February 3, 2016

To restore American industry, regulate branding of third-world crud bearing Western names and symbols

One way to start making stuff here in America again is to put tariffs on the cheap foreign crud that floods our retail shelves. If the company that off-shores its production has to pass along a decent tariff to the consumer, Walmart and Target will stop carrying their junk -- why would consumers may about the same price for junk as for quality?

A separate path is one I haven't heard discussed before, but is crucial to pull back the veil about what exactly it is they're buying. Most people don't realize how shoddy the product is because, even if they search for the country of origin (and most of them do not), a tiny label reading "Made in China" gets lost on them because of the Western branding.

After all, the company making it bears a Western name, and so does the particular item. It's the Peckham model shirt from the Applecart and Morrow company, so it doesn't matter if the label says "Made in China". The worst is branding that is specifically American -- the All-American model power drill from the Uncle Sam Tools company, whose logo is a red white and blue flag -- oh btw, MADE IN CHINA.

These companies should not be allowed to fob off cheap third world crud on us, while deceiving us with Western branding (names, symbols, etc.). Hypothetically, consumers can inspect the country of origin, but again most do not, and in the cognitive dissonance between the tiny print on the label and the cleverly designed branding, their minds favor the razzle-dazzle over the strict facts. We might wish the human mind worked differently, but it does not, and we must base policy on how things really are.

I also don't see this coming from consumer protest groups, because again the consumers go through cognitive dissonance and resolve it in favor of the branding -- perceiving it as cheap third-world junk would undo their resolution and bring back that anxious feeling all over again. So leaving it to individual consumer demand would not do the trick either.

That leaves it, unfortunately, to some federal agency to regulate the presentation of consumer products. I wish nobody needed to do that, but then I wish we didn't have to enforce laws against dumping toxic waste into our water supply.

It would be akin to the regulation of food marketing by the FDA -- for example, you can't market or brand something as "chocolate" unless it has cocoa butter, the key ingredient. If the company uses a cheaper lipid like generic vegetable oils, they can't fob it off on the public as "chocolate" but "chocolate-y" or "made with chocolate" or "tastes kinda like real chocolate". True, the ingredient list would show consumers that cocoa butter isn't in there, but it requires too much effort to do a mini research project every time you want to inspect a common consumer good. Just summarize it so we can tell at a glance.

Country of origin is no less important of a summary for the quality, reliability, and durability of a consumer good. There's a simple reason why the maker off-shored the manufacturing -- to cut costs by paying for crappier labor and inferior materials, while charging the same price back home, with the consumer none the wiser -- or at most, apathetic, cynical, and passively accepting.

I don't see how an agency within the industry could do the regulating. Usually the insiders only regulate branding to protect native stuff and emphasize its quality. Here the goal is the opposite: to reveal foreign junk as foreign junk to dissuade consumers from wasting their money. No industry insider body would want to do that. Some kind of government agency seems to be the only sort of solution, a la the FDA regulating food companies from marketing "pink slime" as minced ribeye steak.

I'm also not committed to one way or another of regulation. The idea that sprang to mind was to make the branding names be consonant with the country of origin, or at least region. This is easy to tell in practice -- a shirtmaker that has everything made in Vietnam has to brand itself with a Vietnamese or Southeast Asian name. Not necessarily in the Vietnamese language, which we wouldn't understand, but something like "Vietnamese Elite Tailoring" or "Ho Chi Minh Clothiers" rather than "Rumptree and Cork". Likewise with imagery, no Union Jack flag logos allowed for something made in Vietnam.

Mega-corporations are at this point running a shell game with consumers about what product was made where, always making sure that the shells themselves look culturally familiar. It amounts to fraud and ought to be stopped.

More importantly, though, it would wake consumers up to just how much of the stuff that retailers stock their shelves with is simply third-world crap. Even without a tariff imposed on it, this would shift a lot of their purchases toward authentic Western producers. Compounded with a tariff, it would wipe out the retail junk market overnight. Pay more for lower quality? Pass.

Such a regulatory system would resemble the protected designation of origin laws for foodstuffs produced in Europe, where only authentic Asiago cheese can be labeled as such, protecting its makers from having some lower-quality imitation stuff benefiting from the original's reputation, which it did not create or cultivate, but is merely latching onto like a parasite. Similarly, Chinese tools that look like American tools should not be allowed to benefit from their reputation and prestige by being branded with American names and symbols.

The third-world junk on retail shelves does not come right out and say it's American -- in fact, in fine print on a small label, it says it's from Malaysia, Nicaragua, or wherever -- but the level of insinuation and deception with its branding makes it amount to the same as outright fraud.

