Earlier this year, the IMF reported that China has over taken the US as the world's top manufacturing nation ( IMF Bombshell: Age of America Nears End ). Over the past few decades we’ve had abundant warning that such a transition would occur. Mostly we’ve ignored the signs, contenting ourselves that the service economy and more government spending would more than replace what ever would be lost, and that come what may, America is still No.1!
But manufacturing isn’t just another sector of the economy—it’s the economic foundation of all modern industrial societies. To one degree or another, all other economic sectors rest on the foundation of the nations manufacturing production. It’s preposterous to believe that services and government spending can carry real economic growth in an economy devoid of the production of real goods—certainly not a nation as large as the U.S.
Because manufacturing produces tangible goods, it is the key to exports. Exports, in turn, are the key to trade surpluses and trade surpluses are the source of large international reserves—the kind that produce coveted creditor nation status.
China, Japan and Germany are creditor nations. All have large international surpluses, because all have large manufacturing sectors contributing to outsized exports that produce regular trade surpluses. And while the experts tell us that our manufacturing decline is due to high wages, it’s worth noting that both Japan and Germany have wage levels that are at least as high as the U.S, yet both have thriving manufacturing and export sectors. What is it that they can do that we can’t? We even have far more natural resources than either country!
Is the decline of manufacturing and our status as the world’s biggest debtor nation coincidental? Hardly.
But it gets worse. Manufacturing is also the fulcrum of technology, an area in which the U.S. has long claimed dominance, almost as some sort of birthright. As manufacturing goes, so will military-, computer- and medical-technology—and the high paying jobs they provide. The implications of the manufacturing decline are far more ominous than the collapsing of the housing bubble.
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