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November 24, 2012 3:21 PM   Subscribe

ABC News issues a "Made in America" Christmas challenge. The average American will spend $700 on holiday gifts and goodies this year, totaling more than $465 billion, the National Retail Federation estimates. If that money was spent entirely on US made products it would create 4.6 million jobs. But it doesn't even have to be that big. If each of us spent just $64 on American made goods during our holiday shopping, the result would be 200,000 new jobs.

The Christian Science Monitor: The way Christmas shopping affects the economy is best seen by examining 24 categories of consumer goods where reliable data from the US Census Bureau can be found. For all of 2009, Americans consumed just over $143 billion worth of these consumer products. Nearly 80 percent came from abroad, and nearly 45 percent were produced in China alone. In 2010, these purchases rose to just under $158 billion, with slightly higher percentages of goods imported from abroad and China. (The figures cited would be even higher if the Census data for consumer electronics products were included, but that data contain too many internal contradictions to be reliable.)

Forbes Magazine: Apple’s iPhone is an interesting example. In 2009, iPhones contributed about $2 billion, equivalent to 0.8% of the Sino-U.S. bilateral trade deficit. One iPhone 3GS was sold for about $600. These phones were exclusively manufactured by Foxconn, a factory in a Southern Chinese city called Shenzhen. To produce them, Foxconn had to import $10.75 worth of parts from American companies. The rest of its $172.46 components came from Korea, Japan, Germany, and elsewhere. Out of a $600 iPhone, how much does China get? A puny $6.50, or 1% of the value. Apple makes vastly more. Combining with other American companies making parts, America receives close to 70% of the value.... China makes it possible for those companies to reward their shareholders handsomely and to provide thousands of high paying jobs in America.
posted by Brian B. (102 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
What if you spend zero, zip, zilch, nada on "Christmas", like you COMPLETELY IGNORE IT?
posted by telstar at 3:31 PM on November 24, 2012 [17 favorites]


Irrelevant nationalism is good for ratings, I suppose. Once manufacturing leaves a place, it's very hard to get back. What ABC News is asking did not work in the 80s and it's not going to work now.

Markets are designed to be efficient – that is to offer the end consumer the best widget possible at a given price. So in essence, ABC News is asking people to go against their individual self-interest in favour of a national goal.

That's fine, except for the fact that it misses a key part of the story. America as a country is doing fine. Corporate profits are up, wealth creation is up. The distribution of wealth is the problem. Buy foreign, buy local. Until America gets away from an individualistic mentality toward a collective mentality, buying more expensive inferior products is going to do little to create jobs.

The current process of wealth aggregation is designed to keep America competitive in finance, law, and lobbying. It is not designed to keep anything else competitive. It would simply be a waste of money for the people who are already in control of the wealth.

The Apple Story is often repeated, and it's a great story. But that has a much to do with the standard shell game of tax avoidance and all the other corporate tricks, as it does with anything else.

There is no easy way out of this. Spending $64 on American goods in a short period is not the solution. Anymore than Prozac is a solution to depression. These are momentary band-aids.

Until the American citizenry demands a more fair economic system, the polarisation and poverty will increase.
posted by nickrussell at 3:32 PM on November 24, 2012 [45 favorites]


What is still made in the USA, anyway? Am I supposed to buy Predator drones and Hellfire missiles for Christmas?
posted by ceribus peribus at 3:37 PM on November 24, 2012 [69 favorites]


I've been ignoring Christmas and spending nothing for Christmas presents for over 30 years. It's the SANE ALTERNATIVE. Bothered? I recommend you view the online short film, 'The Story of Stuff.' http://www.storyofstuff.com/
posted by Galadhwen at 3:39 PM on November 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


What if you spend zero, zip, zilch, nada on "Christmas", like you COMPLETELY IGNORE IT?

That's called a win-win situation.

Markets are designed to be efficient – that is to offer the end consumer the best widget possible at a given price. So in essence, ABC News is asking people to go against their individual self-interest in favour of a national goal.

The individual in this case is buying a gift, and typically an inefficient one that would qualify as a non-rational buying decision.

What is still made in the USA, anyway? Am I supposed to buy Predator drones and Hellfire missiles for Christmas?

See the jobs link in the first paragraph.
posted by Brian B. at 3:43 PM on November 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Am I supposed to buy Predator drones and Hellfire missiles for Christmas?

That's what I'm buying. And ammo - lots and lots of ammo. For stocking stuffers.
posted by Pudhoho at 3:44 PM on November 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


What if you make your own gifts? Or some percentage of them?

A constantly expanding economy is not physically possible. Eventually, we need to invent another way to pretend that reality will keep ticking.
posted by DU at 3:46 PM on November 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


What is still made in the USA, anyway? Am I supposed to buy Predator drones and Hellfire missiles for Christmas?

I'm not even going to pretend that buying things that are made in the USA is cheap, but:

Joseph Abboud suits:

But if the suit is a Joseph Abboud, it still says "Made in America." In fact, the company is one of the few that continues to produce suits in the United States. And instead of sending jobs overseas, Abboud is hiring more people here at home.

Allen Edmonds Shoes:

Allen-Edmonds Shoe Corporation's retired chairmen (and former owner), John Stollenwerk, once expressed a commitment to keep manufacturing in the U.S. ...
Allen Edmonds pays their workers well, which puts them at a competitive disadvantage in the marketplace. Wages, benefits, government regulations of the workplace, emissions permits, taxes, and health care costs are all significant costs that could be drastically reduced by locating production overseas in a developing country. Stollenwerk remarked that moving the operation to China could save as much as 60%, but expressed concern that such a move could lead to a decline in quality. He has also expressed concerns about social problems brought on by globalization, such as low wages and factory closings in the U.S.

posted by Comrade_robot at 3:47 PM on November 24, 2012 [7 favorites]


ceribus peribus: "What is still made in the USA, anyway? Am I supposed to buy Predator drones and Hellfire missiles for Christmas"

Well, if you give a man a Hellfire missile, he'll be warm for the rest of his life.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 3:47 PM on November 24, 2012 [20 favorites]


What is still made in the USA, anyway?

From Wikipedia:

The United States is the world's largest manufacturer, with a 2009 industrial output of US$2.33 trillion. Its manufacturing output is greater than of Germany, France, India, and Brazil combined.[121] Main industries include petroleum, steel, automobiles, construction machinery, aerospace, agricultural machinery, telecommunications, chemicals, electronics, food processing, consumer goods, lumber, and mining. The US leads the world in airplane manufacturing,[122] which represents a large portion of US industrial output.

And I do recall foreign auto manufacturers do have plants in the US. BMW, Nissan, and Toyota all spring to mind.

