The New Manufacturing

Photo by shawnzrossi

That ship has sailed. You know the one. The prized vessel that carried off all of our traditional manufacturing jobs to China and other parts Asian. No matter how hard we try, it’s unlikely that we’ll be able to reel back in more than a few of them. But there’s no need for despair. There will be plenty and more to replace those. Let’s not spend our time weeping because we can’t make flip-flops; let’s spend our time figuring out how to construct the components that will comprise the new manufacturing.

What will those be, you ask? How the heck do I know? I’m not in the business of setting up factories. I’m no engineer. I’m just a cheerleader, lending hope from the sidelines. I just hate to see the waste of talent and time that could be utilized in helping blue- and every other color collars prepare for the next generation of building stuff. The only thing I do know is that the guy who said we could close the patent office 100 years ago is still wrong.

Look at what has just been accomplished: a couple of days ago, SpaceX, a private company, sent a rocket to rendezvous with the International Space Station. This blast ushers in a new era of space stuff. Don’t you think that a few new parts might come along with that?

You’d think so, but apparently, those businesses and businessmen who have parked a few trillion dollars offshore are still waiting. Waiting for what? I wonder, and have yet to hear any kind of answer. I’ve heard that we need to pull the money back home, we need to tax those offshore assets, make it a crime to remove dollars from the U.S.  What I have yet to hear is what it would take for those businessmen to voluntarily move their money back onshore and be motivated to get back to work.

There’s a reason that they’re holed up, and there is some motivation that will make them want to come back. I sure would like to hear one of the politicians or anyone in the media ask them, or state that they already know the reason. And I’m not going to accept that they hate President Obama, or that they have their money and they don’t want to share—these people thrive on competition and challenge, and something is keeping them from it. They are not engaging in their favorite sport, and there must be something pretty big going on to keep them from doing it.

I don’t buy that they are motivated that much by politics. That’s like the rest of us giving up gardening, our favorite hobby, just because we don’t like the neighbor. If it’s your favorite hobby, you find a work-around. And so far, those business people have not been motivated to find a work-around. That astounds me.

What are they doing with their time, if they’re not playing captains of industry? Lying on the beach, drinking maitais and soaking up the sun can only consume so much of your day. Come on, do you think they’re going to let SpaceX have all of the fun for ever?

I don’t believe it for a second. Not when astronomers think they’ve found a new black hole in the Milky Way, when solar energy is still crying out for the right guy to make it workable, when somebody is going to have to come up with a better way to let a million people know about his better mousetrap.

There are too many puzzles to be solved for the prime puzzle solvers to just sit on the sidelines for long. Taking on a challenge like the crumbling infrastructure is just too juicy a tidbit to let it slide. Once you reach a certain level, you don’t play for the money any more: you play for the bragging rights. The money is just a way of keeping track of the winners. That’s why parking the money and walking away is a symptom of something else. It’s not as though the money men have invested their wealth in other countries, no, they’re just in limbo.

And it’s true, we will get some jobs back, as the supply line is stretched too far, as just-in-time manufacturing requires more flexibility than a trip overseas allows. But we’re going to have to come up with a whole new paradigm, if we want to get 23 million people back to work. There just aren’t enough flip-flops in the world.

Or will the new paradigm be a complete shift? Is waiting for large amounts of money to come back home a fool’s errand? Micro loans have been popular in third world countries for a reason: they work. Maybe Kickstarter and other such websites have the right idea. Maybe they’ll be the ones to haul us out of the pit.

Perhaps the era of many, many huge manufacturers in the U.S. has come to a close. We’ll always have some, I have no doubt, but maybe we’re stumbling into an era of lots and lots of little guys—sort of assembly lines gone cottage industry. Starting your own business is a popular way to survive in a down economy—that might be the way to go in a new era.

Maybe those businessmen are spending their time on the beach with their maitais. But maybe we don’t need them. Maybe we can lean on each other a little bit, and slowly claw our own way out of the pit. It’s worth a shot, and it beats waiting around for who knows what reason.

In the midst of the mess, I certainly don’t know the answer that ended up getting us all going again. But it’s fun to speculate, and it doesn’t waste any more time than bemoaning our current straits does. What the heck, I might even start making flip-flops.

4 Comments

Filed under Politics

4 responses to “The New Manufacturing

  1. vecinana

    I think that this problem we have with outsourcing so much of our manufacturing cannot be solved by having “lots of little” businesses here on the home-front simply because we will never be able to compete with the prices from abroad. Big businesses, from car to flip-flop manufacturers, are outsourcing their production and, in most cases, trading quality for lower costs. From a business perspective this makes sense and I bet most of us, consumers, are not willing to pay more for something just because it was made close to home.

    • I agree that we cannot compete with the traditional manufacturing fields, for one thing because our labor and EPA, etc. costs are so high. I am suggesting that we be in the forefront of whatever the new products will be, with lots of small businesses instead of a few large businesses (that will help keep labor costs down). With our lead in technology, things like 3-D printers can make it possible for a few people to produce now what it took at lot of people to produce before (or still takes in other countries). Instead of trying to retrieve what we’ve lost, it’s time to look ahead and see where we can go. I have a lot of faith in our ability to innovate and adapt, but it’s hard to move ahead when we are still mourning the losses of the past. Thanks for your comment–we need all of the input we can get.

  2. The legal-schmegal involved in starting even a cottage business in this country is truly daunting. A simple tree farm- grow trees, cut them down to sell at Christmas- gets one involved with the state tax folks, the federal tax folks, OSHA, federal fair labor folks, migrant worker folks, environmental folks (there might be a hoo-dinki owl somewhere), and who remembers who else. And you gotta make sure you carry millions of dollars of liability insurance in case some nummy gets pricked by a pine needle- they will sue you for all you have including the stinky sox you are wearing. That may be what the rich folks are waiting for: someone to get to D.C. that hopes to slow some of this insanity down.

    • That’s what I thought. That’s why I put out the call for them to start to get involved, on the premise that, if Mr. Romney wasn’t elected, they’d slip back offshore. Haven’t seen much interest in that idea, though. What I don’t understand is why they aren’t on (pick your social media) telling us what they want? Although, if what they’re looking for is less regulation, that would go over like a (pick your analogy) with the Obama crowd. They want jobs without any changes being made.

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