America must protect manufacturing

Published 8:52 pm Monday, November 17, 2008

As I watch the news reports concerning the American economy, I am dismayed by the general misunderstanding of manufacturing as a key part of it.

When news reporters, and even economists, talk about the loss of manufacturing jobs in America, they often refer to them as “high-paying” jobs, as if that were their only significance.

The truth about manufacturing is actually simpler and more basic.

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Manufacturing can be defined as adding value to raw materials to create tangible wealth. That tangible wealth is the plankton that supports the economic food chain.

A decade or so ago it became fashionable to say that we in America were living in the “post-industrial era,” that ours had become a “service economy.”

The truth is that, whereas services are important and necessary, they are only a part of what we consume. The clothing we wear, the cars we drive and the food we eat are all tangible and can be sold, traded and moved around, and still retain their value. Services, generally, cannot be passed on or shared with anyone else.

The service economy is a myth that sounds enticing but will ultimately be exposed as a sham. We cannot survive by performing only services.

We in America ship logs to India so they can convert them into furniture and sell it to us at a price much higher than the price of the logs. They got the jobs, they added the value, they created the wealth and they got the “new” money. We paid for it from our dwindling supply of money.

So it is not only the people directly connected to the manufacturers who gain from manufacturing jobs, it is also the Pizza Huts and beauty shops and banks and the myriad other service providers.

According to the National Association of Manufacturers, every dollar of manufacturing activity supports an additional $1.43 in other economic activity. It is the best way we have of creating tangible wealth.

One more quick thought: In the recent election, much was said about American society and the need to strengthen the middle class.

The middle class was a product of the 18th-century Industrial Revolution. Using machines to make goods gave people the opportunity to multiply the efforts of their hands to create wealth far beyond what they could ever do by working as field hands on farms.

Our nation must jealously guard and enhance its ability to create wealth — to manufacture affordable goods. We must be able to compete on a level playing field with manufacturers in other countries.

We need to encourage our brightest and best young people to pursue careers in engineering and technology. We need to train our people in cutting-edge vocational skills, such as welding or CNC machining.

We must be able to manufacture goods competitively if we are to maintain our standard of living as Americans.