To put it another way:

When it gets down to it — talking trade balances here — once we've brain-drained all our technology into other countries, once things have evened out, they're making cars in Bolivia and microwave ovens in Tadzhikistan and selling them here — once our edge in natural resources has been made irrelevant by giant Hong Kong ships and dirigibles that can ship North Dakota all the way to New Zealand for a nickel — once the Invisible Hand has taken away all those historical inequities and smeared them out into a broad global layer of what a Pakistani brickmaker would consider to be prosperity — y'know what? There's only four things we do better than anyone else:
posted by FJT at 3:52 PM on November 24, 2012 [26 favorites]


I've been ignoring Christmas and spending nothing for Christmas presents for over 30 years. It's the SANE ALTERNATIVE. Bothered? I recommend you view the online short film, 'The Story of Stuff.' http://www.storyofstuff.com/

What about food? Someone will eat it, even if it's not the intended recipient. I can't think of any reason not to give books. They're technically physical stuff but I can't imagine we're throwing books on the fire with everything else, are we?

Am I allowed to buy a glass Christmas ornament from my friend down the road who makes lovely little hand-blown thingies?
posted by BungaDunga at 3:55 PM on November 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


The earliest "buy American!" campaign I can remember in my lifetime was in about 1981 or 1982; before Born in the USA came out, anyway. I don't know that it was incredibly effective, any more than this will be, compared to the underlying issues driving international trade in consumer goods.

And you quickly get into complicated questions, like is it better to buy a product from an American company that is manufactured abroad, or a product from a foreign company that is manufactured here?

What if you spend zero, zip, zilch, nada on "Christmas", like you COMPLETELY IGNORE IT?

We don't spend nothing, but we're pretty close. We aren't exactly poor, but there's no way the two of us have the room in our budget for $1400 of Christmas spending. That's nuts.
posted by Forktine at 3:56 PM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]




Am I supposed to buy Predator drones and Hellfire missiles for Christmas?

Don't be silly, those are better suited for weddings.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 3:59 PM on November 24, 2012 [33 favorites]


That's why I'm giving everyone I know a case of Twinkies.
posted by furtive at 4:00 PM on November 24, 2012 [6 favorites]


I don't know that it was incredibly effective, any more than this will be, compared to the underlying issues driving international trade in consumer goods.

I don't recall that it was. It was targeting Japan, however, not a potential adversary at the time with humans rights issues in the foreground. From the Wikipedia linked above by FJT:

The manufacturing sector of the U.S. economy has experienced substantial job losses over the past several years.[123][124] In January 2004, the number of such jobs stood at 14.3 million, down by 3.0 million jobs, or 17.5 percent, since July 2000 and about 5.2 million since the historical peak in 1979. Employment in manufacturing was its lowest since July 1950.[125] The number of steel workers fell from 500,000 in 1980 to 224,000 in 2000.[126]
posted by Brian B. at 4:00 PM on November 24, 2012


I will always be proud of all my personal items and gifts, be it a Vornado fan, a Gerber knife, Magnepan speakers, above mentioned shoes bought solely because they were quality and made in the states, Weber grills, Rega turntables, locally crafted furniture, Smartwool socks, etc etc etc...

On behalf of all the folks that have lost their domestic jobs, learn to read a freaking country of manufacture label.
posted by buzzman at 4:04 PM on November 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


Let's say I owned a small factory that made stuff. If I paid my workers minimum wage, it would still be cheaper to make my items in the Far East....now, where would I have them made?
posted by Postroad at 4:07 PM on November 24, 2012


I would like to know what the median American buys for Christmas, though. Surely there's some heavy outliers, I mean if Trump weren't obviously the Grinch, how much would he spend?
posted by BungaDunga at 4:08 PM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


where would I have them made?

Depends on your values.
posted by Miko at 4:10 PM on November 24, 2012 [6 favorites]


nickrussell: "Markets are designed to be efficient – that is to offer the end consumer the best widget possible at a given price."

I really don't feel this is very much the case anymore. These days markets seem more designed to convince the end consumer that the cheapest widget possible is worth the offered price.

That's what this comes down to... in the model you describe, the market ends up both distributing wealth and encouraging its creation. Since the modern model incentivizes cheap, disposable goods, however, it ends up with hollow wealth creation and minimal redistribution.

I think it's fair to call out the nationalist rhetoric behind stories like this; "USA#1" is a really terrible basis for economic policy. However, there are strong arguments to be made that it's better to make a product locally with (relatively) fair labor laws and environmental regulation, than it is to make the same product in China with neither of those protections and the added (real) cost of shipping.
posted by Riki tiki at 4:14 PM on November 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


"What is still made in the USA, anyway?"

Can't speak for everything, but Uline is currently building a massive, and i do mean massive, building north of town. I guess they make cardboard boxes or something, but the building looks larger than the town i grew up in, only a slight exaggeration.

Personally, the most vocal "made in america!" people i've met have been the same that refuse to pay more for things. Someone close to me almost constantly points out how many things are made in China, but then shops at places like Walmart, and this is someone who can easily pay more. So many of the only made in america companies are also ones that have tended to be very against other things i stand for, like marriage equality, corps paying their share of taxes, etc, so, sorry if it would mean more local jobs, but fuck em.
posted by usagizero at 4:15 PM on November 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


Do they make frankincense and myrrh in the US? Because I'm a traditionalist.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 4:16 PM on November 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


If we recognize that slavery still has lingering effects in society even 150+ years after it's abolishment, why can't we recognize that imperialism, post-World War 2 and the Cold War tilted manufacturing toward the Western Powers (+Japan), in particular the US? Some of the movement of manufacturing overseas is a rebalancing.

And though we've experienced job losses in manufacturing, our manufacturing output has doubled since 1975. So, automation and technology also share responsibility.
posted by FJT at 4:21 PM on November 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


Read the label carefully. Weber grills are made from a lot of Chinese parts and assembled in the US.
posted by arcticseal at 4:24 PM on November 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


The manufacturing sector of the U.S. economy has experienced substantial job losses over the past several years.[123][124] In January 2004, the number of such jobs stood at 14.3 million, down by 3.0 million jobs, or 17.5 percent, since July 2000 and about 5.2 million since the historical peak in 1979. Employment in manufacturing was its lowest since July 1950.[125] The number of steel workers fell from 500,000 in 1980 to 224,000 in 2000.[126]

Why? Why have these jobs been lost?

1) Because it was cheaper to produce things in other countries.

Why? Why is it cheaper to produce things in other countries?

2) Because the costs to transport items in bulk between countries has been reduced.

Why? Why has the cost to transport things been reduced?

3) Because of tremendous investments were made in innovation and technology.

Why? Why were tremendous investments made in innovation?

4) Because it benefitted the country to make those investments (often via defence budgets)

Why did it benefit the country to make those investments?

5) Because standing still is falling behind.

What is the United States doing today?

