Saving American Manufacturing

Oct. 7, 2010
Easy political solutions won't create jobs.

Thanks for the great article [First Up: "Saving American Manufacturing," October 2010]. It's the kind of information we should be talking about in Washington instead of weak solutions like pouring little pools of billions of dollars into community banks. The banks have no solid incentives to loan to companies and have plenty of regulators breathing down their necks to be prudent or even risk-averse.

In the meantime, as Ms. Nash-Hoff points out, there have been "Nationally, tens of thousands of manufacturing facilities closed" and millions of jobs lost. Maybe our politicians don't understand the critical role of manufacturing in jobs creation?

It's pure laziness. Our politicians are looking for a magic silver bullet to solve a structural problem. Why don't we use American magic, as Ms.Nash-Hoff recommends: smart, hard-working innovators and entrepreneurs who can "regenerate and rejuvenate our American manufacturing."

The jobs will come when we start looking for the problem in the right places instead of easy political solutions.

Dan Loague
Executive Director
Capital Formation Institute

As a non-American, I would like to comment on your article about saving American manufacturing. It would be foolish and arrogant to suggest simplistic remedies for the situation, but one course of action does seem timely -- putting substantially more effort into exports. The North American marketplace is so vast that many smaller companies are able to meet the profit-generating requirements of their owners and shareholders. Consequently, exporting has been put into the "too hard" basket.

One of the problems faced by prospective exporters -- and many current ones -- is the fact that America is increasingly unable to communicate with the rest of the English-speaking world. The American patois is not readily understood in a world that is taught to read, write and speak Oxford or BBC English.

Speakers of Mandarin, Hindi, Arabic, Swedish, French, German and Spanish do not realize that Americans aren't talking about frequency when they say "regular," but actually mean "standard." The problem does not have a quick or simple solution, because the American patois is now being taught in the schools. The potential for misunderstandings when American is translated into another language is cause for serious concern.

Compounding this problem is that the manufacturing and process industries in the USA continues to use the obsolete imperial measures -- e.g. gallons, miles, acres, pounds and Fahrenheit -- mystifying a world that has been teaching and using only metric measures for several generations. It must be difficult for translators into Mandarin to find an appropriate ideogram for such an archaic term as "horsepower."

As an aside, there must be a massive cost for tooling-up and manufacturing products in imperial and metric versions. The country that revolutionized commerce and industry by inventing the microprocessor is paying a heavy price for being the world's only country still clinging to yesterday's measurement technology and, thereby, reducing its competitiveness in export markets.

As an editor in the trade press, I have received tens of thousands of news releases from American companies seeking media coverage in export markets but, in almost all cases, the text is the same one used in the domestic market. I have yet to work out whether it is laziness or lack of research that causes such communications breakdowns.

When I attempt to alert a would-be exporter to this problem, in the spirit of helpfulness, I get replies that make me feel like the small boy in the Hans Christian Andersen story, "The Emperor's New Clothes." I could, of course, abandon my English politeness and retort that "ignorance can be fixed, stupidity is forever."

However, the aim of all America's friends in the news media of the world's democracies is to tell the friendly economic giant that it isn't possible to be right all the time -- there are some problems that cannot be fixed by military might, as China is clearly demonstrating by exporting centuries of poverty.

Barry Prince
Auckland, New Zealand

When I got the link for this today, I was excited to read the contents, as I am a great proponent of American manufacturing. Unfortunately Ms. Nash-Hoff essentially has just reinvented Trickle Down Economics: Give tax breaks and capital-gains cuts to the wealthy and they will shower their good fortune upon the workers. It didn't work for Reagan, Bush I or Bush II, but it did make the rich richer as they outsourced jobs and exploded the deficit. How about taking away the tax break that lets corporations write off restructuring costs when they outsource jobs? If this is her answer, it's just more of the same and it will widen the gap between the rich and the middle class. This article is just revisionist history of a consistently unsuccessful economic policy.

Gordon Swanson
General Manager
Fenwal Controls
Ashland, Mass.

I just read this article online from IW. I usually do not comment on these things, but this article stirred me. I am going to read this book -- it makes so much sense to me. Have we as Americans lost our common sense? I guess the one line that really made me think was "we can't produce the products we need to defend our country." That is serious.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and the thoughts of this book, Again, I will go to tonight and order it. Fiction will have to wait awhile.

Beverly Bahr
Human Resource Manager
Wilson Sporting Goods Co.
Ada, Ohio

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