Published on: May 16, 2013
Responding to yesterday's story about a study suggesting that imports are healthier for the US economy than made-in-the-USA products, and my criticism of the study as being short-sighed, one MNB user wrote:Kevin, I loved your observation about how overseas manufacturing stifles innovation. And look, I’m not some flag waving protectionist, but it does have an impact.
Case in point: A decade ago my wife, who is a Certified Hand Therapist and avid gardener, hatched an idea for a therapeutic garden glove. I was in my MBA program and did a thorough marketing plan, and with the aging population this was sure to be a home run. I was fully supportive and excited. My wife assembled a mockup of the product and we went about looking for a manufacturer with excess capacity. We met with Honest Abe glove company, with good ole Abe Lincoln’s picture on their packaging. And guess what - they don’t make their own gloves much less make them in the US. As the man we spoke with in Chicago explained it, Honest Abe is a glove marketing company not a glove manufacturer. Just like Nike is a brilliant shoe marketer that doesn’t make their own shoes. He explained how very few textile manufacturers are left with everyone in China, although even that is changing as even cheaper labor is being found elsewhere.
We tried to obtaining a patent but was told by our patent attorney after a thorough patent search that it was not patentable, similar to how you can’t patent a chair. So with an easily stolen design and not speaking Cantonese, we ditched the whole idea. Had there been somebody, anybody who could have helped us get to market we probably would have risked it and gone for it.
A big part of the American dream is steeped in working hard, to think of an idea or a product, start a business, and with a strong work ethic and treating people fairly you have the opportunity to do well. I still believe that! But in this global economy it has gotten much harder to pull off. When you can’t source the material for what a finished import product costs it’s a little discouraging.
So Imports are good huh? Maybe for Suzie Homemaker but not for the innovative glove entrepreneur. And if it isn’t obvious the world isn’t a fair marketplace, and it’s too bad it took the deaths in Bangladesh to point that out once again. But what are companies here like Walmart supposed to do? Walmart didn’t build the factory building that collapsed, they weren’t in charge of the building inspections. Why aren’t people as quick to blame Bangladesh and their lack of inspections for this horrific accident as quickly as some are to go after Walmart. Then there are labor standards, wage standards, environmental standards…none of which match up to the same level as that in the US. Every time an item is made somewhere else “that could have been made here,” it isn’t without breaking some US regulation or standard of some kind. Savings don’t come out of thin air, and with fuel prices so high it had better be a substantial savings at that. Damn it, now I am sounding like a flag waving protectionist.
MNB user Mike Franklin wrote:The statement, “Increasing US standard of living by making cheap goods available" ... So our US standard is so low that by buying cheap goods we are better off? If anything, the last 5 years should have taught us that the “Great American Dream” needs to be redefined. Maybe we should think about the cost of rampant consumerism in relation to global sustainability…maybe we should think about the cost, in human misery, of cheap goods…maybe we should think about the decline of the middle class and the need for cheap goods because discretionary money has disappeared…maybe we should think!
Of course, any discussion of global sourcing these days inevitably leads back to a conversation about factories in places like Bangladesh that often are substandard, paying employees poorly, and generating the cheap goods that somehow don't seem so inexpensive when a factory collapses or catches fire and hundreds of people are killed.
One MNB user wrote:Having had experience with contract factories in Asia…very few contract factories…or their sub-contract factories are utilized without a pre-contract signing inspection/audit. Ex-pats are on the ground inspecting product quality, introducing new products to management, resolving production issues, placing orders, etc. on a weekly…monthly… seasonal or at least once a year. They know what is going on.
I've always believed that the companies that say they have no idea what is going on in some of these countries are like Major Renault in Casablanca
, who says he has no idea that gambling is going on at Rick's Cafe Américain ... just before he is handed his winnings.
And, on a related subject, one MNB user wrote:Hi Kevin, just read your column and saw that China wants pork imported from the US to be tested for a certain additive. There's a tinge of irony here in this, given the news reports from China about tainted baby formula and pork dumplings filled with rat "meat" or paper pulp.
