The Christmas holiday shopping season is now in full swing, and the challenge for gift buyers this year should be to avoid more debt and buy American-made products as much as possible. Those goals would have positive results for all.
They call it Black Friday, but more than likely a lot people went deeper into the red on Friday, the beginning of the annual month-long shopping binge that we call the holiday season.
But this isn't going to be another one of those consumer-warning spiels that rants about people spending beyond their limits, urging them to cool it and stay within their means. Times are tough right now. I'm sure most people have already adjusted their holiday budgets accordingly.
And as you may have noticed, I wasn't out at the mall or Walmart with a group of protesters with signs beckoning shoppers to join the 24-hour Black Friday moratorium on consumer spending known as Buy Nothing Day.
Organizers of the annual Buy Nothing Day urged people to "lock up your debit card, your credit cards, your money clip and see what it feels like to opt out of consumer culture completely, even if only ... for 24 hours." But I think the most important message of BND is getting us to "rethink our excessive consumption habits." This year, especially, we should do some rethinking and pay close attention to where the products we purchase come from. Rather than just shrugging with puzzlement when we see how just about everything is made in China, we should vow to do something about it.
It should be no surprise that our unemployment rate is so high when you consider all the products that are made in China, rather than in our own country. Maybe we should stop letting U.S. companies get away with shipping jobs overseas, contributing to our trade deficit and keeping our economy sluggishly crawling out of recession.
Perhaps the extent of our use of China for so much of our manufacturing is connected to China's position as the top holder of U.S. debt. We now are in hock to China for more than $800 billion, just more than what we owe Japan. It's safe to say that those two nations and Great Britain have been financing the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
But it is China's monetary policies that have been having the most detrimental impact on our economy. Last week, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said currency under-valuation by China and other emerging markets such as India was at the root of "persistent imbalances" in trade that "represent a growing financial and economic risk" to the U.S.
If China's money is valued at less than it should be, that just adds to the incentives that already exist for business interests to buy more from China and ship more jobs there.
That's a problem for global political economists, which will be dealt with in the back rooms of high finance and political pressure. But you can do your part to contribute to improving our economy by thinking about what you buy this holiday season.
Of course, boycotting products made in China sounds a lot easier than it is because of the extent of Chinese imports of goods across the manufacturing spectrum. But it's worth a try, even if you do have to cheat a bit.
In fact, it would require a complete rethinking about the kinds of products that are the usual hot gift-giving items at holiday time. And if you don't think about it, you can be taken by surprise.
For example, I bought a new Cleveland golf driver last month and just assumed that golf clubs, of all things, were generally made in the U.S. Wrong. When I read the fine print, I found that the head, shaft and grip were made in China and shipped to the U.S. for assembly.
Next time you're out shopping, try checking out where the products were made. The trouble is that some of the most popular places to shop, such as Walmart, are the most-difficult ones in which to find American-made items. That calls for rethinking not only how you buy, but also where you buy, which could send you back to Main Street and away from the box stores and malls.
Avoiding the purchase of products made in China may not be easy, but it certainly could make shopping more challenging and interesting. And it definitely can't hurt the local economy, especially if you also do what you can to find the right gifts locally.
Cary Brunswick, of Oneonta, is a freelance writer and editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.