WASHINGTON - Ah, the joy of finding something made in America! Ever since ABC News focused on goods made in the good old US of A, we've become more conscious of what we buy and from whence it comes. No wonder China has so much air pollution! I have to admit I cringe when I see that TV commercial featuring those gigantic green felt hats with the red stars and ugly stretch jeans, but the sentiment is real: We Americans have to get real about supporting our own.
The stories are now legion. Almost every product widely advertised as being made in America engenders a huge demand. A friend wanted a hoodie -- a jacket with a hood attached -- for her son for Christmas. She saw one advertised as made in America. By the time she got to the website to order one, they were sold out.
When the Tervis Tumbler company was featured on ABC News, the North Venice, Fla.-based firm sold so many beverage containers that it opened a number of new stores.
Now that's what we're talking about! If we each commit to buying an American-made product when we need something (and when it is available), thousands of jobs are created here in America. Economists say if every American spent $64 on something made in America, we could create 200,000 jobs.
Yes, we went through the era when hundreds of American manufacturers moved their factories overseas for cheaper labor, fewer environmental regulations (see China, where fresh air is being sold on the street in soda cans) and fewer safety regulations (late last year, horrible fires killed hundreds of workers in Bangladesh and Pakistan).
Gradually, some manufacturers are realizing that there are other problems to being abroad and that returning home has benefits. If we are to restore America's middle class, for example, we must make goods here. The service industry alone won't suffice.
At times, the trend seems maddeningly slow. If you walk around your house checking to see where things are made, you quickly realize almost everything you have was not made in America. And what is made here often costs more, far more, than if it came from Southeast Asia.
Business leaders almost uniformly complain that U.S. environmental, safety and labor regulations are too harsh. And there are plenty of stupifyingly strange regulations on the books. But in these days of cost-benefit analyses, many regs are essential. When people die of meningitis caused by unsafe drugs, when green leafy vegetables sicken hundreds, when parents have to worry about the hormone levels infused in foods they feed their children -- we have to realize that all regulation is not a bad thing. And regulators must be wary: New products and new uses mean hidden dangers unsuspected by previous generations.
Some say the state of American manufacturing is just fine because we are more productive -- fewer workers make more goods. But that overlooks the thousands of factories that have closed and never reopened, leaving millions without jobs. And it overlooks the fact that there is no reason for many factories to be located overseas, employing foreigners, when American workers are some of the most hard working and most productive in the world.
The resurgence of the domestic auto industry is an encouraging piece of this puzzle. American-made cars were in danger of disappearing; now they are selling well. Just this January, Ford pledged to add 2,200 salaried jobs in the United States.
As globalization spreads, we must find a happy medium. There are things that will probably always -- at least in our lifetimes -- be cheaper and better made abroad. We want free and open trade -- after all, we want others to buy our goods and services.
But when we decided it was inevitable that the future of manufacturing was overseas, we did ourselves no favor. We arose as a nation of entrepreneurs, innovators and risk takers. It served us well, and it will again.
And now, I have a birthday present to buy. ...
Scripps Howard columnist Ann McFeatters has covered the White House and national politics since 1986.