July 17 2012
Uniforms Manufactured in China; Rage Manufactured on Capitol Hill
Although Ralph Lauren got rich selling the American Wasp image, Mr. Lauren’s vaguely creepy uniforms for the U.S. Olympic team are more suggestive of Paris's Left Bank Maoists than hearty American athletes. The berets were a huge mistake, Ralph.
The girls’ uniforms are even worse, shrieking, as they do, Lolita and looking as if they were designed for nubile stalking of Jean-Paul Sartre.
Still, has there ever been a more phony controversy than the current one over the Olympic team uniforms? The duds, as you can’t help knowing by now, were manufactured in China. The outrage was manufactured on Capitol Hill and in the opinion precincts. Usually, the opinion crowd likes sophisticated, foreign garb, but this being an election year, all bets are off.
Leading the charge against the Olympic uniforms, Senator Harry Reid, no stranger to burning American money, is so outraged that the top Democrat wants to stack the offending uniforms in a pile and light a match to them. Unfortunately, in this Keynesian approach to Olympic uniforms, Mr. Reid may have inadvertently revealed the shaky core of his economic philosophy. Senator Reid, it might further be noted, hasn't called for the destruction of the made-in-Canada bus behemoth in which the president tours the country.
Here’s what the outraged politicians and opiners need to understand: people decide whether to purchase a particular product based on a combination of price and quality. It is probably very easy to forget this in an economy that has become as phony as the outrage over the uniforms, with bailouts, regulations, and other government interventions that affect the price of a product so drastically that it is no longer a reliable source of information about its actual cost.
People who regard a Chevy Volt as a good investment of taxpayer money are probably sufficiently divorced from reality that it doesn’t occur to them that buyers of the Olympic uniforms might have been moved to ask, “How much is this going to cost me?”
The Olympic uniforms were bought from private contributions, and the people who donated the money have every reason to be cost-conscious. Taxpayers have a right to be cost-conscious, too, of course, but with money burners like Mr. Reid makingdecisions in Washington, we are more helpless than the committee that bought the Olympic uniforms.
If products manufactured in China are cheaper than comparable ones made in the United States, then we need to talk about what this means. Does it simply mean that we are part of a global economy and that we now have access to products from around the globe? Does it mean that American manufacturing of apparel has declined to the point that uniforms for an American team in an international event are more sensibly purchased elsewhere? If so, why? Are new industries coming along to replace the manufacturing of clothing in the U.S.? These are worthwhile questions and more germane to the core issue than charges that people are unpatriotic because they buy based on—of all things—price.
One suspectsthat Senator Reid’s choler over the uniforms is more intense that it might ordinarily be, given that Democrats are striving to portray Mitt Romney as an outsourcer of jobs. Various independent sources have refuted the charge against Romney. But what is so wrong with a company, hard pressed by economic policies at home, hiring more affordable labor abroad? Democrats like to call these companies “Benedict Arnold Companies,” as if they have committed treason. The better name might be “Charles Darwin Companies,” because they seek to be fit enough to survive. If a company survives, it will continue to employ workers and provide profits for shareholders.
If the government were to adopt a territorial system of taxing companies that do business abroad, these companies might bring more of their operations home to the U.S.
But if hiring abroad is what it currently takes to keep U.S. companies afloat, policymakers should be trying to understand why that is and make changes so that employers have other options.
Government can't--and shouldn't try to-- prevent all job loss. Sometimes, painful as it is in human terms, economic sectors fail and go out of business. The answer for Democrats is being angry, blaming entrepreneurs and employers for recognizing economy reality, and propping up the politically-connected among these moribund industries. Some wag noted that, if President Obama had been around in the 1860s, we would still be subsidizing the Pony Express.
This faux outrage over the Olympic uniforms may play well in the Rust Belt, where manufacturing has been hard hit and which includes several must-carry states for President Barack Obama. But it is still dishonest. If we have to discuss these unattractive Olympic uniforms, let’s discuss the government policies that make doing business abroad so attractive. Until then, I commend the U.S. Olympic donors for getting the best price they could—not easy when purchasing products from Obama financial backer Ralph Lauren!
But that’s another story.