How many times over the last twenty years have you heard someone complain that Americans can’t make anything anymore? The idea of “post-industrial America” is so strong that if you search for the phrase with Google, you will get 645,000 hits!
There was a time when the idea of “post-industrial America” would have been incomprehensible. Throughout the world, goods stamped “Made in USA” carried a reputation for quality (although at a price). I am pleased to report that when I talk to my customers in other parts of the world, a little bit of this assumption of American manufacturing quality persists. Reputations change, of course. I’m old enough to remember when “Made in Japan” was the common retort when something broke.
Some of those who talk about “post-industrial America” do so out of contempt for the work ethic of the American worker. Others are concerned about how Chinese goods have flooded America — and with good reason. Wal-Mart’s “tough as nails” approach to marketing Chinese goods has played a crucial role in turning some U.S. manufacturers into marketing arms for Chinese-made goods. The other reason to be concerned is that money flowing to China is building up China’s military might.
Some of the “post-industrial America” whining is from labor unions. They seem reluctant to admit that their wage demands destroyed U.S. manufacturing jobs — the one area of the economy that unions have historically done well at organizing. Competition from Asia was going to become a problem anyway. Wage rates in Asia are extremely low, and there are workers who are effectively slaves making many of the consumer goods that Americans buy. But the unions speeded up the inevitable.
Environmental laws drove some of America’s deindustrialization. I’ve seen video of an Asian computer “recycling” operation that doesn’t require you to be green to be horrified. To get the valuable raw materials out of these computers and monitors, they are using hammers and flames, releasing worrisome amounts of lead into the ground.