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Hagerty
Hagerty Employee

Avoidable Contact #130: Earnestly ersatz

If you've been reading me for a while: a) Thanks, Mom! b) you've possibly noticed that I really enjoy spending a lot of money on clothes. This isn't because I think they make me look handsome; nothing could accomplish that task. It's because I truly enjoy wearing something that was made for me out of the finest materials available.
https://www.hagerty.com/media/opinion/avoidable-contact/avoidable-contact-130-earnestly-ersatz/
61 REPLIES 61
Hagerty
Hagerty Employee

If you've been reading me for a while: a) Thanks, Mom! b) you've possibly noticed that I really enjoy spending a lot of money on clothes. This isn't because I think they make me look handsome; nothing could accomplish that task. It's because I truly enjoy wearing something that was made for me out of the finest materials available.
https://www.hagerty.com/media/opinion/avoidable-contact/avoidable-contact-130-earnestly-ersatz/
RokemRonnie
Instructor

<i>"How long will it be until Nintendo decides to pacify him by placing a little Chinese flag on a Vietnamese Switch? "</i>

Perhaps we'll first see "Designed in Vietnam". Do any businesses think consumers see "Designed in..." as meaning anything other than "Made in China"?

This watch microbrand brags about Singapore based design and quality control, never mentioning the word "China":
<i>" Most of our products are proudly designed in Singapore and we work with the best manufacturing partners to bring the high calibre products to add something unique to your look. These small touches show you like putting effort into the little things, which can say a lot about you!

All of our watch models will be released one at a time with small production runs so they receive the attention they deserve. Our high quality watches are individually inspected and tested in Singapore."</i>

Another watch microbrand, Sangamon, sounds like it's an Asian brand but in fact it's named after a river in Illinois and the business is based in Springfield (no Bart Simpson model yet) in that midwest state. They mention Abe Lincoln, the Mississippi River, the long-defunct Illinois Watch Company, and farmers, but nothing about where the watches are actually made.

<i>"Tyler McKay is a sixth-generation farmer from Central Illinois who was taught true Midwestern values as a kid by raising livestock and working around heavy machinery. His passion for business and entrepreneurship led him to the Gies College of Business at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), where he was inspired to launch Sangamon Watches while completing his MBA.

Brian Su followed his heart to America in the 1980s and has three decades of international business experience, frequently traveling across the world. He has a deep appreciation for American history and President Lincoln’s influence has kept him in Springfield for over 25 years. Brian’s passion for history and craftsmanship along with his diverse skill set has transformed our business model to be inspired by the American spirit.

We are proud to have a global team with a small-town headquarters, focusing on quality over quantity. In October of 2021, we opened a showroom in historic downtown Springfield, IL to better serve our customers and reach tourists along historic Route 66. Every wristwatch is designed in America at our Springfield office around a special theme, which truly makes Sangamon products unique. "</i>
YoungerthanmyMG
Pit Crew

Thanks for sharing this Ronnie, I hadn't heard of these guys, but they're not terribly far from me, and pretty much located in my wife (is that term still PC)'s home town
Nick_D
Intermediate Driver

Second the thanks for Sangamon. Their Lincoln collection looks excellent.
58_Plastic_Tub
Intermediate Driver

Rock on, Jack Baruth.

I agree with every word of this, but the saddest, but most prescient point in the whole thing was when you said,

"Some of you won’t care, of course. You’ll cheerfully buy sweatshop-made automobiles with fancy labels, just like you’re doing with your polyester athleisure now, secure in the arrogant belief that you and your job are too special, too difficult, too unique to ever be sent out of the country the way ninety-nine percent of denim production has been over the past thirty years."

Generally, the people espousing this idea of their own intellectual exceptionalism are the people who should be the most afraid of it. Most of the citizens of this nation are of exceedingly average intelligence, never really taught to think for themselves (as should have been made clear by the events of the past 22 months). Inquisitive, flexible minds trained to do practical things are in ever shorter supply, especially in the megapolises people are currently inclined to inhabit.

I think it was Tolstoy who said that the worst insult you can give a man is to tell him he's average (or something to that effect). To roughly paraphrase the kid from "The Incredibles", "everybody's special, which is another way of saying nobody is". This is the state where we presently find most of the upper middle class of this country.

