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 firstname.lastname@example.org or post your comments below.
Publisher, The Saturday Evening Post magazine