Buy America ... or Else!

Posted by Fred Jandt
Mass Transit magazine editor

If you haven’t heard here, here, here, here or here that there is a little issue about a train that may or may not be built in Wisconsin.

Frankly, my position as editor of Mass Transit effectively recuses me from the debate as far as the public goes — anything I say will be seen as transit-biased. As I said last week, I can spout accurate figures until I am blue in the face and it won’t make any difference.

You can’t argue belief.

One part of the discussion I will tackle, though, is this notion of the contracted maker of Wisconsin’s new trains, Talgo, particularly the point about it being a European company. I should probably clarify that last point: non-U.S. company.

Yes, Talgo is a Spanish company. There’s no arguing that point. But what I don’t understand is the outcry about spending public dollars for non-U.S. companies. While I understand with the current economy the desire to spend money within the United States, I think the problem again is one of ignorance, not anti-transit.

To be blunt, if anyone should be immune to this argument, it’s transit. Just with the Buy American Act rules alone, public money for transit projects is going to be spent here in the United States. People not getting that is understandable, this plays into the ignorance part. Your average person isn’t going to know the laws governing a transit project. I get that.

There are two things I scratch my head about in this circumstance. First is the notion that just because a company doesn’t have its headquarters in the U.S. doesn’t mean it isn’t going to benefit the local economy. The Talgo trains for the Wisconsin line are going to be built in Milwaukee with local employees. It’s not like a boatload of Talgo employees are going to come across the Atlantic, build some trains and go back again.

And the other thing is why is transit always the one to get the knock on this? We have foreign companies operating with Federal dollars in almost every industry in this country. And we hear virtually nothing about the rest of them.

Better yet, how is the money in my wallet any different than the money in the DOT’s wallet? Isn’t it just a collective pool of all our wallets?

My point here is why are we suddenly worried about the nationality of a company when it is a group effort to purchase something rather than a single person?

Look at the cell phone you are using. How many of those are non-U.S. companies? Even T-Mobile, one of the big cellular carriers, is just the U.S. arm of Deutsche Telekom, a German company.

It’s odd that we hamstring our lawmakers’ purchasing abilities when we won’t do it to ourselves.

Heaven forbid we take away the personal freedom to buy our goods from any non-U.S. company no matter what the cost to our economy.

Don’t get me wrong I am not arguing against the Buy American Act, it’s a good rule and beneficial overall.

But that vocal minority out there hiding behind the anonymity of a screen name while denouncing non-U.S. companies should look cautiously around their glass houses.

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