In John Lennon’s classic song “Imagine” he cries out some deep lyrics to make people think. Imagine a world with no countries. Imagine nothing to kill or die for. Most people would believe he was trying to create a visionary utopia of world peace. What if there were no countries, possessions or religion? Would we all have to fend for ourselves? Would we need any law and order to prevent total chaos? What would a truly global world look like?
Of course, today’s world is light years away from his vision. It seems that the more we move toward a global economy, the farther away we move from a world without borders. All over the world, countries are throwing up barriers to protect their economies. These days, some of the news on barriers has to do with tariffs. The current policy on tariffs has left us divided, but in the spirit of John Lennon, let’s not take sides. Let’s try to look at the bigger picture. Countries create barriers to competition in order to protect domestic companies from external competition all the time. Some countries create barriers by imposing tariffs, some create business environments with no rules or regulations, some create tax policies to encourage investments, etc.
Imagine a world with no tariffs or barriers of any kind. That would lead to competition and competition would lead to lower prices so everyone would be better off, right? Of course, competition assumes no barriers and a level playing field. Could that be a reality? Think about those items you bought at your local big box store. The price was right and the quality was good and they were most likely made somewhere far away from where you are. Is that because competition led to the best price and they couldn’t be made here in your backyard for that price? Chances are they could be made here, but even in a world without tariffs, the goods would cost you more.
If you work in a U.S. manufacturing facility, your company has certain rules it has to follow, including providing you with at least a minimum wage, providing other benefits including healthcare and ensuring you have a safe work environment and operating in a way that minimizes the negative impacts on our environment. We’ve created policies in the U.S. that make it more expensive to manufacture goods here than elsewhere. Nonetheless, whether you agree with all the rules and regulations, I think most Americans would agree that they would not want to return to the work conditions depicted in The Jungle by Upton Sinclair. As a country, we’ve decided that we do need certain laws and orders in place to prevent total chaos, but is that a value you are willing to pay for? The more dependent we have become on foreign made goods, the more it seems we lost touch with the values we set as a nation. As we’ve learned in recent years, many global companies were taking advantage of the lack of such laws in other countries, making their products cost less to manufacture than it would cost to make them here. As a result, the manufacturing sector has suffered and the middle class that it used to support feels disenfranchised. So, there are more and more calls for barriers. While tariffs might sound like a good idea, tariffs set by other nations in retaliation will only hurt domestic companies that depend on export markets. Rather than sit on the sidelines waiting to see how the political games play out, what if we the people could reduce our dependency on foreign goods and create a demand for more US made goods that support the values we worked so hard as a nation to achieve?
It may seem like small steps, but each and everyone one of us can make a difference by making the choice to purchase items made in the U.S.A. whenever possible. It used to be about pride and quality, but now people can get quality from anywhere in the world and at a much cheaper price. We should ask ourselves, is price the only thing that matters or do we want to create a smaller carbon footprint and support our local suppliers and the values we find important. Who is really benefiting from lower prices? We the people, the global corporations, the wealthy population, the poor population, the politicians…? Please leave your comments below.