Sunday, March 15, 2009

New Yorker article, "Made in the U.S.A." by Patricia Marx

I'm posting a link to the "abstract" of the article, "Made in the U.S.A." by Patricia Marx (New Yorker, March 16, 2009) because apparently some things aren't free on the internet. The fine folks at the New Yorker have to make a buck here and there, of course, and with news media in the tank and sinking fast, who am I to quibble about an abstract or full-length article. There is a thing called the library and a lot of them have access to these articles (but make it quick, because the "library" is also in the tank).

Anyway, late last year I posted a rant on a Mother Jones screed, "O Say Can You Buy?" by Nicole McClelland (and I never mentioned the author's name in the original post and my apologies), where she tries for a week to buy nothing but products made in the U.S.A. and finds it unbearably difficult. It was cringingly laughable to read, because on some micro-level, people who are socially conscious try to do this on a daily basis, with similar results. My point was that she left out the fact that buying products doesn't necessarily have to be "made in" the U.S., but can be "of" the U.S. -- for instance, buying used clothing from Goodwill. It is a charitable, non-profit based in the U.S. and sells clothing that may have originated in Pakistan, but has already left the main market stream.

The point of the article was to point out that there are not many products actually produced in the U.S. any longer, but the thrust of the article (I think) was picked up more successfully by Marx in the New Yorker piece. Both are written in a breezy tongue-and-cheek style--the impulse is to think they are implying that no one can take seriously the notion that people in America actually "make" stuff anymore, but rather consume it, but maybe the style is more indicative of their collective exasperation at the task of tackling the underlying issues in dealing with a home country that no longer produces everyday goods but, instead, jet planes and microchips.

The Marx article had a lot of good facts, however, and she had obviously gone out of her way to explore all avenues of "locavore" life (which, she pointed out, was the New Oxford American Dictionary's word of the year for 2007), at least within her sphere of New York City. A little disheartening was that a lot of goods produced in the U.S. are quite expensive, like Shaker-inspired furniture. Or chocolates. The locally-produced Brooklyn Buzz mead (using N.Y. state honey) was actually kind of cheap at 13-dollars a bottle, however.

The one fact that jumped out: Marx states that 86-percent of the average American's clothing budget is spent on clothing made outside of the U.S. Not surprisingly, but still startling. And also, coincidentally, the total number of crates Thomas Jefferson hauled back to American after his sojourn as Ambassador to France. This, Marx says, is after making the statement, "I have come to a resolution myself as I hope every god citizen will, never again to purchase any article of foriegn manufacture which can be had of American make, be the difference of price what it may." Hoo boy.
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