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May 29, 2021

Buy domestic? Sure, but who can afford it?

By Jason Buckland, Sympatico / MSN Finance

It’s tough not to nod and agree when someone urges you to “buy domestic,” especially after the latest round of mass layoffs or factory closures hit the news.

But, outside of the auto industry, I can’t – for the life of me – recall anyone telling me how to actually do this.

I bring this up after reading a fascinating article on ABC News from a segment they did recently on Nightline. In the piece, the reporters outline just how tricky (due to lack of availability) and costly (due to increased manufacturing rates) it is to actually  buy domestic.

The story hinges on a self-proposed challenge ABC put on itself: go on three separate shopping excursions and try to check off as many domestically-made products as possible from a list of common items.

First, the reporters tried to buy a full suit of clothing that consisted of as many domestic-made pieces as possible. What they found was a common theme. Everything, and I mean everything, was manufactured abroad, from the jacket (China), pants (China), tie (China), belt (China), to the underwear (Honduras/Mexico), dress shirt (Bangladesh) and suitcase (China.)

The next two trips (to a hardware store and a Sears) proved nearly just as fruitless. Only rare products like a sleeping bag and hammer could be found that had actually been made in North America. Everything else had a tag sporting a country of origin like Indian, Israel and, of course, China.

Now granted, this was an American study, but I can’t see how the same trend doesn’t possibly translate north of the border. Aside from certain cars (whose origins, for the most part, are decidedly un-Canadian), how many popular products can you think of that are actually manufactured here?

Well, I’ll tell you. Not many. According to canadianmade.com, there is a good list of products made in Canada, but how many of them do we actually buy? Of the entire catalogue, there are brand names like Sierra Designs, Roots and Simmons & Sealy mattresses, but not much else of retail substance.

To prove its point, the ABC story tracks down a good ol’ American company, one that sells, models and manufactures tents all right in the heart of the U.S. Only, problem is, by remaining loyal to the “buy domestic” mantra, the tents retail for an insanely inflated price because of sky-high goods and labour costs.

The tent company’s man-in-charge says it can only afford to sell the products locally to keep them at a “reasonable price.”

“Reasonable, in this case, means just short of $500,” the article says. “That’s maybe five times what you’d pay for a similarly-sized tent at Wal-Mart … which is why you can’t buy a (single one of them) at Wal-Mart.”

It’s quite ironic, actually. Cruel, but ironic. In all honesty, most people would tell you they can’t afford to buy domestic, as much as they’d like to. So we end up buying fairly-priced goods made in Godknowswhere because it’s what normal people can budget. And by consequence, with our economy tanking, we end up paying the very workers who have taken our jobs in the first place.

So buy domestic? Sure, we’d love to. Just show us how.



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Gordon PowersGordon Powers

A long-time fund company executive, Gordon Powers now heads up the Affinity Group, a financial services consulting firm. Gordon was a personal finance columnist for the Globe & Mail for many years, has taught retirement planning...

Jason BucklandJason Buckland

The modern-day MC Hammer of money, Jason can often be seen spending cash that isn’t his with the efficiency of a Wilt Chamberlain first date. After cutting his teeth as a reporter for the Toronto Sun, he joined the MSN Money team with...