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Catalyst for Change: Returning Home in Stuber’s What If Things Were Made in America Again

James A. Stuber has recently published his new book What If Things Were Made in America Again: How Consumers Can Rebuild the Middle Class by Buying Things Made in American Communities. In it, the author asks a central question that he desperately seeks to answer: “Why does it seem like everything is made somewhere else, especially China?” (PR Newswire). To even begin to answer it, we must first consider what has changed in the U.S. economy and, especially, how our attitude to our independence as a country has evolved over time. 

When constructing his argument, the author emphasizes our dependency on other countries. We see that in many ways we essentially rely on them for multiple goods. In fact, the author suggests that “… America is becoming dependent on foreign sources for strategic goods such as steel and electronics” (Stuber). We are unable to manufacture those many goods on our own. Hence, our dependency on other countries gradually develops into a habit. Eventually, we get used to relying on others for our resources. If we think about our nation today and its attitude to trade and compare it to what it used to be like in the 19th century, for instance, we would see a world of a difference. We could see that we are no longer the nation whose policy of isolationism motivated it to stay out of many an international conflict until the World Wars. Not only has our policy of isolationism shifted in the nation. We are no longer the country that is so focused on developing her economy on her own without relying on anyone else. 

As he builds his argument about our country’s dependence on other countries, Stuber implies that something must have happened to our independence. In fact, the very idea of independence seems to have slipped away from us. An isolationist policy has nothing to do with it. We have become dependent. According to Stuber, this dependence on other countries has serious consequences for us: “… [it] has led to dependency at home, as individuals, families, and communities have suffered the loss of their economic base” (PR Newswire). In fact, if we think about it, we are not independent in any sense any longer. At this point, our dependence on other countries has transferred to our dependency at home. We do not and cannot rely on ourselves anymore. Instead, ironically enough, having moved away from our fight for independence, we only ended up in a vicious cycle. Independence is now an extinct myth. 

We should now turn to another central issue at the very heart of this book: sovereignty. We can see that, just like with independence, our attempt to achieve sovereignty has backfired. Not only are we not the sovereign or leading power in any sense, but the reality is also much more tragic than that. We did not even get close to achieving real sovereignty. In attempting to compete with other countries and lead the world in the economic race, we have only ended up becoming more and more dependent. The irony of life has played itself out. In the book, Stuber describes how “…, with its newly won status as a sovereign nation, the United States secured its borders and set the terms of trade, intentionally building up its domestic manufacturing capabilities” (PR Newswire). As a nation, we did our absolute best to strengthen our powers on all fronts. After proving ourselves capable not only of securing independence but also of living with it, we thought we finally became sovereign. But there is the catch. Sovereignty is just an illusion set up mostly to fool people. In reality, we have only become more dependent on other countries. 

Besides, as far as dependency is concerned, we are most certainly dependent on many countries in many ways. It is not as though we are completely isolated from the rest of the world and can handle every single problem on our own. And yet, as a nation, we may frequently act as if we do not need to cooperate with anyone in order to solve our own problems. Such a mentality, however, bespeaks nothing more than arrogance. According to the author, as far as jobs are concerned, more and more positions are getting outsourced: “In just the last 30 years, by Stuber’s count, the U.S. sent $16 trillion and six million jobs offshore” (PR Newswire). By glancing at the statistics, we get a clear indication that we are actually in desperate need of cooperating with other countries to keep the job market in a relatively stable condition. 

Consequently, if we think about it, imperialism in the U.S. is in many ways still alive and well. Real independence, the one for which we have fought so passionately, is now no more. Instead, it has sort of disintegrated into a watered down version of free trade. According to PR Newswire, “Stuber describes how, after 150 years, the U.S. then set out on the road of free trade following World War II, with disastrous results.” This free trade may have been a pinnacle that we as a nation wanted to reach. In reality, however, it did not really get us that far. Years and years later, as a result of poor political and economic choices, we are now in $19 trillion dollar debt (Forbes). Instead of being the economically advanced, democratic, and independent nation we want to be, we are desperately trying to hold together a post, post-colonial reality. Our desire to be on top of the world has, like Stuber suggests, led us to disastrous results. Maybe it was inevitable, but the trouble is that if the trend continues, it might cause major problems for us.

Moreover, the issue is that the future does not necessarily promise any positive changes for our nation. Although we may not know what might happen in the next decade, as Stuber reflects, “The future … portends more of the same” (PR Newswire). In other words, he is suggesting that in the future we probably will be experiencing many of the same issues such as outsourcing and no real free trade. Consequently, it is definitely still relative, while our post, post-colonial reality is alive and well. The problem is that in many ways we are still in the role of the colonial subject. Free trade is difficult. We rely on the rest of the world to keep our economy running. Jobs are outsourced.

Ultimately, the book suggests that we are not at all as advanced as we think we are. Stuber opens our eyes to the gray reality that in the light of day does not look all that positive. So, maybe, to make sure that we make progress as a nation, we should come to back to manufacturing all products at home without relying so much on other countries. The time has come for us to become a truly sovereign nation that relies exclusively on her own home-made resources. We must return to being independent and self-reliant. Our history began with a passionate statement of independence. We should continue asserting our independence by acting as the sovereign nation we call ourselves. The book urges us to do our utmost to live up to the name of a great nation. 

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