A problem of our own making

  • Follow Editorials

First they came for the televisions, and I didn't speak up because I didn't manufacture televisions.

Then they came for the appliances and electronics, and I didn't speak up because I didn't manufacture appliances or electronics.

Then they came for the T-shirts, and I didn't speak up because I didn't manufacture T-shirts.

Then they came for my job -- and by that time there was no one left to speak up.

-- With apologies to Martin Niemoller

Once-mighty General Motors, which symbolized American preeminence at the height of American preeminence, now symbolizes the steady and frightening erosion of the country's manufacturing capabilities.

The automobile was central to America's economic explosion, particularly after World War II. It made suburbs possible. It got new generations of American men and women to jobs they might never have been able to reach. It made trade and commerce that much easier and ubiquitous. It ushered in an amazing and unprecedented era of individual liberty.

It's not much of a stretch to suggest the automobile lifted much of the world, directly and indirectly. Indirectly, America's economic might became a rising tide the world over.

Competition, complacency and costs are among the factors that now have American-based automobile companies GM and Chrysler on their knees.

But in truth, it is American manufacturing in general that is on the endangered list.

Maybe the country will just notice it now that it's cars. But folks in textile country have seen this coming for years.

Consider this bit of irony: The popular line of "American Girl" dolls are made in China.

And one popular television program recently had to admit that it couldn't rely on American manufacturers to supply its viewers with T-shirts.

How can a superpower remain a superpower if it can't make its own clothing, shoes, appliances and even cars?

"We don't think it can," says Auggie Tantillo, executive director of the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition.

America consumed $673 billion more than it produced last year -- meaning that $673 billion was sucked out the window. And that's been the trend for years and years.

How can that possibly be sustainable?

Answer: It isn't.

"The only loan my parents ever took out was on a house," Tantillo says. A generation later, he adds, we've been programmed that we can consume whatever we want whenever we want.

The core question in all of this is how wealth is created. Some say it's created by trading and financing. Others say by production. They're both right, but only to a point. Trading and financing only get you so far so long. What does pressing each other's pants produce?

Ultimately, a country must produce in order to create wealth.

As Tantillo notes, Americans aren't losing trade advantages due to any lack of abilities to produce. Instead, it's been a combination government trade policies that play us for suckers and give every advantage to foreign competitors; the global self-interests of multinational corporations; and a Wall Street that got fat on foreign capital.

The result of all this is that the United States lost 651,000 jobs in February alone; manufacturing employment is at its lowest level since July 1941; 4.91 million manufacturing jobs have been lost in the past decade; and U.S. output in appliances, carpeting and furniture is lower than it was in March 1978 -- despite population growth and exploding consumer demand.

For years, we've been told that America can be just fine without old-school manufacturing. We're seeing that's not the case at all. And the living standards that we've had the past 30 years or so, as we've piled up $15 trillion in private-sector debt, have rested on a house of credit cards.

Our living standards have been based on paper, not production.

Every empire, Tantillo says, has done the same thing: tell itself that it no longer has to do dirty, menial jobs, that other countries can do that for us while we bask in our greatness.

But America's greatness didn't come from shopping and slurping up soft drinks. It came from hard work and good-paying jobs and creating wealth through the sweat of our brows.

The difference between America and history's other juggernauts may be the breathless pace of our decline.

What we're doing is unsustainable over the long term, and unbefitting a supposed superpower.

As catastrophic as GM's and Chrysler's crises have been, they are but a symptom of the larger problem: We need to make things, and increasingly we don't.

It's a problem of our own making.

Comments (62) Add comment
ADVISORY: Users are solely responsible for opinions they post here and for following agreed-upon rules of civility. Posts and comments do not reflect the views of this site. Posts and comments are automatically checked for inappropriate language, but readers might find some comments offensive or inaccurate. If you believe a comment violates our rules, click the "Flag as offensive" link below the comment.
Ode
5
Points
Ode 05/31/09 - 02:42 am
0
0
This is but a microcosm of

This is but a microcosm of America's problems but your point is correct and troubling. America as we know it is unsustainable. Too many Americans live on government assistance and only take without providing to society. From Social Security and Medicare to welfare, food stamps, housing, and the such, this has fostered Americans to have no desire to better themselves or work for a living or become an entrepenuer. Corporations are fleeing America due to high tax rates, government support of worker unions, and over-regulation. Government refuses to cut spending. Dollars are being de-valued at an alarming rate. The growing amount of subsidies to those who can't support themselves is unsustainable. America, like all empires, will eventually crumble from within. Congress and this administration is just speeding up the process.

