The premise of the question "should" government......is wrong from the start. The question should be does government have the ability to help manufacturing? Or for that matter the ability to do a fraction of what it attempts.
I started my career with one of the big three auto companies in 1978. The car quality was terrible. The routine for buying a new car was, take it home and make a long list of dings, rattles, and needed adjustments. Then your new car sat in the dealer for days as you continue to make payments for a car you could not use. Fast forward about 10 years. I had nothing go wrong with the same brand for 36,000 miles. The only significance to that minor problem was that is made me realize how far this US auto maker had come with improved quality.
There was no competition during my early days in the US auto industry. One brand was as bad as the other. GM would announce a price increase, next day Ford, then Chrysler, and then finally American Motors. The shocker one year was when Chrysler announced it would not raise prices after GM and Ford had done so.
Management could not see an iceberg on the horizon in broad daylight if it were painted hunter orange and the unions created iceberg faster than cars. The inefficiencies and lack of productivity was astounding and obvious even to a green kid just out of school. I believe the breakeven point was ~95% of production capacity. This leaves little room when an economy slows.
We used a non-union drafting department in those days. My experiences with this company trained me to expect a drafting request to take days if not weeks. One day I submitted a drafting request and I had the drawings for review by noon the next day. Obviously this was the new guy. In a month or so he was as "fast" as the rest.
An office door had a broken door check that allowed blasts of cold winter air in. For weeks we requested it be repaired. After long delay a small army of union workers arrived, inspected the door then left with the door check still not working. Our crack team of design engineers took out a secret tool, aka a screw driver, and fixed the door in minutes. The manhunt for the non-union worker who had the audacity to fix the door was magnitudes greater than the effort to fix the door.
When Deming first came to the US auto industry management was clueless. Dr. Deming stated that 94% of problems were caused by the system not the workers. Management controls the systems. Who wants to hire someone who will tell you how bad of a job you are doing. Why bother "who wants a Japanese car?"
The Japanese did not listen to Deming due to an enlightened culture but because they had their collective backs to the sea. By the late '70 and early 80' the Japanese had the US auto industry in the same precarious situation. Suddenly the US embraced Deming's teachings.
"Absolute power corrupts absolutely." This comes in many forms. Unions that can place impossible demands on a company, management that can ignore problems due to a captive market, and worst of all a government that is completely out of control and mad with power will destroy an economy.
We had the first two going strong up until the 80's. The free market corrected that to a great extent. Now we have government that is addressing issues that 1) they have no authority to address, 2) are wholly incapable of addressing - that is why the US Constitution forbids them from doing 90% of what they do daily.
The Apollo program and WWII are often used as shining examples of government involvement. So other Federal Government programs must be good – wrong! First the act of war is one of the few things the Federal Government actually should be involved with. Apollo was an extension of the Cold War. Both had a specific short term goals - win and land respectively. Few expect or desire a war to be perpetual. Even the Hundred Years' War eventually ended.
Any program or effort that is expected to be perpetual better have a method to keep it in check. Industry is full of competitors. Government is not. In fact it is much worse. Businesses create products to fill needs and after time they create needs to be filled, smart phones as an example. If there was no perceived benefit the company would have to respond. They could not continue to do the same thing let alone more of the same. Those who have are soon gone.
Government programs purport to solve a problem or reach a goal, win a war, land on the moon. Terms of surrender cap one and photos and videos concluded the other. The vast majority of government programs turn from solving problems to being a convenient method of employment with no checks against run-a-way demands. The only completion is an invading nation and I addressed that above.
When a problem is solved or task completed a company must change. My time in weapon systems saw the end of the cold war. The division I worked in had 28,000 people when I started. Last I checked it employed less than 8,000. If there was a way to get government programs to work like this I would hold out some hope for government involvement.
In conclusion, if industry needs educated workers they should fund local colleges or in-house programs. If the programs don't work end the financing. If they solve the problem adjust the financing as needed.
Turn this task over to government and it eventually becomes a make work program. The same problems remain and likely get worse and billions are wasted on unproductive programs used to buy votes.
I have no mixed feelings about government getting involved in manufacturing. What's next? Perhaps a Department of Manufactuting with billions and billions of dollars in their budget increasing each year, with thousands and thousands of bureaucrats who have never manufactured telling companies what to do, what to produce, how to do it their way, and myriads of other hassles we can't even dream of.
No, keep the government out of my business, my home and my life as much as possible. I know how to run my life and my business and I don't need the feds to help me out. Name one thing the federal government is good at besides killing people?
