Machinedesign 1116 Elisabeth Eitel 0 0

Get real

May 1, 2010
In the United States, manufacturing currently employs more than 10 million workers, and annually contributes $1.6 trillion to the U.S. economy. For these

In the United States, manufacturing currently employs more than 10 million workers, and annually contributes $1.6 trillion to the U.S. economy. For these reasons, the official stance of the National Association of Manufacturing — representing thousands of manufacturing companies and their employees — is that the U.S. needs “policies that encourage investment and remove the barriers to competition.”

Connections between manufacturing and government policy are not new — nor are notions that they are synergistic. Certainly, recent legislation and funding to both encourage and support green-energy enterprises are helpful to both our economy and environment.

In contrast, when General Motors president Charles E. Wilson was named Secretary of Defense in 1953 and asked whether he could bring himself to establish policies detrimental to GM, he concurred but noted that he did not anticipate it, saying, “For years I thought what was good for the country was good for General Motors, and vice versa.”

In light of GM's partial repayment of its Troubled Asset Relief Program loans, one could argue that there's some truth to the statement. Then again, GM has not repaid even a quarter of the funds, no matter what recent (and misleading) advertising blitzes claim, and the company is still majority-owned by our government — to the tune of $50 billion. If this arrangement is improving the average taxpayer's situation, then it's in indirect ways.

Perhaps more beneficial (and less problematic) than direct support from the federal government to promote U.S. manufacturing might be regionally designed labor and trade arrangements that benefit the industries and local communities involved. It's true that ours is a global economy, but there are distinct benefits to internally organized accords.

In any case, if you happen across the latest messages from GM's Ed Whitacre, don't believe the hype: His latest announcements do not convey his company's real financial picture. We shouldn't be surprised at this, as overly optimistic portrayals of GM's situation are nothing new. One poetically overconfident book about GM and the other U.S. automakers is Comeback: The Fall and Rise of the American Automobile Industry. Written by Paul Ingrassia and Joseph B. White and first published in 1995, it's a surreal account of the ultimate triumph of the U.S. automotive industry. In hindsight, the book is ridiculous. It begs the question: Were the authors joking when they wrote this tome? Or fifteen years ago, did it truly seem as though the automotive industry was entering another glorious era of success? The book serves as a cautionary tale — and a reminder that realism is our best guide.

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