Standing still. The government is paralysed. The Republican party has conflated economic and moral agendas, so people vote their religion and end up voting to keep the wolves leading the sheep. The Democratic party is so fragmented, their message appeals to everyone and nobody simultaneously.

Corporations are reaping without sowing. Technology is enabling fewer workers to produce higher profits. The aforementioned political gridlock nearly ensures that the holes in the tax net are so large, most wealth is easily privatised.

This is not a unique story, but a fundamental problem of Western countries. Before America, it was England. Before England, it was France. Before France, it was Holland. Before Holland, it was Italy. Before Italy, it was Rome. Before Rome, it was Greece.

As societies get wealthier, they lose the very characteristics that made them wealthy. What made America wealthy was a very tight social fabric. An inclusive identity, and rules that favoured the society over the individual. A backlash to the nepotism and classist structures that paralysed (and may still paralyse) the older economies of Europe.

There is a country today which has an inclusive identity and rules that favour the society over the individual. It's the same country that is one of the biggest beneficiaries of American innovation in low-cost transport. It also has many ports on the Pacific, and a culture which prizes Nationalism over individualism. What it doesn't have is a political system designed for 13 colonies trying to manage 400 million people. What it doesn't have is a political lobby more powerful than politicians.

There is a reason Occupy Wall Street was Occupy Wall Street and not Occupy Washington. The locus of power today in the United States sits with finance. The rules of the game are written by financiers. A sleepy industry which should take deposits and clear checks now holds the rest of the country hostage.

In the past, when the disparity of wealth has reached these heights in old European countries, there were few solutions outside of revolution. Being that many of the jokes in this thread involve ammunition and weaponry, a yellow light should be flashing somewhere.

"This is not a manufacturing problem bitches," as Rick James would have said. It's a governance problem. As long as ABC News can convince you it's a manufacturing problem, it will be "spend $64 on something American-made" rather than "Why is the GINI coefficient of the United States closer to that of Russia and China than it is to Japan, Sweden, and Pakistan?"

The problem is not manufacturing jobs. The problem is that the people of the United States seem to think they have a god-given right to nice lives, when the reality is that there's 7 billion people in the world all hungry for the same opportunities. And the United States, which invented the same technology enabling those 7 billion people to act on their hunger, has turned into a lethargic old man, looking backward, talking about the way it used to be.
posted by nickrussell at 4:26 PM on November 24, 2012 [90 favorites]


Small stones!
posted by spitbull at 4:26 PM on November 24, 2012


Looking for "Made in the USA" is a shoddy substitute for looking for the union label.
posted by Faint of Butt at 4:30 PM on November 24, 2012 [15 favorites]


It's very confusing to me how the (mostly liberal) Metafilter is so against global trade. I've been to China, India and lot of places between. To me people there need the jobs at least as much as people of Flint, Michican.

To me the supreme right of Americans or Europeans to have the good jobs is profoundly troubling. I don't have any inherent right to my upper middle-class job/ lifestyle; and I should be happy to have my job - there's way more capable person somewhere in India who's family deserves to eat at least as much as mine does.
posted by zeikka at 4:46 PM on November 24, 2012 [17 favorites]


So in essence, ABC News is asking people to go against their individual self-interest in favour of a national goal…
...Until America gets away from an individualistic mentality toward a collective mentality...


I think you’ve made the argument right there.

I don’t understand all the people saying doing something is a silly idea until Utopia is reached. So once the perfect system is in place then you’ll participate? Gee, thanks. We should be there in no time with help like that.
posted by bongo_x at 4:47 PM on November 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


The average American will spend $700 on holiday gifts and goodies this year, totaling more than $465 billion

Um... How do averages work again? 'Cause, like, I'm pretty sure they don't work like that.
posted by Sys Rq at 4:53 PM on November 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


The problem is that the people of the United States seem to think they have a god-given right to nice lives,

And they seem to have the nerve to demand a little bit of health insurance as wage earners, nice try for them. So you were bluffing with your advice on the best solution?

To me the supreme right of Americans or Europeans to have the good jobs is profoundly troubling.

Try getting a good job with that attitude.
posted by Brian B. at 4:55 PM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Markets are designed to be efficient

Until you work out that things like pensions, healthcare and living wages are "market inefficiencies".

Then people are all for the inefficiencies when its their job on the line.
posted by Talez at 4:57 PM on November 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


The values of the market are not the same as the values (and needs) of the people.
posted by Miko at 4:58 PM on November 24, 2012 [8 favorites]


Why not buy some american-made bicycle parts? I'd love a new headset, and a stem to go with it. I have to replace my cheapo cantis at some point, maybe santa will be good to me? Maybe I can combine all 8 days of hanukkah and get that custom belt-drive/internally geared compatible frame I've been planning forever. There's a lot of bicycle-related stuff made in the USA that I'd buy in a second if I had the budget for a new bike right now.
posted by monkeymike at 5:00 PM on November 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Instead of buying American, we could what we *should* be doing, and leverage our comparative advantages.
posted by twblalock at 5:01 PM on November 24, 2012


I think you’ve made the argument right there.

Two different arguments. First one is micro, second one is macro. It may be tempting to conflate them, but they are very different arguments.

The first one is a consumer argument – best product, best price, regardless of where produced (as it should be).

The second is really about taxes. Americans (often) have this view that they solely created their own destinies. Mitt Romney came up on the backs of a society. Buffett's products are sold via infrastructure paid for by tax revenue. Bill Gates made a mint off people education in both private and public institutions.

High taxes are bad for the individual and good for the society. Full stop.

The first argument is about what you should get in terms of value as a consumer. The second argument is why America is eating itself.

I don’t understand all the people saying doing something is a silly idea until Utopia is reached. So once the perfect system is in place then you’ll participate? Gee, thanks. We should be there in no time with help like that.

Harvard did a study. Would you rather make $50k in a world where most people make $40k, or would you rather make $70k in a world where most people make $80k? In the former, you make more than most people but less overall than in the latter.

What do you think most people chose? The former. They would rather make less objectively but more subjectively. It's a dumb reality of human nature.

It's not about Utopia being reached. It's about wealth extraction and realising that 1,000 billionaires and two million homeless people is not honourable. It's primitive.
posted by nickrussell at 5:03 PM on November 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


There is a country today which has an inclusive identity and rules that favour the society over the individual.

I sure would like to go to that country.
posted by FJT at 5:03 PM on November 24, 2012


we could what we *should* be doing

Darn humans, we so fail to be rational. Why can't we just obey?
posted by Miko at 5:03 PM on November 24, 2012


My friend, you may already be in that country. ;)
posted by nickrussell at 5:07 PM on November 24, 2012


...there's way more capable person somewhere in India who's family deserves to eat at least as much as mine does.

