September 06, 2011
Once, it was a Labor Day tradition for Democrats to go to Cadillac Square in Detroit to launch their campaigns in that forge and furnace of American democracy, the greatest industrial center on earth.
Democrats may still honor the tradition. But Detroit is not what she was, not remotely. And neither is America.
Not so long ago, we made all the shoes and clothes we wore, the motorcycles and cars we drove, the radios we listened to, the TV sets we watched, the home and office calculators and computers we used.
No more. Much of what we buy is no longer made by American workers, but by Japanese, Chinese, other Asians, Canadians and Europeans.
“Why don’t we make things here anymore?” is the wail.
Answer: We don’t make things here anymore because it is cheaper to make them abroad and ship them back.
With an economy of $14 trillion, we may still be the best market in the world to sell into. But we are also among the most expensive markets in the world in which to produce.
Why is that? Again, the answer is simple.
U.S. wages are higher than they are almost anywhere else. Our health, safety and environmental laws are among the most stringent. Our affirmative action demands are the most exacting, except possibly for those of Malaysia and South Africa.
Does the cost of production here in America alone explain the decline in manufacturing and stagnation of workers’ wages?
No. For since the Revolution, America has had a standard of living that has been the envy of the world. From the Civil War through the 1920s, as we became the greatest manufacturing power the world had ever seen, our workers enjoyed pay and benefits that were unmatched anywhere.
Yet our exports in those decades were double our imports, and our trade surpluses annually added 4 percent to the gross national product. How did we do it?
We taxed the products of foreign factories and workers and used the revenue to finance the government. We imposed tariffs of up to 40 percent on foreign goods entering our market and used the tariff money to keep taxes low in the United States.