Spell it right: It should be ‘By American’

The so-called “Buy American” provision of the new economic stimulus package is like plastic surgery – it may make you feel better about yourself, but it’s simply cosmetic. And there’s always something that can go wrong during the procedure. The stimulus bill was designed to pump up jobs by pumping up badly needed infrastructure projects around the country.
By Bob Vavra, Editor March 1, 2009

The so-called “Buy American” provision of the new economic stimulus package is like plastic surgery %%MDASSML%% it may make you feel better about yourself, but it’s simply cosmetic. And there’s always something that can go wrong during the procedure.

The stimulus bill was designed to pump up jobs by pumping up badly needed infrastructure projects around the country. The “Buy American” provision stated that American-made products must be used on all such projects. Or, that’s what it said on the surface.

The ink was barely dry when the provision’s true meaning was being picked apart. First of all, it doesn’t apply to those countries with which the U.S. already has trade agreements %%MDASSML%% a point President Obama made later in the week when he had his first talks with Canadian Prime Minister Steven Harper.

The backpeddling that accompanied that visit was truly something to behold. “Buy American” was fine when everyone was in the U.S., but Obama quickly told Harper that the U.S. would do nothing on this issue that would violate existing trade agreements.

“Buy American” also doesn’t apply if using it would drive the cost of the project up more than 25%, if sufficient volume of American-made goods were not available, or (and I love this one) the enforcement of the rule would be “inconsistent with the public interest.”

If you’re a manufacturer in this economy, the idea of “Buy American” sounds great. It sounds like we’re going to get some business out of the many local projects that will come out of the stimulus package, and that has to be a good thing, right?

It does sound good. And it might actually work out that way. But the biggest problem with the “Buy American” provision is that it’s spelled wrong.

It should be “By American.”

We desperately need to invest in our infrastructure because we’ve neglected it for so long. We also must invest in our people, because we’ve neglected them for just as long. One thing we can invest in is education, innovation and training %%MDASSML%% creating an incubator for great ideas that can be created, manufactured and distributed right here, and then exported to the rest of the world.

America is credited with inventing the airplane, the automobile, the assembly line, the television, the Big Mac, Coke, Pepsi and the iPod. Only one of those came along in the last 25 years.

When we innovate, we create more than just new commodities. We create jobs and manufacturing facilities and exports and a sense of longing from that developing global throng of consumers.

You don’t create legislation that compels innovation any more than you can create legislation that compels a single source for the tools of innovation. You can create an atmosphere for innovation, even an urgency for innovation. Because if we ever needed innovation, now is the time.

The next new ideas that will create the products of our future are sitting in the heads of young people, waiting to be born. They wait for the funding needed to take that idea to a prototype, to testing and to market. These great ideas, which will surely generate jobs and growth, wait for the help they need to become great products.

We certainly must fix those things we have already built, but we must constantly strive to invent new things and take new ideas. If we are comfortable with our past inventions, we lose the momentum to innovate for the future.

I’m uncomfortable with “Buy American” because it seems, well, un-American. It doesn’t account for the numerous foreign-based companies that do their manufacturing here in the U.S. And it’s got loopholes in it that would make a Wall St. accountant blush. But it’s also not the point.

We forget “By American” is still celebrated around the world. It’s not our sole right to claim, however. We have to work at it each day, getting better, creating new ideas, polishing our human infrastructure with the same fervor we seek to rebuild our physical infrastructure.

Above all, “By American” is a label that we can be proud of. We should be. It’s the one that’s worked for us for the last 232 years.