President Puts American Manufacturing Front And Center In State Of The Union

President Obama put American manufacturing literally at the front and center of his State of the Union speech. American manufacturing was at the front of the speech and at the center of a “blueprint” for bringing back jobs and strengthening our economy. By placing manufacturing front and center he has taken this conversation further than any President before him.
There is good reason to cheer, but also good reason to ask for even more. He outlined steps to stop the outsourcing and start the insourcing, but there is not yet a comprehensive, overall government strategy to fix trade and capture the industries of the future.

The Speech

Right up front the President talked about building “an America that attracts a new generation of high-tech manufacturing and high-paying jobs.” Then,

“Tonight, I want to speak about how we move forward and lay out a blueprint for an economy that’s built to last, an economy built on American manufacturing, American energy, skills for American workers, and a renewal of American values.
This blueprint begins with American manufacturing.”

Bob Borosage, in The Obama State of the Union: A Progressive View,

On the economy, the speech led with more discussion of manufacturing than anyone has heard in years. The president wanted and deserved credit for saving Detroit – a key to his campaign in the Midwest – and wanted to highlight the uptick in manufacturing jobs and “insourcing,” the movement of some jobs back to the US.
Again, his agenda focused on mostly symbolic measures of populist appeal. In addition to the tax on multinationals, he promised a new trade enforcement effort to challenge China and others who trample global trade rules. With Romney promising to cite China for currency violation on day one if elected, the administration seems likely to finally challenge China, at least symbolically.

Steps, But Not An Overall Picture

The President outlined steps to stop the outsourcing and start the insourcing. There are things that the Congress can do right now. These include but are not limited to,

  • Eliminate existing tax deductions for outsourcing
  • Big multinational corporations should pay a minimum tax
  • Use some of the money this brings in to cover the expenses of bringing jobs home
  • Pass tax cuts for manufacturing here
  • A trade enforcement unit to look at bringing cases against countries like China that cheat, use piracy, give subsidies
  • Steps to train skilled workers, with a national commitment to train 2 million with skills that will lead to a job
  • Do something about the maze of confusing training programs
  • Turn our unemployment system into a reemployment system
  • Instead of bashing teachers and laying them off, give schools resources to keep good teachers
  • Reduce the cost of college. Stop student loan interest rates from doubling in July. Condition federal assistance on lowering tuition.

This “blueprint” has a number of good, solid steps that will help stop the outsourcing and start the insourcing. But it is not a comprehensive national industrial/economic strategy that addresses the overall picture of all of the components of a national manufacturing ecosystem. To begin to address this, the President has established a cabinet-level Office of Manufacturing Policy to coordinate efforts of various government agencies.
Coordinating the efforts of various government agencies to help American exports is important, but this does not address the development of a national plan, like other countries have. We need this, too. A national plan would seek to cover all the elements of a healthy “industrial commons” — meaning all of the components of a healthy manufacturing ecosystem. These include government efforts to make sure the components are ready, funded and functioning:

  • The necessary educational components to provide people ready to do all of the jobs an industry requires;
  • The financing to build factories and obtain inventory;
  • The modern infrastructure of roads, electrical power, internet, posts and airports, to support the companies;
  • Trade and tax policies to help these companies locate and export;
  • R&D facilities and researchers for innovation and design;
  • Local suppliers to support the companies;
  • Legal structures and fully-funded and staffed court systems to support the industry;
  • The entire “chain of experience” located in an area, often around a “cluster” of businesses, required for an industry to develop and thrive.

Countries like China are engaged in national efforts to get all of these components lined up to capture industries like the new green energy revolution that is taking place. China is working to capture solar and wind energy manufacturing. They are working to capture high-speed rail manufacturing. The news about the reasons Apple and other high-tech manufactures have had to locate in China show how hard China has worked to capture that industry — and not without quite a bit of cheating that we are not stopping.
Our competitors are engaging in national efforts to line up all of these components to capture other new industries as they emerge. We are not.

Ideology Holds Us Back From Competing

This list of components of a national industrial/economic policy describes the kind of national effort that competitors like China are engaged in, and is the reason they are bringing in such a share of new industrial growth. To address this we have to see ourselves as a country, as China does, mutually supporting each other, to be able to embark on an undertaking like this. We have to abandon the “each of us on our own” and selfish, “in it only for ourselves” mentality that has set us apart, preventing national government efforts like other countries engage in.
Some of us hold on to an ideological fantasy that government is only in the way, but other countries do not. So the result is that we keep sending our companies out on their own against national systems. Even our largest companies cannot compete on their own against countries with national efforts to put all of these components in place. It takes a unified government effort.
We have to move to a “we are in this together” understanding of ourselves and our country if we want to bring back the shared prosperity we used to have, and can have again.
Update – White House fact sheet: FACT SHEET: President Obama’s Blueprint to Support U.S. Manufacturing Jobs, Discourage Outsourcing, and Encourage Insourcing
This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.
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America Needs An Industrial Policy

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.
Over the weekend Daily Kos ran a front-page story, America needs an industrial policy, making the point that Germany is doing well because their government understands that a national policy of promoting manufacturing drives the economy and jobs.

