The Future of the US is Conscious
Consumerism, that is.
40 or 50 years ago, it was really easy to buy local. With the possible exception of certain items imported from Europe, if you wanted decent quality at a reasonable price, you looked for the made in the USA label.
Oh, how times have changed.
We now import about 60% of the goods sold in the United States - and in some sectors that figure is closer to 95%. Most of these items are of comparable quality, lower cost, and are much more ubiquitous than similar ones produced here. This country will most likely never again be competitive in the world marketplace in regards to price or quality relative to price for a majority of goods. There are a few reasons for that.
The current administration frequently claims that the decrease in US manufacturing jobs and increase in our international trade deficit are the results of the US government’s inability to negotiate trade deals with other countries and develop policies that prop up certain manufacturing and natural resource extraction industries. It believes that its predecessors should have implemented more policies that promote protectionism, punish other countries for their economic success, and remove environmental and worker protections in the US so that companies can produce goods at more competitive, lower costs.
While some of these policies may create some short-term gains, especially to the bottom lines of certain large companies, these strategies are the exact opposite of what we need to be doing. In the best case scenario, we'll merely be postponing the seemingly inevitable decline of American manufacturing while simultaneously harming the wellbeing of the majority of both current and future Americans, as well as non-Americans.
Reversing America’s decreasing ability to compete in the ever-evolving world marketplace will require a wide range of comprehensive changes, many of which are politically unfeasible.
One area that we could have an immediate meaningful impact on our own competitiveness is to alter our perceptions and attitudes towards what gives a product value. In addition to quality, taste, and how healthy something is, we could also make the conscious decision to place a premium value on products that align with what we care about.
We have a comparative advantage when we identify our vision of how we want our country - and our world - to look in the future and what values are important to us. Many companies both big and small have begun to conduct business in a more progressive manner, focusing on setting new standards in a variety of areas including clean energy, gender equality, the human treatment of animals, and treating workers fairly. These companies, for the most part, have not done this because they are giant altruistic beings. They have done it because it is in their corporate best interests to align their values to those of their customers.
Consumers want to feel good about the products they buy and not have to worry about who or what was harmed in their production.
This trend of promoting progressive corporate values in the United States needs to continue and expand, not just for ethical reasons, but also for economic ones. Here, we can provide oversight and meaningful certifications to ensure that goods are actually produced as they claim to be. In many other countries, similar levels of oversight are virtually impossible. Even Apple, the most valuable company in the world, can’t ensure that all the metals in its iPhones are mined without any communities being exploited.
If it is important to us that our purchases are produced in a manner that minimizes the suffering and exploitation of people and animals and maximizes fairness and equality, we should try to buy from companies that demonstrate commitment towards aligning their corporate values with our own - and talk to each other about it! This conscientious consumerism will have a cascading effect of not only raising the bar of what it means to produce goods ethically, but could also enhance the comparative advantage of companies with progressive values that manufacture in the United States and make us, on the whole, more economically competitive in the global marketplace.