Monday, September 6, 2010

Made in America

“I have come to a resolution myself as I hope every good citizen will, never again to purchase any article of foreign manufacture which can be had of American make be the difference of price what it may” - Thomas Jefferson

At a time when we are losing manufacturing jobs in this country, we should be doing everything we can to help our manufacturers stay competitive. They are the backbone of our economy. - Debbie Stabenow

This is my ode to the America worker on Labor Day.

Remember the “Made in America” mantra that epitomized our once mighty manufacturing sector. I wonder today if there are any products left to put the Made in America tag on. While this is definitely an ode to manufacturing in this country, it is also an indictment against those who have reduced the standard of living for the middle-class so that they are forced to purchase inferior products at reduced prices. As the manufacturing base of this country has continued to shrink I believe there is a direct correlation to the shrinking middle-class.

From the beginning of our Republic the founding fathers realized that it was imperative for a nation to be able to provide for the needs of its citizenry internally. The welfare of a nation and its citizens would be directly influenced by that nation’s ability to provide not only goods but also subsistence or employment to its citizens. Alexander Hamilton put it this way:

Not only the wealth, but the independence and security of a country, appear to be materially connected with the prosperity of manufactures. Every nation … ought to endeavor to possess within itself all the essentials of a national supply. These comprise the means of subsistence, habitation, clothing and defense. - Alexander Hamilton

There are those who have tried to put forward a new dynamic over the last few decades that say outsourcing manufacturing and other jobs overseas is a natural outgrowth of our new global economy and the evolution of the post-industrial age. While this philosophy has served the corporations and the investment class very well it has left the middle-class in shambles. Since the off-shoring of jobs began in the 1970’s we have lost millions of jobs that were supposed to be replaced with cleaner, better jobs. Despite their rosy prognosis our economy has not been able to keep pace with creating new jobs that provide livable wages to these displaced workers. Instead what we have been given is more service oriented jobs that tend to be low-paying and many without benefits. So we have replaced good paying manufacturing jobs that provided a pathway to the middle-class with these low wage nowhere jobs that are providing a pathway to poverty or the working poor.

We are constantly being bombarded with the images of folks saving money at these big box retailers. What is not being shown in those commercials are all of the small businesses in towns all over the country who will not be able to open businesses or who has had to close businesses. These small business owners will not be able to return their profits to their local economies. What we don’t see in those commercials are the inferior quality of the products we’re being sold or the sucking sound as our trade deficit with China and other Asian countries continues to rise. While their standard of living improves ours declines. Researchers are beginning to believe that our economy can now perform at capacity using 25% fewer workers. That means we currently have a surplus of workers due to increases in our productivity. Yet while the American workers productivity has continued rise their wages have remained flat for almost a decade. With the wing-nuts assault not only on the middle-class but also against the unemployed how will our society deal with such a large portion of our fellow citizens not engaged in our economy?

Consider the depths of our new dependency. Imports, 4 percent of GDP for the first 70 years of the 20th century, are near 15 percent now, and 30 percent of the manufactures we consume. Pat Choate, author of Agents of Influence, gives the following levels of U.S. dependency on foreign suppliers for critical goods:

Medicines and pharmaceuticals: 72 percent
Metalworking machinery: 51 percent
Engines and power equipment: 56 percent
Computer equipment: 70 percent
Communications equipment: 67 percent
Semiconductors and electronics: 64 percent

There are enormous challenges facing this nation and one of the greatest is reestablishing our ability to manufacturing and produce things. Has our society been better served by dismantling our manufacturing sectors, by off-shoring jobs, or by removing the incentives for small business development? With our march into the future and our drive towards technology is it inevitable that we will continue to push so many of our neighbors into economic peril? Some would have us believe that we don’t need to produce anything that we will retool our workforce and reeducate our workers into more technical positions. I personally don’t consider just the economics of manufacturing as reason to reestablish it. I believe that there are some intrinsic values gained for a society that creates and builds things. It gives the society a sense of accomplishment and the people a sense of pride. The time has come for us as a nation to stop allowing the folks who have sought to gut our middle-class for their short-term profit and against our long-term benefit.

“As long as our culture continues to fawn over its downward-aspiring lowest common denominators, the United States will remain a social and political punch line. As long as we continue tracking the every deed and fart of the Paris Hiltons and Kevin Federlines among us, we will continue to come out sixteenth best with regard to producing and introducing to the human race things of true substance worth appreciating for their aesthetic ingenuity.” - Anthony Beal

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