The day management figures out a way to add a moral component to the justification of outsourcing/offshoring is the day you may as well just set the country aflame. This is the next lap of the same race to the bottom that, eventually and fortunately, led to the adoption of a minimum wage and fair working hours and conditions. Which are not things you are fortunate to have but entitled to as a human being in a society.
posted by griphus at 5:08 PM on November 24, 2012 [13 favorites]


Hmm, the idealist solution could be human/labour-rights-based tarrifs. Yay free trade, but not at the expense of the Great Firewall.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 5:14 PM on November 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


Hmm, the idealist solution could be human/labour-rights-based tarrifs.

No, the ideal solution would be conquest by alien or AI with enforced trade regulations with threat of omnipresent non-lethal force.
posted by FJT at 5:22 PM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Replicators that work on poop. Also built from poop.
posted by griphus at 5:23 PM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


threat of omnipresent non-lethal force

Flying boots ready to kick you in the balls?
posted by Talez at 5:24 PM on November 24, 2012


I can never understand this buy-local thing. Do you have to buy local even if it's an inferior product? Or if there is incredible markup?
posted by KokuRyu at 5:27 PM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


To begin to help you understand, there's no "Have to." The idea of buying local asks you to consider your choice of products in the context of its entire value chain so that you can make an informed choice that is best in accordance with your personal ethics and needs. It's moving from unthinking consumption to thinking consumption. If in the end there are some things you can't or don't want to buy locally, at least you have thought about it and better understand your action and the impact of that action in the aggregate and can generate (or just support) smarter solutions to problems of production, across the board.
posted by Miko at 5:42 PM on November 24, 2012 [17 favorites]


I am not buying any more books by Japanese authors!
posted by Mister_A at 5:47 PM on November 24, 2012


Gahh I failed. I really tried though.
posted by Mister_A at 5:47 PM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


To all naysayers - y'know, you could take part in the "Small Business Saturday" stuff going on this weekend and potentially kill two birds with one stone (as many small businesses probably also feature the smaller, locally-made things too).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:49 PM on November 24, 2012


I think it's fair to call out the nationalist rhetoric behind stories like this; "USA#1" is a really terrible basis for economic policy.

It seems that the challenge is based on a sound economic argument, acknowledging a trade deficit problem affecting jobs in a recession during an emotional-buying seasonal time, when people desperately borrow money to give culturally expected gifts. Even much of the borrowed money comes from China, along with the toys. We'll always be buying some things from China, like phones, but we also need to maintain our existing manufacturing base if possible, and that's what it's encouraging on a mere token basis. This will always be a chance for anti-American sentiments to surface in forums like this, and some might imagine the US to be a homogenous and egalitarian nation much like their own and broadly categorize accordingly, such as assuming that Americans feel the right to have a job (because I personally don't know anyone who can't be fired on a Romney whim, and many will vote for him too). But if simple admonitions to buy locally is heinous nationalism or cultural entitlement to some people, then they can't possibly understand how the same free market is their argument's worst enemy.
posted by Brian B. at 5:58 PM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I can never understand this buy-local thing. Do you have to buy local even if it's an inferior product? Or if there is incredible markup?

I don't think it's a rule that's supposed to be followed blindly, but a request that you give weight to it when making decisions, with the assumption that you have common sense and good judgement.

I'm sure they point out some advantages to buying locally, which they suspect people will have forgotten or neglected. You should use your aforementioned good judgement to balance these advantages against the downsides you are worried about.

(i.e. on preview, "what Miko said.")
posted by benito.strauss at 6:05 PM on November 24, 2012


Am I supposed to buy Predator drones and Hellfire missiles for Christmas?

No. You are supposed to buy artisanal drones and handcrafted missiles for Winter Solstice.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 6:17 PM on November 24, 2012 [11 favorites]


No. You are supposed to buy artisanal drones and handcrafted missiles for Winter Solstice.


You know (and I am entirely sure you did not mean it this way) but all the hate for "artisanal" this and "small-batch" that confounds me. I mean, yes, that stuff generally is priced at a serious premium, but assuming the people who are making it are actually serious about sourcing their stuff ethically, that money stays in the economy.

Now, I understand that most people buy things at a price point they can afford, and a lot of times that means Made In China, Sold At Walmart crap, but the person who is choosing to buy the hand-made locally-sourced artisinal insert-your-lol-hipster-adjective-here stuff is straight-up helping things. You can make fun of them for their affectations all you want, but when someone buys locally-made stuff, they're helping the person who made that stuff make a living, they're helping their ethical supplier make a living, and they're helping the local economy by keeping money inside their locale. The money spent at Walmart, meanwhile, disappears either into their coffers or into China (because they certainly aren't paying either their workers or US-based suppliers anything remotely close to what they deserve.) I'm certainly not blaming (most) of the Walmart shoppers, but giving shit to the people who are involving themselves in Capitalism in the way that actually makes things better for everyone is counterproductive.
posted by griphus at 6:25 PM on November 24, 2012 [21 favorites]


Markets are designed to be efficient – that is to offer the end consumer the best widget possible at a given price.

Not exactly.
Markets are efficient at extracting the maximum amount of short-term profit from a given widget at a given price.
"Best" has nothing to do with it, and is often counter-productive to the goal.
posted by madajb at 6:33 PM on November 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


http://www.qualitycarmats.com/

Wow, domestic car mats. Feliz Navidad.
posted by buzzman at 6:34 PM on November 24, 2012


Pudhoho: "That's what I'm buying. And ammo - lots and lots of ammo. For stocking stuffers."

Do please hang those stockings with care. Especially if they're over a fireplace.
posted by workerant at 6:44 PM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I can never understand this buy-local thing. Do you have to buy local even if it's an inferior product? Or if there is incredible markup?

My process is:
Made in my town > Made in my state > Made in my country > Made in my continent > Made in Europe > Made in the far east > Made in China.

I also don't shop at Walmart and try to shop at other big boxes as little as possible.

These, of course, are not hard and fast rules (except for the Walmart one) since some things are either not produced in the U.S. or are so difficult to find they might as well not be.
I also make allowances for foreign products that are clearly better products than the local alternatives, products that are repairable, and products where the price difference is just absurd.
I don't particularly care about a "union" label, mainly because I rarely see one, so it's not really a data point for me.

The upside to making my life difficult in this manner is that I ultimately end up buying less, which pleases my frugal nature.
posted by madajb at 6:45 PM on November 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


I issued a challenge to my family this holiday season. What if we gave money to charity instead of buying more shit for each other? I figured we had enough stuff and it would benefit some people directly, you know? A few agreed, but the rest were just NOT interested in the least. Anyway, I sort of know what ABC is going through is all.
posted by orme at 7:00 PM on November 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm in, already
I'd just taken delivery of a drill press holder, and will be getting various parts and pieces to refurbish several power tools I bought thirty years ago -- all still available and supported out of Pennsylvania.

