American Girl, Made in China, The Reality Show

This is a really cool project. ABC’s World News has a series this week on whether or not a typical upper middle class family can survive without consumer goods made in America. It includes:

  • Footage of a bunch of Americans claiming to buy America
  • ABC’s news team going through the house of one family–the Usrys–and taking out everything not made in America (the footage brings up the flags of the countries where their stuff was made
  • Replacements for those goods that were made in the US

Plus there are stats about how much an impact on jobs it would have if people just made an effort to buy American. And a separate website to find–or submit–items made in America.

And thus far, at least, the whole thing comes off like a reality show, down to the little girl sheepishly admitting her American Girl doll was made in China.

It’s the kind of thing you might find in some lefty magazine. But because it’s ABC, a subsidiary of the Disney Corporation (which makes a lot of their loot overseas), it hits the appeal to patriotism (and shame) pitch perfect.

  1. scribe says:

    Heh. I’m betting it gets preempted by Charlie Sheen interviews, or the imagineers at Disney will find some way to make a happy ending where everyone winds up OK with all their crap being made not-in-USA.

    Never underestimate the deviousness of Disney’s propagandists.

  2. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Great idea; living with only made in America products is likely to be as hard as that reality show where people played out the lives of Puritans or 19th century English servants. Take away products made from non-union labor and the house would be nearly empty.

    Disney makes its toys and cut-n-sew products in China, has done for two decades at least. Lord knows where its CD’s and DVD’s are made; odds are it is in East or SE Asia, not in Burbank or Orlando. The staff at its theme parks in the US, from actors to waiters and ride technicians, come from across the globe, too. But like Maddow on MSNBC, I’m happy to see it.

    • emptywheel says:

      And I think they’re using overseas animators, as well.

      I read a cute book some years ago, A Year without Made in China. A family went a year w/o buying anything–they didn’t have to give up what they already had–anything made in China.

      The most poignant part was negotiating kids’ birthday parties, since all the toys are made in China.

  3. PeasantParty says:

    I know it is hard to do, but we have to try to buy local and non-imported goods. China still thinks of us as the enemy and is laughing at us. The pet food posioning and toys filled with lead paints, etc. is one key that they hope all that we hold dear is dead.

    America will never recover if we do not get our economy back to making the things we need and use daily.

  4. rosalind says:

    after discovering my new dining room table was Italian designed, but China made, i got way more militant about the origins of anything coming into my house. i always ask the sales person where the american made products are, and if they have any, thank them for stocking them and let them know i will shop with them again to support u.s. based manufacturing.

    i remain conflicted over the increasing amounts of products with “US Fabricated from Made in China parts” labels showing up in stores.

    • scribe says:

      A few years ago, I was browsing in a store in an artsy town near Trenton, NJ selling reproductions of antique furniture. You know – sideboards and dining room tables and such. I saw a very nice piece, or at least it looked nice at first glance. I’ve had the benefit of hanging around antiques restorers and their shops and got the benefit of seeing what “good” is and education in why it was good. This piece had ball and claw feet, carved, and used nice black walnut. But the carving was clunky – not a lot, but just enough – and uninspired.

      Anyway, I got to talking to the salesperson about this and asked him the provenance of the piece. I asked him where the walnut came from and he told me it was local. This was unsurprising because a lot of good walnut can be found in that area. So, I asked who did the carving, and this was where the shocker came.

      It turned out the carver was Vietnamese. As in, located in Vietnam. The clunkiness of the carving stemmed from never having been exposed to the real deal. The table was made in Vietnam. The company shipped US-grown black walnut lumber all the way to Vietnam, had it made into furniture there to US antique designs, and then shipped the finished product by the container-load back to be sold within 30 miles of where the tree grew. The prices were a bit less than one would pay for a coordinate antique, but not so much as to raise suspicion. (“If you can charge $100 for something that costs you $10, that’s more profit for you; don’t charge $50” being the operative rule here.)

      I can only imagine how little the Vietnamese doing the actual work were paid.

