Monday, April 16, 2012

"Buy US or Else" bumper sticker = Nice life there, wouldn't want anything to 'APPEN to it, would we?

Living in the eastern part of Michigan, I see a lot of bumper stickers advising me that I am one of many, or perhaps all, types of bad people unless whenever I buy a car it is "made in the US."  That's been true throughout my life, and in the past I would just ignore it.  My father worked at Fords, and his take on it was that many of the big three ran factories in multiple countries and if you bought a Ford it was likely to say "hecho en Mexico" or "fabrique au Canada" on it.  I found out he was right: I've owned 2 new and 2 slightly used Fords; of them, one was made in Mexico and one in Canada.  Conversely, at that time (late 80s, early 90s) Toyota, Honda and Mitsubishi employed a lot of Americans....which is important to know because of course the "buy American" crowd sincerely believe that if you buy a car made by a foreign company, you are personally responsible  for the high unemployment rate.  But since the Japanese companies employ a lot of Americans, if you buy a Honda Civic or whatever, you will help them maintain their jobs.

And this leads me to what ticks me off most about the self-righteous bumper sticker crowd:  They aren't worried about Americans who work at non-union corporations.  They are only worried about union workers.  They know that the competition is great, in part because they get paid a lot more than in the other companies; but also in part because along with that ever-growing pay UAW members get, comes less and less motivation to do quality work.

 I don't care if people prefer to buy "American" cars (which may be built elsewhere, employing no Americans and no union members,) and which may be bought instead of a foreign car (which may be built here and may employ a lot of people here, union or not).  As I said, I've had 4 Fords, all relatively new, and they each got me over 100,000 miles, at least in one instance where that was unheard of in an American car (though not some foreign cars).  I don't feel compelled to tell them not to buy American.  What bothers me is the tone in which this is often said, when people talk about it.  Last year I saw one bumper sticker that read,

"Like your job?  Keep buying foreign and you'll lose it."

Each time I see or hear that phrase.....I want to immediately go out and buy a Kia.

One of the premises of that argument is that the entire community  around a plant suffers when it goes down, eg, grocers, health clubs, drugstores, homebuilders, will have fewer customers, and their customers won't be able to afford their stuff which may lead to recession.  Which is partially true.  Such an effect would be to some extent temporary, although it may be a long "temporary".

The other premise underlying the bumper sticker is that somehow, I would be responsible for such a disaster should I choose freely to buy a foreign car.

This is blatant nonsense.

Many factors go into the problems had by the US car industry.  I believe one of the biggest one is that, perhaps trying to make up for their union busting gangs in the earlier twentieth century, the auto companies spent the last half of it cozying up more and more to the union, not really trying to balance profit with fair compensation for work.  Now, it is possible that a few car executives have found a horse head in their bed courtesy of a higher up in the UAW, a circumstance that made them change their minds about how they negotiated with the union;  but for whatever reason they have kowtowed to union demands year after year.  This means that union members at Ford's, GM, and Chrysler enjoyed ever more compensation, and ever more benefits, until the big crash of 2008.  Despite the fact that the Michigan economy has been terribly bad since 2001 (we didn't get that little lift from 2002 to 2006 that other states, other than some southern ones, did).

Would you work harder or less hard if you knew you had good pay and wouldn't lose it, unless you did something for which the union couldn't save your butt although it really ticked the manager off----situations that are few and far between---and that it would go up every year, as long as you used the skill and determination needed to have a birthday or work anniversary?  Many people do, I know that; things such as pride in work and esteem of one's co-workers can have reinforcing effects.  But you know what, so does taking all your sick days whether you need them or not, not doing something assigned to you so that it gets passed on to the next shift, or taking longer and longer breaks and lunches, or avoiding something that is optional or considered unimportant but that might make the difference between a good and a great car (because the task is difficult).  All of these, when multiplied tenfold or a hundred fold, affect the qualities of the products made and, thereby, the relationship between the buyer and the corporation.  If you buy a car that works, but that has seats that are too hard; or a manual drive car that has to be shifted into reverse before you shift into first (OK, yes, I know I'm only one of three people who drive stick shifts); or one that has safety belts that won't retract properly when you undo them, these things might annoy you enough to buy elsewhere next time.  They must not annoy me very much because the last two have been characteristics of every single Ford I've ever driven, and I'm still buying Fords.  Must be sentimentality.

So the Union and the corporation both have to take responsibility for at least some of the failure to re-capture the domestic market.

As a matter of fact, now that I think about it, it is their responsibility period, regardless of the fact the government thinks that it is theirs.

"Like your job? Keep buying foreign and you'll lose it" is a very nasty thing to say to someone.  Imagine if you walked into a dry cleaner and the guy behind the table said, "Like your job?  Better wear clothes cleaned by us or you'll lose it!"  Or if you were looking at TVs at a big box store and one of the salespeople told you, "You'd better not comparison shop elsewhere,  if you don't want to lose your job."  Yes, it is even less likely that not purchasing what these people offer would cause your own unemployment than the death of a huge corporation that employs all your neighbors.  But what if it was?  Can you see that it is not the way a seller should communicate with a potential customer?  Looked at in this way, the phrase is uncovered as a pure "protection racket".

In a movie that features the Mafia, it seems like there's always some scene where a restaurant owner gets pressured into paying the mob "protection money".  Several of the casa nostra representatives will go to visit him, talk with him cordially, and eventually say, "Nice place you got here.  Be a shame if something happened to it?  Know what I mean?" and one of his buddies might then talk about the gangs that have been seen around causing vandalism.  Then they make "an offer he can't refuse" to "protect" the place from rival families.  But of course he's not asking for protection and offering to pay them for it.  They are basically threatening him with violence if he doesn't pay what they demand.

And that's the way I feel when I see those darned bumper stickers.  I am not being told that cars made in the driver's American company of choice are top notch, or even that I have a need I don't yet know about that having one of that company's cars can fix.  I am being told that something bad would happen to me if I don't buy American cars.  Regardless of the quality.  If all of us respond to this by timidly promising to buy an American car next time we do, we are not truly making a free choice, and may be making a choice that ends up bad for us, if another car is of higher quality, more fuel efficient, and safer.  Bullying people into buying one's product isn't fair trade; it's completely different.

I'm working on my own bumpersticker, something like "Want me to buy you're product?  Start making it competitive, and I will!" (They don't need to know I've bought 4 Fords.)

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