It's worth sounding the alarm over. Our standard of living is made possible only by the availability of underpriced goods made in east Asia, and by China continuing to fund our capability to trade by buying our national debt. Nearly every push toward a greener/better/safer/more sustainable future pushes us further towards more disposable, more manufacturing intensive, more shipping dependent dystopia.

I work in one of the last industries (HVAC/R service with an emphasis on supermarket refrigeration) still dominated by domestic companies. But even here, forces beyond those of a normal market are driving us towards cheaper, more disposable, less repairable "solutions" to "problems" none of us ever knew we had. There's a disposable east Asian future down in the boiler room. NYC recently pretty much mandated disposable Chinese VRF "mini-splits", with their "no new gas-fired heating equipment" policy. It matters not to the powers to be that the United States sits on an ocean of natural gas, or that that modern gas-fired heating equipment is efficient in the high 90s percentile, or that gas-fired equipment is (mostly) manufactured here - all future heating equipment will be electric (so that we can generate power with NG under the best circumstances, and more likely with coal), which drives the industry towards and east Asian homogony.

If we were trying to destroy ourselves, we couldn't do a better job of it.
CitationMan
Gearhead

Companies have just proven that most of their white collar jobs can be done remotely. The next step, to enrich management, is to move those remote jobs overseas.
ATLpaul
Detailer

I was watching a video recently of Lucid Air. Basking in thoughts of what a magnificent American electric chariot it is. I commented as such on youtube. An opposing thought corrected me quickly, telling me how majority ownership is now Saudi Arabian.

What are your thoughts about Lucid Air? Is it considered American because built in America by American engineers/planning and production facilities, or is it Saudi Arabian because well Saudi money.
Rick2
Instructor

That depends on who you support. It is good that there are American jobs because that helps us. But if the profits go to a murderous "prince" then it is bad for the whole world.
Jack_Hagerty
Moderator

My primary criterion for an "American" company would be: Is the majority of the work, whatever that work may be, done in America? 

Secondary: Is the ownership American? Forthrightly, this matters a lot less to me. I think an Ohio-built Honda does more for America than a Mexico-built Ford. 

jawinks6500
Pit Crew

Great article! I love this site because they let Mr. Baruth do his thing. I had an early Meridan Triumph that had British flags and "Made in England" stuff all over the bike and I thought it was pretty cool, being a patriotic Harley riding American but a bit of an Anglophile. Now I think most all of their stuff is made in Asia and it's just engineering/design in England. "Too bad for you skilled British workers, thanks for getting us going though!"
Nick_D
Intermediate Driver

For footwear, I can't recommend Sense of Motion shoes enough for day-to-day wear, assuming you can tolerate the slightly bulbous but orthopedically correct style. They've been outstandingly durable and comfortable; easily outlasting big brand 'sport' shoes.

https://www.somfootwear.com/blogs/news/how-10-percent-can-change-the-national-economy-you-have-a-cho...

Also, I've got a front row seat to auto component manufacturing. North American reshoring seems to be accelerating by the D3 companies.
TonyT
Technician

Mr. Baruth,
I agree with most of your sentiments, but I am also acutely aware that we exist in a global economy. Toledo-built Jeeps? Yep, but some of the subassemblies come from and a lot of the money goes to places far from the US. I recall that a lot of the electronics in GM vehicles used to be assembled in Ireland, so that offered some young Irish individual a chance to do something other than tend sheep. That computer that you composed your article on? I'll give you fourteen guesses as to its home country. The last brand-new Kenworth I bought was assembled on Mexico with US-derived parts. It's extremely difficult to buy anything offered for sale in this country that is one hundred percent US in total nature, because somewhere in the manufacturing process, tools or materials involved have a high likelihood of originating in another country. The clothing you mentioned could have been sewn together on a Juki sewing machine. Danger Girl's Miata was from... where, exactly? I love my country and I proudly wore a pickle suit for a number of years defending what it stands for, but I am of the thought that we are all Earthlings and that makes us all one people, politics aside. I wish more of us realized that.
RokemRonnie
Instructor

Older Juki machines were made in Japan but now they have manufacturing facilities in China and Vietnam. The Japanese have been making outstanding sewing machines for a while. A family friend who was a principal at Reed Sportswear, a 71 year old leather apparel maker, gave me the industrial Rex by Nakajima she was using as a utility sewing machine at home. When Melco introduced their first computer driven embroidery machine, the Superstar line, they used American electronics (Z80 based, I believe) but sourced the machine heads from Tajima. The motor is made by Toshiba, I believe.
I'm all for a global economy but there's no good reason why electronics (which is mostly automated and doesn't use that much human labor) have to be made in China or Taiwan (at least the Han living in Taiwan have learned a thing or two about quality control).
For defense reasons, there are industries that must be domestic.
Jack_Hagerty
Moderator