Again putting the tariff issue aside, even if American consumers wanted to buy these things, they should be doing so without being misdirected by marketing sleight-of-hand. Aside from being wrong in the abstract, this kind of fraud is incredibly widespread -- it's hard to think of any manufactured good that it does not apply to -- and keeping American producers from making and selling the real, good stuff.

That the American makers of furniture, hardware, clothing, electronics, and all the rest of it, have been put out of business and their workforce either on the dole or working crappy service jobs, just so some liar with an MBA can get rich with their marketing shell game, is one of the most appalling disgraces of the modern era.

17 comments:

  1. Like a lot of people, I’ve always assumed that American-made stuff would be higher quality but a lot more expensive. An example I’ve run into: leather weight lifting belts. The third-world ones are made in Pakistan and I can get one for $30 – $50. I can get an American made one from a couple of different companies. I assume it will be better quality but it will cost $80 - $120.

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  2. One thing to consider is how many belts you'll need over the time in your life that you'll be lifting weights. If the cheaper stuff breaks down twice as fast, but costs half as much, then there's no savings over the entire time period.

    In fact, it will cost more to buy the lower-quality stuff because there are all sorts of other little costs that add up each time you make a purchase. Buying one quality belt, you only make one trip to the store, and only pay for the store's operation and overhead for that one trip. Or you pay only once for shipping if you have it mailed to you.

    Having to buy two, three, or however many belts to maintain the quality at what it's supposed to be, you rack up all those other little costs along the way just for the privilege of purchasing another "cheaper" belt.

    If the item is something that benefits from maintenance, it's the same story. A quality product doesn't need as much maintenance, parts are easier to find and replace, the design may be simple enough for a DIY-er to avoid labor costs, and so on.

    Most stuff these days is increasingly being made to be used for a certain period of time, thrown out when no longer optimally working, and a whole new item bought to replace it. As opposed to buying a good item, and giving it a little TLC along the way, which is much cheaper over time -- but does require the will to do a little work on your own and to pick up the know-how.

    Now, it's almost like people are going to buy a cheap shirt, throw it out after a year or two when the buttons come off, and buy a new one.

    At thrift stores, I've picked up heavy wool hunting shirts, coats, etc., that were made 50 to 60 to 70 years ago, and still have all the buttons held tightly in place. They must have used stronger thread, more thread, and sewn in a stronger pattern through the buttonholes, and probably with a needle that didn't damage the material as much.

    Worst comes to worst, I'll have to pay someone to sew back on a button (extra-strong, so I don't have to keep sewing it back on every couple months).

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  3. That's an honest mistake that we all make, BTW -- just looking at how much something costs at a single point in time, as opposed to adding up all the costs over time.

    But dogmatic libertarians and free-trade types like to take advantage of that short-sightedness and warn us about how much more expensive everything will be. We'll be so poor if we can only choose from well-made stuff!

    Actually, we become poor by having to keep buying new stuff because it's all made so cheaply or in a way that cannot be tuned up but only entirely replaced. And we become poor by having only crappy service-sector jobs to work at. When you think of people who sow seeds and dig crops out of the ground, does that strike you as prosperous?

    Making stuff is much more highly prized, and in greater demand. Most of us don't know how to make our own furniture. We need specialists to do it -- please God, where is there someone who can make a bed frame? Or a power drill? Or a winter coat? Or a laptop computer (which used to be made here in America at least into the early 1990s)?

    When we start making stuff here again -- from furniture to clothing to industrial equipment to electronics -- we're all going to be a lot richer. And so, a lot more able to afford any bump upward in prices -- although like I said, the costs over time will probably be lower.

    Even more so when we start buying things for their use, rather than as fashion statements that must be thrown out and replaced as we run in place on a trendoid treadmill.

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  4. As a reality check on the libertarian dogma, what has happened to savings and wealth over the past 30 years, when we've off-shored everything and "enjoy the benefit" of all the cheap Chinese crud flooding the shelves at Walmart?

    Median incomes have stagnated and declined, savings are non-existent, consumer debt is through the roof, and everyone who notices quality at all complains about how rotten everything has become.

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  5. The first lifting belt I bought was made in Pakistan and was described as “leather.” It tore after a few months and I then saw that it was two thin sheets of leather sandwiching some fluffy, man-made material. Also, the sizing on the Paki ones is WAY off.
    The American made ones are custom made to your waist (stomach really) size and are one thick piece of leather which is almost impossible to tear.
    I found some canvas-shelled sleeping bags at a thrift store – they were made in the 1960’s and were still in excellent shape.

