Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Can America still compete? Some suggestions

Click to enlarge.

This Jeff Danzinger cartoon, lifted from Yahoo! Comics is not false or misleading. But it is incomplete.

It isn't just Korean imports that "add to industrial decline, community erosion, disastrous unemployment, and staggering foreign debt." What about the Chinese? The Japanese? (The Japanese in particular have long resisted American efforts to sell beef; the Chinese just send us 80% of our toys, 50% of our kitchen appliances, 9% of everything you'll find on the shelves at Wal-Mart and, for good measure, every year or two, a new tree-destroying insect to ravage our forests and urban parkways.)

And then, of course, there's the billion dollars a day (that's a figure I heard this morning) that we spend on imported oil. Every day.

All these "add to industrial decline, community erosion, disastrous unemployment, and staggering foreign debt."

Now I'm not as crazy as you may be thinking: We could no more live without imports than an addict without his fix. Unless you want to take the economy through cold turkey, of course, a self-inflicted wound that would destroy the future for our children and their children and theirs....

No, my anti-NAFTA, anti-CAFTA, anti free-trade friends, there's no going back.

But there is a way forward. And, as in so many other things, George Washington instinctively knew the way.

Washington showed up for his first inauguration dressed in brown homespun -- domestically made clothes.

His suit that day was meant as a symbol and a message. Washington knew we had to develop industry in this country if we wanted to be truly independent.

We still do.

If the Chinese or the Vietnamese or the Bangladeshis can make some things faster and more cheaply that we can, well and good... if the things they make are safe and fit for consumption. (Do you hear us Chinese toy makers?)

But we must identify what we can make, and sell, better than anyone else.

And we'd better start making it.

I think alternative energy is one area where we can lead the world. Of course, we would have catch up with the Brazilians first -- their sugarcane ethanol has virtually freed Brazil from oil dependence. Meanwhile, although this is widely disputed in corn-growing states, corn ethanol seems to be less efficient and cost effective than the Brazilian stuff. But we have a host of other products that might be pressed into service... starting with our own garbage. What a win-win-win that could be!

Another area in which we could still lead the world is space exploration and colonization. Let's not just go back to the Moon; let's subdivide it. (In fact, that might be a good place to send the sub-prime lenders... but I digress.) The technological advances that we'd make along the way could result in a whole new generation of consumer products with which to amaze the world. And, of course, it would give us a true frontier again. America needs a frontier... and the best part is that there are no indigenous populations in the path of an expansion into outer space.

All it takes is popular will and determination. Do we still have it in us?


sari said...

I think we do. I just wish people would dig a little deeper and pay for the things made here as opposed to in a foreign country.

And in our house, I'm happy to say I have not filled up my car with gas in a MONTH! We've taken the bus if we've wanted to go a lot of places. Luckily there's a free bus in our town that goes a lot of the places we want to go. But every trip saed is worth it.

Patti said...

I also think we still have it in us.

I used to labor under the delusion that everything at Wally World was made in the good ol' USA. But then I learned the truth.

Love the idea of sending those sub-prime lenders to the Moon.

Rob said...

As you suggested, it's naive to think that we can stop importing goods and using foreign resources. However, I do think a move in the right direction would be to at least use the foreign resources that are at our own backdoor.

The U.S. already spends countless millions supporting the northern third of Mexico anyway (school, healthcare, welfare, etc.) so why wouldn't we at least try to get a little something back out of our investment?

The Asian countries had to start somewhere, so why could we invest in Mexico to build them up as a technological resource pool for us to draw upon instead? I know that some electronics & automakers have moved into Mexico, but I suspect it's still a largely untapped well.

So rather than saying "Let's reduce our reliance upon foreign imports," I'd say maybe we need to change that to "Let's reduce our reliance upon non-continental imports."