      Needless to say, I passed on spending my money on it.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      The Chinese are notorious for clear cutting old growth tropical hardwoods, too. They buy mountains of them in SE Asia, Africa and elsewhere. Something to consider when buying wood products with Made in China on the label.

    • emptywheel says:

      One of the people I met on my business trips in China was an Italian furniture designer. Trying to figure out how the new rules worked….

  5. melior says:

    Good story. Anyone else remember the old made-in-the-USA campaign, “Look for that union label”?

    (180-degree typo in your second sentence though, I think it was meant to read, “…can survive without consumer goods not made in America.”)

  6. pdaly says:

    How about eating with a fork and knife ‘made in America’?

    Most stainless steel flatware is manufactured in China these days, even if branded as Lenox, Wedgwood, Waterford, Oneida, etc.

    I suppose eating with our fingers counts…

    • rosalind says:

      when i went to get a new hand-held drill i asked the sales person for one made in the U.S.A. she proudly led me to the “Craftsman”. i pointed out the “made in China” label. she took me to another “american” stalwart. made in china. and another, and another. i’ll never forget the look on her face.

      i finally had to settle for one made in mexico, rationalizing “at least it’s the same continent…”

      • pdaly says:

        That is depressing. You reminded me that I too had the same trouble finding a drill made in USA. The one I finally settled on was a corded drill (as opposed to the cordless battery powered one), because it was an American stalwart –only to learn once the package arrived (it read ‘made in China’) that the website was mistaken about its current country of manufacture.

    • PJEvans says:

      I bought a four-setting box of Oneida flatware a couple of years ago, and three of the knives were some other brand, marked ‘Made in Korea’. So I suspect that Oneida is too. (It was a W*lM*rt package, that being the only place in the area that had the pattern in four-place sets. One of the forks was seriously defective, so I suspect that W*lM*rt is selling seconds.)

        • pdaly says:

          and PJEvans @9

          Amazing to think that transportation of individual pieces from several different countries plus the work required to combine those forks, knives and spoons into one package of flatware for the USA market is somehow cheaper than making the product in the US from the start.

    • Oskie says:

      With regard to eating and things made in China I was surprised to realize that the skeins of garlic I was buying at my local grocery store were imported from China. I’ve long thought that if the Chinese were to cut us off we would be both barefoot and naked in a matter of months and it gave me pause to realize that now we may be becoming dependent upon them – a country with a billion people of its own to feed – to eat too? I find that prospect astounding.

      • Phoenix Woman says:

        Especially since they’ve ravaged their own countryside so badly they’re now moving into sub-Saharan Africa in a bid to turn it into their own granary — which is ticking off the Europeans who are trying to keep it for their own granary.

  7. pdaly says:

    Here’s a potentially useful site for a family living off of made in USA only products.

    It has more categories than just kitchen (toys, furniture, tools, etc.)

    WRT to flatware, looks like a family can still choose from Lunt silversmiths (Greenfield, MA) but they would have to purchase sterling silver sets, because the stainless sets are all imported! With all the money they will be saving not buying toys, furniture, and clothes made in China, I suppose they could splurge on sterling!

    Other manufacturers of sterling silverware were/are Towle (Newburyport, MA), Tuttle (Boston, MA), Wallace Silversmith (CT then relocated to East Boston, MA), Kirk-Stieff silverware (Baltimore, MD) but per wikipedia

    In 1990, Towle Silversmiths was acquired by the holding company Syratech Inc., that also owned Wallace Silversmiths and the International Silver Co. In 2006, Lifetime Brands Inc. purchased Syratech Inc.; thereby acquiring Towle Silversmiths, as well as Wallace Silversmiths and International Silver Co..

    Lifetime Brands bought Wallace®, Gorham®, Towle®, Kirk Stieff®, International® Silver, and Tuttle®

    According to Lifetime Brands’ webiste:

    All of the sterling silver flatware from Lifetime Sterling is manufactured in our own company-owned facilities in the USA—just as it has been since each of the brands was established.