There is a lot of bureaucracy in China, but in China there are a lot of ways to get around the bureaucracy. This is where the eneven playing field comes into play. On my last trip to Asia, several people were arrested for running an illegal mining operation that had collapsed. The mine was running for several years and employed over 100 employees. Basically, it was running on "incentives" that were given to local and national officials to look the other way for major safey violations and poor working conditions. If a mine could operate for this long, I can only imagine the amount of companies manufacturing goods bound for the US operate totally outside of the existing Chinese bureaucracy.
You know, on your second point, Greg, it is surprising there wasn't more of a shock to the economy during those years. We had our dot com crash and we have the financial meltdown, but the rush to China manufacturing did not have a noticiable affect on our economy.
As for an unlevel playing field, while it doesn't feel right, it's something we're accustomed to. We experienced the same thing with many, many trading partners before China. There are not many trading partner we have that don't receive government supports for business that are far greater than anything we're willing to do to support our own industry.
As someone who has both benefited and suffered from Chinese outsourcing, I have mixed feelings about the subject of government intervention.
First, I do agree that the playing field is not level between China and the US and overall these rule differences allow significant advantages for them. In addition to more relaxed EPA and IP regulations, they also have different safety, healthcare, etc. requirements for their workers. Some American factories have tried to respond to this challenge by using better Design for Manufacturing techniques into their products and by designing their products to be assembled using more robotic automation (to reduce costly direct labor times), but sometimes this disparity is still too great.
Second, I do agree that certain commodity products that are not strategic to our country's best interests need to go to China. However, the problem was how RAPIDLY this was done. When entire market segments moved to China too quickly, the sheer number of American workers that were displaced and unemployed was not healthy for our economy. In hindsight, I believe that our government should have slowed down this inevitable displacement so that the typical American manufacturing worker had more time to retrain and re-educate themselves for the new workplace.
Finally, in many cases that I have been involved with, the hidden and unintended costs and risks of going to China were not properly and accurately factored into the cost-decision model by the CFO's and Accountants and in actuality, going to China was not that cost-effective to begin with. In other words, by the time you factor in cost of higher defect rates, higher freight costs to overnight parts to keep the line going, hiring an additional Q/A inspector both state-side and abroad, and losing 30% of customer base due to perceived quality issues, the real cost savings (or losses) are not the same as the original calculations. I have seen products go out and then come back because of this. I think the company decision-makers need to carefully calculate ALL costs before deciding to go off-shore.
On the other hand, I've been involved with outsourcing programs which were a great fit and became a win for everyone, so under the right circumstances it works well. In closing, make sure all factors - different rules, unintended consequences, etc. - are considered when making decisions in this area.
Accept My appologies. I misconstrued your comment about dealing with foreign governments to mean that our own wasn't involved enough. I agree about many govenments being overly involved in day-to-day work. In my defense I am a working engineer dealing with the problem of government regulation changes, and their unintended concequences every day. The frustration level "out there" is getting to near a breaking point for my taste. My own frustration included. My company does business with firms in China and I agree that there everyone is looking over their shoulder to see what the government rep has to say. In my experience that can work both ways. At times the goverment official wants an extra fee, (read bribe), before you can proceed. Other times they will uproot an entire village because that is the location they desire for their new factory. In the past American firms could expect some intrusion, but could still plan 4-5 years ahead. Lately knowing what will happen 4-5 days ahead can require a prescience. Bill J
Did you roll over and fall asleep in 1920? In current US manufacturing the problem we have is the tail wagging the dog much too often. Is it ok for the government to screw all of Chryslers bond holders to make it "fair?" While there are occasional corporate transgressions in the United States potential penaltys make those things bad for business. The things I'm talking about are EPA regulations that change so often that manufacturers are involved in a game with loaded dice. In California doing business exactly thart same way you did before January first could land an honest small businessman in jail. Planning for the future is the key to progress, and if you can't plan you will fail. The question I always ask is how many employees do you have to have before you become an "evil corporation" worthy of being screwed? 20? 100? 1000? Many of the largest and best corporations treat their employees BETTER than average, only to be labled enemy by the US government because they won't spend themselves into oblivion. I still say, "get out of the way." Bill J
So when the playing field is not level, our companies climb to the top of the other side and roll crap down on their own people and country. Freedoms (like free trade) cannot exist without some code of ethics. So we trade with the unethical nations and unethical companies from our own country.
Now we want to bribe our own companies to stay here. This may help "free trade", but fair trade is long dead. What happened? Free trade by definition implies fair trade or it would not happen.
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