My brain likes to torment me as I try to fall asleep. A few nights ago it started with, “Why isn’t the United States more self-sustaining?” By this, my brain was trying to figure out why the US imports so many goods. (At the time I wasn’t thinking about the number of people in the US from other countries who provide services, but that’s a good question too.) You look at the labels most things and they say “Made in [insert country not the US].”
Don’t get me wrong – we live in a global economy, it would almost impossible not to import some products. But it seems like a lot of what the US has comes from somewhere else. It blew my mind to see that we get our frozen chicken from overseas. Don’t we have the resources in the US for pretty much whatever we want? A lot of countries don’t have the diverse terrain we do for growing different crops. We can’t grow everything, but we can grow a lot. We used to make a lot of cars. You get the idea.
And then I wondered if it comes down to the money of it. It’s simply cheaper to get the goods elsewhere. Obviously businesses exist to make money. The cheaper the product, the more they can make on it, especially if they’re selling it at the cost we were used to paying when it was made in the US. When I worked at a big box retailer I got to see some of the product mark-ups. The biggest mark-up I saw? Christmas lights! Those things cost maybe 10 cents and get sold for $2.50, which seemed like a great deal! If we can grow our own crops, how is it cheaper to bring them into the US from somewhere else?
Is it the labor surrounding the product – both cultivating the raw goods and the labor to build the product? And, if it is the labor, how is it so much cheaper? Labor in the US got more expensive as human casualties from working conditions rose. The 40-hour workweek, insurance requirements, minimum safety conditions, etc. We decided that human lives were too much to pay.
A lot has been discussed about the labor standards in China, or rather, the lack thereof. A lot of products sold in the US come from China. If we weren’t willing to tolerate it for people who work in the US, why are okay with it for the people of China? Or Vietnam? Or Pakistan? Is that we think we, as US citizens, are better than they are? That they don’t deserve the same kinds of safety regulations?
Also, on a related note, if they don’t have the same safety conditions for their workers, what about the safety regulations of the products? Is a product that comes from somewhere else going to be as safe as they are allegedly supposed to be if they’re made in the US? Don’t we care about that? Is it an out of sight, out of mind philosophy?
The other thing is why we allow corporate greed to control so much of what we do. A lot of people in the US don’t have jobs and yet instead of moving toward finding ways to put people here to work, we continually export jobs to other places. When did we stop caring about each other’s welfare that we are so okay with people here starving? Being okay with people being on government assistance because the jobs were shipped overseas (but then telling them to quit being lazy and find a job!)?
And is that the real core of the problem? That we just don’t care about each other anymore? Are we so obsessed with having that we forget about being? How can we fix this?
Obviously there’s a lot more that goes into these discussions and I need to do a lot more research, but it seems like it goes back to an Us vs. Them mentality, but on a global scale.