If patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels, where will President Trump turn when his “America First” policies lay waste to the very people he professes to be helping? The ideas conjured by “Buy American” may appeal to many of President Trump’s supporters, but the phrase is merely a euphemism for doling political spoils, featherbedding, and protectionism.
In the American manufacturing sector, perception and reality often become confused. One reason: American manufacturing employment has declined from a high of 19.5 million workers in 1979 to 12.3 million today. In turn, many assume the U.S. industry has become hollowed out. Another reason: shoppers often claim they see few “Made in America” products on retail shelves and blame imports as the culprit. The reality of the situation, however, is more complex.
Demonstrated by innovative clusters like Silicon Valley, the United States continues to be the hub of global innovation. This also is reflected in the fact that 144,621 utility patents were granted to Americans by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in 2014. America’s innovative success is partly the result of the country’s acceptance of failure, which is considered part of a normal development process. Unlike China, this attitude encourages risk taking, an essential ingredient in innovation.
The myth of decline dominates the narrative about U.S. manufacturing. Yet, the preponderance of evidence indicates that U.S. manufacturing, relative to the past and relative to other countries’ manufacturing sectors, excels by the metrics that speak to its current and future prospects. But it could be doing even better if Congress made some simple changes to the outdated U.S. tariff system.
More than 40 percent of imports to the United States today are sourced from Free Trade Agreement-partner countries, the result of FTAs signed with 20 nations over the past three decades. If the United States successfully enters the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP) agreements, the share of FTA-sourced imports will rise above 60 percent.
U.S. manufacturing employment has declined from a high of 19.5 million workers in 1979 to approximately 12 million today. And when walking down the aisles of large retailers, few “Made in America” products are visible on shelves. In turn, many assume that American manufacturing is in steep decline. Nothing could be further from the truth.
In 1701, Jethro Tull invented the seed drill, a machine that changed the world. By mechanizing the work of laborers, he was a major influence on the agricultural revolution. Displaced from the fields by machines, people flocked to growing cities where the industrial revolution, which was only just beginning, gave them work in newly built factories.
In this age of technology, progressive manufacturers are buying into the concept and seizing the benefits derived from the connected enterprise. These benefits include more control of costs, improved operations and better customer satisfaction. Here are a few ways manufacturers can achieve these goals using the Internet, and how some manufacturers are already making the most of it.
U.S. elected local officials seeking to create and sustain solar industry job growth in their Congressional districts should be aware of and advocate accordingly on a current piece of U.S. trade policy toward China that is in the making — the International Trade Commission (ITC) investigation: Certain Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaic Products from China and Taiwan — which may be highly consequential to solar industry interests at the local level.
American manufacturers should expect to see numerous benefits from 3D printing as the technology continues to improve and printing costs decrease. While large printers capable of running thousands of parts in a day are still costly, the smaller counterparts are becoming very affordable. It may soon be considered more expensive not to have a 3D printer on site.
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