Many people still long for the glory days of American industrialization. People pine for the days when a kid could leave high school, work at the AMC Pacer plant and join the UAW. The work was steady, and more importantly so were the paychecks. I can understand how some in the Midwest look back on those days fondly. For some, especially those with limited skills and the unions, they were probably pretty good times. But those times are gone.
The demand for semiskilled labor is very limited these days and is becoming increasingly limited as the attached article points out. The truth is, there is a simple equation which is done for each employee on a factory line in the USA, and for the employee it is a distressing one. – Can the task done by the worker be done more cheaply and perhaps more efficiently by someone in China or even by a robot?
That is the challenge Obama’s “manufacturing hubs” are presented with.
Manufacturing doesn’t need that many people anymore. 3D printing is revolutionizing everything. Cars will soon be built with 3D printing. (In a limited way they already are.) Shoes, refrigerators, furniture, even houses will soon be built with 3D printers. This is the way things are going and the government can’t stop it even if it created “manufacturing hubs” in every town in America.
The economy has fundamentally shifted, and the shift is global. We don’t need people to screw bolts onto side panels anymore. And if you think the folks in Youngstown are challenged by these changes, just wait till the folks in Shenzen find out that a 3D printer just replaced them.
In a way the manufacturing hubs are an attempt to deal with these changes. A ham handed and politically calculated attempt, but an attempt. However throwing dollars to connected business people and hoping for the best (in Obama’s, and the union’s eyes) isn’t going to do much more than enriching cronies while wasting the taxpayer’s money.
The only real answer in the face of these massive shifts in the economy is to make things more fluid. Free the market. Yes, the union jobs (as they are now) will evaporate (what some politicians fear most) but new opportunities will emerge. New business will grow. New jobs, the likes of which we probably can’t conceive of right now will become available.
But to succeed in this environment we have to accept that the days of lunch pails and beers at the union hall are gone. We have to accept that the economy is just going to ebb and flow (just like everything else in nature) and that 30 years at one company and then a pension is pretty much done.
Does this mean pain as we transition to this fluid model from a more ridged economy? Yes, absolutely, and I don’t dismiss that. But it also means that the average person might have the opportunity to lead a much more interesting life too. Let’s be honest, no human should be bolting side panels for 3 decades.
Below is a beautiful time capsule of the beginning of the great manufacturing shift in America circa 1982. Change is very difficult, especially when paychecks are involved, but it’s happening and better days can lay ahead.