This Saturday, I took my sons to Toys"R"Us to buy them baseball gloves. A great American tradition to be sure, and with opening day just 2 weeks away, both spring and the national pastime were in the air.
I looked for the American baseball glove names of my youth - Rawlings, Wilson, Easton, Spalding, Cooper.
My boys happily tried on gloves (most much too large for their little hands) to find the perfect fit.
For whatever reason my eye was caught by the fine-print label on one glove and its none too surprising "Made in China" imprint.
My curiousity piqued and my young sons' attention of course being diverted by all of the amazing toys in the store, we started wandering about.
Tonka. Backloaders, dump trucks, bulldozers, and more. Made in China.
Chutes and Ladders. Gnip Gnop. Battleship. Twister. Yahtzee. Risk. Connect Four. Made in China.
The erector sets have evolved impressively from the clunky sets I remembered. Made in China.
Hundreds of Hot Wheel model race cars - beautifully modeled Camaros, Jeeps, Corvettes, and more. Made in China.
On to the figurines and action figures. Dale Earnhardt Jr., Tom Brady, Lebron James, Albert Pujols. Staring out lifelike from their boxes and Made in China.
Blond-haired blue-eyed Barbie and Ken. Made in China. GI Joe. Defending our freedoms and Made in China.
Notes To Self
Call me old-fashioned, call me protectionist but it just didn't feel right to buy my sons Chinese - manufactured baseball gloves.
Then thinking practically as a striving parent does, first order of business was to go home and get my boys immediately enrolled in intensive Chinese language instruction because by golly if this is how the world is now then where is it going?
And on this thought I caught myself. I realized I had fallen for the classic mercantilist trap and confused "Made In" with "Value Added."
What's the difference? Well, for you parents reading out there put it this way - none of you I would surmise want their sons and daughters to grow up and work in a factory (though, of course, it is like all work noble and deserving of praise).
But a LOT of you would be VERY happy if your son or daughter went to work as a product designer for Lego.
In marketing or public relations for Mattel.
In corporate finance at Rawlings.
At the NFL league office.
In post-production on the movie Avatar.
As eco-friendly packaging and shipping designers for Toys"R"Us itself.
These Are the Good Old Days
While it is hard for many to accept, it is beyond clear that America is MUCH wealthier today than it was in the so-called good old days when the U.S.A. was the manufacturing capital of the world.
What's The Point?
Very simply, wealth and power in the modern world is NOT about making things. It is about reconceptualizing them.
Apple. Google. Microsoft. In Apple's famous (and grammatically incorrect) advertising campaign, none of these great American companies actually make anything in the strict sense of the term. But they invest lots and lots of time and money in thinking different about them.
To put it another way, modern wealth and power are NOT in the things themselves. They are in their recipes - the instructions of HOW to make them.
And in making new and better recipes, American entrepreneurs lead the way by miles and miles.
And assuming government stays out of their way, they will continue to do so.
To when my little boys enter the workforce and beyond.