Michigan Mandates “Buy American”

Of course, just a day after Independence Day, it’s time for some in the media to write about how one state is pursuing economically stupid policies under the flag of patriotism.

55KRC Radio asked on facebook:

Isn’t it just painful to think that a U.S. flag is not made in AMERICA!?

The post linked to this article, which noted “Flag sellers in Michigan said this is the first Fourth of July under a new law requiring all U.S. flags at state government buildings to be domestically made.”

Patriotic, right? Think again. I don’t see anything patriotic about government picking winners and losers, even when it comes to our country’s flag.

You mean to tell me there aren’t domestic flag sellers who sell flags made in China, Canada, or anywhere but the U.S.? Did the law require that they be sold by a Michigan company? When the flag is worn, and must be ceremonially burned, does it have to be done with American matches in an American-made 55 gallon drum that once held American oil?

I’m kidding about the latter, but silly policies originate out of well-intended, but still silly, laws like Michigan’s. One wonders, does this law apply to Michigan state flags?

Look, the flag is such an important symbol that no government official would be stupid enough to advertise that flags — on a pole or given out during a parade — aren’t American-made. That stings. I get that.

But mandate that all government buildings use American flags? Economic nonsense, yes, but popular economic nonsense nonetheless. I’m sure some budget geeks in their offices in Lansing aren’t too happy with this change, since Michigan is low on cash.

Don’t forget to consider some of the unintended consequences…. like:

  • It will drive up demand for American-made flags, making it likely that Michiganders who want an American-made flag will pay a higher price.
  • Higher demand and higher prices might make it more likely that people will purchase foreign-made flags.
  • Limiting competition means that it is likely government will have to spend more taxpayer dollars then they otherwise would.

In the article, a few choice quotes:

“A U.S. flag,” Carol Klee said, “should be made in the U.S.”

“Customers come to us because they know our flags are made in the U.S.,” he [Dancy] said. “People take pride in buying quality.”

I disagree that an American flag “should” be made in the United States. We have limited resources, should we be mandating that those resources be used to produce all of our flags, like Mrs. Klee suggests? No. I’d rather those labor and capital resources go to more productive uses, like building airplanes or medical imaging equipment. Some flags will be made the in the U.S., and that’s fine with me. All of them, though? Come on. By Carol’s logic, should all Michigan flags be made in Michigan? Detroit flags made in Detroit?

Just because something is made in the United States does not always mean it is high quality, which is what Dancy implies.

I think we have a great work force, but “Made in the USA” doesn’t always mean something is a high quality good. American companies make both high and low quality goods, and products in between. There’s nothing wrong with that. Specializing in low-quality goods isn’t something people should be ashamed to admit takes place all over the globe, including here in the United States.

There are high-quality American flags and there are low quality flags. American-made flags tend to be of the high-quality type, since most low-quality flags are made in low-cost  places, and are silk screened. Sewn flags are costlier and more intensive (both in labor and machinery) to make, which is more our specialty, but cost much more.

Which is why I think this mandate is ill-advised, since it pretty much guarantees, increased demand and other factors aside, that Michigan’s government will spend more per flag. 

Additional views on Buy American clauses:

NYT Editorial: “Indeed, whether it is from the point of view of diplomacy or of job creation, “Buy American” is a terrible idea. One that could make the global recession worse.”

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