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  6. This regulation should also mandate that all components of a product have country of origin listed so we don't end up with products assembled in America with an American case but shoddy internal components that fail like the third world countries they were forged in. A percentage rating would be good, 25% American 75% Chinese.

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  7. St. Cecilia2/3/16, 2:07 PM

    Speaking of "consumer debt through the roof" (I don't have any) can anyone explain why 5 out of 6 commercials on radio, especially talk radio, advertise help with tax debt? It seems every month a new outfit springs up claiming to be a IRS slayer. I can't imagine this is an especially lucrative niche, so what's the angle?

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  8. advancedatheist2/3/16, 4:40 PM

    Gentrifiers seem to prefer to salvage and renovate old, very solid urban housing built a century ago that has resisted several generations of negrification, short of burning to the ground. Apparently some elites want the good, solid stuff for themselves, made by long-dead white guys, while leaving the crappy stuff made by foreigners and low-quality post-1965 immigrants for the rest of us, despite what their economic and diversity propaganda says.

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  9. Peaches N. Cream2/3/16, 4:41 PM

    After my mom died we found an electric razor, still in the package--she must have been planning to give it as a gift. My son decided he'd use it. The instructions said, " Replacement parts are not available for your new Chinese Crap razor. It has been carefully designed and engineered to give superior use for a period of up to six months."

    They came right out and said it!!!!!

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  10. Or how about Christmas lights these days -- the label comes right out and says they're intended for however-many hours, and then they're done. From what I remember, it worked out to about 2-3-4 Christmas seasons.

    Garbage.

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  11. Contaminated NEET2/3/16, 9:20 PM

    This is a fantastic idea, but the real problem is the traitorous owners of the big name brands. I'm not too concerned about "Uncle Sam Tools" making their products in China (although admittedly, it's despicable and dishonest), I'm concerned about "Black and Decker" tools being made in China. Our locust-like leaders dishonestly exploit the good will built up by decades of quality domestic work for a few years of low costs and high profits. One company mortgaging its reputation like this would suffer, but they all do it.


    Well-known, well-respected brand names are all the private property of faithless multinationals. Who has the power and the will to expropriate them?

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  12. advancedatheist2/3/16, 10:30 PM

    A notable exception to the Chinese junk trend: Many of the LED bulbs entering the market recently come from China, but they will allegedly last around 15 years in normal usage. They only use about a sixth of the power of the equivalent incandescent bulbs they can replace, and their prices have come down as the Chinese companies exploit their experience curves in manufacturing them. So they seem like pretty good deals. We could manufacture the same bulbs in the U.S., of course.

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  13. "We could manufacture the same bulbs in the U.S., of course."

    That's the real comparison -- not Chinese-made LED bulbs vs. European gas lamps from centuries ago, but the same kind of thing made here vs. there.

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  14. "Our locust-like leaders dishonestly exploit the good will built up by decades of quality domestic work for a few years of low costs and high profits."

    Good point. We'll just have to threaten them with tariffs, a la Trump getting Ford to build their plants here rather than Mexico.

    But what I'm proposing would cover Black & Decker -- two clearly Western names. If they make their product in China, it should have to be branded and sold under a more fitting name like Chang & Deng.

    BTW, at a thrift store the other day I saw a Black & Decker toaster oven from the mid-late '80s (judging by colors), and it was still made in USA. Looked like it just rolled off the line, too, unlike the old Chinese-made oven that had plastic parts clearly broken off.

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  15. Actually, make that B&D oven from the early '90s. It would blow Millennials' minds how recently these changes have been. Their older siblings / cousins, and parents all grew up in the made in USA era.

    Here's the one:

    https://www.etsy.com/listing/194950447/black-decker-toaster-oven-spacemaker

    "Black and Decker made this basic style of toaster oven from the early 1980s to early 2000s, but for the last decade they started to make the switches cheaper, and moved production to Mexico, then to China. This is a sturdier one with the old-style switch"

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  16. The Vermifuge2/4/16, 9:59 AM

    This post reminds me of the main point of Gremlins: an American inventor tries his best, buys Gizmo, then, when he leaves, chaos comes to turn his neighbor's tractor against the American worker who'd been replaced by Chinese cogs.

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  17. When you've got all this cheap junk in front of you, it's therapeutic to think to yourself using Mr. Futterman's voice.

    "Goddamn fah-ren TV..."

    "Goddamn fah-ren phone..."

    Although recently I've found it better to use Trump's voice -- CHAY-na! His tone (they talk about my TONE, my TONE, my TONE) is more exasperated and ready to go do something about it, rather than resigned like Mr. Futterman.

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