Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Manufacturing Sector News - the Good and the Bad

Once upon a time in a far away land, there was a sector of the economy that thrived. Stable and less prone to dramatic economic fluctuations, this sector was driven by the needs of a modern society. People at that time clamored for products that made their lives easier, increased family time and reduced backbreaking labor. This clamoring was met by craftsmen who knew how to make the things that people wanted.

These craftsmen and their mighty machines also provided employment for others who weren't schooled in the industrial arts, but whose contributions and skills were necessary for production of the modern products: truck drivers, welders, painters, inspectors, accountants, salesmen and others. College degrees weren't required. Skills were passed along from generation to generation through apprenticeships formal and informal.

Through innovation, this sector brought the human race to unprecedented wealth and health. Mortality rates went down as life expectancies rose. New materials and new ways of making things were developed and refined to the point that ideas previously confined to literature were made real within the lifetimes of many: self-powered vehicles, air flight and eventually even space flight became common. Farm production grew to previously unheard of rates, providing more food for more people at less cost. Advances also came to the fields of medicine, relieving or minimizing suffering and eliminating previous scourges.

This was the success of manufacturing. The free market obeyed easily observable and simple rules. Products that were initially expensive came down in price as production rates increased. America enjoyed a standard of living that was the envy of the world.

It was doomed to be short-lived, however. In the late twentieth century, short-sighted politicians with little experience in the business world decided that America would move away from making things and toward an economy that had formerly been on the fringes, depending on disposable income to survive. Thus was born the misguided notion that an entire nation could support itself by relying on service instead of hardware. Legislation was introduced that began to dismantle the manufacturing sector and distribute it among other countries with far lower standards of living and thus lower wages. Lofty ideas of a worldwide economy were the starry-eyed dream of out of touch bureaucrats who envisioned themselves in control of the system.

Fast-forward to today and our current deep recession. The world economy is on the brink of collapse brought on by its' own weight. Different cultures don't all share the same enthusiasm for work that Americans do, despite the insistence of academics who still advance the false notion that all cultures are equal and equally good. Such segmentation of labor has now enabled China to surpass the US in manufacturing output.

This may have an unintended side effect as people who have been unemployed in the service sector are rediscovering the joy and satisfaction of working with their hands. If the hugely unpopular Cap-and-Tax bill passes during the lame-duck session of Congress after this Novembers' elections, artificially high energy costs could accelerate this move as shipping becomes prohibitively expensive. Until that bill is repealed, that is.

A return to the type of economy that raised the US to the status of the worlds' leader can only mean good things for us. The level and amount of new items is accelerating along with the demand. People the world over still want the products that make modern life easier and simpler, providing more time to spend with family and friends. We could begin to make those items again. There is nothing stopping us, once we regain control of Washington and install politicians who understand and respect the average American and his or her hopes and dreams of a family, a house, and a secure and free future for their children.

When this happens, be prepared for another period of truly unprecedented improvement in the human condition, led once again by America.

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