2.10.2012

China Isn't the Enemy, and Neither Are the Machines


Angry Asian Man correctly calls out as racist a recent ad by Michigan Senate candidate Pete Hoekstra featuring an Asian woman speaking broken English.  I wanted to point out that the ad is also wrong because it incorrectly vilifies China for stealing our jobs.  Machines are to blame for the decline in manufacturing jobs, not China; as Tim Horford points out, even China is losing manufacturing jobs.

Despite the rugged and patriotic Super Bowl ads by GE, we cannot expect manufacturing to generate enough jobs to sop up all of the currently unemployed and underemployed.  Part of the reason Rust Belt cities struggled in the second half of the last century is that they were making the painful transition from manufacturing hubs that cranked out products for the world and housed factories that employed thousands of people to service economies that could survive in a globally connected and technology driven world. 

Michigan is still in the midst of that transition, but the mystique around American manufacturing and the easy scapegoat China serves in an election year threatens to derail that transition. Never mind that even as the auto industry recovers, it is transforming itself from an old-school maker of steel boxes to a new-school provider of technology and services that happen to be packaged in a vehicle.  No matter: the myth of "built in America" and the opportunity to take a swipe at those sinister Chinese are impossible to resist. 

Michigan (and America as a whole) needs leaders who can articulate a way forward that acknowledges that mechanization and globalization are our friends, but that they impose unique challenges as we seek to move ourselves towards full employment and equitable participation in the fruits of progress.  It begs a grown-up discussion between competing philosophies of how to get us there.  Too bad I don't see a whole lot of such leaders and a whole lot of such discussion when I turn on the TV or open the paper.
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