# Walmart’s “Buy American” Commitment

Walmart takes a lot of heat, especially from the left. Their staunch opposition to labor unions has won them no favors in the labor movement, their sheer size has earned them the skepticism of people who look on bigness per se with suspicion, and stories abound of how they’re destroying Main Street or wiping out “mom and pop” stores. A lot of my work has looked into these stories and found them wanting: Walmart Supercenters fight food insecurity, for example, and while there’s some evidence Walmart Supercenters increase BMI and the probability of being obese, the additional health costs are a tiny fraction of what Walmart saves its customers. I agree with Jason Furman, former chair of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers: Walmart is a “progressive success story” in that it disproportionately benefits the poor.

That’s not to say that everything they do deserves applause. As one of their “Global Responsibility” initiatives, Walmart is “investing in American jobs” “by supporting more American manufacturing.” I can’t fault them for “believ(ing) in making a difference on the issues our customers and communities care about.” They have committed “to purchase approximately $250 billion in products that support the creation of American jobs” by 2023. They plan to do this by sourcing more manufactured goods from the US. Even if they create new American jobs by sourcing manufactured goods from American suppliers, they aren’t going to increase American prosperity generally.

Why not? Many economists have pointed out that jobs are the cost of prosperity, not the benefit. A lot of jobs (like mine) have a lot of satisfaction attached to them, but generally, people don’t buy, sell, and work for their own sake. They buy, sell, and work so that they can have the goods, services, and security that make their lives pleasant. As much as I love teaching, research, and writing, I wouldn’t do these things if, at the end of the day, it prevented me from feeding, clothing, and sheltering my family. I don’t do right by them (or by anyone) by intentionally and systematically using more resources than are necessary to get something done.

Similarly, you don’t spread prosperity by wasting resources. That’s exactly what Walmart is doing by paying extra for stuff just because it is produced in the United States . There might be good reasons to “buy American” if it means higher quality, for example. We buy a lot of locally-sourced meat and produce because we value quality and convenience. That’s not what Walmart is doing here. They are going to pay extra for goods just because they are produced on the US side of a border. They are, therefore, moving labor and capital out of higher-value uses and into lower-value uses.

Some people will read the preceding paragraph and get indignant at the very idea that producing more goods in the United States wastes resources. This is because we tend not to look or think beyond what is right in front of our faces. You can see a square-jawed, hard-hat-wearing American heading off to the factory swinging his lunch box. You can see his wife and kids and the (presumably) better life they’re able to have because Dad was able to get a good job at the widget factory. You can put them in front of a camera and watch them testify about how great it was that Walmart decided to buy more from Americans and less from foreigners because it meant Dad could get a better job and Billy could get braces.

It’s a lot harder to see and appreciate how a plan like this wastes resources. People might pay a little bit more at Walmart, but so what? You’ve probably heard a popular refrain from people saying they would gladly pay an extra twenty-five cents for a Big Mac or an extra dollar for a pair of jeans if it means Walmart’s workers and suppliers can earn decent livings. What, though, about the low-income customers who are now stuck with higher prices? What about the entrepreneurs who cannot hire the labor and capital Walmart and its suppliers have bid into manufacturing by overpaying? What about the loans that aren’t being made because the money we would have saved had Walmart stuck to everyday low prices is being used to buy American manufactured goods?

The effect on the family from a couple of paragraphs ago is pretty obvious. The effect on the broader society is ambiguous and almost certainly negative. When we use more resources than necessary to produce toasters and vegetables, we are able to enjoy, on net, fewer toasters and vegetables–or less of a whole variety of goods and services. Walmart’s $250 billion commitment comes to about $757 per American. Even if only 1% of this is wasted, it’s $2.5 billion over a few years–or basically one fast-food meal per American that no one gets to eat.

In its almost sixty years of existence, Walmart has revolutionized American retail and raised American standards of living by innovating in shipping, selling, and shopping. They certainly have the potential to continue doing so–but paying extra for stuff just because it was produced in the United States won’t help them or their customers in the long run.

And yet they bow down to the left in many ways. I remember when they quit selling confederate flags even though they still sell communist flags.

That is true. And when they started taking that heat from the Left they started going all politically correct, and I lost my respect for them

What I find laughable is outside of the food section, there is very little maid in the USA in a Walmarts.

Well, they are all about the cheap price. El Cheapo. So that does not surprise me.

That is what I was going to ask you about. Doesn’t Walmart rely heavily on Chinese manufacturers for most of the items they sell?

Problem they and all retailers face is single source.

Look for power tools made in the USA, virtually non existent.
Look for shoes made in the USA or clothing. Difficult at best.

TV’s nope.
Computers, Nope.

More and more auto parts are mad in China.

Until we accept the reality that made in the USA will cost more, we support the chins middle class as was intended when our leaders allowed manufacturing to move. The amazing part is we have transferred all the technology to China and moving manufacturing back to the USA leaves a ready to go manufacturing monster.

Pretty much excluding the grocery aisle… The do have clothing mad in other asian counties but made in China as a staple.

For American businesses to tool up and build factories and manufacture that stuff here there would have to be such a demand that . . well . . I don’t think there will ever be that big of a demand for more expensive products.

There will be if there ends up being a war and we are forced to become self sufficient. We are fked if we continue to rely on foreign entities for our manufacturing. Getting to a acceptable level where national security needs is safe guarded especially what we learned from the inadequacy of our preparedness during this pandemic I would think it’s a priority.

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That is what I thought! How they were able to survive during the economic shutdown is a little perplexing to me, especially considering we shut down travel to China.

30% of military electronics come from China.

Pretty neat.

Went out the window when Sam Walton died…years ago.

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Why do you think it is pretty neat?

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I don’t buy Chinese tools, I look for old American-made (mostly, really) or German or Japanese tools.
Don’t try taking a Chinese socket to a 1971 Ford transmission bolt. The socket will break (like the cheap farce it is), and your knuckle will bleed.

Sarcasm, sorry you missed it.

Maybe use (sarcasm)

In typed text sometimes its obvious sometimes its not.

I always thought “Craftsmen” was the best deal. It sucks what happened to Sears. I was always a big supporter of that company.

Craftsmen Tools weren’t exactly the best, for me it was “Snapon” but I had a smaller collection to which they were guaranteed for life and if a specific tool broke, I could drive to Sears and within minutes they would exchange it for a new one with out any hassle. I am sure those days are now long gone, but Americans need their tools again. American made!

Sarcasm is hit or miss on the internet.

Of course. Written or typed text can easily be misconstrued. Not like spoken language where one can hear tone and inflection to know what is truly being conveyed.