A friend of mine likes to use this phrase from the military to guide and assess business strategies. I think it applies to the U.S. as a guide to regain and grow a strong manufacturing base. “We need a clearly enunciated, lucid, pragmatic national manufacturing policy in the U.S. And we need it now.” You may read that and think it’s an obvious thing to say. But if it is, why don’t we have one?
Step back for a moment and think about the voices we’ve been listening to over the past 10 years—what do you remember? Separate voices.
Special interests have called for special considerations. Specific industries and associations and lobbyists represented their own interests—often with the best of intentions—that resulted in fractured, disjointed, poorly managed tactics that led to outsourcing and consumerism without a strategy, or at least a poor one.
For the invisible hand to work, it has to be attached to an arm. Without a clear manufacturing policy that acknowledges the world we live in and establishes goals and how to achieve them, we’ve found ourselves approaching a period of supply without demand.
To reverse this trend toward obsolescence, we must construct a policy that works for us and for our trading partners, and one that allows for sovereignty and competition within the global realities of our time. This policy must not only spur innovation; it must also encourage the means to manifest those innovations into tangible products.
We need a comprehensive overhaul of the U.S. corporate tax code and the regulatory burdens on businesses that stifle growth and sap revenue that could and should be spent on research and development, innovation, technology and automation.
We do indeed need to overhaul our healthcare system, but in ways that acknowledge and support our overall strategy. This may or may not mean replacing that system—but how can we know what will and won’t work if we don’t do so in the context of an overall plan? It is myopic to segment these efforts without considering its overall impact.
Free and open markets create many opportunities and unseen benefits—new markets to sell our goods, transparency and exposure that influence democratic reform and heightened dialogue between nations that enables global stability. Open competition leads to open debate, and ultimately allows for tangible solutions. Regardless of our position today and how long it’s taken us to deal with changing it, that openness has led to the actions we’re taking now.
The Internet has opened up the world and manufacturing to new possibilities. Compare China today to what it was 25 years ago. Look at how our abilities to create and manage supply chains are evolving with astonishing quickness and levels of efficiency. Think about countries like Ireland, Vietnam, and many in Eastern Europe and how they have and are reinventing themselves to become innovative manufacturing hubs themselves.
How can we not redefine our policies at such an amazing time in history and expect to grow and prosper?
Tariffs alone—like the milquetoast tariffs applied to Chinese tires in September of ’09—cannot solve our problems. They feel good at first to some, but ultimately they do little more than paint trading partners into corners as adversaries that they must fight their way out of. And isolationism isn’t a strategy, either—unless you want to remove all hope and just give up.
We’re in a jam that’s been brewing for decades, and it will take savvy and courage to fix. We need a plan that puts all of us on the same page and moves us to a new age of prosperity. We get there by letting the people that know how to innovate and compete do just that.