Manufacturing Monday: An Open Letter to a New President


Greetings, Mister President, congratulations on your recent electoral victory and inauguration.  I, like many others, voted for you in the hopes that our nation would be steered in a new direction.  Normally, I try and put out a blog piece highlighting certain news and tidbits in regards to manufacturing in this country.  It’s not one of the best blogs in the world, nor one of the worst.  I’m no one of great importance either, just another blog writer among many who hope to voice an opinion or two or highlight something.  Trust me, there are much better bloggers out there.  Chances are you will never hear of this blog, or series, or entry.  Still, in the slight hope that you may hear about this or even read it, I wish to bring something up, that well to me at least, is of great importance.

I do not have any doubts that you are aware of the current situation in manufacturing and the economy.  That when you ran, you visited towns and cities that make up the so-called “Rust Belt.”  Yet I am also aware that in the coming days you will be deluged with other seemingly top priorities.  Many will point and say fix the banks, and they should be.  But, Mr. President, I humbly ask that when you move towards rebuilding our economy from the Bush-created ashes, that you put equal concentration on manufacturing.  Sir, I know it’s not my place to tell you what to do, and I hope you do not take it as such.  Just that, I’ve seen family and friends, associates and just people I’ve met on the street who have been affected by the loss of manufacturing jobs.

Mr. President, one can do what is needed to fix the banks, but the bigger question is what to do about the rest of the economy.  Looking at Britain, we see what happens when a nation turns it’s back on industries that produce goods for domestic and foreign consumption, and move into an almost pure service economy.  Like the environment, diversity is also needed for the economy to maintain a healthy outlook.  We all cannot work at Wal-mart or McDonalds or go from one temp job to another.  Americans deserve better than this.  I know this sounds like I’m putting down the service component of our economy, but I’m not, the folks in those industries are one of the hardest working people you’ll find.

But not everyone can be a computer programmer or a short order cook or  what have you.  And to ask everyone every so decade to accept that their job will be shipped off and have to retrain and essentially restart their careers, well, sir, it’s madness.  Companies will look more to hiring a 20-something out of college than a 50 year old who is new in that field.  I’ve seen it time and time again, and I know you’ve seen it.  Americans are asking for a little stability in their lives.  Yes, life can throw someone a curveball, and change is something we should accept in our lives.  But, Mr. President, what’s been thrown at us for the past several decades has been something of a nasty trick ball.

Unlike your opposition, you see that what this country needs is re-investment.  After 8 long hard years, it seems that finally leadership could be returning.   These days we’re seeing plans for Green-collar jobs from both the private field and from government.  You’ve laid out an ambitious goal of establishing an alternative energy platform coving things like wind and solar power.  This will require a vibrant manufacturing industry, one that is up to date both on a technological front and in knowledge.  Yet each year, we lose more and more engineers, often their work outsourced to Asia or Eastern Europe.  Also added into this economic casualty list is an untold number of tradesmen like glass blowers and tool and die operators.  Yes, you can train a whole new army of such, but let’s not forget the ones struggling to hold on to those jobs.

As mentioned, going green will be one of the pillars of economic revitalization.  Mister President, we run the risk that much of that investment would go into foreign sources of such machines. Could future fields of solar panels out in the desert (or where have you) harvesting the Sun’s bountiful energy to be transported to homes in the region be made in China or Germany?  What of the sources of the machinery that will go into wind farms? Mr. President, I know some in Congress will force you to push through alternative energy plans simply for the sake of passing such legislation, but I beg of you to read the fine print and insure that these initiatives invested in American-made solutions.  The same should also be for infrastructure investment.

Sir, I know a lot of this will take a long time.  Americans have been polled and have said we will give you the time you need.  Unlike your predecessor and the current opposition, you are playing chess while they’re playing checkers (or Candy Land).  Longer term plans need to be not only brought forth but also initiated to bring other types of manufacturing to this country.  The system we have now is not only broken, but is getting worse.  Right now, it is all a game of wage arbitrage for companies.  For workers, it is a race to the bottom.  Yes, we can make better quality products.  But for a corporate manager who must show results every quarter or face his own job loss, she or he will also pay attention to the fact that someone in some country will always do it cheaper.  As mentioned, we can make it better, but how do we compete with slave wages? 

Tariffs, I understand could lead to trade wars.  Perhaps there are other solutions that would foster a desire to produce here than over there.  Our trading partners and friends say one thing then do another.  China is not our friend, like you said in that debate with Senator McCain, but a rival.  They’ve cheated time and time again when it comes to their currency.  We seem to have this notion that we will one day embellish the average Chinese consumer with American-made goods.  But the fact of the matter is, despite some openings here or there, they will never capitulate to such things.  Free trade, like Reaganomics, sir, looks good on paper but in practice is about workable as high speed car with square wheels.  But rest assured, they will lie to you, tell you things like this country doesn’t produce enough engineers or computer programmers.  That what is needed is to listen to folks like Bill Gates, and bring in more H1-B Visas applicants, who often end up being trained by those whose jobs are being replaced. The lies from the free trade crowd will continue, and so do the flow of jobs to places where people are working for miserably low wages and conditions. One comes to the conclusion that what is emerging is a 21st Century version of a plantation. 

Many times many candidates and presidents have said they will do something about manufacturing.  But all Americans got was lip service.  Something tells me that you very well could be the one that breaks the mold and does something. Obviously, you’re not like the other guys who’ve occupied the Oval Office.  Mister President, the Alliance for American Manufacturing, organized labor like the UAW, and countless others have been warning of what has come to pass.  American manufacturing is being smothered by that plantation I just mentioned.  The jobs, sir, the jobs are either still leaving or ones that should have appeared here are instead appearing overseas.  Mister President, sir, we need your help.

Thank you for your time.




As far as I know there are attempts to use "buy American" act and blow backs and then something about using domestically manufactured goods (although I have not found it in actual legislative text yet) but I heartily agree the Obama administration is truly ignoring the most critical sector, manufacturing and how the U.S. must return to a production economy again.

I hope Obama sees the light

According to rep. DeFazio from Oregon, "Larry [Summers] doesn't like infrastructure" and prefers short-term consumer spending as a form of stimulus. Hopefully Obama will instead listen to people like Alan Tonelson, who is writing along similar lines to Johny Venom here.

I fear that the current stimulus package will basically go through as proposed; and when that doesn't work, hopefully, Obama will realize that there's a bigger problem than "just" a financial mess.

Keep up the good work!

JR on Grist

I think we need to make some noise to see some light

These guys have some sort of hatred/bias against manufacturing/blue collar labor. Seriously. How can they ignore such a critical component to the U.S. economy?

Thanks for the heads up that Tonelson has finally become a bloggin' fool. I'll add him to the middle column.

I was going to suggest adding Tonelson...

...and now that I can kibbutz some more, I noticed that OpenLeft has David Sirota blogging, for instance, this piece talks about the attempt to insure "buy american" in the stimulus...

JR on Grist

open left, Tonelson

I've had some email exchanges with Tonelson (as well as others) on how to use de Internets to get their work more exposure and thus more Populist influence so I'm thrilled he is now a blogging fool. Blogging is a lot of work (don't we all know) and many of these great thinkers don't quite get the public opinion thing, informational spread thing or web 2.0 community thing at all.

I just added him and had to hunt high and low for a RSS feed. They do not publish it!

Open left is focusing more and more on real policy and the details which is very good juju. I felt Sirota jumped off of the personality/insanity bandwagon during the election and he seems to be back on track as of late.