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How can we bring back manufacturing jobs to replace the traditional US manufacturing base? Is this possible given the rise of automation and the low cost of foreign labor?
The Rust Belt is in a similar situation as Southern Ontario and so the economic plans put into action in Canada can be used as a framework for decisions in America.
Firstly, and probably most controversially, I do not think unions factor into the equation much at all; that is to say that worker wages will be what they will be because of the productivity rate and not due to bargaining or corporate power. I’ve seen multiple examples of corporations pulling out of the Ontario/Rust Belt region to find lower wages in other US states only to end up paying even more in wages because workers simply cannot do a job if you pay them less (due to lack of education, skill, training or experience).
So, I actually believe in strong government or private-back labour conditions. North American manufacturing is poorly poised to compete with nations like India or China with a race to the bottom. What we are good to be poised to do, is a race to the top. As long as our productivity per dollar is as high or higher than foreign countries then we stand a good chance of keeping corporations in North America.
Second, I like capitalism and free market enterprise but I do feel they sometimes need a kick in the butt to get started. Whenever I hear about Public-Private Partnerships, they never are about private industry; it’s always about how private corporations can take over publicly funded infrastructure. I think that mentality is wrong.
When people need jobs, they need a factory to work at, or a hospital to staff. When workers need skills they need a school to go to, or workplaces to train/apprentice at. Some of these concepts are difficult for the free market to handle. Building a robotics plant takes billions of dollars that corporations simply do not wish to risk and would rather go to China were the startup cost is a warehouse full of lowly paid workers. Compare that with building a robotics plant and hoping the local government properly trained union-grade workers to staff; sure they produce more bang for your buck, if you’re willing to risk a factory. So why not do PPP? Lower the risk and if a company fails, you bring in a different one to keep the factory running. I absolutely detest the fact that we allow corporations to purposely shut down expensive billion dollar plants in the Rust Belt and Ontario just so that they can eliminate any competition they might have from them when they go and outsource to China. If they want to outsource to China, they need to also compete with North American manufacturing at the same time.
Third, I rather dislike the government in the United States telling people “well you’re f—ked”. Why? Look at Windsor versus Detroit. Or Hamilton (where I grew up) versus another steel town in the United States. Crime rates, poverty and unemployment are all unimaginably worse in the American counterparts. What’s the difference? Government.
Hamilton, Windsor etc, they saw the writing on the wall. The local governments pushed for different jobs to exist like healthcare, government administration, basically anything they could get their hands on for people to work at. The fact that Detroit or other cities just threw their hands up and went “the market will solve it” and it didn’t is what is leading to this term “Rust Belt” in the first place. There is no need for so much unemployment. Can you really tell me that in a country of the United States with so much to do, like pumping out concrete for highway repairs and expansion or high grade sheet steel for appliances and so on, that these people have absolutely nothing to do? That’s just lazy governance. There’s a million jobs they could do if people simply demanded the government to go do a damn thing about it.
So the short answer is, yes you can bring back some manufacturing jobs by producing new items such as wind power components, solar components or high end appliances but the caveat is that we should bring in other industries as well to get people back to work.