Global Sourcing Spotlight: The Myth of ‘Buying American’

Written by: Bob Duke on January 10, 2024

< Back

As I talk about global sourcing around the country, I often run into some resistance from good-intentioned people who want to do the right thing and buy American. It is a philosophy I can appreciate and respect. But one day, after having heard this argument again, I decided to investigate. I did some research to find out whether the things we assume are made in America actually are.

I know that "buying American" has been deeply ingrained in the American psyche for generations. It represents a sense of patriotism and loyalty to one's country, and it's often associated with the belief that purchasing products labeled as "Made in the USA" supports domestic industries and workers. However, this notion can be misleading and oversimplified. In reality, the global economy is far more interconnected than it appears, and many products labeled as American are, in fact, a blend of international components. This article explores 12 instances where you may think you're buying American but you’re not.

  1. Automobiles and global supply chains: When you buy a car bearing the logo of an American automaker, you might assume it's entirely made in the U.S. However, most vehicles produced by American car manufacturers incorporate parts and materials from around the world. Components like electronics, steel, and tires often come from various countries, making it challenging to define them as purely American.
  2. Fast food chains and international ingredients: Popular American fast-food chains often tout their American roots, but many of the ingredients used in their products are sourced globally. From beef imported from South America to spices and vegetables from various countries, the fast-food industry relies on a complex network of international suppliers.
  3. Clothing and global production: The fashion industry is notorious for its global supply chain. While some clothing brands may proudly label their products as "Made in the USA," many of the materials, fabrics, and even the labor involved may originate from different countries, such as China, Vietnam, or Bangladesh.
  4. Electronics are assembled abroad: When purchasing electronics like smartphones and laptops from well-known American brands, it's essential to recognize that most of these products are manufactured and assembled overseas, often in countries like China or Taiwan. The "Designed in California" label can be deceptive.
  5. American flags are foreign-made patriotism: Even the symbol of American patriotism, the American flag, is not immune to the myth. Many flags sold in the United States are manufactured in countries like China, despite their representation of American identity.
  6. Appliances have a global marketplace: Household appliances from American brands often contain parts or are fully manufactured abroad. For example, a refrigerator labeled as American may include compressors from Mexico, steel from Japan, and electronics from South Korea.
  7. Furniture with imported wood: The furniture industry is another area where the "Made in the USA" label can be deceiving. While some American furniture makers do use domestically sourced materials, others rely on imported wood and components.
  8. Pharmaceuticals have a global cure: The pharmaceutical industry is highly globalized. Many drugs and medications marketed as American products rely on raw materials, active ingredients, and even manufacturing processes that originate from various countries worldwide.
  9. Sports equipment is a worldwide game: Sporting goods like basketballs, footballs, and athletic shoes are often associated with American sports culture. However, many of these products are manufactured overseas, especially in countries like China and Vietnam.
  10. Craft beer includes global ingredients: Craft beer has seen a resurgence in popularity, with many consumers seeking out local and small-scale breweries. However, even in the craft beer industry, ingredients like hops and malt may be sourced from international markets.
  11. Organic produce with international labels: Organic food is often perceived as a wholesome, American-grown alternative. However, the global nature of the organic industry means that organic products may bear international certifications and could originate from various countries.
  12. American icons with outsourced merchandise: Even iconic American symbols and events, such as the Olympic Games or presidential campaigns, often rely on overseas merchandise. Flags, clothing, and memorabilia associated with these events may not always support domestic industries.

It’s a little disappointing isn’t it? The myth of "buying American" is deeply rooted in American culture and ideals of patriotism. However, in today's interconnected global economy, it is increasingly challenging to find entirely American-made products. While there are still many products genuinely manufactured in the United States, consumers should be aware of the complex supply chains that often transcend national borders.

Rather than blindly adhering to the idea of buying American, consumers can make more informed choices by researching the origins of products, supporting companies that prioritize domestic production, and advocating for transparent labeling practices. Ultimately, understanding the intricacies of global trade and production can help individuals make choices that align with their values and priorities while contributing to a more accurate representation of "buying American" in the 21st century.

This column was originally published by