If the NFL is serious about giving back…
… it can start by requiring NFL-licensed goods to be manufactured in the USA.
So I have new job.
I hump boxes at a Walmart distribution center on a ten hour second shift, four nights a week. How I got there is outside the scope of today’s topic — let’s just say a mix of wanting needing to unplug from the web for long periods and a modified Dewey Oxberger weight loss plan. Man wasn’t made to sit on his ass but that’s what I’ve been doing for 30 years and no amount of gym time can overcome the inertia of sedentary-ness over time. Anyway this is the hardest work I’ve done since a summer job for a landscaper (in Columbia Station I think) getting $3/hr under the table working from 6am to 6pm. Yes: I am currently a Springsteen song protagonist and checkitout — I just got me a bunch of new Dickies t-shirts. And I’ll tell you — It feels righteous to be buying $7 heavy weight pocket Ts versus my old habit of finding a wicking $60 golf shirt that draped just so. in a pastel or earth-tone depending on the years’ fashion.
So let me lay out the job for you. The Walmart DC is 1.2 million square feet and 180 odd loading docks and 12 miles of conveyor belts, all dedicated to moving boxes. It is an amazing work of human ingenuity. Trucks come in from vendors; trucks go out to stores. As an orderfiller, you ‘own’ a module. Each module is 100 yards long, three levels. A conveyor belt runs through the middle and pallets of merchandise in slots line either side of the belt. The job is to label and throw 500 items/hour for ten hours working up and down each level. Some slots have diapers (yay!), some have antifreeze (mother of christ Prestone).
It does not take long as you’re throwing boxes for Walmart for ten hours before you think: is anything not made in China these days? It’s easier to list what I throw that’s still made in the states — kitty litter and motor oil. Kleenex. Food. Soap. And this exercise of physically touching items imported over homemade goods at a roughly 3:1 clip really gets you thinking about the state of American manufacturing, the corollary of the diminishing middle class, rust belt flyover country, and what might be done to improve things.
22 years in, it’s past time to review whether NAFTA is meeting its goals.
First off, what a porking NAFTA and “free-trade-in-general” have been for flyover country. After all, that’s where our manufacturing used to take place. American workers whose employers are required to provide health insurance are competing against foreign sweatshops and we still use the term “free trade?”
American Strat, $1300; Mexican Strat, $500. Pretty much the same guitar. Why is the US built guitar almost 3x more expensive? It’s because of NAFTA but how this trade agreement benefits average Americans…. I don’t know exactly. I mean it lets Fender make more money. It’s supposed to provide a growing middle class to Mexico and thereby staunch illegal immigration but,, well that hasn’t worked as promised. The view from here in this example is that NAFTA simply took a couple hundred American jobs and moved them to Ensenada. Hey it’s great if you’re a plutocrat and good for poor Mexicans but it’s a simple porking for working class Americans. Fender finds it too expensive to manufacture in Corona, California? I’ll bet Lorain, Ohio would be a competitive alternative… but wait, NAFTA lets me avoid US employment regulations. Multiply this scenario by hundreds? thousands? of other manufacturing facilities and you have successfully gutted the most robust middle-class that world has ever seen in only 20 years. Government in action.
And about those Chinese naval exercises in the South China Sea…
Secondly, it’s more than pathetic that there are no real US manufacturers of electronic devices (handhelds, TVs, tablets, etc.) — it’s actually matter of national security. We went to war in Iraq to protect Saudi oilfields¹ whose disruption of production would hurt our economy. Well how much more at risk would our economy be if China invades Taiwan and how much worse would the prospect of war with China be? Because Foxconn (makers of most Apple devices and lots of other things) is maybe not as strategic as the Saudis but they’re getting there. And it is our own fault because so many plutocrats find it fine and dandy to export potential US-based manufacturing work overseas for cheap exploitable Asian labor… and government policy actually encourages this. Besides the obvious security threat of placing a strategic manufacturing interest 100 miles off the coast of China, Foxconn employs 1.2 million people… that’s 1,200,000 people primarily employed to build US-designed/engineered product and sold in majority to the US market. Pathetic and outrageous and short-sighted and uniquely bi-partisan failure of policy unless the goal was to create greater income disparity in our society and imperil national security. Whatever the current trade bill is that is being discussed in private,² we can be sure that it doesn’t include stiff tariffs on goods imported from countries without universal healthcare and so will continue the bi-partisan governmental porking of flyover country.
You can see how the mind is set free when you’re unplugged from the web and throwing boxes. And it does not stop thinking. How can our manufacturing base be fixed? What can be done? All the ‘stimulus’ did was patch potholes and seemingly purchase state-of-the-art urban combat vehicles for every freaking police department in the country from GM, Ford, and Dodge.³
Simply creating more government jobs is not a sustainable model — we are already at the point where the recipient class is greater than the taxpaying class. The depression didn’t end with the WPA, TVA, REA, PWA… it ended when River Rouge and Seattle started running three shifts building Sherman Tanks and B-17s.
Perhaps it would have been better if the stimulus were approached like Lend-Lease but also organized into regional manufacturing emphases — “Ohio, you make TVs; Indiana, I want you focused on cable boxes, routers, modem; Western NY, you’re getting mobile devices… hope you’re up for it; West Virginia, you’re about to be Nike’s new Indonesia except we won’t let them use ten year olds down there in Mingo County.”⁴ And then you incent manufacturers to set up shop in those spots with infrastructure builds if needed and maybe some healthcare subsidies and simultaneously you slap a 300% tariff on imports of freaking iPhones and sneakers.