We're all Earthlings, and (apologies to some) we are all equal in the sight of God. That being said, when you buy American-made products you are helping the people who will help you when you need it. The fellow making a Nike shoe in China may be a fine fellow but he doesn't pay your local taxes or come over to watch your kids when you're sick. 

danhise
Advanced Driver

Holden Caulfield grew up and changed his name to Jack Baruth. No one goes after the phonies like Mr. B. "B" for "Best".
wdb
Advanced Driver

I don't understand. Does it have to be made in America? Does it have to be made by a company that pays income tax to the American government? Does it have to be made by American born people? It seems very confusing.
Jack_Hagerty
Moderator

It's as confusing as you want it to be. 

iamwho2k
Intermediate Driver

I hope you don't own any Apple products. Then you might understand.
drhino
Technician

Spot on.
Another problem is investment of US funds in Chinese corporations. Individual investors, Institutional investors, Public Funds, Pension/401k, etc. all looking for healthy returns— but damaging the health of the country. Why give money to the biggest threat to our existence? Yes, China is the biggest threat; not climate change. People really need to get their heads out of their behinds— before it’s too late.
cyclemikey
Detailer

Breaking news -- It's probably too late.
drhino
Technician

Hard to argue
AG1962
Instructor

Jack, so many good points. So why stop short of recognizing the flaws inherent in straight-up laissez-faire capitalism that led to off-shoring and out-sourcing? All countries need New Deals that regulate capitalism in the interests of ordinary working people, the vast majority of taxpayers who pay the majority of taxes — not Clinton-style (or Trudeau/Johnson/Merkel/Macron-style) neoliberal economics, and not ethno-nationalism: both are dead ends that cannot solve the problems you identify so cogently. We all need rational industrial policy made to benefit our own people and our close allies. Unfortunately, the only Democrats willing to discuss this are left of the Clinton-Obama-Biden line, and they, along with the Trumpists, have gone off the rails on nearly every other policy issue out there.

Jack_Hagerty
Moderator

If you want the radical populism, you'll have to go to my personal site!

ROBBO99
Detailer

Its disgusting what our bought and paid for politicians have allowed to happen to our former great nation. We have little to be proud of anymore as americans .
Timbo
Detailer

Enough already with philosophy, internationalism, and etherial postulations! How about plain old preserving American jobs?
rxk9394
Intermediate Driver

To be fair, we have all contributed to this. Also that horse has left the barn never to return again.

I have my own precisely focused needs where I will seek out and pay the extra for a made in the USA "widget". So I can claim a percentage of my purchases are like the clothes mentioned in this article.

But how many of us go to the local "Harboring Freightliners from wherever" store on a Saturday and grab a tape measure for $4 instead of finding the one made here that costs $14 plus shipping... I am guilty as charged.

So in my own niche way I try. But with the appropriate amount of guilt get the "not made by my neighbors who really do need the work" (aka USA made) because of a valid reason to me, and I can only do so much...
SJ
Technician

The main country we have to worry about is China everyone says. And yet we helped create it sending jobs and money over there. They also hold a trillion dollars of our debt. When you realize it is all about the money and those in power staying there, it becomes crystal clear.
Stradakat
Intermediate Driver

Speaking of fakes, isn’t the Mahindra Roxor a fake American Jeep?
Jack_Hagerty
Moderator

To the contrary, it's a *real* American Jeep! It's about as domestically sourced as a Wrangler and it's built sixty miles from where the Wrangler is built. I should note, however, that I didn't get the Roxor as an alternative to a modern Jeep; that would be silly. I got it as an alternative to a Kawasaki Mule, for my property. 

Reinhold_Weege
Instructor

The problem with trade policy goes like this...

1) The modern Republican Party, (until the advent of particular NYC real estate investor), was "so fanatic in its ideology that, rather than sin against a commandment of Milton Friedman, it is willing to see America written forever out of this fantastic [automobile] market, let millions of jobs vanish and write off the industrial Midwest?" - Pat Buchanan, 2008. I would argue that most of that party still feels that way, but are less inclined to be blatant about it in the face of said NYC real estate investor.