Time to revive some hobby work:

http://www.blackstoneind.com/
https://www.foredom.net/

It's amazing to see what the computer network adds -- videos on maintenance, just what I need to clean up some of the gear I'm dusting off.
posted by hank at 7:00 PM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am entirely sure you did not mean it this way

You're correct. I love "artisanal" this and "small-batch" that, unabashedly.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 7:10 PM on November 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


I just think it's really pointless to go to Target/Walmart/Best Buy/Macy's/etc. and buy something for someone who already goes to those same stores and buys things they like for themselves all year long. It just seems really pointless. I like to buy presents for people that are consumable (because we all have enough junk) and special and that they never would have known about; otherwise all I did was save them a trip to Target and what's fun about that? More often than not those things are not made in China. That's just a bonus.
posted by bleep at 7:17 PM on November 24, 2012 [9 favorites]


A few agreed, but the rest were just NOT interested in the least.

I actually really understand this. I like getting holidaypresents and giving holiday presents. Now, I don't mind rules that they're super modest in cost (my family observes a $25 per person limit, and we're not a big family) or have to be handmade, or similar guidelines to keep the mayhem under control. But I don't really care for the idea of substituting family giving for other charitable giving. Family giving means a lot to certain people, and charity should not be imposed from outside like a chore or penalty.

Charities and need exist all year. And holidaytime is a great time do so some giving. There are many options: maybe just give more - do the charitable donation together as a family, and also observe the present tradition. If you can't afford both, scale down the presents. If they won't scale down, you give small presents, and donate what you like, and perhaps next year they'll follow suit. If that doesn't work, plan to sign up for some volunteer shifts throughout the year.

What worries me most about holidaycharitable giving is precisely its feel-good nature; that people may feel they've ticked the charity box when it counted most, and are done for the year now. But it doesn't really count most then. Most food banks have a serious nadir in the summer when the stocks from last winter have run out and the holidays are still far off. I'd really rather people observe their own holidays in the ways they enjoy. giving if and where they can, and then actually step up their other forms of giving around the course of the year.
posted by Miko at 7:24 PM on November 24, 2012 [6 favorites]


I like getting holidaypresents and giving holiday presents.

I get that lots -- most, I think -- of people are like this, and I'm ok with buying them presents to make them happy. But honestly, at this point I kind of resent the presents that they give me. I have enough crap to last a lifetime, and enough income to buy things I need or want.

I really appreciate the people who give wine or jam, things I can consume and then recycle the container. The people who give me a thing, I don't so much appreciate. And handmade is worse, because then I have to go through the process of thinking about whether or not the item can be given to Goodwill or if I need to keep it around for a while first. (The worst are decorative objects, because they are inevitably not things I would want to actually display, and are the most awkward to get rid of.)

I know I sound like Scrooge here, but there's something weird culturally about our love of stuff far beyond our need for it, and we of course express our love for each other (which is a wonderful thing) using that language of stuff, and eventually you either need to buy a bigger house to hold it all or find some way to stem the tide.
posted by Forktine at 7:49 PM on November 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


It's a bit late to start a Buy American campaign, when it should have been aimed at wholesale purchasers up to a year ago. Big Box stores plan up to a year ahead, and xmas purchases are built by the manufacturers according to their buyer's needs, which are intended to just meet demand (and no more). Even most mom & pop stores are dependent on overseas manufacturing. I used to live near the Toy District in downtown LA, I saw the shipments, even in the 80s it was all cheap Chinese plastic crap, that's what small retailers can afford, so that's what choices people are offered.

The suggested alternative is artist and artisanal works. Allow me to offer you my own hand printed photographs of American landscapes, taken with a Japanese camera and film, digitally processed on my Mac that was built to order in Ireland, output to negatives on a German imagesetter on German film, printed in my kitchen on Italian art paper, using pigments from Germany and France, gum arabic from Somalia, a tiny bit of chemical reagents from New Jersey, exposed under UV lights made in Kentucky, which are installed in cheap Chinese electric fixtures.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:00 PM on November 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


Really the only person I buy presents for consistently is my dad, and he wants the New Yorker and professional tax preparation. So I get him the New Yorker and professional tax preparation.

I believe those definitely count as 'Made in the USA'.
posted by spinifex23 at 8:01 PM on November 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm all for stemming the tide. The only piece of the whole thing I'm really objecting to is treating holiday charity like a zero sum game - if we plan to give more, we must do less for each other. That doesn't have to be true. I agree with you about no longer needing/wanting more white-elephant stuff. We were just talking today about our preferences at this stage of life: consumables, experiences (plans/tickets to do something together in the future, or just for you), services (pedicure, massage), memberships, subscriptions.

But we're also fortunate in that there's not that much any of of us needs now, at least in my family, so we can comfortably say "no or fewer gifts please." But there are people who don't have houses full, and Christmas in households like that (like mine for many years) often means a gift takes the form of something utilitarian that is needed anyway, and the end of year/Christmas makes for a good reason to stretch to provide that thing.
posted by Miko at 8:01 PM on November 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


Allow me to offer you my own hand printed photographs of American landscapes

The great bulk of the profits you make will still stay in your hands and recirculate in your community, which is not true for purchases from Big Box stores.

Total purity is unnecessary.
posted by Miko at 8:03 PM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


That is a good point, Miko, but unfortunately, it is unlikely there will ever be any profits from my prints. Just this year alone, I spent about $750 and two months of labor, producing just two new prints for a rejected Arts Council grant proposal. A local gallery offered to sell them for $200 with a 55% commission.

And now a message from Barbara Kruger, in the editorial page of Friday's New York Times.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:18 PM on November 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Let's say I owned a small factory that made stuff. If I paid my workers minimum wage, it would still be cheaper to make my items in the Far East....now, where would I have them made?
You don't think it might depend on how much it cost to ship them? Do you want oversight over your production methods, or do you want to email off a CAD file to someone who doesn't speak English very well, and then wait six months and hope for the best? How much automation are you planning on using?

Dollar for dollar More stuff is manufactured in the US then in China. We're not a net exporter, but that's just because we consume so much.

It isn't just wages keeping electronics manufacturing in China at this point; it's the fact that they have so much of the equipment and skilled workers. If you wanted to build computers in the US, you'd need to import all the components from China and other places in Asia, and that would mean a huge slowdown in terms of getting your stuff on time.

On the other hand, if you want to build cars it's apparently easier to do it in the U.S. The car that Tesla doesn't make themselves mostly come from the U.S. Not because it's more 'patriotic' but because it turned out that the parts made in the US were cheaper and higher quality. (Probably parts made in Japan or Germany, would be just as good, but would require shipping. Oh, and Japan and Germany combined export more than China - despite having higher wages then the US)

Wages play a roll, for sure. Especially for cheap, simple stuff. But for the complex, expensive things that really matter it's much more complicated. (and keep in mind that US manufacturing is much more automation heavy, meaning fewer jobs even though we make more stuff)

---
Also, the idea that you can apply some sort of hard-core rational actor model to Christmas shopping is kind of ridiculous. People aren't buying stuff that they think will maximize their utility - the utility of a Christmas gift to the buyer is zero. It's a gift. It's an entirely altruistic action. Ayn Rand was actually opposed to Christmas and gift giving in general.

