Manufacturing is getting to be like the weather. Everybody is talking about it, but nobody is doing much to change a U.S. competitive environment that allows other countries to target industries and export their way to prosperity at the cost of U.S. jobs. To take just one example, the trade deficit with China in 2008 stood at $266.3 billion, with China imports valued at $337.8 billion compared with US exports valued at $71.5 billion, according to the US Census Bureau.
The topic has taken on new urgency as the Great Recession drags on and unemployment continues to rise to levels not seen since the Great Depression.
The U.S. is alone among industrial nations in not having some sort of high level ministry of trade that sets policy and protects home markets and industries. It is also alone in not having a national health care policy. The result is that thousands of dollars are added to the costs of manufactured goods from our runaway health care costs.
The Summit, hosted by The Detroit Economic Club, opened in Detroit with a speech by Bill Ford, executive chairman of Ford M0tor Company and co-host of the event. Ford came closest to raising the industrial policy issue in his opening remarks.
“Obviously, government involvement is a sore spot here in Detroit right now,” Ford said. “And, for some people, any suggestion of government involvement crosses a line they believe should never be crossed. But in Detroit, we have seen first hand that having no policy is a policy choice in itself — and a bad one. We need policies that define where we want to go as a society, and that help us get there — an industrial policy and an energy policy, to name two urgent examples,” he said.
However, notably absent from the summit were senior government officials, who could actually implement such policies.
Andrew Liveris, Chairman and CEO, The Dow Chemical Company and other host, added, “A competitive, prosperous America — however you define it — includes a competitive manufacturing base,” Liveris said. “A competitive and prosperous America includes a more competitive educational system. It includes a technology and R&D sector that is second-to-none. It includes integrated environmental policies that encourage sustainability, that protect our earth and that safeguard our neighbors. And, as I’ve said many times, it includes an energy policy that delivers a stable and secure supply for us to grow on.”
Panelists at the Manufacturing Competitiveness Town Hall that was part of the Summit called for government actions to increase research and development and cut costs, but they mostly danced around the core issue of the lack of an U.S. industrial policy by repeating the same old nostrums.