We are a nation of ideals, but also of material things. We are what we buy, we are what we own.

We seldom look closely at what we've chosen to own.For most of us, the automobile is our most expensive possession. As time goes on, fewer and fewer of us drive Detroit iron. We choose Toyotas and Nissans, Subarus and Hyundais, BMWs and Peugeots. Today almost a third of Americans drive cars from abroad.

Our stereo systems come from the same faraway places. Our tuners, our graphic equalizers, our amplifiers; almost all from afar. In 1970, 90 percent of all phonographs sold within our borders were made in America. Today, it is 1 percent. The names we associate with sound are foreign names - Panasonic and Sony; Aiwa and Technics.

We are what we own.

We awake in the morning to the alarm of clock radios made in Singapore. We shave with recharge-able shavers from Japan. We open food with cordless can-openers from Hong Kong, heat breakfast in microwave ovens made in Korea.

They produce, we consume.

Next to the car, there is perhaps one other product we see as central to our lives - the color television.

Fifteen years ago, almost all U.S.-sold color TVs were made in America. Today, it is less than 10 percent. We have chosen Hitachi and Sony over Zenith. We have chosen to build our nests with foreign products. What do our surroundings say about ourselves?

At work, we use calculators made by Casio, handheld dictation machines made in Japan. And there is the typewriter. Smith-Corona, an old American name, now makes many of its electronic machines in Singapore. And there has been another change. Smith-Corona itself is now British.

Back at home, during our leisure, we tinker with handtools made in Mexico and Taiwan. We brew coffee in machines from Europe. Our children play with toys from Hong Kong or China.

In 1970, U.S. manufacturing made 99 percent of all telephones sold in America. Today, it is under 25 percent. Look closely at the set in your own household. Its AT&T label is deceiving. It is likely to be made by a company like Hitachi, or a contractor in China. But just as often, it is not that we're deceived, it's that we consciously reach for the name Panasonic, or Sony.

Our choices, ourselves.

Even the products of the future, the products America is supposed to lead in, are too often coming from abroad. Just as we began to choose foreign cars 15 years ago, we are beginning to choose foreign computers today.

Then there is another phenomenon - the buying of American companies. Increasingly, even the most classic of American names are taking on a foreign cast.

Burger King is owned by Britain. So are Green Giant foods. TV Guide is owned by Australia. So is Seventeen magazine. Bloomingdales is owned by Canada. So is Ann Taylor and Jordan Marsh. Firestone is owned by Japan; PGA golf clubs by Britain; Carnation foods by the Swiss.

Americans have been called the most sophisticated consumers on Earth. We buy by quality; that is our central prejudice.

But slowly, over these past 15 years, we have taken on a second prejudice. We've begun to assume that foreign is best. In our visits to stores and showrooms, we've begun to consciously choose Japan, Korea, Germany. At the least, we make little effort to seek out American.

And our trade deficit grows. And our economy weakens. Much of it is because some of our companies have not kept up. But much of it has to do with ourselves.

We are what we buy, we are what we own.

It is time to ask ourselves: What have we chosen to own?

And at what price?