THE widening of the U.S. trade gap between imports and exports indicates some Americans still don't get the economic mess the country is in.
In May, the difference between the value of U.S. imports - including cars, computers, and clothing - and of its exports to foreign countries grew to $42.3 billion from $40.3 billion in May, an increase of nearly 5 percent. That was the largest trade gap since November, 2008, when the recession was still young.
Government protectionism is not the right response. The United States needs to respect global trade agreements and the logic behind them.
But buying American when feasible is self-interest. The U.S. unemployment rate last month was 9.5 percent. That does not count millions of underemployed part-time workers, or those who have dropped out of the job market in despair or to pursue more education as an alternative.
If Americans buy foreign goods instead of U.S.-made goods, then jobs are not created in the United States. How many consumers look at the label on an article to see whether it is made in the United States?
A related economic problem is the national debt, especially the amount of that debt held by foreign countries. China - from which an enormous amount of American imports come - as well as Japan, European Union nations, and Middle East oil producers all hold billions in U.S. debt.
Protectionism, as a concept, assumes that American producers must be coddled because they cannot compete effectively with foreign rivals. There is no way to test this proposition if American consumers are not prepared to try American products.
The Detroit Three automakers were slow to understand the need and appetite among U.S. consumers for fuel-efficient and alternate-fuel vehicles. They paid dearly for that lack of wisdom and now seem to get it. They need Americans to give their cars and trucks a chance.
The inability or unwillingness of many Americans to link their own buying habits to the crisis in U.S. employment and our country's foreign debt is stunning. This is an issue that we cannot afford not to understand.
Buying American can help save our economy - and perhaps your job.