    Reed & Barton (Taunton, MA) still makes silverware, but I cannot figure out where it is manufactured, whether locally or abroad.

    The only American made stainless steel flatware that I could find is made by Sherrill Manufacturing, at the old Oneida stainless plant in New York. Sherrill Manufacturing makes its stainless flatware for the company Silver Superstore.

    • tejanarusa says:

      Man, that is depressing.

      Most of those names are familiar to me from when – my god, 40 yrs ago – I was preparing to get married and researching “silverware patterns.” It was still traditional to choose both sterling and stainless in my family – so I looked into both. Ultimately decided sterling was just way too expensive to bother. But man, Towle, Reed & Barton, Oneida, Gorham, Wallace…I’m pretty sure they were all making sterling right here in the good old USA.

      Confession – I chose a Danish pattern, of which I still have all but a few forks (I think they got thrown out in a take-out pizza phase 30 yrs ago, left in the box.)

      And pdaly, yes, how can it be cheaper to assemble and package all those things from so many different places?

      One good side effect of high oil prices might mean that shipping costs will rise to the point that manufacturers will decide it’s cheaper to re-open a plant here. By now, that would be bucking the conventional business wisdom, I guess.

  8. pdaly says:

    I had a chance to watch some of the abc videos showing clips of the show.
    The interactive map that abc started is a great idea, showing abc-identified and viewer-identified companies producing products made in America.
    But what’s up with Tornado Alley? Are there no businesses there manufacturing goods? or is this just a time zone issue–that the show has not aired there yet?

    • tejanarusa says:

      Interesting – haven’t got there yet – do you mean the whole “alley”? All the way from Texas thru to Indiana/Illinois? I would bet there’s not a lot of manufacturing of domestic goods in the lower part of it, but there’s surely some?

  9. bobschacht says:

    Unless my mind is deceiving me, IIRC there was an article written several decades ago describing the normal daily routine of a typical American, except that every time an object was mentioned (which was frequent), the country of origin of that item was mentioned. Of course by the end of the article dozens, scores, of countries were mentioned. (It’s not the Nacirema article; I already checked that.)

    I think the point of the article was, how American are Americans?

    Bob in AZ

  10. pseudonymousinnc says:

    The Usrys would have trouble going shoeless.

    I’m fairly clear-eyed about this — perhaps it’s because I wasn’t made in the USA either — but for certain manufacturing industries, the critical nexus of work and experience and skill has moved. The shittiest factories aren’t, for the most part, in China any more: they’re elsewhere on the Pacific Rim, because Chinese manufacturers are looking towards the higher-end markets, with a workforce that’s been trained up to serve it. (Ming vases count as ‘made in China’ too.)

    So, I’m selective: I don’t buy crap. I understand the connection between sticker price and the wages, and how you can’t shake out $10/hr from a pair of $20 jeans, or buy a $5 diner breakfast that translates into a decent wage and benefits for the server.

    But a bit of honesty’s required here: for markets that are basically import-only, most consumers simply aren’t going to accept price hikes that come with paying domestic wages, and for markets where made-in-the-USA alternatives still exist alongside imports, it’s usually towards the luxury end, where most people on middle-class incomes would consider them unaffordable. (Their parents wouldn’t have considered them unaffordable, but there’s more shit to buy these days.)

    So: how do you square that circle? Appeals to patriotism haven’t worked; the teabaggers are offended at the idea of a living wage for anyone other than their self-declared worthy selves; the appetite to buy cheap plastic crap is showing no signs of abatement.

  11. Mauimom says:

    I’d like to see someone do a program re not buying anything produced by the Koch Brothers or their industries.

    Ditto re a few other kingpins.

  12. donbacon says:

    Free Tibet.

    Police in southern China have discovered a factory manufacturing Free Tibet flags. The factory in Guangdong had been completing overseas orders for the flag of the Tibetan government-in-exile.

    Workers said they thought they were just making colourful flags and did not realise their meaning.

