To Pull the Economy Out of the Crapper, Buy American!

April 20, 2009

There comes a time when you have to put your money where your mouth is. 

A few days ago, my wife discovered a crack in one of our toilets.  The crack had started at the top of the bowl, below the lip, and had propagated downward, ending at the water line.  If it went any further, we’d have a leakage problem.  So it was time to buy a new toilet.  Oh, joy.

So we were off to Lowe’s.  They had a nice display of a big selection of toilets.  We wanted one that was elongated (not round), with a good flush rating.  Several models seemed suitable, so we narrowed down our selection to an American Standard model, based on price. 

But just before closing the deal, I asked the salesperson where these toilets were made, fully expecting to hear that none of them were made in the U.S.  She explained that the American Standard toilet we had selected was made in Mexico, but there was another, the Kohler model that, to my surprise, was made in the USA, in Wisconsin. 

So we stopped and reconsidered.  The American Standard was $225.  The Kohler was $248.  Which was better?  Who knows?  A toilet isn’t one of those things you can take for a test drive, at least not while the salesperson or other customers are looking. 

For us, the decision was easy.  The American Standard went back on the shelf and we took the Kohler home with us.  It was simple to install, looks great and flushes as advertised. 

As a general rule of thumb, about two thirds of the cost to manufacture a product is labor.  My $248 Kohler toilet probably cost about $150 to manufacture.  So $100 of labor went into that toilet.  For a premium of $23, I was able to put $100 back into an American worker’s pocket.  Had I bought the American Standard, I’d have spent $225 without putting back a penny. 

It’s kind of like the “paying it forward” concept that has become so popular among philanthropists.  If I invest in helping someone out, it’ll eventually come back around at a time when I might need the help myself.  If we all bought American on those occasions when we have the choice, it’d make a huge difference in our economy, fueling a big demand for labor to fill high-paying manufacturing jobs.  What’s an extra $23 for a toilet if a high demand for labor causes me to get a $100/month raise? 

So buy American!  If we’ve learned anything over the past year, it’s that low prices for foreign-made products don’t mean much if you’ve lost your job and have no income at all.  Instead of benefitting from low prices, we can now see that the loss of jobs has left our economy in the crapper!