Pu Yi, the last emperor of China, rode around in a Buick. So did Sun Yat Sen, who is revered on both sides of the Taiwan Strait as pretty much the George Washington of modern China. Also Zhou Enlai, the first premier of the People’s Republic. No wonder, then, that Buick is a high-prestige car brand in today’s China. All that history gave them a leg up in the market.
Which is one reason why most of today’s Buicks are made in China. That’s right: more than million Buicks are made there every year, some of which are now sold here. Only around 200,000 are made in the U.S. Meanwhile, you can go down to your Ford dealer and buy one of their new EcoSport SUVs, or you can check out Jeep’s Renegade. Nice looking cars, both. “American” brands, both. Made in India and Italy, respectively.
Where am I going with this? Well, with “American” cars being built in China, India and Italy, and with “foreign” cars being built in Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky, maybe we need to consider that cars these days are built by huge companies with plants all over creation, so it would make sense to rethink what “American” and “foreign” mean.
Thirteen “foreign” car makers have plants in the U.S., employing 130,000 people. So, is a Honda made in Ohio a “foreign” car? How about a Toyota made in Kentucky, or a Volkswagen made in Tennessee?
To blur the lines even further, a car today may very well have an engine from Country A. a transmission from Country B, with final assembly in Country C.
Not that there’s anything wrong with thinking of America first. But now that we’re fighting a trade war with China and Europe and Canada (and who knows who’s next?), perhaps the words “American” and “foreign” no longer mean what they once did.
So, whom are we threatening when we talk about slapping more tariffs on more goods?
Many of us sorely miss the days when industrial jobs that paid a decent wage were almost considered a birthright in places like Detroit — or Meriden, or New Britain, or Bridgeport.
But those days are gone, and by now we’ve seen pay stagnating for a lot of American workers for a lot of years.
In a way, the saving grace for millions of working people in this country has been something we may be only vaguely aware of: the fact that the prices we pay for most consumer goods are wildly cheaper than what people pay in many other countries. Because of imports.
Ever gone to one of those outlet malls down on the shoreline and heard somebody on the P.A. system making announcements in German?
Ever been at JFK and watched people pushing wagonloads of microwaves and TVs that are going to Russia — but are still a deal, even with the overweight-baggage charges?
That’s because retail prices here are so cheap that it can pay to fly here from Europe just to shop.
If we’re planning to swap relatively free trade for higher tariffs, we need to be ready to pay higher prices at the checkout.
People say they want to bring “Made in America” back, but are we willing to pay the price?
Reach Glenn Richter at firstname.lastname@example.org.