Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Ablaze over Olympian blazers

  Jerry Seinfeld was gold — gold, I tell ya — when he said, in effect, all sports fans do is root for laundry.

  Whatever the sport: We may hardly know the players, but what stirs us to song is the colors they wear.

  So, what song emanates when the laundry is Chinese, yet to be worn during the opening ceremonies in London by the U.S. Olympic team?

  Sound waves fit to shatter eyeglasses quickly bounce from the nightly news to the halls of Congress, which assembles for declarations and ceremonial finger Thus supplanted: such vital matters as baseball stars sticking needles in their hindquarters, and the election-cycle rush to designate the bison our national mammal.

   The latter may seem frivolous until we consider what grand herds of American buffalo had (and have) in common with the once-indomitable force that produced durable goods "Made in the U.S.A." Both have found themselves at extinction's brink.

   Actually, the bison are doing better than U.S. manufacturers. After all, the federal government set out to protect them.

    Though of little big-picture consequences, the tumult over the Olympic evening attire serves as a usefully screeching, wailing reminder of what's become of our economy.

    It's why Mitt Romney's defense of Bain Capital's outsourcing activities can be summarized as, "I was off running Massachusetts at the time."

    It's why when critics assailed President Obama for the purchase of a campaign bus whose shell was Canadian-made, the administration scrambled for a defensible claim that the finished product was assembled in Tennessee.

   For too long we have soft-pedaled the whole issue of the hollowing out of American manufacturing. The Bain capitalists want us to believe it's all good, as overseas goods are cheaper and overseas labor means higher profits for American corporations that exploit it.

    But is it all good? And is benign neglect defensible as a policy matter?

    Recently I wrote about the manufacturing anomaly that is Halloween — principally the  odd contrast between who makes what ends up in the trick-or-treat bag and what's worn by the goblins soliciting treats. Virtually all the candy on U.S. shelves is American-made. Meanwhile, virtually all the disguises, the plastic doodads and props — made in China, made in Taiwan.

   What is the logistical difference (don't say "labor unions") between dollops of chocolate or gummy critters rolling down a conveyor belt and plastic spiders and plastic fangs? It therefore defies logic that American manufacturers can't compete in the doodad market.

    Here's what really defies logic: that favorable tax policies would grease the skids for jobs that get shipped overseas by American firms.

    A recently introduced measure by congressional Democrats would give companies that return operations and workers to the United States a 20 percent tax credit. It would pay for the credit by closing tax loopholes for companies that export jobs.

   Republicans oppose this, having been those most enamored by the corporate love affair with globalism and outsourcing.

   With the notable exception of Bill Clinton, Democrats as well have been much too pliant on these matters. Now President Obama is making it a campaign issue, and good for us.

   We have all let the so-called virtues of globalization and bigness mesmerize us into believing that economic Valhalla is in the discount aisle. No, it's not.

    Chinese-made blazers? Thank goodness a matter related to a fundamental economic defect has finally scraped up some good old populist umbrage. So, it's root, root, root for American laundry.

    Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

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