Like many American families, the Christmas season is a special time in our house. We are reflecting on Advent, and how on Christmas Day, God the Father gave us the gift of his Son. In turn, Jesus gave to us the ultimate gift of eternal life. How appropriate that we celebrate Christmas by giving gifts.
It turns out that this season of giving is in itself a gift – to the U.S. economy. Our economy is driven by consumer spending, and nearly 20 percent of all retail spending each year occurs during Christmastime. This is critical for American retailers and the millions of people who work in the sector. But there is another sector of our economy that used to be a great beneficiary of shopping but it is less so today. The businesses that manufacture the goods that will be wrapped and placed under the tree.
If experience counts for anything, Karen and I are expert Christmas shoppers. Finding the right gift at the right price for each of our seven children is always a challenge, but an even greater challenge of late is finding that right gift with a ”Made in the USA” label on it. I am not suggesting that there is anything wrong with buying items made outside of the U.S. The vast majority of us are on budgets, sometimes very tight ones. It is completely understandable to try to make the dollar stretch as far as possible and buy lower priced alternatives from a low-cost foreign supplier.
But as you well know, a great many of these businesses – the “moms and pops” and small companies – have suffered in recent years, and especially through today’s recession. With them, millions of working American families have lost jobs, livelihoods and hope. So this Christmas, I am thinking about the families and communities that have had it tough and what it means to be “Made in America.”
Our country was built largely on free enterprise and that American “can-do” entrepreneurial spirit. It was that spirit that led to the creation of businesses that made great things and offered good-paying jobs. These jobs led to the formation of American communities and towns. When these businesses thrived, America and Americans thrived. Sadly, a great many of these businesses – especially our manufacturers – have declined in recent decades for reasons we’ve all heard too often: competition from abroad, increasing labor and health-care costs leading to loss of jobs to overseas and growing tax and regulatory burdens. And with that, jobs have disappeared, leaving fewer options for America’s workers to earn livings. Over time, this has weakened communities across the country and contributed to many of the challenges we face today. Families have been hit hard.
Despite this reality, there continues to be very little agreement in Washington on policies that will restore our manufacturing industry and the “Made in America” label. So the bad news is, if we wait for Washington to figure it out, we may be waiting for quite some time. But the good news is, we have the power to change this by seeking out and supporting businesses that are locally owned and products that are made on our soil. Support your local arts and crafts fairs and church bazaars, farmers markets and shops on Main Street. Putting your money back into the community will help your community. Putting your money back into America will help your community and ultimately help America.
Other pillars of America that could use your support this season are churches and non-profits that depend on private donations to do their good work. At a time when government dependency is escalating, we need to build up our community-based organizations that can help those in need. The federal government is just not very good at this, but churches, synagogues and local food banks are – they know who is most in need and how to help them. I encourage you to do this to the extent you can.
If we expect the government to fix today’s troubled economy, we will be sorely disappointed. It will either never happen, or the outcome will be such a bureaucratic mess – with winners and losers preselected – that it won’t ever feel fixed, just some other expensive government program that subverts the market. This is the perfect time for us to show the can-do attitude we are known for and to fix the problem ourselves.
So as you reflect on the spirit of Christmas this season, also reflect on the spirit of America. Get out there to your local shops and businesses and help do your part. But count your pennies, and your blessings. Spend wisely, be good to your neighbor and keep America in your prayers this Christmas.