Buying cheap not the solution for recovery

An old Pogo cartoon comes to mind. Okay, you have to be well into your dotage to remember Pogo Possum and his Okefenokee Swamp sidekicks, but Pogo was a philosopher of the highest order, right up there with Aristotle and Plato as far as offering enlightenment to the masses is concerned, and he may have been a sight more easy to understand, as well.

The particular tidbit that came to mind recently was Pogo’s pronouncement on litter accumulating in the swamp. He searched high and low for the culprit that was destroying his and his buddies’ habitat and finally discovered they were all a bit guilty. He said: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

That word of wisdom may pertain to the current problem we have with job creation in our own habitat, especially when it comes to the cotton industry. I recently read an article, just a few days after news of the Bangladesh textile tragedy came out, that reported that Americans are at sixes and sevens with the trade-offs that would come with bringing a lot of lost jobs back home.

On the one hand, it makes sense to maintain a robust manufacturing industry in our country, places that turn out shirts, and shoes and refrigerators and television sets. That kind of enterprise keeps people employed.

On the other hand, we have all gotten too accustomed to buying clothing, electronics and other goods from overseas cheaper than we can buy the same products that are Made in America. It’s particularly true of clothing.

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I may have mentioned a time or two that I owe much of what I have and have been able to accomplish in my life to the U.S. textile industry. My dad, somehow, educated five children, sent us all to college on what he earned in a South Carolina cotton mill. We worked, we got loans and my sister, the smart one, got a scholarship, but mom and dad made the sacrifices to get us to school.

And he did it making cloth, mostly out of cotton.

The mills where he worked no longer exist. The mill where he allowed me to labor one summer and during Christmas break during my first year at college is gone, as is any inclination I may have ever had to pursue that line of work. Dad was a pretty sly one.

Mills back then did not pay much and they offered few benefits. The work was hard, hot and dirty. But they produced good cloth that went on to become quality shirts, sheets and fabrics for other uses.

Finding a shirt made in the USA today will require more than a bit of online googling and some gasping at the cost. It’s hard to do.

The same is true of televisions, computers, tools and many other items we use every day. We look for the best deals, the cheapest prices and we don’t spend enough time worrying about the quality. When it wears out, too soon, we just go back and repeat the process. We’re used to cheap prices.

Maybe we should demand higher quality. Maybe we should be willing to pay a bit more for a nice shirt that was made in a factory down the road. Maybe we should look at the big picture: better products, made at home, by our neighbors who buy other products and pay their fair taxes to support schools, build roads and maintain our fire departments.

Bargain hunting can only do so much. “We have found the enemy.” What are we going to do with him?


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