dhd1108
1
Points
dhd1108 05/31/09 - 03:10 am
0
0
the average Americans for

the average Americans for patience has all but evaporated... we've become a nation of Veruca Salts (snobby girl from Willy Wonka) With fast food and disposable plastic everythings to go with our instant entitlement desires. I rather wish I had the opportunity to work in industry. Every job I've had has either been white collar or service. And none of them have felt as fulfilling as when I get done working on the yard or remodeling another room. Men were meant to sweat & work. Not sit in little boxes or bag things for a living...

jebko
0
Points
jebko 05/31/09 - 06:11 am
0
0
The Soviet Union said they

The Soviet Union said they 'will bury us' ... now China says 'they will own us'. The only US goods I own are now classified as Curios and Relics.

patriciathomas
42
Points
patriciathomas 05/31/09 - 06:17 am
0
0
You hit the nail Ode, social

You hit the nail Ode, social services have been provided to buy votes by a congress that is concerned less and less with the country. As a result, the country has become focused less and less on being a country as they ask for more social services. We've progressed to having a Marxist as president and a hard left socialist congress that keeps promising more and more social services while driving jobs out of the country with "taxing the rich" policies. See America spiral downward. There's no salvation in sight.

GACopperhead
6
Points
GACopperhead 05/31/09 - 06:32 am
0
0
This is because MONEY is King

This is because MONEY is King in America. Those who have it want more, those who don't can't get it. The rich rule in America, you can't get elected without spending millions. Term limits, remove all ability to get any perks. Make service to this country service again.Have all candidates funded EQUALLY by the government, or someone. Why can't Congress pass a real ethics bill? Because them, they'd have to live by them. The majority of our Congressmen are ultra rich, or getting there. NOONE should get rich off of SERVING our country. It needs to go back to how it was when the Congress was created. Congress should NOT be able to pass raises for itself. They are ALL CROOKS, intent on two things, getting rich and getting re-elected.

patriciathomas
42
Points
patriciathomas 05/31/09 - 06:38 am
0
0
How can you achieve GAC if

How can you achieve GAC if you've given up?

JohnRandolphHardisonCain
576
Points
JohnRandolphHardisonCain 05/31/09 - 06:46 am
0
0
Our way of life is

Our way of life is unsustainable along many fronts. The creation of suburbs & exurbs along with our food transportation system make us dependent on cheap oil. That part of the American Dream is becoming a nightmare. The price of oil will rebound to record high levels when the global recession ends. We have failed to develop consumer friendly mass transit & sustainable alternative energy sources. The Chronicle editorial is right about the neglect of our manufacturing base. We not only have to work hard, we have to work smart. Too many talented people were drawn away from engineering & basic research (including mathematicians & physicists) in order to develop fancy models for the speculative financial sector. The plight of Argentina in the 1990s should have been a clued us to avoid profligate spending based on credit. We don't learn from history - another flaw of our society. In my opinion, the biggest mistake United States has made is by becoming a military colossus with a militaristic mentality. The quest for a sustainable economy & effective national defense does not lie is waging unwinnable wars of domination abroad. We have to admit our mistakes before we can reinvent ourselves.

patriciathomas
42
Points
patriciathomas 05/31/09 - 06:54 am
0
0
Close you eyes and turn you

Close you eyes and turn you head all you wish, Cain. The lack a achievement is encouraged by the endless social programs and the brutal taxing of the achievers. Point to as many "symptoms" as you wish, but "fixing" them to your perspective won't change the root cause. The "free ride" of socialism NEVER works.

Bizkit
30168
Points
Bizkit 05/31/09 - 07:39 am
0
0
Patricia is correct. Obama

Patricia is correct. Obama won the election by playing class warfare (remember trickle up economics he promised). The unsuccesful masses surely want their steak and they don't care who pays for it. I think it is a ruse for corruption. Mark my words this bail out will eventually be exposed as the greatest ponzi scheme ever-putting Madoff to shame. The masses who will receive their bone (forget the steak Congress ate it) have a blind eye towards Obama's actions. Most of the bail out money will just have disappeared without a trace and while Obama may create 4 million jobs as he promised America will probably lose 6 million jobs. I noted yesterday his administration said they had saved or created so many jobs but when asked proportions they said they couldn't rightly come up with exact figures. Say What??? How can you say it if you don't know the proportions-it was just a bold face lie.

afadel
457
Points
afadel 05/31/09 - 07:49 am
0
0
We should begin to think of

We should begin to think of "conservation" as an economic sector. Our goals should be to manufacture less cars and clothing and toys and gadgets and to make the ones we have now last longer.

