I had a couple of requests from some Twitter followers to comment on a recent article in Industry Week written by the folks at the Alliance for American Manufacturing titled “Are Democrats Really Giving Up on Manufacturing?” OK … here goes … a couple of quick observations …
First, outfits like the Alliance for American Manufacturing serve a good and necessary purpose. They pound on the government over taxes, regulations, trade agreements – all of the things short sighted politicians, people wholly ignorant of economics and of manufacturing’s critical role, and those with narrow, radical agendas pile on to make manufacturing success even harder than it should be. As valid as their points are though, I am generally inclined to downplay their issues because far too many poor manufacturing managers use them as a crutch. Rather than step up to the tough changes management needs to make, they blame all of their failings on government policies and regulations.
As far as the article is concerned the basic premise is a bit off – that the Democrats may be giving up on manufacturing – and it is off because the Democrats have no central philosophies on much of anything, except that everyone is getting screwed by someone and big government is the solution. They are actually a collection of groups that often don’t even agree with each other. The unions are a key part of the Democrat constituency and they are all in on the importance of manufacturing (although they hinder it with absurd work rules and adversarial cultures); while the environmental extremist constituency of the Democratic Party would like nothing more than to bring manufacturing to its knees. Most of the Democrats are quite ambivalent to manufacturing – they view it as just another business out to discriminate against just about everyone in some way or another. In short, there has never been a unified Democratic position on manufacturing. The recent Gong Show in which the Democrats in Congress shot down the Democrats in the White House over the Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership largely makes the point.
As far as President Obama and his inconsistencies are concerned he has treated manufacturing much the same as he treats everything else – as an academic exercise. Like all of the elite academic community he has written off every day manufacturing and believes that the only manufacturing the United States can do well is that revolving around advanced technologies. Oblivious to the success of so many small and medium sized manufacturers making rather pedestrian stuff like tents, hair clippers and trailers – or writing them all off as anomalies – they continue to pursue their theories as if they were facts. In reality, the innovation institutes noted in the article have been a colossal waste of money with little other than interesting articles about 3D printing to show for the money spent. In other words, the Obama administration has never understood, or backed, real manufacturing in any meaningful way … and they have piled on heaps of the sorts of things the Alliance for American Manufacturing rightly blasts.
In the end, the Democratic Party has never been about growing the economic pie. They have taken manufacturing growth and the continual growth of the American economy for granted, and their singular focus has been on policies regarding how to divvy up the pie – convincing everyone that they are somehow being cheated out of their fair share, and setting themselves up as the Party of the downtrodden (and then defining everyone as downtrodden). I don’t think they have given up on manufacturing – they just never knew how to boost it in the first place – just how to extract the wealth out of it.