Learning from my clothes…
from the Donald?
So Trump wants to whack a 10% tax on imports, to protect American workers, and 20% on imports from Mexico, to pay for his great wall. At various times, as his primary opponent Ted Cruz pointed out, he has floated rates as high as 45%. The actual rates over the past few years – just so you know – have been in the very low single digits.
Well, I’m an American worker (though my wife might contest that) so I thought it might be time for a reality check. How would these increases affect ME? I decided to start as local as you can get – right next to my skin – so I stripped off and looked at the tags in my clothes. Here we go – top to bottom and outside-in.
- Wool winter hat – Nepal (Summer cap – Bangladesh)
- Down vest – (Uniqlo, a Japanese company but no, they’re made in China)
- Gloves – China
- Winter jacket – Sri Lanka
- Raincoat – Bangladesh
- My very masculine blue all-cotton Covington work shirt – Bangladesh
- My red fleece shirt, for when it gets a bit colder – Sri Lanka
- My t-shirt (Hanes) – Vietnam
- My boxers (Fruit of the Loom) – but the looms are in Vietnam
- My all-American LLBean blue jeans – Mexico
- The briefs I wear to bed (Hanes again) – El Salvador
- My Rockport shoes (also LLBean) – no, not made in Rockport, Maine, where the company is. They’re from Vietnam.
- My heavy LLBean boots for snowy days in Boston – Vietnam
- My even heavier Merrill’s (REI) for the backcountry – China
I almost forgot about my suits, since I hardly ever wear them, but I have two, both made in China. The shirts that go with them were made in El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Hong Kong, Vietnam, and Korea.
Was anything I wear made in the USA? YES! – my socks!
I’d love to support U.S. manufacturers but, like most middle-class American families, we live on a budget, and modestly priced clothing made in the United States doesn’t seem to exist any more. I’m not sure it’s available even at higher prices. I can pretty well guarantee that if you go into Walmart or Target intending to outfit your kids with affordable US-made back to school clothes, you’ll leave with an empty shopping cart (except for the aforementioned socks, which I highly recommend.)
So, what would a 10 or 20% increase on clothing mean for my family? It wouldn’t bankrupt us, by a long shot, but we’d certainly be inclined to try to buy less and make our things last longer – which would mean that stores would sell less and hire fewer staff, importers would import less, and so on.
For many families, though, it would mean significantly less to spend on food, clothing, rent, cars, healthcare, school supplies, and other necessities, many of which will also cost 10-20% more. And if that causes them to cut back on their purchases, it will affect the bottom lines of the companies who import, distribute and market all that stuff – and everybody who works for them in marketing and sales, – and the people who clean the stores after hours, and the people who drive the delivery trucks and…well, you get the picture. We live on what other people spend, and other people live on what we spend.
All of this, of course, will also almost certainly encourage other countries to impose punitive tariffs on our products in retaliation. Stuff’s all connected.
“OK,” you might say, “That’s a great summation of the problem, but what can we do to fix it?” It’s a good question, and I’ll try to get back to you on that. Right now I have to get my clothes back on in time for the next demonstration.
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