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Buying cheap perpetuates cycle

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

You know we like to fool ourselves. We go through life thinking that walking around the office is going to take care of that extra donut we had that morning or it doesn't really matter if that empty water bottle makes its way into the trash instead of the recycling box.

All of us do it.

Recently I needed a pair of jeans. I went to the Wal-Mart because they have fat guy sizes and selected a pair that cost me under $20.

They fit fine. The price was right, but I did something that I shouldn't have: I supported the gross trade imbalance in order to get something quick.

At this time when we're at war, some people would think how we buy a pair of jeans is a pretty trivial matter. It is, of course, unless you're a person who has worked in manufacturing and have seen the steady decline of that sector of our economy for years.

The all-American blue jeans a fashion icon representing this nation around the world is scarcely American any more. The company that invented the denim jeans, Levi Strauss, moved its last American manufacturing facility to Mexico in 2003.

Here in Western Massachusetts we ought to be pretty sensitive about such things. Since the end of World War II, our manufacturing has seen a steady erosion.

In the chase for increased profits, we seen businesses relocate first to the South to avoid union labor, then across the border and finally to places such as China.

Add the country-destroying legislation of NAFTA and the ballooning trade imbalance with nations such as China and we have a huge problem on our hands that few politicians want to talk about.

I'm all for making money, but the short-term effort to boost the bottom line has meant a decrease in the number of people who can afford anything but the cheapest of goods. The more cheap foreign stuff one buys, the less of a chance that American manufacturing can come back. It's a vicious circle.

Without having decent paying manufacturing jobs, there are less opportunities for people to have a vehicle to reach middle class status.

I've not decided whom I want to support for president, but I can tell you I'd be interested in the first candidate who speaks of repealing NAFTA and reinstituting tariffs that protect our manufacturers.

I doubt that any of them will want to tackle such an un-sexy topic of re-building the manufacturing base, though.

So the next time I need jeans, I'm getting a pair from Gusset (, one of the few American-made brands of jeans left. They cost about double than what I've been paying, but at least I know my money is staying here paying some fellow American a wage hopefully something close to a living wage.


Speaking of fashion, I've been wearing my summer Panama hat (made in the U.S.A, by the way, and bought locally at The Brim and Crown in Springfield) and from some of the reactions I've received one would think I had dyed my hair purple and spiked it.

Wearing something other than a baseball cap is considered radical these days.

It's just a hat and a venerable style at that.

I must admit I'm compelled to wear hats. It's my DNA. My dad wore a wide variety of hats and the hat-wearing habit was imprinted at an early age.

I'm not going to apologize.

Now I must admit I've been tempted to cram a press pass under the band and whenever I wear it I feel the spirit of Karl Kolchak (you young people can look him up on the Internet) bubbling through.

Thankfully, I don't have to chase any vampires.

Just a warning, I'm going back to the Brim and Crown for a snap brim fedora for the fall.

This column represents the opinions of its author. Send your comments to or to 280 N. Main St., East Longmeadow, Mass. 01028.