Buyers are looking to maximize the "warm fuzzies" they get by being nice to people they care about, and doing something nice for the country they care about (I would imagine) would increase that feeling.
posted by delmoi at 8:34 PM on November 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


Markets are designed to be efficient – that is to offer the end consumer the best widget possible at a given price. So in essence, ABC News is asking people to go against their individual self-interest in favour of a national goal.
This is just free-market religious dogma, and you didn't even state it right. The idea isn't that markets are "designed" to be efficient, but rather efficiency is and emergent property of market competition.

If you are buying soybeans or crude oil, the market is pretty efficient. You go online and place your order at the spot price, or use a future or option. All the soybeans/crude oil/steel/lumber is basically identical, so you can safely just buy the cheapest and you don't care at all where it comes from.

For something like a cellphone though - how is an average person supposed to know which phone will give them the maximum utility for the price? Most people don't even know that much about them, and probably never even end up using a lot of the features. (I remember showing siri to someone who had just gotten a new iPhone. They had no idea it was even there) People just buy stuff based on marketing and hype.

A system where products were made as cheaply/efficiently as possible, supplemented with high taxes and free money for everyone would be nice, but it's not very realistic in the US today. Economic protectionism is a much more plausible way to have wealth flow to the middle and lower classes, rather then accumulating at the top.

However, it probably wouldn't happen through "buy American" campaigns. Although it might have some impact.
posted by delmoi at 9:19 PM on November 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


This year I'm telling everyone I want them to buy goats for families in third world countries in my name. I will either end up giving some genuinely needy people five years' worth of chevre or end up with a dozen ugly Christmas sweaters from confused relatives.
posted by deathpanels at 9:35 PM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh boy, I have been looking for this paper for a long time, I finally found it.

The Deadweight Loss of Christmas

The abstract:

When economists comment on holiday gift-giving, it is usually to condone the healthy effect of spending on the macro-economy. However, an important feature of gift-giving is that consumption choices are made by someone other than the final consumer. A potentially important microeconomic aspect of gift-giving is that gifts may be mismatched with recipients' preferences. In the standard microeconomic framework of consumer choice, the best a gift giver can do with, say, $10 is to duplicate the choice that the recipient would have made. While it is possible for a giver to choose a gift which the recipient ultimately values above its price--for example, if the recipient is not perfectly informed--it is more likely that the gift will leave the recipient worse off than if she had made her own consumption choice with an equal amount of cash. In short, gift-giving is a potential source of deadweight loss.

This paper gives estimates of the deadweight loss of holiday gift giving based on surveys given to Yale undergraduates. I find that holiday gift giving destroys between 10 percent and a third of the value of gifts. While these recipients may be unrepresentative of the U.S. population, their gifts are not necessarily unrepresentative. Holiday expenditures average $40 billion per year, implying that a conservative estimate of the deadweight loss of Christmas is a tenth as large as estimates of the deadweight loss of income taxation.


Let me summarize that. In the US alone, Christmas gift-giving destroys between $4 billion and $13 Billion of economic value every year. Those numbers are from 1993 and not adjusted.
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:49 PM on November 24, 2012 [14 favorites]


I only do Christmas because of relatives. I get small gifts which are set aside throughout the year. I come across something they might like and get it. I doubt that I spend a lot. My younger sister and I have a 'no gifts' agreement. Sometimes we find something so perfect that we break that agreement. That's rare. And it's fine.
I find the excess of the season tiresome. It's to some extent an imposed thing.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 10:14 PM on November 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


I guess they make cardboard boxes or something

One of the best possible gifts for a child.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 10:27 PM on November 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


While it is possible for a giver to choose a gift which the recipient ultimately values above its price--for example, if the recipient is not perfectly informed--it is more likely that the gift will leave the recipient worse off than if she had made her own consumption choice with an equal amount of cash. In short, gift-giving is a potential source of deadweight loss.
Can someone recommend a US-based maker of artisanal red envelopes?
posted by b1tr0t at 11:16 PM on November 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ayn Rand was actually opposed to Christmas and gift giving in general.

Every word of Ayn Rand's makes my skin crawl, but I was intrigued enough to Google. To me her position sounds more like bemused acceptance: "The best aspect of Christmas is the aspect usually decried by the mystics: the fact that Christmas has been commercialized. The gift-buying . . . stimulates an enormous outpouring of ingenuity in the creation of products devoted to a single purpose: to give men pleasure." - The Objectivist Calendar
posted by eddydamascene at 12:10 AM on November 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


I never understood Black Friday because nobody has money in late November. They already spent it all so they could heat their house for the winter.
posted by dunkadunc at 12:22 AM on November 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


...there's way more capable person somewhere in India who's family deserves to eat at least as much as mine does.

The day management figures out a way to add a moral component to the justification of outsourcing/offshoring is the day you may as well just set the country aflame. This is the next lap of the same race to the bottom that, eventually and fortunately, led to the adoption of a minimum wage and fair working hours and conditions. Which are not things you are fortunate to have but entitled to as a human being in a society.


You do realise that outsourced workers are real workers, with real children they need to feed? What do you think happens if -- as your comment suggests is a good idea -- we bring back outsources IT and call centre work from India to America because their wages and conditions are worse? You think those millions of workers would thank you heartily for destroying their livelihoods and their (ever so tenuous) foothold on a middle class life?

Certainly we should push for legislation to ensure Western companies only do business with foreign companies that provide decent minimum wage for the geographic location and fair conditions. But your solution seems to be to stop outsourcing to foreigners all together, and that just reeks of nationalism/crypto-racism.
posted by dontjumplarry at 12:29 AM on November 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Apple Story is often repeated, and it's a great story. But that has a much to do with the standard shell game of tax avoidance and all the other corporate tricks, as it does with anything else.

notsureifserious.jpg

You're chalking Apple's success up to tax avoidance? I'll let HP know so they can hire Apple's lawyers.
posted by eugenen at 3:29 AM on November 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Aren't there Made in America stores? Because I'm sure people would shop there, especially if they had Made in America gift wrapping to tell recipients where their presents came from. If you make things easy for people -- if you buy anything from this store, it's guaranteed to have been at least X percent made in the United States -- a lot of them will go along with you. They might buy fewer presents if the American goods are more expensive, but that's cool, too; people buy way too much shit.
posted by pracowity at 4:10 AM on November 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


I never understood Black Friday because nobody has money in late November. They already spent it all so they could heat their house for the winter.

