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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Made in America: What's good for General Bullmoose (ref. Al Capp) isn't--necessarily--good for the USA anymore.

ABC's World News with Dianne Sawyer recently produced a segment called "Made in America." The several-part piece has astounded us as to how few of the things we commonly buy are actually made in America. It is a surprise, but it shouldn't be.

Al Capp was the incredible, satirical genius behind Li'l Abner, a very cool, used-to-be comic strip that you have to be over 50 to remember. General Bullmoose, an early character, was Capp's personification of General Motors, an industry giant of the time. (But times change, don't they?) General Bullmoose knew how to make money... the American way, by ingenuity, boldness, dominance and opportunism... sort of the way Capp--and others--saw GM, the world's leading automaker and industrialist of the time.

America was the icon of the universe... the most powerful of the superpowers, the one all others looked to when something... anything was needed. We were the export kings... the breadbasket... the shining example of what everyone else wanted, as we still are, in some of the same and many new ways. Our capitalistic bent said supply and demand was the rule... we were the supply... and everything American was in demand. So what was good for General Bullmoose was good for the USA--more in truth than many were willing to admit.

Ah... it's good to be king.

But that was then. This is today.... America still standing tall and still greatly admired by most.  But if you read Thomas Friedman's book, The World is Flat, you have an interesting history of how things have changed... and they have. That's evolution for you. Things change, we adapt.

Supply and demand have changed. Best single example: Walmart. Most products are not made in America but we buy them-- making Walmart the world's largest retailer--because we find stuff there that we want/need, and it is usually competively priced, having been made--here and everywhere in the world-- and delivered to their shelves at a most competitive price point. We create our demand, the flat world supplies it.

Today, we are consumers, by 2/3 to 1/3 over what we export.

Made in America is still a great thing... but far from the only thing. Made in China, made in Japan, made in Taiwan, Germany, Portugal, etc. is so today. Picture the world as (forgive me) one big Walmart. General Bullmoose is dead (and so is Al Capp, in 1979).

Think I'm kidding? One look through your closet... your garage... your house, will tell you I'm not. But there is more:

San Francisco is rebuilding its Bay Bridge, the link between 'The City' and Oakland. And that bridge, honest, is being built in China. Two dozen giant sections-- each as big as half-a-football field-- were built there and shipped 6,500 miles to Oakland for assembly. California says it saved hundreds of millions of dollars and obviously, believes quality will serve its citizens well.

China, reports the New York Times, is also 'building' copper mines in the Congo, high-speed rail lines in Brazil and huge apartment complexes in Saudi Arabia. China also builds your iPad, toys, jetliners and lots and lots of other products. Want to have a look at what we import and from where? Check this out. Pretty interesting.

Yes, we still make stuff. Yes we still innovate. Yes we are still really good at lots and lots. But the world is larger, smarter, flatter... and much more productive. Has to be. World population has grown from 2.5 billion in 1950 to 6.1 billion in 2000 and will be around 9.3 billion by 2050! Prolific little buggers, aren't we?

General Bullmoose is dead... we are not. But we sure are different.

Last note: The pendulum swings. Lately, some American companies are bringing production back to our shores. Capitalism's rules mandate that where it's made and how much it costs will always be changing variables.

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