There is a simple reason why Germany manufactures so many high-end goods, from the best watches to the finest grand pianos, all the way up to Porsches and highly complicated precision instruments: it is the policy of the German government.
Well, it isn’t exactly a policy. It is more of a framework. Germany’s method of creating wealth is straightforward: 1. Produce a highly educated workforce. 2. Have that workforce create and make advanced, precision things for high wages. 3. Export the things at a high price and then re-invest that money back into item 1. This is why Germany is the Number 2 exporter in the world despite having only 27 percent of America’s population and only 6 percent of Number 1 exporter China. The Germans realize they cannot beat either China or India based on cost. Advanced nations can’t compete on cost. America could bust all the unions, get rid of the minimum wage, eliminate all social benefits and taxation and we would still lose jobs to low-wage nations. Germany decided to avoid going down the same path of downward spiral among its middle class that we are in. Instead, they invest in their people and in research.

Investing In People And Research Pays Off
As the Daily Kos story points out, Germany invests in their people and research. “America could bust all the unions, get rid of the minimum wage, eliminate all social benefits and taxation and we would still lose jobs to low-wage nations.” And the results are there for all to see. Germany is recovering faster from the economic downturn with jobs returning. Manufacturing and exports lead the way.
Over the last 30 years, and the last 10 years in particular, America has conducted an experiment in letting “the markets” decide. Markets are a one-dollar-one-vote system, and of course those with the most dollars to begin with ended up deciding that they should be the primary beneficiaries from this experiment. Namely, them. Wall Street’s share of profits jumped from around 16% to around 40% of all profits in the economy.
The “markets” experiment has failed for the rest of us. It is time for We, the People to realize that our government is us, and we need it to make decisions for us. Markets mean one-dollar-one-vote. When dollars decide those with the most dollars will decide to do things that benefit them. Democracy means one-person-one-vote, and that means making decisions that benefit We, the People. Our government – We, the People – must start deciding things that work for We, the People and not those who already have the most of everything. That means developing an industrial policy that invests in We, the People to pull us out of the mess that one-dollar-one-vote has put us in.
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Germany’s Economy Shows Government “Interference” Works

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture as part of the Making It In America project. I am a Fellow with CAF.
Can we compete with China’s wages? Does government interference and regulation hold us back? Are our unions keeping us from being competitive? Do we need to lower our standard of living in a race to the bottom? You might be surprised to learn that Germany pays higher wages, has strong unions, has much more government involvement and is doing better as a result. Conclusion: our wages, unions and government are not the problem, they are the solution.
In July I wrote about something Harold Meyerson wrote about Germany and China and manufacturing and recession.

Germany is NOT a low-wage country. But they weathered the recession. They value manufacturing and have national policies to bolster their manufacturers.

Today I want to write about something Harold Meyerson wrote about Germany and manufacturing and the recession. In Save the economy by keeping jobs at home, Meyerson writes,

Hourly manufacturing compensation (wages plus benefits) was $48 in Germany in 2008 – the most recent year surveyed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics – while it was $32 in the United States. Yet Germany is an export giant, while we are the colossus of imports.

