Now that a weak American dollar has made it prohibitive for many of us to travel overseas, I decided to take a "tour" of my walk-in closet, instead. I busily set about exploring the labels on my clothes, and by the time I'd journeyed along half of my side of the closet, I'd already made quite a global discovery: My wardrobe was manufactured in 19 different foreign countries, from Bangladesh to the United Arab Emirates.
I found only two pieces of clothing that were made in America. One is a sweater knitted by my sister-in-law. The other is a very old pair of Bill Blass stretch pants I haven't been able to squeeze into for at least a dozen years. I guess I keep them around because the only commodity still generated in this country is hope. And don't ask how long before that, too, is outsourced!
Hope apparently plays a role in the government's decision to send rebate checks to most Americans in order to help forestall a recession. The idea is to have us spend the money as soon as we get it — which won't be for several months. How adding to our country's whopping economic deficit would help matters is another question.
Some economic gurus further suggest we boost the economy by spending our rebates only on American-made goods! Have these "experts" looked at the labels in their closets lately? Or at the appliances in their kitchens? Or the electronic goodies they find indispensable?
Such naive advice reminds me of the time when George H.W. Bush, during his unsuccessful re-election bid, made a once-in-his-lifetime visit to a Sears store to buy some socks. At the check-out counter he expressed amazement when the clerk used an electronic device to scan the price of his purchase!
We've been assured often enough that outsourcing the manufacture of clothing and other goods makes them more affordable for all Americans. This is a hard claim to substantiate, since there are so few goods made here anymore. But one indisputable fact is that the quality of merchandise has declined. This is particularly true of women's clothing, where boring cookie-cutter designs, often shoddily finished, now dominate the market.
In large part, this is the lamentable result of manufacturers outsourcing their jobs to so many different countries — all of whom employ thousands of low-paid, unskilled workers — which makes it necessary to stick to simple designs with the lowest possible common denominator of style and originality. Walk into any department store and you find the same plain, unadorned and uninspiring clothes you see everywhere else. Compared to even 10 years ago, modern so-called "fashion" is a loser.
That could explain why analysts found clothing sales so disappointing during this last holiday season. Women frankly admitted they were shopping, but not buying. And their reluctance to buy had nothing to do with a lack of either purchasing power or desire. The reason was simply that they did not see anything on the racks that they wanted to add to their wardrobes!
Americans are rarely admonished to save money. Every national holiday is celebrated by a sale. Today's patriotic "parades" are of customers marching through malls. As a result, the finances of individuals and government have become perilously overextended. And now we are being enticed into further swelling the coffers of countries whose goods we buy, and to whom America is already heavily in debt.
This government largesse has more to do with making politicians popular in an election years than in rescuing America's economy. Some polls have already suggested that as many as 80 percent of us will wisely use our rebates to pay off debt, rather than acquire new stuff. If the inferior nature of imported goods helped this decision in any way, there may be some "saving grace: after all!
(The Check is in the Mall first appeared in the Santa Barbara News Press)
Doris O'Brien is a retired college Speech teacher and banker. She has published two books of humor (Up or Down With Women's Liberation and Humor Me a Little) and for many years contributed light verse to the Pepper 'n Salt column of the Wall Street Journal. She is a voracious writer of letters to the editors.
Doris celebrated her 50th wedding anniversary in the same year she welcomed her first grandchild. She can be reached by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org