Weber Gets Cheap Lesson

Monday, March 05, 2012

A company beloved by backyard barbecuers has been bitten by the very cause it self-destructively supports. Robert X. Cringely reports that Weber-Stephen Products LLC, which manufactures grills and other barbecue equipment, is the target of a class action suit because the company had, for a time, included a foreign-made valve on one of its grills. The product was thus no longer (completely) "Made in America", contrary to its label. Interestingly, Weber stopped using the part when its quality was found to have suffered. Cringely quotes a friend on the circumstances:

My charcoal grill has a propane starter.  I put in the charcoal, turn a knob, push a button, and 10 minutes later my charcoal is lit.  It is very nice.  My grill uses the small 14 oz propane bottles.  One summer I noticed my bottles were running out too fast.  There was a small leak in the control valve.  Weber sent me a new valve, for free.  It was a different type and design of valve.  They sent me some other parts to fit it to my grill properly.  One of the makers of their valves had sent their production overseas and the quality was suffering. Weber found another domestic maker of valves and had redesigned their products to use them. You know me, I have an insatiable curiosity.  I examined the old, leaking propane valve from my grill.  I did some Google'ing and found the manufacturer.  Most of their products go into small propane heating products, like the stoves in RV's.  Weber was smart enough to figure out this supplier was now making lower quality products. 
Setting aside the question of the propriety of truth-in-advertising laws, which strike me as unnecessary since fraud is already a crime, it is ironic that Weber would not be in trouble now had it not pandered to the "Buy American" brigade in the first place.

Brigade? Yes. As Harry Binswanger noted long ago in his essay, "'Buy American' Is Un-American":
Collectivism reflects the notion that life is "a zero sum game," that we live in a dog-eat-dog world, where one man's gain is another man's loss. On this premise, everyone has to cling to his own herd and fight all the other herds for a share of a fixed, static, supply of goods. And that is exactly the premise of the "Buy American" campaign. "It's Japan or us," is the implication. If Japan is getting richer, then we must be getting poorer.

But individualism recognizes that wealth is produced, not merely appropriated, and that man's rise from the cave to the skyscraper demonstrates that life is not a zero-sum game -- not where men are free to seek progress.


The patriotic advocates of buying American would be shocked to learn that the economic theory underlying their viewpoint is Marxism. In describing the influx of Japanese products and investment, they don't use the Marxist terminology of "imperialism" and "exploitation," but the basic idea is the same: capitalistic acts are destructive and free markets will impoverish you. It's the same anti-capitalist nonsense whether it is used by leftists to attack the United States for its commerce with Latin America or by supposed patriots to attack Japan for its commerce with the United States.
There was nothing inherently wrong in Weber's prior use of a foreign-manufactured valve. In fact, had quality remained high, its use in the grills would have saved its customers money. On top of that, Weber switched suppliers when the valve was foud to be of low quality. The folks at Weber acted the part of true capitalists regarding their components, but, through labeling, paid homage to Marxism (and betrayed themselves). The company is now getting a taste of what it asked for: the government penalizing it for how it makes its own grills.

Cringley ends his blog posting with a shrug. "I don’t have a solution to offer here."

Indeed, the problem of massive government interference in our economy, including advertising regulations and the kinds of trade restrictions many people misguidedly advocate out of patriotism, is huge, and too big for any one man to solve. But one way to start would be for manufacturers like Weber to stop voicing support for ideas that are inimical to its ability to use the best parts and equipment possible for its bottom line and its customers.

Weber's getting in trouble for a label, but that's actually a cheap lesson: Restictions of all kinds on trade -- both across borders and within our own country -- are among the biggest enemies to businesses like Weber and to the prosperity of indivdual Americans alike.

-- CAV

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