9/21/12

"Hecho en Chine" redux

We've been hearing a lot about 'Christian' businesses lately. 'All-American' businesses, whatever that means.Recently, we had the Chik-Fil-A dustup. They are a 'Christian' business, and 'All-American' business, owned by flag-waving 'real' Americans. Right now, we have a similar dustup over at Hobby Lobby, another 'Christian' business owned by an 'all-American' Christian family, who are presumably flag-wavers as well. Add to that the continuing just-below-the-surface 'shop local' thing, and we have a pretty interesting mix of mostly unreasoning emotions.

So here is a reprint of a post that first appeared here at BloggerCentral back on 3 Feb 2010:
+++++

In her speech to the Chamber of Commerce the other evening, Rachel Wallace observed:

There is a lot of talk about thinking and shopping local and what local is. Have every one of us gone to Pueblo to buy something. Yes. But we are missing the point. THINK local first. If you go to Pueblo 10 times a month, go seven and spend it here. Why? Because shopping is more than just grabbing a bargain. Shopping is an investment. It is a political action. It is a vote we are casting on the future of our community. There are choices to be made and we can all, to varying degrees, make those choices.

“Shopping is an investment …”.

We were in Hobby Lobby in Pueblo last week. Curious, I started picking up items of merchandise to check the country of origin labels. I found that from the cash register area all the way back to the art supplies, every single piece I checked – and I checked a lot of them – was “Made in China”. Well … hold on … there were some items that were made in Vietnam, and a few from India. In the entire store, we found a few artist’s canvases that were made in USA, and some of the fabric. Some of the oil paints were English.

Some of the labels were not even in English. Not even a little bit. “Hecho en China”, if you please. Or even if you don’t please.

Over in Sears, and in JC Penney, I found that almost all of the clothes and shoes were from China, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, or Mexico, or El Salvador. Not the USA. Tools, electronics, lawn care equipment … you name it. Almost none of it was from the USA. Most of us are aware of this to some extent, but until you actually walk through a store checking item by item, the magnitude of it may well escape you.

Here’s the thing: I agree with Ms Wallace about that ‘community investment’ thing. But if America’s entrepreneurs … if America’s business ‘community’ … is so driven by the bottom dollar that it cannot invest in the national community in that quest for the bottom line … and if our local businesses are entitled to shop outside the local community in order to get the most for their dollars – that ‘bottom line’ again … what can I, the lowly customer do? As a customer, apparently I can’t even exercise my right to get the most for my dollar by shopping where my dollars stretch the most. If I do – and I’m vocal about it – why … I must hate the town and everyone in it, and I certainly should be canned because we all know who pays my salary, and … apparently … that makes it obligatory for me to shop where I’m told to shop. Or else. How does that attitude fit into the old ‘American entrepreneur’ view?

We moved here in 1978. “They” were running surveys about shopping downtown back then. Some other surveys have been run since. Oddly, in the thirty-odd years since we moved here, those surveys seem to indicate the same concerns … over and over again. Doesn’t that indicate that the customers’ concerns, the customers likes and dislikes, have been largely ignored? So why do they ask my opinion when they so obviously don’t want it? What it seems to boil down to is when the business community wants my opinion as a customer … they’ll give it to me. Isn’t that a strange way to respond to customers? Whatever happened to ‘the customer is always right’? When did it become the responsibility of the customer to make sure businesses survived? Where is that good ol’ all-American entrepreneurial spirit and drive?

A fellow who is a third generation La Juntan recently told me that ten years ago, if he went to Walmart to shop, he knew everyone he met there. Today, he says, he feels that he knows fewer than half of the people he will meet there. “There are a lot of new faces in the Valley,” he observed.

Yes. But the population here has declined, hasn’t it. So that means the percentage of ‘new faces’ is actually quite a bit higher relatively speaking. Is it possible that those ‘new faces’ have very different shopping patterns and shopping expectations than those of the crowd whose great grandpas played poker with T.T. Woodruff and Chuck Denney down at the Masonic Lodge, and who fondly remember ‘the way it was’? Is it possible that even some of the old crowd has changed shopping habits and expectations to fit an entirely different market model? What ever happened to the idea of ‘building a better mousetrap’, especially when the old mousetrap so obviously no longer works?

In reaction to the loss of what has traditionally been a Democrat’s seat in the senate, Barack H. Obama has vowed to keep on “fighting” for his so-called “health care reform”. Yet a considerable majority of Americans have come to oppose ObamaCare. So who is the president fighting? We the People? When did We the People become the president’s enemy?

Similarly, Ms. Wallace encourages the Chamber of Commerce not to yield. Yield to whom? The customers, whose opinions are expressed by their shopping habits and patterns? The larger business community, who are demonstrably not in the least interested in investing in America, and for whom ‘made in America” is a sad joke? An exhortation to ‘not to yield’ implies an adversarial relationship somewhere. My question here is … with whom does the Chamber perceive that adversarial relationship? And why?

Ralph Waldo Emerson didn’t really make that comment about better mousetraps. What he did say was this:

If a man has good corn or wood, or boards, or pigs, to sell, or can make better chairs or knives, crucibles or church organs, than anybody else, you will find a broad hard-beaten road to his house, though it be in the woods.


Business owners who understand and apply that concept will do pretty well, in my observation. Unless, of course, Obama has any say in it. Or our friends and business partners, the Chinese.

+++++

The 'issue' with Hobby Lobby has to do with ObamaCare and the requirement that birth control be provided. Or more precisely with Hobby Lobby, that the 'morning after' pill (the so-called 'slut pill') be provided.  Over on the Boycott Hobby Lobby Facebook page, the rightwing super-patriots are ripping the shorts off all those 'loose wimmin' who are protesting Hobby Lobby's position.

Yeah. All those red-blooded, 'this is a Christian nation', Glenn Beck-loving flag-wavers are supporting Hobby Lobby. Hobby Lobby, arguably America's largest storefront for Chinese goods.

Meanwhile ... if the employees are contributing a sizeable chunk of change to their health care insurance, why should they not be able to obtain those meds which they and their doctors believe that they require? The Hobby Lobby position is based on religious views, not on medical reasons, not even on fiscal reasons. Why is it up to the employer to unilaterally decide, based on irrational non-medical reasoning, what the plan participants may or may not have?