On Buying American

Tuesday, December 30, 2003
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Some fun anecdotes in response to Gary North’s blog post and article on “buying American”:

First of all, UAWism is a religious euphoria here in Detroit. Those guys typically have bumper stickers that say, “Real Americans Buy Real Cars.” And the UAW’ers never go anywhere without their union jackets, telling us all which “local” they belong to. With certain small bars, here, you don’t dare walk into them unless you park an American car outside, and show your best union face inside. I have an American car: an extended cab, 4×4 pick-up truck – a “Hillbilly Cadillac” – but that’s because those Japanese have not yet figured out how to build a real pickup. They’re still lost on that one. But everywhere else, they got American cars beat. All car enthusiasts – as well as the experts – come to that conclusion without fail.

The union atmosphere here in Detroit — what is it like? It’s not nearly as hardcore, pro-union as it used to be, say in the 70s or 80s. But UAWism still lives. I worked at a consulting/CPA firm where someone on “partner track” was told, by one of the managing partners, to “trade in her Jap car for an American car, because that would be best for everyone.” In addition, I was showing a friend around the Detroit area one day, and he finally said to me, “I can’t believe this! There are no foreign cars here! They are all American. Is this how it is here?” Well yes, the ratio of American to Japanese cars, here, is very different than anywhere else – still. Most Detroiters still have family or friends in the plants, and their loyalty is strict. For instance, when I go to Auburn, to the Mises Institute, I see an overwhelming number of Japanese (and even Korean) cars, as well as dealers, and far fewer American cars/dealers.

But to show how misplaced that “loyalty” is, I had two brothers working on the assembly lines: one for Chrysler, one for GM. The GM-employed brother, in the 80s, loved the Chrysler New Yorker, and had always wanted one. So he bought his brand new, fully loaded, dream Chrysler. My Chrysler-employed brother said to him: “You aren’t going to park that in your (GM) lot, are you?” Well, the first night that Chrysler sat in the GM lot, my brother came out to a totally trashed car: windows, doors, trunk – all smashed, the car destroyed. The message was “brand over brotherhood,” I suppose. And oh, if you work for any of the Big 3, you don’t dare own a non-American car, even a luxury car brand that is partially owned by an American company. The unionists haven’t gotten used to the “foreign alliances” yet.

And how about those union stories of “it ain’t your job, so don’t do it!” ?? Think they’re fiction? I have a good friend who is an auto designer at the GM Tech Center World HQ. Last year, he told a story of a designer co-employee who had some flourescent bulbs out in his office. So this fella filed the requisite request to have the light bulb changed. (Yes, GM is this bureaucratic.) Day 1 and Day 2 went by, and no union light-bulb changer came by. He asked again, yet came in a fourth morning to a darkened office. Since his sight was now too impaired to do his work, he made his way to a supply room, and changed his own light bulbs. Well, when the union light-bulb changer came by days later, to fill the initial request, his job had been done for him. This act was put onto this gentleman’s employee record as a permanent blemish, stating that he had gone against the company rules, and violated the GM bureaucratic order. True story.

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