Why Everything Can’t Be Made In America

For people who voted for Donald Trump because they thought he could bring back “Made in USA” to everything we buy, I’m sorry, but it ain’t gonna happen.

Trump’s incoming Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, a man not normally given to unintelligent remarks, said “We can make everything here, or our goal should be to try to make everything we can in the United States so that the money gets put in the pockets of Americans.”

Priebus was answering a charge by the media, in a conversation with Hugh Hewitt, that Secretary of Labor nominee Andy Pudzer wants to replace workers with robots. Hewitt called it “fake news.”

You know, the point is that there are many ways in this country that we have outsourced jobs, even a robot, that we’ve outsourced jobs to places that we don’t need to.

I can actually understand Priebus, a lawyer and RNC guy, not a trained economist or hard-nosed businessman, thinking that somehow jobs can be boiled down to “we don’t need to.” But I can’t understand President-elect Trump thinking this way. Back in November, Trump said this to the New York Times:

I was honored yesterday, I got a call from Bill Gates, great call, we had a great conversation, I got a call from Tim Cook at Apple, and I said, ‘Tim, you know one of the things that will be a real achievement for me is when I get Apple to build a big plant in the United States, or many big plants in the United States, where instead of going to China, and going to Vietnam, and going to the places that you go to, you’re making your product right here.’ He said, ‘I understand that.’

Then Trump went on to tout his business-friendly tax and regulatory goals. Fine. But Cook’s response of “I understand that” is basically his Alabama upbringing coming out in a Silicon Valley way of saying “Bless your heart!” Cook’s predecessor put it more plainly to Trump’s predecessor.

But as Steven P. Jobs of Apple spoke, President Obama interrupted with an inquiry of his own: what would it take to make iPhones in the United States?

Not long ago, Apple boasted that its products were made in America. Today, few are. Almost all of the 70 million iPhones, 30 million iPads and 59 million other products Apple sold last year were manufactured overseas.

Why can’t that work come home? Mr. Obama asked.

Mr. Jobs’s reply was unambiguous. “Those jobs aren’t coming back,” he said, according to another dinner guest.

“Those jobs” are the jobs the Chinese do for $1 an hour. One one hand, we say it’s unfair and beneath contempt for Foxconn and other Chinese companies to pay their workers such an outrageously low wage. But it’s China, and these workers line up to live in 150 square feet of relatively modern quarters, work 12 to 15 hours a day, and get free lunch provided by the company. They’d rather take the deal from Foxconn than go back to the abject poverty and third-world conditions in the remote places from which they came.

There is no such deal for Americans. We don’t see people lining up to move to Williston, North Dakota, where McDonalds is offering a $300 signing bonus and cashiers at Walmart start at $17.50 an hour. There are plenty of jobs there, if you’re willing to accept substandard, expensive, and crowded living conditions. But American millennials can generally live with their parents, or off government benefits.

Sure, we can force companies to make everything sold in America, in America, using American labor. We can prohibit those companies from replacing workers with kiosks or robots. We can force those companies to pay a “living minimum wage” of $15 an hour. But then $15 an hour won’t be a living wage anymore.

The prices of everything we buy, from Walmart to the car dealership to the grocery store, will increase dramatically to pay for all that “winning.” If you want to buy an Apple Macbook, instead of the (in my opinion, overpriced) near $2,000 price tag, it would be $4-5,000 or more. Nobody could afford it. The technology boom would stagnate and fail.

We can’t bring back the 1950’s because in the 1950’s Europe was devastated, the Soviet Union was reeling from 20 million dead and a poverty of intellectual and engineering talent after Stalin’s purges. China was in the midst of a giant purge as Mao’s re-education camps were in full swing. Japan was effectively destroyed. The United States and Canada were the only places left relatively untouched and in top industrial capacity. Those days are gone by nearly 70 years and they will never come back.

What Trump sold to voters who want to bring jobs back to America is largely fantasy. We can’t make everything in America, nor should we try. What we can do is better prepare our workforce for those things we should make in America, and stop willfully training those people in other countries from taking American inventions and ideas overseas (and in many cases, stealing our intellectual property).

The left has been so focused on making corporate America socially and racially diverse by outcome-based regulation that they’ve lost the ability to offer economic mobility to those who need it most.

I have no problem, for example, smacking down Disney for firing their IT workers and replacing them with offshore technology guest visa workers. Instead of making all jobs American, we should concentrate on keeping the best jobs American. But to do that, no, I’m sorry, we cannot make everything in America.

About the author

Steve Berman

The old Steve cared about money, prestige, and power. Then Christ found me. All at once things changed. But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

I spent 30 years in business. Now I write and edit. But mostly I love. I have a wife and 2 kids and a dog and we live in a little house in central Georgia.

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