How can America bring back manufacturing jobs? FT readers respond
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Should rich countries still try to make things that poorer nations can manufacturer more cheaply? Can far-flung global supply chains be brought home, and even if they were, what would the economic and political benefits be? These were some of the questions that we asked in an FT Weekend feature article on American Giant, an upscale sportswear company that makes its entire product line, from cotton to finished goods, in the US.
My piece inspired an unusual number of thoughtful and passionate responses. Some readers felt we shouldn’t focus on globalisation as a key reason for a decline in American manufacturing jobs; rather, the country’s inability to maintain labour competitiveness is the core problem. On that score, several readers felt that both public policy mismanagement and a lack of business investment in productive capital expenditure was an issue.
A few felt that the US could do a better job of connecting the dots between labour, educators and business people, as countries such as Germany do.
Improved infrastructure was also on the reader to-do list, as was the need for a broader definition of corporate value, allowing companies to focus on more than lowering costs in order to please shareholders.
But the most heartfelt comments focused on the need for more on-the-ground reporting on people who are actually coping with the effects of globalisation and technological change. As one reader put it, “work is essential for a functioning democracy” and unless people have it, both business and politics will continue to suffer.
Below is a sample of some of the most interesting reader comments. You can browse them all below the original story, and feel free to continue the conversation in the comments below.
Support companies in rural regions, not just urban centres
From a UK perspective, the government needs to stop trying to force companies to locate in certain areas, [for] eg through its support of Thames (Silicon) Valley, Silicon Fen, Silicon Roundabout etc. Instead, it should support businesses right across the country. Particularly in high-tech, connectivity enables businesses to be located anywhere in the UK and should receive equal support. Surely this would do much to help the “regions” catch up with London and the south-east [of England]. — GeoffA
Is free trade such a bad thing?
The main gain from trade is lower prices. Well-to-do urban millennials may have no problem paying $108 for a cotton hoodie, but the ability for poorer people to pay only $5 for a comparable good is a huge benefit to a lot of people, and that benefit comes directly from free trade and globalisation. Why no interviews with these people? — PerfectlyGoodInk
Spotlight the effects of globalisation
Nothing beats the perspective of the people who are living the change, in this case globalisation. — Magpie
Learn from Germany
It would be interesting to have a comparative analysis between the US and Germany . . . regarding their manufacturing sectors. Obviously, Germany is a wealthy country but has somehow maintained its manufacturing competitiveness in the face of competition from China, etc . . .
I suspect the answer is that Germany has a highly collaborative government and private sector policies, while in the US you have one party hostile to the private sector and the other party hostile to big government. — MWD
The most interesting and significant parts of this article are about automation. The economic policy of the future will need to focus on distributing the surplus from automation to human beings. Governments should do everything to encourage automation (not fight it), while recycling the returns from such capital investment into improving everyone’s lifestyle. — Dalek1
Don’t make it all in America
The competitive “threat” to America comes not from abroad but largely from its own internal meltdown, and from the outdated belief that it’s best to localise an entire supply chain. That route is a dead-end. The only thing that will bring jobs back to the US in the long term is an increase in investment in its competitiveness, including its labour. — Ilan Strauss
Invest in more stable jobs for more people
Foroohar is right, America can’t just be “high-end software developers and low-end gig economy workers”. Work is essential to a healthy democracy. Trump ran on this premise, has done little about it (we will see what happens with China) and Democrats will have to be more convincing. — TedSmyth
Higher profits will always win
It is a lot easier to offshore production to a low-cost country than build a high efficiency set up in high-cost one. Since performance is disproportionately measured in shareholder value, chief executives (who are essentially paid by those same shareholders) will likely take the path of least resistance to higher profits in order to maximise market valuation, make shareholders happy and thereby secure a big fat bonus for themselves. — Me Gov
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