Representative Government Needs Effort

Posted On: 10/2/2019

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Alicia Lavay

The 2019 National Automatic Merchandising Association Fly-In brought some 300 industry members and NAMA officials together in Washington to talk with their elected officials and staffs, and the news media. The event, headquartered at The Fairmont Hotel, offered operators, suppliers and manufacturers the opportunity to visit the offices of their U.S. Senators and Representatives and discuss the effects of federal legislation and regulation on the industry with people who actually can do something about it.

This year, the NAMA delegates held more than 170 meetings, nearly 50 of which were with Members of Congress or Senators directly.  

The latest media reports would have us believe that “the world has gone to hell in a handbasket.” I may be exaggerating a bit, but I am on point to say that China’s economic policies, along with mass shootings in El Paso, TX and Dayton, OH, are making people nervous. In the short term, this creates uncertainty and volatility in financial markets, with knock-on effects for everyone trying to sell something. Of course, a trade war is never good for anyone, and fear is a natural reaction when feeling undefended and vulnerable to unpredictable swings in prices and dreadful acts of gun violence. To add to this anxiety, in the aftermath of the recent tragedies, several prominent politicians have – yet again – smeared “violent video games” as a cause of these senseless acts.

None of this is good for the economy or our industry in the short term. The escalating trade war causes problems for many U.S. industries such as retailers that buy Chinese goods — they may not be able to pass the whole tariff cost on to consumers, and consumers may buy less because prices go up and the economy is weaker. U.S. manufacturers face a double-edged sword – some will benefit from a protective tariff when selling to the domestic market (the tariff reduces competition), but others (or even the same ones) will have greater difficulty exporting goods in the face of a retaliatory tariff. Could this sort of alarming news, under an administration perceived as unpredictable, create a large enough problem to push the U.S. into a more or less severe economic slump?

This uncertainty can retard economic growth, if enough people become anxious enough about the future. But I think that seeing the big picture requires you to look at the past and present too. What has actually changed, and how might it impact our industry? How can we be proactive, working to offset predictable problems?

One way to be prepared is to get involved with our industry associations. Most of them were organized in the face of an impending threat, with the purpose of organizing a consistent response and amplifying the voices of individual members. As a case in point, AAMA has been active in communicating the impact of tariffs on manufacturers who supply everything from plush toys and other prizes for redemption counters to electronic amusements and accessories that incorporate imported parts (as nearly everything does, nowadays). Just the threat of a “trade war” has made prices increase, and AAMA recognized the importance of taking a proactive stance to educate lawmakers in the downside of using tariffs as blunt instruments in that conflict.

Another area of concern is a growing movement by some retailers to open stores that will not accept cash, instead requiring shoppers to use card-based or mobile payments. This impacts everyone because it restricts consumer freedom and threatens privacy, and disproportionately effects “unbanked” citizens, of whom there are many. They are our customers too. Our associations continue to work together on these issues, and have maintained a vocal presence on Capitol Hill in recent months to drive home their messages to educate and gain the support of Congress.

The time is right to stop complaining about the bad effect of current developments on our future prospects, and to start working together  to combat those developments. It’s time to get involved. It is essential for our voices to be  heard, and to show our representatives that our industry brings jobs and dollars, refreshment and recreation to communities across America.

We are mostly made up of small businesses; both adverse government action and advocacy to remedy it cost us more than they do large corporations. Advocacy can become toxic when it’s used by enormously wealthy companies to tilt the playing-field against their smaller competitors. But there’s strength in numbers. United we stand, divided we fall.