Yeah. I got that, too.
It was a tangential discussion, but I made the comment the other day that while I am uncomfortable with the idea of the morning-after pill being made available over-the-counter to 15 year old girls, I'm not sure that my comfort is the issue ... while I'd like to think that my daughter and I have the kind of relationship that would allow for conversation if such a product were needed, there probably are a lot of girls out there who might not feel that way about their parents.
Which led one MNB user to write:Nobody wants to think their daughter wouldn't come to them to have "the conversation" before the fact. Are you kidding me? Wake up, people!!
In 2010 the average age of onset of puberty in girls was 10.5 years old!!! (Google it!) And really, no matter how great your relationship, as a 15-year-old would you have told your mom before you went to buy condoms?
You could fill volumes with the stuff that I would not and could not have told my parents when I was 15. Hell, you could fill volumes with the stuff that we can't and wouldn't talk about now - and I'm 58.
On a political note, one MNB user observed:Whenever I hear or read words like “where mature, non-ideological conversations and negotiations can take place,” it’s from somebody expressing a political viewpoint and means, “where people agree with me.” It seems to be an attempt to shame people into going along.
I absolutely understand why you feel that way. Because that's the way things seem to be these days. But that's not how I meant them. Believe it or not.
The other day, in a conversation about the Abercrombie & Fitch controversy, we had an email from an MNB user who said, in essence, that the company was entirely justified in its approach - that pretty girls make everything more salable, and that this is just the way the world works.
My response:I do know this. When I go to a restaurant, I pay attention to the food and the service. When I stay in a hotel, I'm more interested in the speed of the internet, the comfort of the bed, the force of the shower and the thickness of the towels. On a flight, I want an aisle seat and a safe landing. And I don't go to Hooters, because a) the food sucks and b) I wouldn't want my daughter working there. And so on.
It is attitudes like these, and people like you, who create an often unfriendly and often even hostile work environment for a lot of women. I know, based on previous exchanges, that you say you hire a lot of women for different functions and that they are thrilled to often take less money because you are "tolerant" of the fact that they have different work-life balance needs than men.
But I cannot imagine why any woman with a shred of dignity would want to work for you. Nor why any woman with a shred of common sense would ever want to hire you.
One MNB user wrote:A huge thanks for your logical/progressive/21st century stand-up statement on women in response to David Livingston. I’ll go you one better - not only would I never consider hiring him, working with or for him, in reality - I wouldn’t accept the guy’s “connection request” on LinkedIn. In fact, I took some true pleasure in denying it. As a slight tangent, sometimes I think male leaders are more accepting of the concept of women in the C-suite if they have daughters. For some reason you seem to “get it.” Maybe it’s because you’re a really thoughtful, smart person, but maybe it’s partly because you have a daughter….Just a thought.
I have more than a daughter. I also had a mom, and still have four sisters and a wife, and I've worked for women several times in my life. All strong women who generally have been smarter, savvier and even tougher than me. (Two of the best people I ever worked for were a woman named Jeanne Glynn very early in my career, and Lindsay Hutter, much later.)
I'm not the smartest guy around. But most of the time, I know enough to pay attention.
From another reader:I am reaching out to commend you for your comments in response to David Livingston’s “pretty girls” commentary. I am absolutely disgusted by Mr. Livingston’s comments and believe wholeheartedly, like you, that it is people and attitudes like this that ultimately prevent workplace diversity from moving forward. I believe these attitudes are also what prevent our society from growing & advancing, as well. With individuals like this, it is no wonder that we continue to battle racism, sexism, and overall discrimination in this country. It is sad that individuals like Mr. Livingston, with his shallow thinking, feel the need to voice their ridiculous opinions, however twisted and idiotic their beliefs are.
And, from MNB user Robin Russell:My friend, you continue to rise in my estimation! There is hope for the species!!
Don't get too hopeful. I'm as capable of male stupidity as the next guy.