2) The Democratic Party long ago went off the rails, viewing the manufacture of anything with more of a footprint than hemp blankets as far too destructive upon Earth-mother Gaia. I mean, we've already seen what precision-made diffusers (made in the same Plymouth factory that later birthed the Road Runner!) could do with a few pounds of uranium-235! Other than garnering a few votes from union slobs, why do we even want an auto industry?

3) Manufacturing is a fly-over state occupation. Cleaner than mining coal, but dirtier than growing wheat. Walter P. Chrysler may have said "There is in manufacturing a creative joy that only poets are supposed to know. Some day I'd like to show a poet how it feels to design and build a railroad..." but in the 21st Century, you can get the same satisfaction from coding, right?

Ideologically, I'm a free-market guy. I also don't believe in striking women. But I'll be damned if I'm just going to stand there and get hit with a baseball-bat because my attacker has two X chromosomes. In other words, literally the rest of the world doesn't believe in free markets, and if you find some evidence of a nation that does, it will be only after they've decimated any foreign competition.

I could literally write pages on the topic, (and I have) but it's Christmas and I'll spare you. Or maybe I'll write more, no sooner than January 2nd.

Another masterpiece Jack, but I want to challenge some of what you wrote about a certain Mexican-powered-maple-syrup-hauler.

 

Merry Christmas and Happy New year to all.

Maestro1
Technician

Thank you Jack. Once again, consistency, strength, and always the cynical intelligence.
I have nothing to add after reading some of the wonderful comments below. One of the benefits of reading you and Hagerty in general is that many of your responders have thoughtful articulate minds.
Happy Holidays to you and your Family.
MrKnowItAll
Advanced Driver

Good job of skewering the Virtue Signalling of Madison Avenue... or had that been outsourced also?

My epiphany came long, long ago when JC Penney outsourced "Big Mac" shirts overseas. Goodbye Penney's for me. 1978, bought a new El Camino. American, ya know. Couldn't get a wrench on a part and discovered that my El Camino was half metric, half SAE. That's when I noticed the "Made in Mexico" VIN. Oh, it was a steaming pile of trouble besides.
I gave up long ago. T shirts and $15 wranglers for me.

CapeCodRick
Pit Crew

My hat is off to Jack Baruth. What an eloquent and incisive curmudgeon! Agree with him 150%. My wife's Volvo was made in Belgium. At least that's a European country, but not quite Sweden. We need to reshore as much of our lost industry as humanly possible. The financial wizards who brought us globalization should all be hung in a public square to warn off the next generation of financial rapscallions.
Jack_Hagerty
Moderator

I disagree with you; people are hanged, plants are hung. 

 

🙂

Ark-med
Detailer

The jury shouldn't be hung on that one.
S2kChris22
Pit Crew

Your point about the Hellcats stands, but I’d argue the most nationalistic (in a positive sense, not the newspeak bad way) Stellantis products are Jeeps, and those, at least the real/expensive ones, are made in the USA. Which, as a kid born in the early 80s would have made it onto my “never buy” list, but is now a big pro. Could be my migration from the “enlightened” east coast to the Midwest. Of course this ignores that Stellantis itself is no longer an American company, but it employs plenty of people who live under the flag emblazoned on the flanks of the Grand Wagoneer.
Boeingpilot
Intermediate Driver

While I know there are ‘global parts’ in my Tesla, I’m still glad to say it was assembled in America. And when I travel to London and see so many Tesla’s there, makes me glad to see we actually exported something from the US!
Jack_Hagerty
Moderator

Exactly! I'm no fan of EVs, but it's nice to have the world's most desired luxury car made here. 

Gary_Bechtold
Specialist

I think companies need to wake up and pull production out of China. Is there not room for this in Mexico, Central and South America except for Venezuela? You wouldn't have to deal with cross-pacific shipping. I'd rather buy something made in Vietnam over China. Someday when the Chinese overlords decide they want to hurt the world they could just cut off our supply of whatever they want.