I think they're going to solve that problem next year by having "Black Friday" the Friday before Labor Day. Get ready for Christmas music in September!
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 4:40 AM on November 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Replicators that work on poop. Also built from poop.

I remember visiting a long drop-latrine on a Chilean farm. I looked down through the toilet seat and could see a number of pigs in the space below looking up expectantly. The genesis of an economy that prices shit at a premium would mean that life would get awful tough for these guys at Christmas; spare a thought for them!
posted by rongorongo at 4:45 AM on November 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


All Christmas presents are made by elves in the North Pole. This effort to "buy American" will put many elves out of work and destroy the entire economy of the North Pole, resulting in a complete overthrow of the Santa-nistas, which will destabilize a valuable ally and result in coal in your stockings this Christmas.

Don't mess with the elves. As the ultimate constructors of the gift-economy, they can play it either naughty or nice.
posted by twoleftfeet at 5:58 AM on November 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Looks like bad economic theories and decisions are still being MADE IN THE USA tm.
posted by blue_beetle at 6:00 AM on November 25, 2012


I'm baffled by the notion that money in equals jobs out. Increases in productivity haven't been matched with increases in wages since the decades after World War II, so why should a sudden influx of money go to hiring more people? Why not give management hefty bonuses for a good season? Even the talking heads on CNBC noted that in recent months when more money was available, companies weren't increasing new hires at a similar rate.

Anyway, if buying items made in the US (and made from US or North American-made parts) doesn't wholly appeal to you on a financial basis, you could consider the probable decrease in green house gas emissions from more locally produced goods. But no one is talking about the environment, so I'll let it drop.
posted by filthy light thief at 6:49 AM on November 25, 2012


Just this year alone, I spent about $750 and two months of labor, producing just two new prints for a rejected Arts Council grant proposal. A local gallery offered to sell them for $200 with a 55% commission.

That's mostly got to do with the fact that photography is one of the most input- and labor-intensive forms of art-making out there, and yet it's got such a low barrier to entry that art photographs are ubiquitous, so any single photograph rarely rises to the level of recouping investment. I feel for you, I have a lot of artist friends, but most who are photographers don't make it without commercial licensing and/or developing a unique photographic product that\ involves more process than printing alone.

Christmas gift-giving destroys between $4 billion and $13 Billion of economic value every year

This is where economics just floats away from the dock of reality. Setting aside that Yale undergraduates are most definitely "unrepresentative of the U.S. population," the point of Christmas gifts (as others have said) is not to maximize cash value. To change the fact that Aunt Petunia always buys me a hideous necklace that I eventually donate or sell on eBay in a way that recaptures the value of her purchasing power is actually to change my relationship with Aunt Petunia, and the impact of that at a personal level is significant. Again, gifts aren't where we seek to maximize value; they're a very poor mechanism for that. But they're a great, honored-since-time-immemorial way to cement relationships, create surprise, communicate, comfort, joke, and strengthen the web of interdependence.

The trouble I have with most rational/free-market value models is that they expect or demand fully rational, output-oriented behavior on the part of human beings. Human beings do not work that way, never have, and I expect never will.
posted by Miko at 7:01 AM on November 25, 2012 [5 favorites]


You do realise that outsourced workers are real workers, with real children they need to feed?

Jobs create consumers, and if you move them out when labor tries to leverage their job, then we have feudal conditions where labor isn't expected to be a consumer of goods, or an equal citizen. This leaves us all stuck in poverty. Generally, as a wrong-headed solution to unemployment, it can regarded as the lump of labor fallacy, a hypostatic fallacy of misplaced concreteness.

The really nice thing about labor is that when workers use democratic means to look out for their interests, they do the whole world a favor in subtle ways, first by establishing the notions of freedom, equality, justice and fair working conditions and fair pay. How do labor-hating capitalists stop this? By giving someone else their job who has no such illusions. This move is conservative, as well as stupid, as was pointed out. It's also related to slavery where labor can be imported under the worst conditions, because "some Americans won't do some jobs" which is another fallacy that fixes prices for labor. The "right to a job" sentiment that non-American naysayers were earlier accusing Americans of having is actually being used against them when convenient, reeking of latent conservative indignation and self-righteousness (perhaps hidden from the sentiment holder who imagines they can solve economic disagreements by pretending to only care). Fact is, it's easiest to move an American job to China than in any other developed country, a habit of our open state of commerce. The irony is that for generations American factory owners accused American organized workers of being crypto-communists.
posted by Brian B. at 8:01 AM on November 25, 2012 [6 favorites]


For those looking for an awesome American-made gift for season, consider Tom Bihn bags. Extremely sturdy backpacks, briefcases, laptop cases, and courier bags. Their laptop shells are fucking outlandish, and their bags will take a beating, hold up, and look good.

The 'Made in the USA' part makes me weirdly happy and proud too. Even if I barely consider Washington State part of the USA.

yours from massachusetts,
wb.
posted by waxbanks at 11:13 AM on November 25, 2012


Family giving means a lot to certain people, and charity should not be imposed from outside like a chore or penalty.

I should clarify that I wasn't trying to impose anything upon my family, but rather suggest it as an alternative to an already excessive (at least in my family), gift-focused holiday. I didn't pressure anyone and I only jokingly called it a challenge here. I understand that people really enjoy the whole gift thing. Most of my siblings have kids, so there is still plenty of gift giving going on. I really don't buy the argument that people giving to charity on a holiday are going to check "give to charity" off of their lists for the year, unless there has been some sort of study that supports that theory.
posted by orme at 12:39 PM on November 25, 2012


I'm not entirely convinced that "buying locally" - however local it happens to be - actually creates any jobs, but I will certainly subscribe to the notion that it allows existing jobs to stay where they are. A big order for 1,000 extra American-made widgets simply allows a manufacturer to say "Oh neat, now we don't have to sack any of our workers for like three more months" and put all the pink slips in a desk drawer within easy reach.
posted by turgid dahlia 2 at 3:15 PM on November 25, 2012


I think the only way to maximize the amount of money that stays local is to be sure the person you're handing the money to is the owner of the business (or knows them directly). Services would probably be the easiest in this regard. The money we give to our local stylist/barber, personal trainer, masseuse, restaurant, community college, or community theater stays in the area.

Maybe buying gift certificates and tickets for local stuff as gifts would be the best kind of gifts. People with a surfeit of stuff (which is most of us) will value these experiences more than physical gifts and they also help the local economy. Of course, this would mean we would become a nation of masseuses and community college instructors.
posted by FJT at 5:21 PM on November 25, 2012


. I really don't buy the argument that people giving to charity on a holiday are going to check "give to charity" off of their lists for the year, unless there has been some sort of study that supports that theory.

