The Naked Truth About Congressional Silliness

Congress has finally found the person responsible four our country’s prolonged economic malaise: fashion designer Ralph Lauren.

Lauren’s offense was fulfilling a contract to make the Team USA uniforms for the opening and closing ceremonies of the London Olympics in the most cost-effective and efficient manner possible – by having the garments produced in China.

In a fit of carefully constructed outrage, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid said the U.S. Olympic committee should “take all the uniforms, put them in a big pile and burn them and start all over again.” Although Democrats have yelped most loudly, congressional Republicans, including House Speaker John A. Boehner, have joined in condemning the uniforms. “You’d think they’d know better,” Boehner said.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., took the matter a step further, introducing a bill that would require the privately funded U.S. Olympic Committee to have all ceremonial uniforms “sewn or assembled in the United States.” I have no idea why Gillibrand thinks Congress has any right to tell the USOC how to get its uniforms.

Gillibrand and Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., also wrote a joint letter to the committee’s chairman, Lawrence Probst, saying it was “shocking and deeply disappointing” that he would allow the uniforms that will adorn our star athletes to be made in China when there are hard-working Americans clamoring to do that work.

Except, of course, there aren’t really so many Americans interested in textile work, especially not at the wages paid to laborers in other countries. Even if there were Americans who would work for similar pay, our minimum wage laws prohibit manufacturers from hiring them to do so. Meanwhile, U.S. factories that have implemented greater automation in order to compensate for higher labor costs struggle to find the skilled workers they need to run their new machines.

The Olympics may be an opportunity to showcase national prowess, but it is also an opportunity to celebrate internationalism. U.S. Olympians wearing U.S.-designed but foreign-made uniforms are actually an appropriate symbol of the global economy and of the United States’ place within that economy. Because he has the freedom to locate different parts of his business in the most logical places for them, Lauren has built a thriving company, with its headquarters and most of its highest-paying jobs in the U.S. In a statement, the U.S. Olympic Committee rightly called Ralph Lauren “an iconic American company” and said it was proud of the partnership.

Reid, Gillibrand and their fellow crusaders have shown little concern over the national origins of the U.S. Olympians’ actual competition gear, including leotards made by the German sports clothing manufacturer Adidas and shoes made by Nike, which has been widely criticized for using foreign factories accused of human rights violations. There also has been little discussion of the fact that the Olympic uniforms Ralph Lauren made in 2008 were also manufactured in China. Nevertheless, Ralph Lauren has said that, in 2014, every Ralph Lauren garment worn by the Winter Olympians will be stitched in the U.S. The USOC ought to start saving some extra cash to pay for those American-sewn uniforms.

In the meantime, Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., has suggested replacing the Ralph Lauren uniforms with new ones to be made in the U.S. by custom suit designer Hickey Freeman. The company has said it could make the uniforms in time for the games at its headquarters in Rochester, N.Y. According to Schumer, Hickey Freeman could fulfill the contract without “making any compromises cost-wise or fashion-wise” – except, of course, the cost compromise of ditching one set of perfectly good uniforms to start from scratch.

Reid, presiding over the “burner” camp, has said that if the Olympic competitors “have to wear nothing but a singlet that says USA on it, painted by hand, that is what they should wear.” To be sure of pleasing their elected representatives, Team USA might take this even further, protesting Lauren’s blunder by forgoing uniforms altogether and displaying only their made-in-the-U.S. bodies. Of course, then we would need to drop some members from the team. In 2008, at least 33 of the athletes representing the U.S. in Beijing were, like their uniforms, originally from other nations.

This political posturing over Olympic uniforms is silly, but that does not mean it is pointless. The folks who wrote the laws and set the policies that brought us to our current state are in no hurry to have voters reflect on their performance. Distraction is the name of the game. Hence the similarly motivated campaign of President Obama to make Mitt Romney’s circa 1999 income tax returns – from a period when he was in private life – the main topic of conversation.

For politicians who want to talk about anything but their own performance in office, any topic at all – even the national origins of Olympic costumes – will do just fine. Silliness is no problem.

About Larry M. Elkin 564 Articles

Affiliation: Palisades Hudson Financial Group

Larry M. Elkin, CPA, CFP®, has provided personal financial and tax counseling to a sophisticated client base since 1986. After six years with Arthur Andersen, where he was a senior manager for personal financial planning and family wealth planning, he founded his own firm in Hastings on Hudson, New York in 1992. That firm grew steadily and became the Palisades Hudson organization, which moved to Scarsdale, New York in 2002. The firm expanded to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in 2005, and to Atlanta, Georgia, in 2008.

Larry received his B.A. in journalism from the University of Montana in 1978, and his M.B.A. in accounting from New York University in 1986. Larry was a reporter and editor for The Associated Press from 1978 to 1986. He covered government, business and legal affairs for the wire service, with assignments in Helena, Montana; Albany, New York; Washington, D.C.; and New York City’s federal courts in Brooklyn and Manhattan.

Larry established the organization’s investment advisory business, which now manages more than $800 million, in 1997. As president of Palisades Hudson, Larry maintains individual professional relationships with many of the firm’s clients, who reside in more than 25 states from Maine to California as well as in several foreign countries. He is the author of Financial Self-Defense for Unmarried Couples (Currency Doubleday, 1995), which was the first comprehensive financial planning guide for unmarried couples. He also is the editor and publisher of Sentinel, a quarterly newsletter on personal financial planning.

Larry has written many Sentinel articles, including several that anticipated future events. In “The Economic Case Against Tobacco Stocks” (February 1995), he forecast that litigation losses would eventually undermine cigarette manufacturers’ financial position. He concluded in “Is This the Beginning Of The End?” (May 1998) that there was a better-than-even chance that estate taxes would be repealed by 2010, three years before Congress enacted legislation to repeal the tax in 2010. In “IRS Takes A Shot At Split-Dollar Life” (June 1996), Larry predicted that the IRS would be able to treat split dollar arrangements as below-market loans, which came to pass with new rules issued by the Service in 2001 and 2002.

More recently, Larry has addressed the causes and consequences of the “Panic of 2008″ in his Sentinel articles. In “Have We Learned Our Lending Lesson At Last” (October 2007) and “Mortgage Lending Lessons Remain Unlearned” (October 2008), Larry questioned whether or not America has learned any lessons from the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s. In addition, he offered some practical changes that should have been made to amend the situation. In “Take Advantage Of The Panic Of 2008” (January 2009), Larry offered ways to capitalize on the wealth of opportunity that the panic presented.

Larry served as president of the Estate Planning Council of New York City, Inc., in 2005-2006. In 2009 the Council presented Larry with its first-ever Lifetime Achievement Award, citing his service to the organization and “his tireless efforts in promoting our industry by word and by personal example as a consummate estate planning professional.” He is regularly interviewed by national and regional publications, and has made nearly 100 radio and television appearances.

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