Rebelbuyer
30
Points
Rebelbuyer 05/31/09 - 08:04 am
0
0
This article goes way beyond
Unpublished

This article goes way beyond breaking my heart, it cuts right to the core of this nations problems. This once great nation doesn't even manufacture its own underwear. I remember as a kid in the 60's, when we played outside (do they do that any more?) with our trucks or whatever... I remember we took such pride on seeing "made in USA" on the bottom of that toy. You gave the toy that said made in Japan to the kid you didn't like so much. I'm surprised that no one blamed this current situation on high taxes and the unfriendly atmosphere of companies trying to do business in th U.S. Where this maybe true to some extent. I believe that unsurpassed greed has caused these companies to shed their national allegiance to produce goods overseas for pennies on the dollar while never adjusting those savings on to the American public in the form of comparable pricing. Maufacturing is such a tangled web today that I doubt that we could purchase anything truly "Made in America." I could never understand, when our government was trying to sell us on NAFTA and the like, why this country was responsible for the economic welfare of other nations and all at the cost of our own industrial legacy.

GACopperhead
6
Points
GACopperhead 05/31/09 - 08:23 am
0
0
PT, money isn't the true

PT, money isn't the true measure of a person, or maybe it is....it's a measure of greed and self-centeredness(sorry for the coined word). The true measure of a person is generosity, honesty and any other form of thinking of others rather than oneself. Money is NOT a consistent motivator,the more one gets, the more one wants. You are about as deep as, well, I can't think of anything as shallow as you. I achieve DAILY and it's not measured in wealth. It's measured by a job done better than anyone else can do, by HONESTY and INTEGRITY. What happened to the work ethics of our parents? They were grateful to have a job, intended to stay at that job all their lives, and were loyal to their employers. They expected FAIR wages for a fair days work, but had no desire to ruin their employers by demanding too much in wages. Unions, have been nothing but detrimental to our economy, by demanding more than an employee is worth. Workers in general, thanks to your kind of greed, have forced employers to send work to other countries. You prove your worth every time you post.....your life is measured by money, and frankly, it's a worthless life. This world has gone to hell, thanks to those like you.

Riverman1
81325
Points
Riverman1 05/31/09 - 08:28 am
0
0
Yep, yep, yep, it looks like

Yep, yep, yep, it looks like we are ALL on the same page here. The unknown factor is how Obama will manage the country while trying to appease his base supporters, the 45% who don't pay income tax. These perople are demanding and the U.S. has the most powerful military in the world. Watch out, world, with Obama in charge, trying to keep money flowing to his base.

colcamp1
10
Points
colcamp1 05/31/09 - 08:35 am
0
0
Jebko, you need to speak to

Jebko, you need to speak to your buddy ODE about China. In the article about Secession, he stated that he would welcome China's help.

GACopperhead
6
Points
GACopperhead 05/31/09 - 08:42 am
0
0
Riverman, where do you get

Riverman, where do you get your "fact" that 45% DON'T pay income tax? That would mean, basically, that the same percentage of Americans are indigent. I doubt you research your opinions very well.

Eyore
0
Points
Eyore 05/31/09 - 09:20 am
0
0
GAC....those who don't have

GAC....those who don't have it, CAN WORK and get it. Your wealth envy is down right sickening.

Riverman1
81325
Points
Riverman1 05/31/09 - 10:03 am
0
0
Ahhhh, GAC, you are right. I

Ahhhh, GAC, you are right. I was off by 1.6%..smile. Try CBS News Apr 15, 2009 as a source. "An astonishing 43.4 percent of Americans now pay zero or negative federal income taxes. The number of single or jointly-filing "taxpayers" - the word must be applied sparingly - who pay no taxes or receive government handouts has reached 65.6 million, out of a total of 151 million." http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2009/04/15/politics/otherpeoplesmoney/mai...

Grasshopper
7
Points
Grasshopper 05/31/09 - 10:20 am
0
0
I come to realize the 2 party

I come to realize the 2 party system is a Marxist system. We are no longer the land of the free, but the land of useless Ideologies that do not work. Our nation was built by scholars not from the IV league schools, but the scholars of inventors and innovators, who believed in peoples ability to succeed with out government intervention . The lifetime politicians and IV league scholars whose studies are based on their intellect and not real world truths. They have rationalized the truth and deceived themselves and the American people. I never understood how a Service Economy was going to work, and I damn sure know that a debt economy will not work. America is already a socialist nation we just couldn't see the truth until Obama took advantage and didn't let the economic crisis go to waste.

