Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Hollow America

I only just realized that it's terrible we've lost so much manufacturing and so many factory jobs. Of course I was aware the manufacturing was moving out of the country--I see plenty of empty factories here in Massachusetts. But I didn't see it as a problem because it seemed like people were getting new jobs. Foreign goods, like my reliable Toyota, were a great benefit, and the competition seemed good for American products. Ford cars in the 70's were crap, but they were a whole lot better by the mid-90's. So global trade looked like a win-win situation.

As for our trade imbalance, I didn't think the statistics were true. Surely we'd be having worse economical problem if we were doing that badly. I honestly thought that the metrics were missing huge software sales or other exports of intangibles like movies or financial services. Please don't roll your eyes or wonder why you should waste any more time reading my posts, but I thought that we'd be suffering like Argentina did when they'd have one of their terrible crises, and that obviously wasn't happening.

I don't know when I finally wised up and realized that the trade imbalances were THAT BAD. It's amazing that we could get away with it, and still people would loan us money and sell us oil. And they still do.

Strangely, I don't think the biggest problem is all the debt. Instead, I think it's that we no longer make enough stuff. That makes it so much harder to strengthen our finances through exports, rebuild our economy, and get people back into work. A smaller country could devalue its currency, cut way back on the imports it could no longer afford, pay its workers less, and then export the cheaper wares to other countries. We don't seem to have that option, so I don't know how we'll lift ourselves out of this hole. Suggestions, anyone? Quick, before they turn off the electricity!

Two other questions: Could we have avoided this, and how?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What could have been done? Nothing, really. Tariffs would slow it down, but only at the expense to everyone of higher-priced products. The irony is that we already have so much stuff in this country, it's just not distributed particularly evenly.

Making stuff everywhere needs less period and space, period. Computers and robotic automation replace human hands and minds for routine tasks whenever the expected return from them exceeds the immediate cost. People have always been disposable.

The only thing that would reactivate American manufacturing would be a dramatic increase in shipping costs from lower-cost countries such as China. We already see that from foreign name-plates manufacturing and/or assembling in the U.S.A. Take my Hyundai Sonata, for example. A "Korean" car made in ... Alabama.

Eventually, we should be able to sell other countries our agricultural surplus even more, some of our raw or somewhat processed resources (such as lumber), technological products like software, and financial products. But each decision will have to be cost-justified and it's going to take a couple of generations at least.

So board up or knock down those old factories and find something else do to with just a high school diploma (or not) and be thankful you can get struff really cheap from low-wage labor on the other side of the world.

And don't waste your money on cigarettes or getting drunk twice a week at the bar, and you might just get by.

From Bruce Springsteen's "My Hometown":

"Foreman says 'These jobs are going boys, and they ain't comin' back to your hometwon.'"