There. You now have sustainable industries and hundreds of thousands of taxpaying employees in those industries. And maybe, just maybe, these things will allow your mom’s house in Elyria⁵ to be worth more now than when she bought it 30 years ago.
As simple as that, in fact, would be to do… no one talks about it and I expect my comment section will include reasons why it can’t be done. If one of the reasons not to help Americans find sustainable employment and living wages making goods for other Americans is because China holds American debt and thereby wields influence to the extent that our government is unable to help Americans find sustainable employment and living wages making goods for other Americans… well there’s another good reason to get serious about reducing the debt.
Billion dollar, for profit, unincorporated nonprofit 501(c)(6) associations paying lip-service to “giving back” through yelling at innocent bystanders.
But an even simpler way to make a dent in this actual issue that confronts really everyone is for pro sports leagues to require their licensed products be manufactured in the USA. Like… this is a real way to give back: by providing living wages with benefits to Americans who are also, probably, fans of your sport.
No NBA — I do not find the Lean-In campaign useful. As a matter of fact, I resent that you presume that I’m sexist and in need of a lecture not to be sexist. You’re not “giving back.” You’re just being a naggy pain-in-the-ass. Same goes for you “It’s On Us” twitter logo users.
And as for you NFL — PLAY 60?? Are you kidding me? You force your players to show up at a play ground for photo opps and self-promotion using kids as props and the goal… the goal of the program is to have kids play 60 minutes a day? I mean let’s cut the shit: if you really to address childhood obesity and get kids outside running around and playing you could start by refusing to license Madden or any video games. So which is it NFL: healthy kids or more licensing royalties? Right. Thought so.
All the sports leagues pay some form of lip-service to the concept of “giving back to the community.” I don’t know about you all, but I’m long past the point of exhaustion with millionaires posing as altruists when in fact these “charities” have next to no impact on any greater good and are just a maneuver to preserve their sports cartel status and avoid at all costs any serious review of how their business is conducted. The subject has been covered here and here, but don’t expect networks who paid these leagues billions annually for the right to televise them to do any serious challenging of the status quo.
And all this pretend-i-ness in the aggregate becomes impossible to swallow when you’re humping 2000 boxes from China every night, particularly when there is a really really really simple place to start rebuilding the American manufacturing base: require NFL (and MLB and NBA and NCAA, etc.) licensed products to be made in the USA.
So you want to be an Official NFL Licensee?
Well it could not be much easier. Here’s a website with the pre-qualification terms. But wait! Be careful because you must:
Be in compliance with all federal, state and local laws and, where applicable, international rules and regulations, including all applicable labor laws.
Fortunately for you, you’ve recently set up shop in Sri Lanka and, well, let’s just say the “applicable labor laws” are being complied with.
So that’s it. You’re good to go. It’s not like the NFL is actually going to tour and inspect your plant to ensure that applicable labor law jazz. Congrats. You are now part of the $12,800,000,000 sports licensing industry, good for you. And good for the sports leagues who collected $700,000,000 in royalties for simply granting you this privilege.⁶
I repeat: 13 billion in aggregate sales of sports licensed goods last year; 700 million in pure profit to the leagues.
What I would like to know and what any congressman ought to be asking:
1. What percent of licensed product is manufactured in the US?
2. How many workers touch the making of your licensed products?
3. What percentage of those are covered by their employer’s health insurance?
4. How is it that you qualify for non-profit status again while simultaneously exploiting foreign workers and by doing wrong by American workers?
5. Is there no limit to your greed?
With respect to the last question, even if the licensee chooses the morally-bankrupt path of max profits at all time… says here that if people are buying Patriots ball caps from China for $35; they’ll probably pop for a $40 US made one. And not that it matters but you’ll be helping create a sustainable economy, reducing the gross income disparity, and helping the good people of flyover country resent the coasts less.
Hell, put a Made in USA sticker on it and maybe you’ll only sell more.
The Browns’ quarterbacks are singlehandedly doing their part to increase license revenue. It would be nice if our QB malaise at least helped provide living wages to Americans instead of Vietnamese.⁷
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Footnotes (apologies for the primitive notations; this theme has disabled my usual footnote maker):
¹ Can we agree on this? And can we also agree that it is in the national interest not to have Saudi oilfield controlled by people who hate us?
² This is the first time I recall agreeing with Elizabeth Warren.
³ I mean seriously, how nice to police cars have to be? My car is almost ten years old, runs fine. And apparently non-union autoworkers in one of the 20-odd auto manufacturing plants down south don’t benefit from this graft.
⁴ Google Nike sweatshops and you’ll find lots of articles about how they’ve fixed it; but you find many shoes made in the USA. Do you really think Nike is able to monitor 1,000,000 workers in 700 factories? Do you really think they’re interested in anything but reduced costs and thus make nothing in the states?
⁵ The link is a high school friend’s home growing up and her Facebook post reads: “If you knew my parents, you know how well they cared for this house! Mom did a lot with since Dad passed and since we lost Mom, we had a few things done, as well! I pray for that special someone to buy this house and fill it with a family who will love it as much as we love it!”
⁶ And let’s have NONE of the ‘greedy owners’ jive here. This revenue stream goes into the pot with other revenue streams and the players union gets its share. In other words, the players are participants in this contrivance just like the owners.
⁷ I have nothing against the Vietnamese. But I am American.