Thursday, November 25, 2010

Washington, where turkeys abound

By Don Klein

In this uplifting celebratory season when we give thanks for the bountiful life we Americans have inherited there are millions who will be cutting back on festivities and gifts because the government has encouraged greedy industrialists to seek greater profits for their products by hiring foreigners to do the work once meant for Americans.

The practice is known as “outsourcing,” which is more accurately described as craven profiteering. It is unpatriotic to put your own people down in favor of outlanders.

Outsourcing is such an onerous practice that I decided some time ago I would embark on what once was considered a half-baked xenophobic practice called, “buy American.” Whatever I would buy from then on would have to be produced in this country or I would not buy it. Sounds reasonable? That would be my puny way of getting back at the cold-hearted business elite who are exporting American jobs.

Well I found it wouldn’t work too well. I would have little clothing to wear, great difficulty in watching television or calling someone on a cell phone, or even finding utensils for consuming my dinner. Buying American would leave me bereft of so much of what I need to live by, I would feel impoverished.

Everyone should be outraged about outsourcing, especially today with so many fellow citizens out of work or being underemployed elsewhere after being displaced from careers. It is another case of the moneyed guys making more money and the working people being left off to fend for themselves in a bleak economic environment.

A friend of mine, a doctor of philosophy in economics, once told me “it’s a good thing to let those who can produce at the lowest price be the suppliers of goods.” He said that made economic sense. My response was that that might be text book sense but not reality. I added that a major world power cannot exist without a manufacturing base. He shrugged his shoulders and said we have to learn to compete.

Compete? How do you do that when there are people willing to work at one-tenth the salaries that Americans have become accustomed to earning over decades.

It is difficult to get straight talk when looking into outsourcing. There is an unfortunate conflict off facts. Just the other day the president of MIT, Dr. Susan Hockfield, told television host Charlie Rose that 40 percent of the world’s manufacturing is US based. That is more than any other nation.

At the same time the immutable fact exists that more than 15 million Americans are out of work and millions more are employed at jobs that pay a fraction of what they once earned. The only explanation I have for this apparent conflict in “facts” is in the definition of terms.

Could it be that when Dr. Hockfield’s high numbers in manufacturing refer to tonnage (giant items like airliners and heavy ground moving equipment) or possibly she is speaking of costs of goods, while other nations are eating our lunch by exporting to us labor-generating cargoes like television sets, cell phones, autos and clothing?

It doesn’t matter because so much of Americana has been outsourced by short-sighted industrialists whose myopic vision is calibrated solely to the profit margin of the balance sheet. If they keep exporting jobs overseas who will be left in this country to buy the multitude of goods that are pouring into our shops from cheap-labor nations?

Certainly it is prideful to know your country makes the most desired airliners available as well as most of the large agricultural and construction equipment that is sold anywhere. Other large US foreign exchange products are films and television shows pumped out of Hollywood almost daily.

These selective victories do little to help the unemployment problem. The manufacturing loss is painful. The knowledge that the Rawlings baseballs we all grew up playing with on the local sandlot are now made in Costa Rica is one that makes me gag.

That is not all. Most of the power shoes from Converse, Rockport and others which have become as much a part of American life as bagels and cream cheese are not made in the US. Even the omnipresent Mattel toys and most other playthings that American kids love are made in China.

You think you are buying an American-made vehicle when you buy a car from General Motors, Ford or Chrysler but the chassis for many of these models are made elsewhere.

Americans built the most extensive and efficient railroad system in the world but today would have to import Manganese turnouts if they wish to expand or improve the rail lines in the country.

Traditional vending machines at every bowling alley and filling station are no longer made in this country as are Levi jeans, Dell computers and even canned sardines. The four-wheeled red wagon I dragged behind me when I was a child is no longer an American product.

Even the Internal Revenue Service reportedly has outsourced some of its tax work to India and the Defense Department uses foreign contractors to provide services to military forces throughout the world.

To rub salt in the unemployment wound the government offers tax breaks to American companies operating in other lands. Is there no spunk left in government?

When the Tea Party shouts they “want their country back” and then focuses on rescinding health care and reducing entitlements they are looking in the wrong direction. Yes, I want my country back from those in foreign lands making a living off the jobless Americans they displaced in the work force.

It is disgraceful that Washington continues to allow widespread outsourcing. It seems the biggest turkeys this Thanksgiving will not be found on the dinner tables, but in Congress.

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