Please go read Meyerson’s entire piece.
In Germany, workers also get six weeks vacation – by law, federally mandated, a right. They get health care, university, child care and pensions and as a result they have higher productivity. In Germany, the government requires worker representatives to hold seats on the boards of directors of companies, depending on the number of workers. Government-funded research and vocational training, and policies to retain skilled workers bring another competitive advantage. Germany values manufacturing and the government has an industrial policy. The government is currently helping promote green manufacturing, for example.
The result of all this government interference is that Germany’s export-oriented manufacturing economy recovered from the recession and is doing OK, and their workers are paid well and have great benefits.
Socialism?
Our government is supposed to be of, by and for the people. But today in the U.S. it is considered “socialistic” to talk about these things because it violates the dominant conservative “free market” ideology that is designed to enrich a few at the expense of the rest of us. If we try to talk about a national industrial/economic policy, it is derided with such slogans as “government interference” or “picking winners and losers.” If the discussion is allowed it very quickly will move to the dominance of fossil fuels and the other industries that are holding us back but have a lock on influence over the government. If we talk about taking the burden of health care off of the people and businesses, the giant insurance companies beat it back, calling it “socialized medicine,” to keep us from doing something about how their profits are draining the rest of the economy. And imagine the furor that would result if anyone even suggested mandating worker representatives on boards of directors so the companies take the interests of workers and communities into account!
Our adherence to conservative free-market ideology is clearly holding our country back. The ideology is designed to transfer wealth from the public to a very few, and hold the lead of the already-dominant. This is killing market innovation and it is destroying our competitiveness and standard of living. We should be looking at what works for the country instead of what keeps the few at the top at the top.
Just Who Is Interfering With Our System?
We need to develop a national economic/industrial policy to help us with our competitive position relative to the rest of the world. We need Medicare-For-All to lower the burden on our people and companies. We need to reorient our labor policies to bring better wages and benefits to our people. We need to restore a level playing field on which innovative smaller companies can complete with the giants—who are interfering with the system while complaining that the attempts by We, the People to stop them are interfering with our system.
Later we can talk about whether China’s government interferes with its businesses, and how their economic growth is doing compared to ours.
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Govt Spending: JOBS Today, Payoffs For Years To Come

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture as part of the Making It In America project. I am a Fellow with CAF.
The commute between Baltimore and DC is the 4th-most congested route in the country. But a high-speed rail line would make this trip an 18-minute breeze (and also free up some of that congestion). They have been talking about building this rail line since 1994. Meanwhile other countries have been doing.
Japan, Europe and now China are known for their efficient, high-speed rail transportation systems.

By 2012, just four years after it began its first high-speed passenger service, China will have more high-speed train tracks than the rest of the world combined.

Why is China inveswting so heavily in high-speed rail infrastructure? What does this investment bring to China?

…designed to boost exports and revolutionize the flow of people and goods in the world’s fastest-rising economic powerhouses.
“Just like our investment in the highway system in the 1950s and the rail system in the late 1800s, this will pay huge dividends for China to years to come,”

Governement spending pays dividends for years to come
That’s right. Government spending is investment that pays off. It pays off in jobs today, and it pays dividends for years to come. As I wrote the other day in China’s Stimulus Payoffbecause China’s government has invested heavily internally in high-speed rail, China is now in a position to bid on our own high-speed rail projects.
Japan also invested heavily in high-speed rail, and they are also bidding on our (talked about) rail projects. In the news: LaHood Rides 502 KPH Maglev Train as Japan Seeks U.S. Sales

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood rode on a 502 kilometer-per-hour (312 mph) magnetic- levitation train in Japan, stoking optimism that the Asian nation may be able to sell the technology overseas.

Japan’s government has pledged to support JR Central’s bid to build the Washington-Baltimore line, possibly including loans from a state-owned bank. Maglev trains float above the tracks and are propelled along by magnetic currents.

Other countries understand that investing in infrastructure creates jobs today and enables economic growth later. Other countries understand that having a coordinated nation industrial/economic policy helps their businesses compete in the world’s economy. Other countries are swooping down on us, bidding for our minuscule projects and selling us their green energy systems. Meanwhile we are mired in this weird “free market” anti-government ideology that keeps us from taking control of our destiny and our economic future.
Instead of talking about cutting back on spending, we should instead be investing heavily in our people and our infrastructure.
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It Is Time To Put Our Foot Down: Ten Steps We Can Take To Stop Closing Factories And Eliminating Jobs

