Whether addressing those issues would do enough to render moot the wage disparity that's sent many jobs to China -- the jobs the late Steve Jobs famously told President Obama "won't be coming back" -- is questionable. Whatever progress we make, we can be certain that we won't revert to the smokestack manufacturing nation of the 1950s.
So what are we to do? It's my personal belief that our culture lends itself to enhancing our role as technology incubators and innovators. Obnoxious as we may find the me-first consumer culture we see on TV everyday -- or hear in back-talk from our teenagers that would've got us a whack in the backside -- there's something to be said for a people who won't blindly follow someone because they have a fancy title. Consensus is as consensus does, but sometimes you need Clint Eastwood to get the job done.
Thus, I believe we should streamline the R&D tax credit, as EETimes's George Leopold has written on our site. We should also enhance laws aimed at stopping technology transfer to China. It's no good if something invented stateside makes money for overseas interests. I'm also down with readers who want to reduce bureaucracy and regulation.
Your views may differ, but it's up to all of us as citizens -- and as engineers -- to make our voices heard.
Where are all the Conservative Republicans ? Isn't the 'correct' answer to eliminate all regulations, eliminate all unions, eliminate all healthcare benefits - except for the wealthy of course - and eliminate the minimum wage ?
Then companies would have free rein. Or is it free reign ?
Dave is right on target. But let's not forget the sacred cow in the room, and significant root cause for the deterioration of our manufacturing base- corporate law. Companies have a legal obligation to maximize benefit to their shareholders. But shareholder interests are not the same as national interests. Companies are acting rationally with regard to their fiduciary responsibilities to lower costs and maximize profits, and naturally seek the cheapest sources for labor and materials. Don't like this equation?... then change corporate law. For now, regulations are used in the absence of more balanced business drivers to bridge the gap in what companies are measured against and held responsible to.
I agree with most of the comments here and also believe that reducing regulation will have no impact on creating jobs in the U.S. Isn't it obvious when Corporate executives tell us that regulations are strangling them while they sit on piles of cash. Why can't they invest some of that money into educating potential workers in this country as Beth suggested?
I teach at a technical college and I can't tell you how many of my students are going to school full-time, working part-time and trying to support a family as well. We have lost many over the years because they could not cut it financially and/or physically.
Another big thing is health insurance. You can squeek by when you are young and healthy (if you're lucky), but once you have a family, you have to have it. As a result, many people are stuck in dead-end jobs just because they have health insurance.
Ask yourself how many potential Wright Brothers or Henry Fords are stuck in a cubicle doing a job they hate because they cannot risk losing health insurance.
How many great ideas for new products or designs are never realized or small businesses never started because of that one ball & chain?
You want to rebuild manufacturing and innovation in the U.S? Provide an AFFORDABLE (or free) government-sponsered health care option for anyone who needs it.
I think it is important to note that much of the "regulations" of industry are self imposed; i.e. ANSI standards. Much of ANSI is "self policing". So if you don't like the ANSI "reg" then don't follow it; of course, you can't mark your product with ANSI, but it is your business choice.
Sometimes regulations come about as the result of trade wars within industries. In the case of the farm bill cited, it is my opinion that there is a war between local, family farms, which, I believe, are more likely to be "Organic" producing farms and "Conventional" Industrial farms. I.e.; if your competition is taking away your profits at the checkout line then beat them at government handout line. One look at all the Monsanto transplants in government agriculture bureaucracy should give a good picture of whose behind pushing out the small farm competition that has been steadily increasing due to the increasing popularity of CSAs and Farmer's Markets.
I do not agree with removing regulations; perhaps sunsetting most regulations, so lawmakers have to revisit the existing regulations on the books, instead of spending their time writing new, sometimes insane regulations (i.e., now floating a bill past congress that would make it illegal for children to work on family farms). If lawmakers had to revisit many of the current insane regulations, they could revise the existing law(s) to better reflect the current economic/environmental situation, or remove the regulation if it is frivolous.
Well said, Alex. I think you're right on the money when you say that executives are chomping at the bit to spend more money, but their companies are sitting on piles of cash. It's going to take awhile for some of these companies to learn to trust the economy again.
Thanks for a thoughtful column, Alex. My one quibble is that I don't think reducing regulations is usually a good idea, although that depends on what they are regulating. Many of them are protecting our health and the health of the environment. I think akwaman gives the rebuttle quite well. Also, the larger a social/economic/political system is, the larger the bureaucracy required to run it, so reducing it is unlikely and perhaps not even a good idea. Meanwhile, I definitely agree that the flood of technology transfers going to China is a big problem, and that the flood of jobs going there is an even bigger one: they've both been a big problem for well over a decade. I think tax incentives would make a lot of sense, as Beth mentions.
As much as companies like to blame their failures on government policy -- and deny that government policy plays any role in their successes -- my experience has been that much of the decline of U.S. manufacturing in the 1970s and 1980s was a result of poor management decisions. Instead of blaming unions, taxes, regulations, or foreign competition, CEOs would do better to look in the mirror.
If bureaucracy and regulations are the problem, then why is there so much manufacturing in China, where there is exponentially more bureaucracy and regulation?
If taxes or unions are the problem, then why is there so much manufacturing in Germany, where taxes and labor costs are higher?
The fact is that many U.S. companies made short-sighted decisions without considering the long term consequences. Often, companies continued to throw money away year after year in misadventures because the responsible decisionmakers couldn't admit their mistakes, and no one was allowed to question them. And executives who drove once-successful companies into the ground were rewarded with golden parachutes, while the communities which had been home to these companies were left with high unemployment and environmental problems, with no future in sight.
There should definitely be more tax credits for companies that build factories on U.S. soil, open up headquarters, and put people to work. There needs to be some sort of financial carrot for keeping innovation here as opposed to letting centers of excellence go off overseas.
The truth is though, companies are going to set up shop where they can find the talent. I've been hearing a lot about companies setting up simulation centers of excellence and other software-driven or consulting-driven, so-called white collar jobs in far off locale because that's where they can get access to knowledge experts for a reasonable investment. My point is is it's great to discuss the politics around regulation and the tax code, but let's not forget that investment in STEM (both government and private industry) is also an essential ingredient to rebuilding American manufacturing.
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