Global Ethics Corner: Made in the USA: The Return of American Manufacturing

Jan 27, 2012

President Obama's plan for a manufacturing revival has seen bipartisan support, but some economists are asking serious questions. Will more Americans on assembly lines stifle innovation? And can the U.S. compete with the lower wages and willing workers found overseas?

America is home to one of the largest manufacturing industries in the world.

For all its glory, the demise of American manufacturing had long been considered inevitable. That is, until recently.

In his third State of the Union Address, President Obama laid out an ambitious vision for a stronger America, in which manufacturing loomed large.

Though details of the president's proposals have sparked controversy, his calls for a manufacturing revival have not. In an era of staunch partisanship, support for U.S. manufacturing enjoys a rare bipartisan consensus.

But should it? Is the rebirth of America's manufacturing industry necessarily a good thing?

Not everyone agrees.

According to some economists, Americans should invent and innovate, rather than work on assembly lines.

Others point to the positive impact manufacturing jobs have had in developing countries. By moving their factories to China, U.S. firms like Apple have helped lift hundreds of millions of individuals out of abject poverty. Bringing these jobs back home risks stifling such progress.

What's more, many believe it may be impossible to bring many of these jobs back. They argue that the U.S. cannot compete with the low wages, willing workers, and efficient supply chains overseas.

Still, the U.S. has lost nearly 8 million factory jobs since the 1970s. Economists once predicted that other sectors would pull up the slack. They were wrong. While low-wage service sector jobs have grown, middle class jobs-like those in manufacturing-have not. For millions of Americans, it's now harder to enter or stay in the middle class.

Where do you stand? Can and should U.S. manufacturing make a comeback?

By Marlene Spoerri

For more information see

David M. Ewalt, "Manufacturing Jobs Aren't Coming Back and That's OK," Forbes, November 8, 2011

Charles Duhigg and Keith Bradsher, "How the U.S. Lost Out on iPhone Work," The New York Times, January 21, 2012

Photo Credits in order of Appearance:
Stefan Ray
Pete Souza/The White House [also for picture 4]
Ford APA
Kyle Bruggeman, Nebraska News21/Released
Steve Jurvetson
Travel Aficionado
Valerie Knoblauch

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