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America, We Can Make It! (May/June 2009)

Published: May 5, 2009

Manufacturing has always been a cornerstone of America’s economic success. U.S. manufacturers helped create our country’s great wealth, raising the standard of living for working families to the highest in the world. They formed the backbone of state and local economies, providing jobs and tax revenues for essential public services. In the process, they created new technology, more jobs, and greater opportunities.

However, the global financial market has created an economic culture focused more on quarterly reports than long-term growth. Many manufacturers have left the United States, shifting operations overseas to low-wage countries. The global economy mushroomed. The stock market flourished. Hedge funds and institutional investors made billions, while CEOs enjoyed generous salaries, stock options, and bonuses.

But what about the communities, closed factories, and thousands of unemployed left behind? And how do companies that continue to operate in America compete with low-priced imports?

In this issue, we write about Munro Shoes, a family-owned company in Arkansas that has struggled to survive the tsunami—or in this case shoenami—of inexpensive Asian imports. When Don Munro bought the company in 1972, the United States was the largest producer of shoes in the Western world. In fact, almost every shoe purchased in America was made in America. Today, more than 98 percent of shoes purchased in the United States are imported from Asia, mostly from China, according to the American Apparel and Footwear Association.

Adapting to changing market forces is how American businesses survive. In the past, some merchants and consumers have taken a more direct approach.

In the 18th century, the East India Company of Great Britain wanted to be the sole provider of tea to America. The colonists, however, resented the company’s high prices and the Crown’s taxes, so they smuggled in tea that local merchants sold for much less. Not to be outwitted, the British government waived the tax, so the East India Company could slash prices and drive local competitors out of business. The American response was as direct as it was dramatic. Led by Samuel Adams, colonists stole onto ships at night and dumped 45 tons of tea into Boston Harbor.

The archives at The Saturday Evening Post offer many illustrations of Americans taking unprecedented action when necessary. Our history is filled with accounts of the resourcefulness of American companies, like Munro Shoes, and the readiness of consumers, like Samuel Adams, to take direct action.

In this issue, we also offer some practical ideas for weathering the present financial crisis. In “Setting the Stage,” interior designer Lisa LaPorta provides cost-conscious tips for making your home more attractive to prospective buyers. Writer and financial planner Cathy Shouse shares common-sense strategies for surviving tough economic times in “All I Need to Know About Investing I Learned on the Farm.”

We’d like to hear how Americans in your area are responding to the current crisis. Send your letters to letters@saturdayeveningpost.com or post your comments below.

Joan SerVaas
Publisher, The Saturday Evening Post magazine

  • Harry Copeland

    I have just completed the latest issue of the Saturday Evening Post and found it one of best issues yet! I was particularly intrigued with your archival digging and coming up with the little fictional gem by J. D. Salinger. Please do this more often. Also, the article on putting people back to work during the Great Depression struck me as notably very timely and fascinating. I was attending elementary school, starting in 1935. In addition, the spread on the thyroid gland opened my eyes to the vital importance of this super gland. And although I was not a fan of Nancy Drew, I was attracted by the article on the popular fictional detective because I was hooked on two popular boy detectives about that time: The Hardy Boys and The X-Bar-X Boys series. You might want to research an article on them for a future issue. Keep the great issues coming!

  • Gary Lecocq

    Over time, we get what we pay for. Imports can be cheap for a while, but shipping costs even out the prices over time.

    Take the car business, the Big Three are not hurting because imported cars are so much cheaper. Once they were (in the 70s and 80s), because we let them sell over here at less than they sold for where they were produced, i.e. dumping.

    More than that, though, a poorly run company makes bad decisions. The auto makers did not manage their assets well. They tried the drunken sailor process. It went from the head to the toe, including all middle management and the unions. They are now dumping for pennies (or less) all the misused companies they splurged on, called GM divisions.

    They had no business running other companies when they could not properly run their own. They applied the same foolish processes to the ones they bought and are now giving away.

    Now, they are also burying their companies by shafting the dealers who made them great. Frankly, the greatest asset the Big 3 had were their dealers. I stress “were” because that loyalty from the dealers is gone forever. GM and Chrysler will never be trusted again. However, the Big 3 never really ran their companies with the focus on sales that the dealers wanted. Politics was all that mattered internally. Good employees got frustrated with the internal nonsense and quit.

    GM even went so far as to neuter their bread and butter, Chevrolet. For over a decade, GM pretended that Buick (which sounds far too much like throwing up), Oldsmobile (now a dinosaur), Pontiac (soon to be extinct), Cadillac (I think they still build two of them every week), Hummer (yikes), etc. needed more marketing funds than Chevy. The GM management ran it like it was their toy. Jealousy against Chevrolet was more important than the company bottom line.

    Chevy brought in billions a month, and they “invested” it in Hummer, Saab and the other losers that someone can buy for a song and turn into a strong company, now, if they have great managers. I am confident you are just biding your time until the whole thing, i.e. Chevy, is being given away like Chrysler. After all, Fiat got it for nothing.

    Honda and Toyota are not Americans. They just run their companies like businesses. They are producing cars here in America just fine, even with the UAW union.

    You know that bad managers make a bad company every time. Get good managers in charge, and you find out that some companies are pretty good after all, huh? Yes, the good CEO needs to have good middle managers to succeed, too. There are still plenty of great Americans, but we got soft and well, OK stupid. It is time to turn up the heat and take back our dominant position.

    Americans can regain manufacturing dominance, and we need to do that. The workers are waiting. Where are the leaders who will manage the operations effectively?

    - GBY