Thinking Out Loud

…. and Writing it Down

Can We Afford to Be This Greedy and Cheap?

by Wanda E. Fleming


Recently, I went sweater shopping for my son.  After visiting Lord and Taylor, and not finding the correct combination of color and size, I headed to Filenes Basement. There, neon sale signs led me to my destination, an entire aisle stacked with neatly folded designer sweaters in crew neck, V-neck, earth tones and citrus hues.

At first it was Calvin Klein. I picked up a stunning slate blue pullover. I shook it out, checked for a price and refolded it. Remarkably low, I thought. I could snatch up two or three.

It was then, upon looking at the care label, that I saw it: Made in China. Soon I was moving up and down the aisle, plucking up sweaters, pulling out tucked tags. Every single one was made  in China, Pakistan or Thailand. My slashed price sweaters were coming to me courtesy of overseas, likely sweat shop labor.

In the midst of trying economic times, discounts rule, but if you could afford to pay a few extra dollars to purchase a well made American item, would you? Shouldn’t you? Moody’s Analytics recently reported that if consumers just spent an extra 1% on U.S. goods, it would create 200,000 jobs.

Modern day buying requires mindfulness. The most Herculean tasks are not only to diminish the mad rush to stores in search of the cheapest imported items but to reduce the clubhouse stockpile purchasing of enough beef jerky and pickles to feed an entire prison cell block. But can we actually curb a mentality that says the lowest priced product is always the one to purchase? That the more goods we pile on our plate for fewer dollars, the more we should dig in and gorge?

An escalating national appetite for all things deeply discounted, be it all you can eat pancakes or buy one, get one free shoes is problematic. What does  it portend for small American businesses, which typically produce over 60% of our nation’s new jobs? Stagnancy? Slow death? A mom and pop diner will never be able to sustain “all you can eat” menus. An independent shoemaker in California will not survive offering two for one freebies, and those companies large enough to do so will continue to flee US shores for cheap labor overseas.

Citizens seem willing to give up everything for the lure of nearly free products. In such a climate, the winners will always be those who mass produce and pay their workers poorly. Less jobs at home, loads more stuff to buy on sale. Is that really the bargain we’re hankering for?


(This piece originally appeared on BlogHer, July 22, 2011. Edited and expanded, 2015)


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