Sunday, February 8, 2009

“Buy American” . . . .?

Judging from the comments heard on radio and TV call-in shows in recent days, one would think Americans have never bought a laptop made in China, a cell phone made in Korea or a tomato grown in Mexico. Now they do not want any money in the stimulus bill to be spent outside the United States. Not only is that a dangerous (protectionist, isolationist, nationalist) attitude, it is also totally impractical!

We have been international traders since Europeans first landed on these shores. “Here,” we said to the native tribes, “are some beads and mirrors; now we will take your land.”

Yesterday, on one of my rare shopping trips (I hate shopping!), I bought a skirt made in Vietnam, a T-shirt made in Cambodia, undies from Thailand and Honduras, a stir-fry pan made in Taiwan, and a Calvin Klein shirt made in China; even my new “Bass ‘American’ Jeans” were made in the Dominican Republic!

Had equivalent American-made products been available, my shopping trip would probably have been two or three times as expensive. That is the story of international trade! We should not ban buying from abroad (although, we do already have too much stuff in our homes and offices – but that’s another story); what we should do is sell more to other countries.

In November 2008 (the most recent month for which figures have been released by the U.S. government), we imported $183.2 billion worth of stuff, and exported $142.8 billion worth; in other words, a $40.4 billion deficit. In just one month! That’s not good, but we do like our “stuff”, don’t we?

As a business woman, I meet peers every day of the week who have products or services to sell that are perfect for international markets, but they don’t have the interest or confidence to pursue this.

So, this is your challenge for today: if you make soap, find a distributor in Dubai this year; if you are a business consultant, explore a partnership will a colleague in Australia; if you are an artist, reach out to seek exhibit opportunities in Geneva, Moscow or Brussels. It can be done, and for the sake of the American economy, it should be done. And quit talking about “Buy American” – it’s counterproductive.

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