There is an idea of America that permeates our politics, our media and, generally, our collective conscious. It is a romanticized notion based on the unprecedented economic growth the U.S. enjoyed for roughly two decades following the end of WWII. In broad strokes, this notion can be easily summarized as the "Leave It To Beaver" era. Dad worked a "job" that provided for a nice house, a car or two, good food on the table and all the new time-saving, life-improving products modern industry could produce. Mom stayed at home and took care of the kids instilling in them an array of good, old-fashioned, family values.By the end of the 1960's, this phase began to fizzle. By the 1970's America suffered it first significant recession since the Great Depression. Since then, the idea of restoring America to this "golden age" has been a hallmark of every major political party, the bookends of most presidential speeches and the driving force behind every significant populist movement. But, despite our seeming best efforts, we find ourselves today, some forty years later, further and further away from the good old days of Wally and the Beaver.
Why? Why can't we get back to what "made this country great"? Why can't every person in this country who wants a job have one? Why can't those that have jobs seems to get ahead like they did in the good old days? Why is it so hard just to get by?
Because that magical era we collectively cling to was an aberration. A freak confluence of circumstances that will most likely never be reproduced. The golden age of America was made possible by the virtual annihilation of the rest of the world's industrialized nations. At the end of WWII, the continental U.S. was untouched by the destruction that obliterated Japan, Germany, Britain, France, Spain, Italy and to a great extent, the Soviet Union.
The War had shifted the American industrial, manufacturing core into overdrive while the rest of the First World nations, after the War, were shoveling rubble. We became the Wal-Mart of the world providing everything from tube socks to automobiles to peanut butter. And, on top of that, American industry was called upon world-wide to provide for and assist in the rebuilding of the rest of the First World's war-ravaged infrastructure. Money was flooding into the U.S. in the form of payment for goods going out and there was very little money flowing out.
But, all good things must come to an end. By the mid 60's, the industrial centers of Europe and Japan began to come back online. Soon, the 70's saw an influx of cheap products from Europe and Asia. American exports began to wane and so did the gleaming age of "Leave It To Beaver". Since then, our manufacturing base has steadily shrunk, the cost of living has ballooned and it's become increasingly more difficult for the average American to "just keep up".
It's common knowledge that the U.S. imports more as a nation than we export, mainly from China. In fact, our biggest export to China is garbage and we pay them to take it. Everyday we produce less and less and, consequently, export less and depend more greatly on other countries for basic goods. This has resulted in a massive reduction in manufacturing jobs and all the peripheral services (i.e. shipping, sales, marketing, etc.) involved in selling to other countries.
So, what about these "jobs" the politicians keep talking about? Obama talks about reinvigorating our manufacturing sector and putting "hard-working" Americans back to work. How? The model of America upon which this strategy is based, is no longer possible. It's important to note that the great middle class of America emerged after WWII. Prior to that, America was a two-class society consisting of a small upper class and a large, mainly agrarian lower class. During the Depression, President Hoover promised "a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage". FDR was able to make good on Hoover's promise courtesy of Adolf Hitler and Pearl Harbor. WWII paved the way for the American golden age and the explosion of the middle class.
Unfortunately, those days are over. We are living through the contraction and collapse of the middle class. We are seeing it as it happens, in real time. The jobs are gone and they aren't coming back. Manufacturing has left America and its new address is Asia.
It's sad. It's depressing. It's frightening. So, what can America do? Buy American. It may sound quaint and trite, but it's the only thing we, the consumers of this nation, can do. It's easy to buy stuff from Wal-Mart because it's cheap, but this simply exacerbates the problem. We must buy American whenever possible. American cars, American food, American electronics (this last one's tough but, in some cases possible). Just like we read the Nutritional Info on our food and avoid the high-fat stuff, we've got to read the label on our underwear and avoid "Made in China". We need to move our money to locally-owned banks and avoid global, multi-nationals whenever possible.
The U.S. Government can't cut off Asian imports--we owe China too much money. American business won't do it, they want the cheap foreign labor to bolster their bottom line. No, it's up to us to make a shift in our buying habits. It won't change things overnight, but with time, we could see a return of American manufacturing if we support American business with our money.
In the end, it's our money. It's up to us to decide who gets it. Do we want to business with our next door neighbor or Leong Se Kom in Beijing? Not to say that Leong Se Kom's a bad guy, I'm sure he's a very nice fellow.