When the Alliance for American Manufacturing moved to new offices, they set themselves a challenge: could they furnish the office entirely with American-made equipment, electronics, and office furniture? After all, we’re in the midst of a new manufacturing boom, with companies like Walmart announcing the purchase of $50 billion worth of made-in-the-U.S.A. goods over the next ten years, and Detroit cranking out Fords and Chryslers like it’s 1959. Surely the non-profit charged with encouraging folks to Buy American could fill up their offices with American-made stuff.
Well, they tried.
“There were certain things — electronics, mostly — that simply couldn’t be found from American producers,” writes Aaron Wiener for American City Paper. “But for the most part, AAM has succeeded in its mission, and its office is something of a showcase of American manufacturing.”
“The point of this office is to show it’s a lot easier than you think,” said AAM executive director Scott Paul, when giving Wiener the tour of their new offices.
Here’s what’s made in the U.S.A. in the AAM offices:
- In the kitchen, most of the appliances, from the Whirlpool fridge to the Uline trash bins. The dishwasher, made by German company Bosch, was manufactured in the U.S.
- In the copy room, the actual copy paper was made in the U.S., as was the thermostat and the fire alarm.
And here’s what they couldn’t find in the U.S., no matter how hard they tried:
- Most of the electronics, including all the computers and the large copier in the copy room. Wiener’s article notes that Apple is planning to start manufacturing computers in the U.S. soon, which would at least give them some options — provided they’re not PC people.
- Most shockingly, the coffee maker. “Not one made in the United States,” said Paul. “Zero.”
Of course, another question is whether or not we’d want absolutely everything to made in America. It’s true that most of us would probably feel more comfortable knowing that our country still had the means to make stuff on its own, if it had to, and there’s a certain satisfaction in knowing that your country still cranks out tangible goods. But do we need to make everything? Is it a terrible thing if our country never makes another coffee maker again, for instance?
Matthew Yglesias at Slate says no.
“America is a great big place, so it’s not obviously unrealistic to try to imagine a world in which a person could get buy exclusively on made-in-America stuff,” Yglesias wrote. “But we’re still a relatively small slice of the world as a whole. And it’s not a bad thing — or even necessarily contrary to the idea of having a strong manufacturing sector — if we’re specialized in some stuff and not present in some other industries. The strength of Swedish manufacturing, or Michigan manufacturing, is based on whether or not the things it does do thrive in the global marketplace not on whether it can do everything.”
In other words, as long as we can get coffee and copiers, and still make some of our stuff ourselves, maybe that’s not so bad.