    But then some of them saw TV images of protesters holding the emblem and they alerted the authorities, according to Hong Kong’s Ming Pao newspaper.

  13. Phoenix Woman says:

    Duluth Pack in Duluth, Minnesota, does excellent canvas backpacks and leatherwork. Get your next leather purse from them: (NB: Do not confuse with the copycat assholes at “Duluth Trading” — their crap is made in China.)

    Looking for a good, affordable Cordura bike or messenger bag? How about a shotgun case? Check out Battle Lake Outdoors ( Their stuff is 100% made not only in America, but in Minnesota (Cordura being a 3M product). Furthermore, they do custom work if you ask them nicely.

  14. donbacon says:

    from the BLS:

    Numeric change in wage and salary employment in goods-producing industries, 2008-18 (projected)

    thousands of jobs
    construction 1,337
    manufacturing -1,206

    Construction. Employment in construction is expected to rise 19 percent. Demand for commercial construction and an increase in road, bridge, and tunnel construction will account for the bulk of job growth.

    Manufacturing. Overall employment in this sector will decline by 9 percent as productivity gains, automation, and international competition adversely affect employment in most manufacturing industries. Employment in household appliance manufacturing is expected to decline by 24 percent over the decade. Similarly, employment in machinery manufacturing, apparel manufacturing, and computer and electronic product manufacturing will decline as well. However, employment in a few manufacturing industries will increase. For example, employment in pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing is expected to grow by 6 percent by 2018; however, this increase is expected to add only 17,600 new jobs.

    The construction projection is questionable given the collapse of the housing bubble and the shortage of government funds available for infrastructure construction.

    The loss in manufacturing jobs has been aided and abetted by the US government working with the chambers of commerce, US and American.

  15. pmorlan says:

    I buy mostly vintage items and almost all of them were made in the U.S. The older products were also made better.

    When we visited Biltmore in Asheville, NC a couple of years ago we discovered almost everything in the gift shop was made in China. We also went to the Grovepark Inn (famous for it’s Arts and Crafts decor) and the two mugs we bought there were made in China.

  16. pmorlan says:

    There used to be all kinds of small appliance repair shops in our community but now that the appliances are made so shoddy there isn’t enough demand for repair because it’s just not worth repairing the junk they sell now.

    • bobschacht says:

      In the really old days (i.e., before WW-I), to be a farmer meant that you could fix just about anything. You had to. To get someone else to fix your stuff, or to buy a replacement, probably meant a full day’s journey or more.

      Laurie Lewis sang a mournfully beautiful song called “Who will watch the home place?” The setting is someone leaving, for good, her parent’s home after her parent’s death, and one of the killer verses is

      In my grandfather’s shed there are hundreds of tools
      I know them by feel and by name
      And like parts of my body they’ve patched this old place
      When I move them they won’t be the same

      (By the way, I’ve heard her perform that song here in Flagstaff. The song touched so many hearts that she sang the verses and let the audience sing the choruses. It seemed like everyone participated.)
      This verse speaks of the time when you never threw anything away; if anything broke, you fixed it. I have a streak of that in me. My wife recently threw away a garment bag. When I pulled it out of the trash and asked her why, she pointed out that at the top, the plastic holding the front and the back together, was torn. I’ve now figured out how to fix it, using a cloth shoe lace and our sewing machine, because other than the tear, it looks quite usable. But that is not the prevailing attitude today. As you point out, repair shops are hard to find these days.

      Bob in AZ

      • bobschacht says:

        To contradict myself, before this thread goes dead, NPR did an amazing piece recently about the apparent immortality of tools (“Tools Never Die…”), part of a series with at least 3 parts. Someone, Robert Krulwich says, is still using those tools somewhere in the world.

        But I’ll bet that some of Grandpa’s tools were one-of-a-kind tools that he made himself for some specific purpose, that never made it into a Montgomery Wards catalog.

        And I fear that the Koch brothers attitude towards people is about the same as the attitude that most people now have for consumer products: If it breaks, throw it away and buy another one.

        Bob in AZ