Volvo is not the quality car it once was.
Zephyr
Instructor

The decision by Detroit to go global on manufacturing and parts sourcing was not based on price as much as it was a desire to make their business immune from labor disruptions caused by strikes. Here's a question: if you have a Ford that was built in Mexico, is it an American car or a Mexican car? If you have a Honda that was built in Ohio, is it a Japanese car or an American car? A little-known fact about Volvo is that before the Chinese took them over, even though Volvo made a lot of noise about their Swedish quality the majority of Volvos were built in Belgium. And, as someone once said, clothing manufacturing is a business that has chased cheap labor all over the globe. Even China can't compete anymore on the clothing market; I have hanging in my closet clothes made in Vietnam, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, and someplace I can't find on the map.
OldBird
Intermediate Driver

Speaking of virtue signaling, this article does its own fair share - but to a different crowd. I applaud Jack's efforts for he surely must have a lot of time on his hands and a large bankroll to feed his commitment. As for me, I have always believed in buying the product that best suited my needs and was the most reliable or best quality I could afford. I don't believe in buying garbage, regardless of what flag was flying atop the factory. I am also decidedly middle class, so price is most certainly a factor.

All of that said, I suspect that if many of the overseas-made products we rely on today were instead made here, we would not be able to afford them - or we would all have to have even larger wage adjustments than we are already seeing today. The horse has indeed left the barn, and this is for all intents and purposes an academic discussion.
Jack_Hagerty
Moderator

It's hard to say what would happen if all the production was "insourced". History suggests we'd do just fine -- better, maybe -- but we'd have less stuff. Homelessness, mental illness, and all the societal problems that stem from lack of work would certainly decrease, however. 

DaveA
Instructor

Since you mentioned clothing, American Clothing Company has a nice selection of made in the USA clothing and shoes. Although they do use some imported materials when needed (yarn that is made in the USA is a bit tough to come by apparently), they do disclose that information and even then the material is still knitted, dyed, cut, and sewn in one of 6 manufacturing facilities right here in the USA. Some items are made in union shops as well, if that is something that is important to you.
OldFordMan
Advanced Driver

So, Jack. What's new? I think you are not quite as old a bag as I am but this all started right after WW II. Trying to get the peoples of the countries destroyed by the war. Remember MADE IN JAPAN that everyone hated because most of the stuff was junk? So as they improved on quality and migrated their efforts to high tech engineering then the MADE IN TAIWAN popped up (that country was relabeled from Formosa) and it was more acceptable Japanese stuff. Blue Bell was a company started so the blue jeans made with Cone denim in Greensboro, NC could be cut out there and flown to Honduras for sewing and returned on giant planes so the finished goods could be labeled as Wrangler, Levi, etc. Honda, BMW, Subaru, Hyundai, Harley Davidson, etc. are all following the same game plan.
Nothing NEW TODAY and yes it is a GLOBAL COMMUNITY and very hard to find a 100% every stitch--every part--every piece of packaging MADE IN THE USA!
Jack_Hagerty
Moderator

This is true, but there are some firms, like American Giant, that literally do it raw materials to finished product here. 

 

MaverickNutron
Intermediate Driver

The "film" Idiocracy comes to mind as I read this...though it was meant to be a comedy, I find it to be more and more forewarning in my daily dealings with people.

Well done, as always, but I fear you are preaching to the choir...
Al
Intermediate Driver

I'm glad to read that you won't be buying any Trump brand products
Jack_Hagerty
Moderator

As I recall, the hats were made in America, but I don't own any of it, other than a bar of "Trump Chocolate" from the hotel in Vegas. 

js100
Detailer

While I appreciate your sentiment about where products are / were made, and the supposed level of quality that is attached to that particular country of origin, I believe that ship has literally sailed. The advent of container shipping, and the eventual massive ships, led to a globalization of manufacturing, that offered production in less expensive labor markets. This placement allowed for lower production costs and economic growth for previously agrarian and isolated labor pools.
The drive to off-shore was pushed by "organized" labor in developed countries (most of which were mentioned by you) demanding unreasonable reward for mediocre work. When you are required to overpay your workforce and can't fire incompetence, a manufacturer has to look elsewhere or perish. You failed to examine Korea, a mighty manufacturing power that quickly learned to deliver quality, value and innovation in everything from cars to ships and electronics. They have succeeded in part because only a small fraction of their workforce is unionized. Look no further than the Southern US and other "right to work" markets for the reinvention of American manufacturing success. Sorry, Mr. President, but "good union jobs" is an oxymoron.
Realistically, do you really know where the cotton and wool for the cloth in your fine garments is sourced? How about the machines involved in the creation of those same materials? Take it a step further, where were the parts for those machines made, or the raw materials for those parts?
Global sourcing is here to stay, and quality is not limited to markets that dominated in the early part of the last century. Bemoaning the "good old days" is usually a gilded memory.