The slogan “Made in the U.S.A.” is far more than a patriotic platitude. It’s a rallying cry for the rejuvenation of the middle class.
Miller, a true Everyman, traveled across the country for 30 days to learn why buying and making goods locally matters. He met with passionate U.S.-based entrepreneurs and economists to absorb the cold realities facing the modern American worker.
It’s a global economy we live in, and even a wizened tailor who specializes in hand-crafted suits relies on materials produced overseas.
That doesn’t mean Americans are doomed to watch more of their production get outsourced. The film tells us today’s work force must push the value of home-grown products, create new ways to keep costs down and make sure locally produced items reinforce the U.S.A. brand that helped forge the country’s economic engine.
Miller adopts a less humorous Michael Moore pose for the film, allowing himself to be the vehicle which tells us both the good and bad news about the current economy. We follow him on the road, snarfing down American-made hamburgers and showering in a U.S.A. made stall.
That human touch balances out some of the wonkier material, like the legacy of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and how stateside businesses can compete with overseas operations. There are advantages to hiring local folks to get the job done, even if it doesn’t appear to be the case at first blush. We meet a Web developer who learned the hard way that using cheap overseas labor can lead to a vastly inferior product.
The business leaders on screen almost all say that American consumers are more aware these days about where a product comes from–and how happy they are to buy American.
Quality matters, both then and now. And, if America wants to enjoy an economic rebirth, it will come in part thanks to well-constructed products that compete with less expensive models made around the globe. Some people may still opt for the cheaper models, but a few bad experiences could leave them craving that Made in the U.S.A. stamp of approval.
Others interviewed for the documentary include filmmaker Don Handfield (Touchback) who laments how his industry takes ideas from other countries rather than creating more original, compelling fare.
Business professor Peter Ricchiuti explains that the shrinking middle class is a key reason why the current economic revival has been so muted.
“These manufacturing jobs help build the middle class,” Ricchiuti says, adding that as more gigs go overseas the weaker our middle class becomes.
Such business lectures give context to the big picture, but it’s how Miller bonds with the entrepreneurs along the way that give Made in the U.S.A. its heart and purpose.
The same can be said for Miller, who knows his film isn’t guaranteed a smooth reception no matter how noble his intentions. That didn’t scare him away from the project.
“There’s something to be said, even in failure, about people that go for their dreams,” he says of both himself and the people he met during those 30 days.