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture as part of the Making It In America project. I am a Fellow with CAF.
The economy is still getting worse more slowly. We lost “only” 36,000 jobs last month. We need to create 11 million new jobs just to get back to where we were before “free-market” conservatives took over our government and dismanted the protections and regulations that had protected us from this.
Jobs lost, communities devastated, lives destroyed. Over and over again. Yet with all of this going on companies like Whirlpool and Toyota are still closing factories, laying of American workers, and moving manufacturing out of the country! Toyota is closing the NUMMI plant in Fremont, California, which could lose up to 50,000 jobs across California. Whirlpool — recipient of stimulus dollars from the government – is closing a factory in Evansville, Indiana and moving the jobs to Mexico where people will be paid $70 a week and certainly won’t be buying anything made in America.
It’s the system. While the executives collect bonuses and tax breaks for their destructive actions We, the People have to pick up the tab. We pay the unemployment, the stimulus, etc. Our communities pay the cost of losing the jobs and the tax base, our economy pays the cost of losing the manufacturing capability. And the executives and private equity firms and Wall Street get rich. So of course they do more of it.
How crazy is this? In the middle of this terrible jobs crisis companies are still closing factories here and shipping the jobs out of the country. Why do we allow this?
Whirlpool and Toyota (and Wall Street’s $140 billion bonus pool this year) ought to be the last straw. It is time for We, the People to put our foot down and say not one more factory closed, not one more job sent out of the country! In fact, it is time to start bringing jobs BACK.
It is time to stop letting goods into the country that are made by exploited workers in areas with no environmental protections without a tariff to take away the price advantage gained from going around the protections that We, the People have fought so hard for.
There is only one way the country can earn the money to pay back what we borrowed from China, Japan and others. That is to make and sell things to others!!! THAT is what “trade” means. “Trade” does not mean allowing greedy executives to sidestep the laws and regulations and protections that We, the People fought so hard to get.
Look around us. Jobs lost, communities devastated, homes foreclosed, lives destroyed, governments going broke. All because of a runaway system that encourages the destruction of our economy. Our system actually encourages executives to close factories and lay people off! Executives make profits and get bonuses (that benefit from tax cuts) if they can figure out how to eliminate YOUR job or close a factory or cheapen a product or keep you from talking to customer support or make you pay an extra fee, etc.
Wall Street and executives benefit from this — and get tax cuts, tax breaks and subsidies for doing it. But the economy-at-large is destroyed by these same actions when they are widespread. On top of that, we know that when we lose the factories we have to borrow money to buy the things we used to make. But we give tax breaks instead of penalties to companies that do this.
Here are just some steps that We, the People can take to start turning this around:
– A border tariff on imports to remove the price advantage of goods produced by exploited, underpaid workers.
– A border tariff to remove the price advantage of goods produced in ways that harm the environment.
– A border tariff on goods from countries that are not democracies, to remove any pricing advantage gained from not allowing people to vote and set rules that benefit themselves.
– A border tariff on goods from countries that restrict workers from organizing to improve their wages and working conditions, to remove any pricing advantage gained from not allowing workers to bargain. (America currently doesn’t meet this standard.)
– Remove tax benefits and instead impose tax penalties and fines on companies that close factories here. Don’t let it be profitable to do this!
– Increase taxes on the big monopolistic companies to remove the advantages that help them destroy America’s smaller, regional and local businesses — the very job creators we need.
– Increase income taxes on high incomes to reduce the incentive to pursue short-term windfalls instead of long-term interests. Make it take a long time to accumulate a fortune. Making a fortune is great but it should be a reward for helping our economy and society, not destroying them.
– Break up the “too big to fail” Wall Street firms that wrecked the economy. And get the money back — all of it.
– Explore the use of Eminent Domain to keep factories in communities and workers in the factories.
– Formulate and follow a national economic/industrial strategy to build a new green manufacturing economy
Please add some ideas in the comments. I will have more to say on all of this.

Green Revolution – Ideology Holding America Back

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture as part of the Making It In America project. I am a Fellow with CAF.
American competitiveness is severely hobbled by our “free market” and anti-government attitudes. One way our competitors hold us back is by encouraging this outdated ideology. Result: other countries have national economic/industrial strategies and we don’t. So we lose.

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A New Economy from Old Roots?

