In his State of the Union address this year, President Obama promised to create "an economy built on American manufacturing," and he has spent a lot of time touring factories across the country to underscore his commitment to the industry. Administration officials are now rolling out proposals to "put some analytic meat on the bones" of Obama's manufacturing goals, says Matthew Yglesias at Slate, to convey that the White House's focus on manufacturing is more than a feel-good campaign slogan. But with China and other Asian countries offering cheaper labor costs, can America really resurrect the good old factory days?
Yes. Obama can reverse the needless decline: The myth is that manufacturing has been bleeding jobs for decades, but in truth the U.S. "didn't actually start to lose manufacturing jobs until relatively recently — around the year 2000," says Andrew Leonard at Salon. Manufacturing added 700,000 jobs between 1993 and 1999, and lost a "whopping 6 million since 2000." Both the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations bought into the idea that increased trade and globalization would be good for the U.S. economy. While "multinationals did fantastically well" with foreign labor, American workers were left behind. "In the aftermath of all-out, no rules globalization, the Obama administration has decided that perhaps it is time to make a course correction."
"Obama's race to save the Rust Belt"
And manufacturing can still play a huge role in the economy: Obama's initial promise "smacked of electioneering," but it seems as if government support for manufacturing is "creeping back into fashion," says Edward Luce at Britain's Financial Times. Manufacturing still accounts for "three-quarters of U.S. research and development, and 90 percent of its patents," which means that while Facebook and other internet giants are bringing great changes to the economy, "the most valuable innovation still comes from making products such as semiconductors, batteries, and robotics." Furthermore, manufacturing works best when researchers and production lines work in close proximity, another incentive to bring manufacturing back to America's shores.
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The U.S. has long outgrown manufacturing: The U.S. should not be competing "with the Chinese for manufacturing supremacy," says Yglesias. "If you look at America's metropolitan areas, it's clear that manufacturing-oriented places are relatively poor." On the other hand, "wealthy clusters" are built around industries "like software, biotechnology and medical devices, higher education, finance, and business services." The "road to a more prosperous America is to learn from the most prosperous parts of the country, not to imitate Chinese clusters that are even poorer than America's industrial hubs." The U.S. should be investing in "new industries that push living standards up" — leave the factories to those "searching abroad for cheap labor."
"Forget the factories"