Oh, it's based on my experience in my profession; it's pretty uncontroversial that this is true. Most charitable gifts come at the very end of the year, which means that the rest of the year is a bumpy financial exercise requiring the use of lines of credit and a lot of time in complicated analysis/projection. December is the month when charities host events and make annual appeals, because between the sentiment and the tax-year incentives, this is when most people give, or give again. There is abundant research on this because, after all, it's people's job to do the research and create those projections and reports. For instance, Charity Navigator does a giving poll and year end giving outlook every year:
"So, the first question we asked the charities was “what percentage of annual contributions from individuals does your charity receive at year-end (roughly speaking the time from Thanksgiving to New Years)?" The answers literally ranged from 0% to 100%. But on average, these charities receive 41% of their annual contributions in the last few weeks of the year."
There are abundant writeups on giving habits. The upshot is that certainly some people give all year and have charity as a part of their lifestyle, but a great many find that the only time they think about giving to others is at the holidays, when opportunities are quite visible and do abound, and tax incentives are clearer. There is a set of people who give all the time and give again at the holidays, but the jump in giving in the 12th month is a clear indicator that many give only, or mostly, at the holidays.

The great historian of Christmas, Stephen Nissenbaum, even has a rather tart perspective on the whole thing, that Christmas charity and giving is used as a salve to balm the guilty consciences of people spending a lot on themselves and on others close to them who already have a lot, and who spend the rest of their year living in an acquisitive and self-focused culture of profit and screw-the-other-guy. There's too much folklorist in me to go to that extreme, but his points are worth considering.
posted by Miko at 5:30 PM on November 25, 2012


Oh, since we're talking bags, I love my Bailey Bag, made by a great guy in NH and his small staff at their Bailey Works shop. I've had mine 8 years now and it looks lived-in but good, and has not had a single tear, rip, or other issue.
posted by Miko at 5:44 PM on November 25, 2012


Or, maybe some people give to charity at the end of the year because that’s when they have an idea how much they are going to make that year. And taxes. I tend to buy more stuff at the end of the year too, because of those reasons.
posted by bongo_x at 6:07 PM on November 25, 2012


It doesn't much matter why - there are many possible conclusions, but people give at the end of the year more than they give during the year. Taxes, as I said, are indeed a big incentive, especially for the affluent for whom it does matter what the AGI looks like at the end of the year and for whom moving money from savings into giving to drop a bracket could make a difference to what is kept. Donor self-reporting of reasons is interesting but, as the Chronicle of Philanthropy calls it, "suspect."
posted by Miko at 6:12 PM on November 25, 2012


Galadhwen: "http://www.storyofstuff.com/"

I think I'm in love with Annie Leonard!
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 9:06 PM on November 25, 2012


December is the month when charities host events and make annual appeals, because between the sentiment and the tax-year incentives, this is when most people give, or give again.

Haha, I guess I wasn't thinking in terms of December literally being the end of the year, but it would seem that if people had a check list, it's truly their last chance to mark charity off. It sounds like they don't have a really good grasp on the "why" people give at the end of the year, though, which is why I don't agree with the idea of a check list. It seems more unplanned than that. So, do charities make more appeals at the end of the year because that is when people are more likely to give, or is it the other way around? Which came first?
posted by orme at 11:17 PM on November 25, 2012


So, do charities make more appeals at the end of the year because that is when people are more likely to give

Yes. Absolutely. It's not the other way around. If you pick up any annual appeal letter you will notice a mention of the group's 501 status and the tax deductibility of your donation, things essential to an end of year appeal. We do do appeal and individual asks at other times but they are usually nowhere near as productive unless they are something out of the ordinary, a long-planned gift or bequest, not routine annual giving.

It sounds like they don't have a really good grasp on the "why" people give at the end of the year, though

Actually, they do have a very good idea (and here's more in a PDF paper), which is why the strategy is what it is. What I was noting above was that people's self-reporting is not very accurate. Remember there is an entire field of development/fundraising professionals who spend their working lives studying and adapting to the giving environment, and if they didn't understand what motivates people to give at least reasonably well, they wouldn't be as successful as they are. If there were more opportunity to fundraise in June, by God they'd fundraise in June. Only certain fundraising efforts, like charity races and outdoor events, make sense during the summer - they need to roll in an entertainment component or connect directly to seasonal need like the Fresh Air Fund. In December, either appeal to emotion, tax advantage, or both, will carry the day. If taxes weren't important to giving, we wouldn't see that "when taxes go down, people give less generously. Lower taxes mean that what scholars call “the price of giving” goes up; the value of the tax deduction per donated dollar is less."

I's like I said, sentiment, tax advantages, and making up for lost time. The thing I mentioned is that people themselves don't always know - or aren't always honest - about why they are giving. If you're a fat cat, positioning yourself as a kind philanthropist is way more comfortable than positioning yourself as a tax-dodge seeker, you know? And giving genuinely feels good. People like it, up to a point.

Most people, though, are not rational enough about it to give an equal amount distributed over 12 months, budgeted like any other household expense. Unless they are part of a church where that is sort of structured for you, or in one of those increasingly popular radio station monthly-withdrawal pledge deals that accepts your contribution by auto-debit from your checking account every month. Both those strategies were undertaken in an attempt to try to tame the cash flow roller coaster of people's charitable habits and prevent charities taking a hit due to changes in personal decisionmaking that happen after, say, an earthquake in Haiti or a massive storm on the East Coast.

There's a deeper cognitive level at which researchers are trying to understand why we get a hit of pleasant neurochemicals when we give. Some people find that giving is a way to salvage a life experience that threatens to feel empty of meaning, otherwise.

If you're really interested in when and how people give and why, I recommend reading the Chronicle of Philanthropy, checking out its tool How Americans Give, and Giving USA, an ongoing study produced by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.
posted by Miko at 5:37 AM on November 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


I've been ignoring Christmas and spending nothing for Christmas presents for over 30 years. It's the SANE ALTERNATIVE.

...but a hard one to explain to your family or your kids. My mum is a pensioner, she doesn't have much money, and it's nice to send her something she can wear or eat that she wouldn't buy for herself.

Charity gifts are great to get for yourself, but I don't feel comfortable deciding which charity should recieve a donation in X or Y's name, nor the element of 'I'm SO caring and unmaterialistic that I spent all your Christmas money on a goat' which would come with it.
posted by mippy at 6:49 AM on November 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


And I say that as someone who's read The Story of Stuff and countless books on manufacturing, supply and consumerism.
posted by mippy at 6:49 AM on November 26, 2012


I'm the same way, massive anticonsumerist, but I think holidays/birthdays are an opportunity to celebrate people in your life with gifts that mean something to you both. I just think that if you choose to give gifts to loved ones it doesn't have to cut into your charitable giving or be presented as an alternative to that.
posted by Miko at 7:19 AM on November 26, 2012


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