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture as part of the Making It In America project. I am a Fellow with CAF.
How do we build a new economy out of the collapse of the old economy? How do we start fresh to begin creating jobs again, while building in economic and environmental sustainability, as well as workplaces that respect human needs and rights? How do we change things so that we all get to share the benefits of the economy rather than just contributing to the increasing wealth of a few vastly wealthy people?
While we look for a vision for a new economy, we should examine what has worked in the past. America had periods in which regular people enjoyed sustained increases in their standard of living. For a long time it was a conventional wisdom that each American generation would do better than the previous generation, more people would receive good educations, medical care would get better, the middle class would grow, leisure time would increase, poverty rates would decrease, retirement would be easier, etc.
But this pattern stopped. Beginning in the late 1970s and especially in the 1980s incomes began to stagnate, wealth increasingly concentrated at the top, working hours and workplace pressures steadily increased, availability of good health care started to decrease, etc. The standard of living of most Americans began to and continues to decline. At the same time corporations became more predatory as consumer protections vanished. Meanwhile outsourcing, deunionization and other anti-worker policies led to increasingly unpleasant, stressful and unrewarding worklives for more and more people.
Many of today’s problems are traceable directly to the policy results of anti-government propaganda that was blasted out from well-funded conservative think tanks starting in the 1970s. The anti-government campaign led to defunding of many national, state and local government programs that improved education, helped the poor or enriched people’s lives. We suffered deregulation in many areas where the government had protected consumers, workers, investors and the environment. Huge reductions in taxes for the wealthy were either offset by tax increases for the rest of us or government borrowing. And that borrowing has led to increasing problems of paying the interest and threats to funding even basic programs like Social Security and education.
So what worked, before the conservatives trashed the place?
Regulation
One thing we know for sure now, learned the hardest way thanks to the financial crisis: regulation worked. Regulation was necessary, it worked, it kept firms from taking risks that could bring down the economy. And we can also see now how regulations protected consumers from predatory corporate activities, workers from wage theft or unsafe working conditions, and the environment from exploitation and destruction.
Taxes
Before Reagan the tax rates at the top were very high. After you reached – and took home – a certain very high income you paid a high percentage of the rest in taxes. This had many beneficial results – even for the people who paid higher taxes. Government could afford to keep the physical, education and legal infrastructure in good condition without borrowing. Government could afford to invest in programs that improved our standard of living, health, knowledge and technology, which helped businesses grow. Businesses thrived in such well-watered soil.
The high tax rates also kept the bad side of human nature in check. When it took years to build up a fortune businesspeople had to rely on the health of the greater community to nurture their own wealth-building enterprises and keep them thriving over a long period. They had to think and act long-term. The roads needed to be kept in repair, the schools needed to provide excellent education to potential employees, the courts needed to be functional to enforce contracts, and they wanted the communities they were going to have to stay in to be pleasant places to live.
But once taxes were lowered vast windfalls could be realized from a single event and it made more sense to try to fleece the community with quick-buck schemes than to rely on it. We began to see corporate raiders break up solid, ongoing companies, steal pension funds, etc., while encouraging communities to cut spending on schools, roads, etc. It became more profitable sell off or outsource our manufacturing capacity. And then, as things fell apart, the few who benefited could just fly away in their private jets or sail away in their huge yachts. The greater community was no longer any use to them except as crops to be harvested. Vulnerable consumers are the only crop that is coming up in this economy.
Big Government
Government is We, the People making the decisions. “Big government” is simply another way of saying that more of the important decisions are made by the people. Shrinking government means handing the decisions over to big corporations. In the real world this is the choice. And in the real world big corporations make decisions that benefit them, and only them. Before you badmouth government think carefully about what the alternative is.
Old-Fashioned Government Planning
As I said in a post a few months ago,

The phrase “industrial policy” sounds so Walter Mondale, 1970s, smokestacks and brick factory old-fashioned. I suspect the subject turns people off, eyes glaze over, hands reach under the table for iPhones and Blackberries…

But here we are without an industrial policy. How’s that working out for us? Every other country has one. China seriously has one. We instead have huge trade deficits. We don’t make things here so we have to borrow money to buy things made elsewhere.
To add insult to injury, recently Deutsche Bank released a research note advising investors that the U.S. was not a good investment because of our lack of a government industrial policy. See Deutsche Bank: Absence of US Clean Energy Policy Will Send Global Capital Elsewhere.
While we envision a new direction for our economy, maybe we should also be looking at returning to a few old-fashioned ways of doing things, too.

Manufacture Or Borrow (Until We Can’t)

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This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture as part of the Making It In America project. I am a Fellow with CAF.
When things are going wrong it is often good practice to go back and review the basics, and start again. In baseball you go back to batting and fielding practice. To master a musical instrument you practice your scales every day.
Things have gone wrong with our economy. So let’s go back to some basics and see if we can figure out where we went wrong. Let’s start with the most basic of basics in an economy: wealth comes from making things that you can trade with others.
It is a simple concept worth repeating: if you make something you can trade it for things other people make. As you make things and trade them you build wealth. In an economy making and trading things creates good jobs and brings to the people income and goods they need.
So obviously manufacturing is the key to a healthy economy. Trade means fairly trading the things you manufacture for things that others manufacture. And it is a simple jump from there to understanding that if you don’t make things you have to borrow to be able to pay for things other people make, or you go without. You can borrow and borrow – until you can’t.
Everything else in the economy flows from the manufacturing. When it comes down to it you can’t have a healthy service sector unless you are manufacturing items to sell and trade because you can’t pay for the restaurant bill or insurance or hotel room or lawyer or even the doctor if you don’t make something to sell and trade. And mostly you can’t keep buying the things made elsewhere. You can only borrow for so long.
But somehow as country we have lost sight of this most basic idea. Instead of maintaining and promoting manufacturing we say it isn’t important anymore. We say that we have instead transitioned to a “post-industrial” service economy and/or a knowledge / information economy. (What does that even mean — instead of making and trading, we serve and think? And borrow I guess.)

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