Okay, I admit it. As of late, this “Made In The USA” series has been a little bourgeois. And the items that I have coming up won’t do much to address the criticism that’s been repeated by our readers again and again: namely, that this obsession with American-made products is really just another way to spend too much for things, the same way that the “foodie revolution” occurred because you have all these people in cities earning $250,000 a year who literally don’t have enough room in their apartments for a second bicycle but who still want to indulge in copious displays of economic well-being.
To counter this unfortunate trend of $175 extension cords and the like, I present to you: Kirkland Signature Socks. I paid $8.95 for these at Costco a while back. The best way I could think of to torture-test them was simple: use them for a day at work, then an evening at the skatepark, then another day at work, then 35 minutes on the elliptical machine. That’s not really equivalent to a year’s worth of hard use or anything like that, but it’s enough to cause visible wear in the overseas-made stuff you get from Wal-Mart. As part of this comparison, I would then evaluate the Kirkland socks against my limited-run, American-made Flint&Tinder socks, to see which set was better.
Surprise: The Kirkland Signature socks appear to be just as good as the F&T socks that cost literally ten times as much. But, as with everything, there’s a catch.
That “catch” is that you’ll need to be a Costco member in order to get these socks cheap. If you’re not, you’ll have to pay a bit more — $14.08, to be precise. Not to worry. These socks are still a deal at $2.30 a pair.
Costco, of course, is the place where rich people pay less money to buy stuff, because they have the ability to purchase in bulk against future needs and because their budget allows them to buy a membership with no tangible or immediate benefit. Which reminds me of a sad story. My former girlfriend, the inimitable Vodka McBigbra, had lived much of her life on the proverbial wrong side of the tracks, often living from week to week on the money she could earn selling cars or dancing in clubs. About three months after she moved in with me, I discovered by random chance that she was taking the grocery money I was giving her and driving all the way across town to the scummy northeast side of Columbus to buy food and cleaning supplies. I should have realized it sooner than that — I didn’t recognize a single brand on anything she brought home — but I’m just not much of a quotidian observer.
When I called her on the carpet about this, she explained that she was doing it to save us money. So I packed her into the lime-green S5 and we went over to the “rich folks” grocery store down the street. The look on her face when she realized that everything cost less in the suburbs caused me to spend three days in a depressive spiral. How could she not have known that the “dollar stores” in lower-income areas prey on people who have no options and no ability to travel?
Danger Girl, naturally, arrived at my home with her longtime-member Costco card clutched in her sinister* hand. She never pays too much for anything; she knows how to price-shop and how to calculate volume discounts and how to consider the present value of a giant container animal-cracker container versus the certainty that I will eat them all in short order. You cannot fool her the way that society fooled Vodka for twenty years.
Over at the dollar stores, socks cost more than they do at Costco. They aren’t nearly as good. And it’s a sharp reminder that the invisible hand of the market is truly beyond such considerations as ethics or humanity. In the end, the market judges you on just one thing: your ability to do better somewhere else. If you have that, then you have options. If you don’t, then you will pay your money and take your chances. You know what would be a true social good? Figuring out a way to open a Costco for the working poor. Maybe give them a free membership and let them split up those enormous pallets of toothpaste or the big sealed containers of fresh mozzarella. But what would it show them in the long run, other than to confirm what they’ve always believed: that the grass really is greener on the lawns of the people to whom God has given a taste for long-term thinking?
*in the classical sense; she is left-handed.