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April Edition: Fear and Clothing

BY JACK PRICE, COLUMNIST According to a Swedish businessman I recently encountered at work, Americans live for two things — war and Walmart. While most of the Americans I know are not bloodthirsty hawks, I know quite a few (myself included) who enjoy shopping.

Ours is a nation built on commerce. The British came for gold, and they stayed for tobacco. The American Revolution was in part sparked by the desire to sell our cotton to the highest bidder. But since World War II, when the U.S. was one of the few countries lucky enough to avoid the destruction of its manufacturing base, we’ve begun to import more and more things we used to make here, due to both the proliferation of cheap labor and the steady decrease in shipping costs.

But in the last 10 years, American-made goods have experienced a quasi-renaissance, especially in the world of fashion. Heritage workwear brands like Seattle’s Filson, Detroit’s Carhartt, and Minnesota’s Red Wing market themselves as the long-lasting, high-quality answer to H&M and Air Jordans. They’ve since been joined by luxury brands like the Detroit-based Shinola watch and bicycle company, which sells goods that cost more than the city they’re made in on the same premise: by paying a slightly higher price, you can rest easy knowing your legs will give out before your American-made boots and bikes do.

It is no coincidence that the “Made in America” movement came back in the midst of the Great Recession: Anyone buying $200 sneakers made for 10 cents in China had to be off their rocker. When you’re living from check to check, wondering when the bank will come for your house, you want to buy one jacket that you can wear until you die. And if that money’s putting food on an American table, so much the better. It was a no-brainer: if we put our money back into the economy — and could stunt in the bargain — maybe we could fix it.

But in the grand scheme of things, buying a $300, made-in-the-good-ol’-US-of-A jacket doesn’t do anything more productive than make people think you spend too much time on “DMV Fresh 2 Deff” pages.

Do you want to really help America? Do you want to see the unemployment percentage plummet like never before? Then stop clicking through J. Crew like there’s no tomorrow, and put the work back in workwear. In our nation’s capital, you can’t go a block without hitting a score of potholes. The national infrastructure that blue collar workers wearing Carhartt and Danner built in the 1950s is in shambles; fixing it will create jobs, rejuvenate the economy, and give people a legitimate excuse to buy workwear, but both political parties seem to have dismissed the idea without a second thought.

It’s a no-brainer to me. But these days, even people with Super-PAC$ to burn don’t know s–t from Shinola.