Innovation, education keys to future
Will American workers need to lower their standard of living to compete with third world manufacturers? Some will. Those who continue to learn and work hard may not have to change anything and may even thrive. However, the entire world economy is a complex and dynamic entity; things evolve over time. Wages in other countries are going up, transportation costs vary, and raw material sourcing issues change frequently. The new American manufacturing model needs to be flexible, intelligent, and will require much more skill than in previous generations. Grunt work and easy-to-make items will be done offshore. Complex processes will be developed here and hard-to-make items will be made here — but only if we continue to lead in innovation and educate our workforce.
Via e-mail, Joliet, Ill.
Think global, shop local
The worse things get, the more people shop by price. Almost every Chinese-made product I buy is of inferior quality, and when it breaks, it is usually just after any shred of warranty expires. Americans tend to think that buying imports only costs “other people” their jobs and it won't harm them. Well it did — big time. We need our manufacturing base here, not in China — a country that may soon ask for the $2 trillion or so that we owe them. If that happened, we would be in serious trouble. Finally, “Made in China” labels should be plainly evident without requiring shoppers to buy and unwrap products: Think globally only after thinking about this country.
Shower curtain saga
The U.S. used to produce all the shower curtains we needed on machines that made 16 curtains per minute. All the labor necessary was three people. PVC (polyvinyl chloride), the curtain material, is made from oil, with an equal cost anywhere in the world; ink and dye prices are also global. In the same way, printed boxes for these curtains, made from wood, carry a fixed worldwide cost. In contrast, shipping from a U.S. manufacturer to U.S. end users versus shipping from China is a big cost difference. When I asked a manufacturer why he imports, he said that he can bring a boxed shower curtain here from China for less than the U.S. cost of unprocessed PVC. This is called dumping — a way of destroying an industry to ensure one's own success. The Japanese did it with the transistor radio. I don't blame the foreign companies; I blame our government for allowing this.
Staten Island, N.Y.
Northern neighbor speaks out
I have been involved in manufacturing and design engineering for almost 40 years in Canada. In that time, I have seen a lot of changes for the worse with American firms sourcing out parts manufacture to offshore countries, with the result being junk. Quality does not exist; the warranty is hopeless or nonexistent and the parts are a waste of time. The once proud, American-manufactured machine tool, which would last a lifetime when cared for, is now worn out before the year is over. There is no quality control either. Properly made tools, whether they are big or small are expensive, but with that expense comes the fact that someone is gainfully employed, does a good job, has some pride in the product, and the product is checked to make sure it is workable and complete. Americans should forget free trade and manufacture for their own country first — and then sell their products abroad. Politics and business do not mix, but unfortunately, greed and ignorance prevail.
Madeira Park, B.C.
Playing by different rules
The notion that we can sustain purchasing goods for Chinese-style prices while expecting to continue to receive American-style salaries is fundamentally flawed. We actually do (or at least we did) have something that the Chinese need and aren't good at producing — intellectual property. But our government seems content to let them steal that from us while we buy stuff for unsustainably low prices. Our country and our way of life is doomed unless we begin to insist that the Chinese play by the same rules to which we hold ourselves. Among those are respect for intellectual property, protection of the environment, worker safety, and product safety. Until they start to play by those rules, we need tariffs to create fair trade. I fear that our shortsighted and power-hungry politicians who are elected by shortsighted and greedy citizens lack the courage to stand up to China, and that we will continue our slide toward enslavement to them.