker. Her concern was with Catepillar and corporate America.

Pete Murphy said...

Excellent post, Kathy. I thought you might be interested in another "take" on the trade deficit from another Southeast Michigander!

Our enormous trade deficit is rightly of growing concern to Americans. Since leading the global drive toward trade liberalization by signing the Global Agreement on Tariffs and Trade in 1947, America has been transformed from the wealthiest nation on earth - its preeminent industrial power - into a skid row bum, literally begging the rest of the world for cash to keep us afloat. It's a disgusting spectacle. Our cumulative trade deficit since 1976, financed by a sell-off of American assets, exceeds $9.1 trillion. What will happen when those assets are depleted? Today's recession may be just a preview of what's to come.

Why? The American work force is the most productive on earth. Our product quality, though it may have fallen short at one time, is now on a par with the Japanese. Our workers have labored tirelessly to improve our competitiveness. Yet our deficit continues to grow. Our median wages and net worth have declined for decades. Our debt has soared.

Clearly, there is something amiss with "free trade." The concept of free trade is rooted in Ricardo's principle of comparative advantage. In 1817 Ricardo hypothesized that every nation benefits when it trades what it makes best for products made best by other nations. On the surface, it seems to make sense. But is it possible that this theory is flawed in some way? Is there something that Ricardo didn't consider?

At this point, I should introduce myself. I am author of a book titled "Five Short Blasts: A New Economic Theory Exposes The Fatal Flaw in Globalization and Its Consequences for America." My theory is that, as population density rises beyond some optimum level, per capita consumption begins to decline. This occurs because, as people are forced to crowd together and conserve space, it becomes ever more impractical to own many products. Falling per capita consumption, in the face of rising productivity (per capita output, which always rises), inevitably yields rising unemployment and poverty.

This theory has huge ramifications for U.S. policy toward population management (especially immigration policy) and trade. The implications for population policy may be obvious, but why trade? It's because these effects of an excessive population density - rising unemployment and poverty - are actually imported when we attempt to engage in free trade in manufactured goods with a nation that is much more densely populated. Our economies combine. The work of manufacturing is spread evenly across the combined labor force. But, while the more densely populated nation gets free access to a healthy market, all we get in return is access to a market emaciated by over-crowding and low per capita consumption. The result is an automatic, irreversible trade deficit and loss of jobs, tantamount to economic suicide.

One need look no further than the U.S.'s trade data for proof of this effect. Using 2006 data, an in-depth analysis reveals that, of our top twenty per capita trade deficits in manufactured goods (the trade deficit divided by the population of the country in question), eighteen are with nations much more densely populated than our own. Even more revealing, if the nations of the world are divided equally around the median population density, the U.S. had a trade surplus in manufactured goods of $17 billion with the half of nations below the median population density. With the half above the median, we had a $480 billion deficit!

Our trade deficit with China is getting all of the attention these days. But, when expressed in per capita terms, our deficit with China in manufactured goods is rather unremarkable - nineteenth on the list. Our per capita deficit with other nations such as Japan, Germany, Mexico, Korea and others (all much more densely populated than the U.S.) is worse. My point is not that our deficit with China isn't a problem, but rather that it's exactly what we should have expected when we suddenly applied a trade policy that was a proven failure around the world to a country with one fifth of the world's population.

Ricardo's principle of comparative advantage is overly simplistic and flawed because it does not take into consideration this population density effect and what happens when two nations grossly disparate in population density attempt to trade freely in manufactured goods. While free trade in natural resources and free trade in manufactured goods between nations of roughly equal population density is indeed beneficial, just as Ricardo predicts, it’s a sure-fire loser when attempting to trade freely in manufactured goods with a nation with an excessive population density.

If you‘re interested in learning more about this important new economic theory, then I invite you to visit either of my web sites at or where you can read the preface, join in the blog discussion and, of course, buy the book if you like. (It's also available at

Please forgive me for the somewhat spammish nature of the previous paragraph, but I don't know how else to inject this new theory into the debate about trade without drawing attention to the book that explains the theory.

Pete Murphy
Author, "Five Short Blasts"

Kathy said...

Pete, thanks for the viewpoint on free trade and the link to your book. It sounds interesting and I'll make it a point to check it out soon.

Anonymous said...

The wrong people are having to tighten their belts and it should have happened a long time ago, but here we are.
Throw money at us from the top down what do we do?
Hopefully rebuild from the bottom (main street/the foundation) on up.
Long climb for most of us.