Rose
17
Points
Rose 05/31/09 - 10:44 am
0
0
This article did not mention

This article did not mention President Obama.He had nothing to do with it. I agree with the article. I remember when there was at least one mill in almost every small town. Most of the people in those small towns worked at the mill.Today most of those mills are gone. In the town where I grew up, the mill sold houses to its employees at a reduced price.At one time that town's population was close to 8000 and now is about 3000.Most of those now work in a city about 30 miles away.

Grasshopper
7
Points
Grasshopper 05/31/09 - 10:49 am
0
0
Obama has not changed the

Obama has not changed the corrupt social system he has only added to it.

Rose
17
Points
Rose 05/31/09 - 10:50 am
0
0
Eyore when someone states

Eyore when someone states that the wealthy are wrong in what they say or do, that person is not envying wealth. I don't envy wealth, and would not trade places with anyone, poor or wealthy.I have what I need to be happy, and it is not money.I have a few relatives wallering in wealth, and they are not happy. All they think about is how to get more. They can't take it with them.

Rose
17
Points
Rose 05/31/09 - 10:52 am
0
0
Again the article has nothing

Again the article has nothing to do with President Obama.

patriciathomas
42
Points
patriciathomas 05/31/09 - 10:55 am
0
0
Copperhead, your 8:23 post

Copperhead, your 8:23 post disagrees with every other post you've made. You ALWAYS complain because you're not happy others make more money than you. I agree with your 8:23 post in that honesty and integrity are much more important. Money isn't the measure of a person, unless you make it so. However, having money also isn't justification for confiscation. Working in a manner that generates money isn't evil, it's a goal. Your 6:32 post was the worst kind of sad sack. My response was just to that.

Grasshopper
7
Points
Grasshopper 05/31/09 - 10:56 am
0
0
Obama's has added to the

Obama's has added to the problem who is in charge of GM?

Rose
17
Points
Rose 05/31/09 - 11:00 am
0
0
This problem did not happen

This problem did not happen overnight. It began yrs ago. The article is not about politics. You can leave politics alone for one day. Just take a deep breath and relax, and just let politics go for one day. I promise it won't hurt.

Grasshopper
7
Points
Grasshopper 05/31/09 - 11:01 am
0
0
PT people who have not

PT people who have not achieved their goals in life, don't understand that it is their own fault it is the classic I am a victim liberal response. The government and the media have been a master of propaganda by placing escape goats for those who don't achieve their goals in life.

ITDoc
1
Points
ITDoc 05/31/09 - 11:03 am
0
0
While this problem of America

While this problem of America losing manufacturing jobs does indeed go back many years prior to Ocarpathia, this poser campaigned on a platform of change. He has done nothing to effect a return of America to our once lofty status of the "factory of the world". Unemployment has skyrocketed, people are still losing homes at a record rate, and the wealthy who employ people are being unfairly targeted to support those who refuse to support themselves. We can bring factories back to the USA if we quit penalizing corporations with excessive taxation. If I can make a better profit overseas, I will do so. Oops, profit is a dirty word in Ocarpathia's kingdom.

Rose
17
Points
Rose 05/31/09 - 11:07 am
0
0
The problems did not happen

The problems did not happen overnight, and won't get better overnight. There were mills closing in the 1970s.

ITDoc
1
Points
ITDoc 05/31/09 - 11:09 am
0
0
American's wanted the highest

American's wanted the highest wages and demanded the lowest priced goods. Foreign products were lower priced and sold better than those made in the USA. Rather than pay the premium price for made in USA goods, or Heaven forbid accept lower wages, the American decided they wanted to have cake and eat it too. Poof, factories went out of business and the jobs were lost. Today, more and more people are coming to their senses and accepting pay cuts to retain employment. Only about 50 years too late to save our selves.

TechLover
15
Points
TechLover 05/31/09 - 11:15 am
0
0
Gacopp: Money is not king to

Gacopp: Money is not king to many in the US, it is God. River: There are 13.7 million unemployed in the US. Using your figures that means 52 million are working and yet don't earn enough to reach the threshold to pay Federal income taxes(although they pay plenty in other taxes). What's wrong with that picture? I'm sure your answer is to tag a 30% sales tax on everything we buy to make the working poor even poorer.

Back to Top

Top headlines

Weekly crime map, database

Violent crimes for the past week included 102 assaults, four of which was classified as aggravated assaults. The most assaults in a single day, 22, occurred on Aug. 17.
Search Augusta jobs