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The Morality of Domestic Manufacturing

On a slow day several months ago, I wrote a post describing my love of traditional American clothing. Although it attracted some criticism for being pretentious, the post was intended to be gently self-mocking. I’d be delighted to see more of the Ivy League Look on the streets. But I don’t really think it matters to the fate of civilization.

But the horror in Bangladesh reminds me that there are moral reasons to prefer clothes manufactured using traditional methods in America or Western Europe to trash shipped in from low-wage countries. No one gets rich sewing jackets or cutting leather. But workers in what remains of the American garment industry are far more likely to earn a living wage in safe conditions than their competitors abroad.

That’s one of the reasons I like to buy from makers like Mercer and Sons, Alden, and Southwick, among others. Considerations of taste aside, I value the fact that their products are made by craftsmen in factories that have been located in the same New England towns for years, and sometimes generations.

I realize that these companies sell luxury products whose prices are out of reach for many. But the same is true of goods offered by big chains that rely on foreign sweatshops like the one that collapsed this week in Dhaka. So if you have the option (which is more likely when it comes to tailored clothing than basics like T-shirts) and can afford to spend a few more dollars, wouldn’t you rather buy something made in America? The Bangladesh disaster reminds me how much I would.

about the author

Samuel Goldman is an assistant professor of political science and director of the Loeb Institute for Religious Freedom at George Washington University. He earned a Ph.D. in political science from Harvard, where he has also taught writing. In addition to The American Conservative, Goldman’s work has appeared in The New Criterion, The Wall Street Journal, and Maximumrocknroll. Follow him on Twitter.

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