Is Manufacturing Dirty?

Dave Johnson

Did you think manufacturing was old-fashioned, dirty and low-skilled? Have you noticed how when you see a factory in a TV show it’s an old, burnt-down building with broken windows? (And then the drug dealers drive in from one side, and the “good guys” from the other, and then everyone starts shooting, and then there’s a car chase?) That’s the “conventional wisdom” view of manufacturing.

But have you noticed how China has all these amazing, modern buildings and high-speed trains and their economy is just booming and booming? That’s the reality of manufacturing and countries that have policies that support manufacturing. They do, we don’t.

I hosted an FDL Book Salon yesterday, over at firedoglake (FDL), under the salon title FDL Book Salon Welcomes Scott Paul, Harold Meyerson, Carl Pope, ReMaking America. In the setup for the conversation I wrote,

Many people think that discussions of manufacturing and trade are boring, dry and old-fashioned. But these are two of the things that drive an economy, and right now the stakes could not be higher. So keep reading.

A country “makes a living” in the larger world economy by making (or growing) things and selling them to other countries. Other countries see making things to sell in the world to be a national priority and so they set up policies to help their companies and industries be more competitive. We don’t. We used to, but now we just don’t. Instead, our currently-dominant “you are on your own” ideology forces our companies and industries to compete on their own against the resources of entire countries. That is one of the main reasons our economy is having such a hard time. A good measure of just how badly we are losing in this world trade competition is our enormous, humongous trade deficit. Every dollar of that trade deficit is a dollar drained from our economy, and from job-creation and from wages.

(See how I cleverly inserted a plug for my recent trade deficit post into that?)

In the salon I asked Carl Pope this question,

You wrote extensively about how the fossil-fuel industry is fighting to maintain its dominance of our economy — as you wrote “locked into a high-priced, outmoded energy future.” (And you used plays on song lyrics like “I shot the Solyndra” and “What’s oil got to do with it.”)

Technology is changing things, but not fast enough. Where I live (Silicon Valley) I see four or five Teslas and a dozen Leafs almost every time I drive around. But it isn’t enough. How can we get more people buying electric cars?

His answer,

Well, interestingly electric cars on a lifetime basis are now the cheapest thing to drive. But the problem is the upfront cost. But imagine that the Leaf or VOLT were sold like a cell phone — cheap up front, but with fuel fees over the next five years. The auto industry could then sell these cars for a lower sticker price than their gasoline equivalents — and they would fly off the shelves. Detroit and Tokyo need to get more creative — and in fact their leasing programs effectively do something quite similar, but they don’t get the subsidy back — and they are the way most people are buying electrics.

There were many more great questions from readers. Please go check out yesterday’s FDL book salon, FDL Book Salon Welcomes Scott Paul, Harold Meyerson, Carl Pope, ReMaking America.