In a great victory for freedom and democracy, the DOD has announced it will require all boot camp recruits to use their shoe allowance to buy only American shoes! And in a great victory for socialism, they'll only be able to buy one company's ugly government-subsidized shoes.
The deal is this: Recruits who enlist in the Navy, Army, and Air Force are given an athletic shoe allowance of about $80. Until recently, they could use it on whatever shoes worked best for them. But thanks to heavy congressional lobbying and knee-jerk patriotism, the DOD has okayed a new rule requiring the enlistees to buy American.
Sounds great—more money and more jobs for Murkans! How much? Roughly $180 million a year, by one estimate. Except there's only one firm that currently comes anywhere close to making a shoe entirely in America: New Balance. (And even they concede that "Made in the USA" doesn't mean what you think it means: "1 out of every 4 pairs of shoes we sold in the USA was made or assembled here. Where domestic value is at least 70%, we label our shoes "'Made in the USA.'")
In other words, the military just made a competitive bidding process into a no-bid, one-shoe-fits-all process. All to support "America."
Funny thing is, the military didn't want to do this, in part because "Narrowing the recruit's choice to one or two manufacturers, as they select a shoe for rigorous initial entry training will, 'limit the choices available and may result in more injuries,'" according to a DOD spokesman just two months ago. But politics interceded on New Balance's behalf, again.
If you've been in the military for any amount of time, you know New Balance has long gnashed its teeth on the ample gubmint teat. In addition to the footwear allowance, military recruits (and officer candidates) get issued go-fasters, running suits, and other gear that more often than not comes from the Massachusetts-based sneaker company.
It's no easy feat telling how much of New Balance's bottom line has been footed, so to speak, by Uncle Sam over the years, but it's a lot. A quick, not-at-all exhaustive search of the DOD's online contracting records lists:
- A $12 million contract for running shoes in 1997-98.
- A $12 million contract for running shoes in 1998-99.
- A $14 million add-on contract for Marine Corps running suits in 2008-09.
- A $7.3 million add-on contract for more Marine Corps running suits in 2009.
New Balance is a featured vendor on U.S. base exchanges. Its shoes are part of the Navy's exercise uniform. It makes the Air Force's marathon running shorts (and gets glowing base articles written about them for free). It outfits military triathletes. It makes the Coast Guard running shoe. Here's another $24 million in recent contracts New Balance got from the DOD and Homeland Security. Here's part of its military apparel collection.
All of which suggests that a goodly amount of New Balance's annual shareholder revenue is provided by you, the taxpayer. (A fair amount of that revenue also goes into political contributions by New Balance—almost $1.3 million in the last two years alone, almost all of it to Republican PACS and candidates... which is pretty weird for a company based in America's bluest state, unless you're courting House leaders and senior military-committee members like John Boehner and John McCain.)
The value of New Balance's U.S. government relationship goes much farther than its DOD contracts. The company has long based its marketing to civilians on its "made in the USA" and military-friendly reputation—which on balance seems like a good thing. But is one shoe really the best fit for the feet of 2 million or so active and reserve military members in America? Isn't competition supposed to be an American value?
The answer, of course, is: It doesn't frickin' matter now. You will buy New Balance, recruit. Now, go defend American freedom. Freedom to buy what you're told to.
[Image via New Balance]