A venerable economics reporter delves into the messy business of American manufacturing.
Former longtime New York Times economics and labor writer Uchitelle (The Disposable American: Layoffs and Their Consequences, 2006, etc.) provides a slim but powerful critique of the American manufacturing sector. This son of a textile salesman augments his fact-filled account by traveling across the country to meet with manufacturing owners and workers, often being forced to confront his own prejudices. “I finally visited enough factories and interviewed enough blue-collar workers to shake off the stereotype that white-collar office workers were more skilled than their blue-collar counterparts by virtue of working in offices rather than in factories,” writes the author. “Factories house the same cross-section of restless, intelligent, achievement-oriented people as offices, where many of the tasks are also repetitive, requiring different but not necessarily superior skills.” The heart of the issue is that manufacturing by its very nature requires the government to subsidize this vital economic activity, a necessity that both elected officials and governmental agencies actively choose to ignore. In addition to arguing for a comprehensive federal policy to organize subsidies intelligently, Uchitelle argues for a radical reversal of the controversial practice of off-shoring jobs. It’s a smart, well-articulated line of reasoning that touches on the reasons that Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders resonated with blue-collar workers during the last election cycle—candidacies, the author notes with bitter irony, only made possible by “the relentless downward pressure on factory output and employment: not just lost jobs that paid well, but the mountain of imports that have supplanted U.S. output, and the free trade agreements such as NAFTA that have kept the imports flowing.” Yet Uchitelle is also brutally honest, admitting that none of these changes is likely to come to pass: “Too many horses, in sum, are gone from the barn, and unlikely to return.”
A robust and fatalistic argument for a return to American greatness.