The other day an editorial in the Philadelphia Inquirer opined that it’s perfectly fine and dandy that the uniforms for members of the U.S. Olympic were made in China.
Allow us to clear our throats before saying this:
We beg to differ.
The Inquirer equated the abject horror expressed by political leaders in Washington concerning the news to jingoism run amok. The newspaper, in fact, likened it to the rather silly reaction by many Americans to France not supporting the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Freedom fries anyone?
That kind of thinking might be all well and good in America’s industrial metropolitan areas but there is nothing silly or jingoistic in the least about this matter to folks in places like Alamance County or other North Carolina communities — places where once life-making jobs in textiles have been staggered by job losses over the past two decades. As textile manufacturing moved to China and other foreign nations, craters were left here and elsewhere. The backbones of community economies were savagely amputated largely by government trade policies and cheap sweatshop labor in foreign nations.
Of course, the Inquirer correctly points out that this is nothing new at all — it’s not like Olympians in 2008 were wearing American-made uniforms either — and characterized the angst expressed by politicians on both sides of the political aisle so much blustery bloviating in an election year.
It’s a fair point. Indeed, 98 percent of clothing sold in the United States is now manufactured overseas, according to the American Apparel and Footwear Association. And famous designer Ralph Lauren is offering the clothing for the opening ceremonies to U.S. athletes for free, something of a godsend for the U.S. Olympic Committee, which gets no government financial support. Blue blazers are a dime a dozen in China. It would cost twice as much to make the same item here.
But from where we sit, the fact that America manufactures so few homegrown goods isn’t something to celebrate or even pooh-pooh. It’s a cause to mourn. Not so long ago it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for Olympic athletes to don apparel made right here in Burlington. That’s not just a source of pride for American goods nationwide, but a trickle-down effect to dozens of communities. Each and every worker could pop a button or two about seeing something constructed by his or her hands on the backs of U.S. athletes on TV.
Losing all of that is sad is what it is.
While Washington politicians were falling all over themselves to stir up public opinion about what has been a problem of their own making for nearly 20 years — even, gasp, daring to swerve into bipartisanship — it’s way too late for this particular Olympic games or any games for that matter. It’s the modern economic reality. We can’t deny it. Doesn’t mean we like it one bit.
For his part, Lauren has vowed to manufacture in America next time. And lawmakers introduced feel-good legislation which would mandate that U.S. Olympics athletes be outfitted by American-made gear from this point on. There is also talk of legislation mandating that U.S. flags be made on American soil, not in China.
Sounds like the definition of the term, “too little, too late.”