Is this real life? Is this what we’ve come to, in America, in 2012? I present to you the “Team USA Made in America Act of 2012.” Give me a few moments so I can go staple all of my fingers together as a penance to the founders of our country.
You should know that this issue – where the US Olympic uniforms are made – is what is front and center for your elected representatives. A project that, at its absolute most productive, could result in possibly tens of jobs that would last a month at most, and probably less. Here are two questions that Congress could worry about instead of “Where was that striped beret made?” that could actually move the needle on domestic economic productivity:
· What is the tax rate going to be in 2013?
· What will the federal budget look like?
Just a start, guys!
You’d almost be able to forgive them for this if the current Congress hadn’t been near-criminally derelict in almost all of its other duties. Saying things need to be “Made In America” requires literally a bumper sticker’s worth of thought. It feels right. JOBS. TOUGHNESS. CAN DO. ‘MERICA. Unfortunately, it’s wrong. There’s no worthwhile reason to demand things to be made here unless we are talking about things we make better than anyone else could. This is true for a lot of things – software, medical innovations, branding and advertising, certain types of alcohol, movies, etc….this list could go on and on (we do lots of awesome stuff) – but it is not true for clothing. We’d cut fabric pretty much the same as the Chinese would. So we don’t do it anymore, for the same reason you don’t make your own clothes anymore – we’ve found more efficient ways to spend our time, talent and money, and because of trade, we’ve found economies more than happy to take the textile work. It’s mutually beneficial, both for the countries and for the individuals involved. You are better off doing whatever you’re doing right now than if you had to do that and also knit sweaters for your family. The person making your clothes has more reliable work than if he/she was only working to produce clothes that would be used domestically. High five, economies of scale!
And of course, it’s silly to think that Americans were excluded from the uniform selection and design process simply because someone in another country was actually piecing the items together. Lots of Americans at Ralph Lauren likely played a role in developing that uniform (and were probably paid for it! Jobs!). Designing and branding is the part of the clothing supply chain we handle now. So these uniforms were probably created here, but put together somewhere else. It’s an odd way to classify where things are “made” isn’t it? After all, if I order a table from Pottery Barn and they send it to me in pieces with instructions and I assemble it, is that a homemade piece of furniture? Maybe I’ll start claiming that – that anything I physically put together, I made myself.
As I was writing this post, I received an email from Brooks Brothers directing me to this page:
First, I applaud their effort to not let a good (manufactured) crisis go to waste. Good hustle. Second, I’ll point out that those things coming out of the tie factory in New York, the tailored clothing facility in Massachusetts and the shirt factory in North Carolina are all likely of exceptional quality and are all definitely expensive – prohibitively so for many people. So if you would like to have a tie or shirt option other than Brooks Brothers, you should be happy that there are other companies with global supply chains to allow you to get more goods for your money.
Finally, look at that last paragraph. Even after detailing their impressive roster of domestic production facilities, Brooks Brothers is admitting that, in the end, it’s mostly hogwash. The “Made in” label is a pretty dumb way to figure out all the different people and components that go into making any given item, roughly as accurate as me telling you I made my shower rod myself.
The funniest part of the proposed Act is that, for all its fanfare, it doesn’t actually require the uniforms to be “made” here. If the uniforms cannot be labeled “Made in USA,” the USOC is required “to make publicly available a detailed justification of the reasons the corporation purchased or otherwise obtained uniforms that do not meet those requirements.” Is “because it would be needless and stupid” detailed enough? Or would they need more?