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.
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.
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?
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.
With Detroit all but decimated and the constant overseas shipping of factories, maybe it is time for DC to take a hand in manufacturing. Will they? Probably not, unless manufacturers get their own high-priced lobbyists.
California State University, Chico was the first school in California to offer an ABET-accredited degree program in mechatronic engineering. Now its California Mechatronics Center works with industry on machinery, robotics, and surveillance vehicles.
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