As the cost of doing business in China rises, U.S. manufacturing could be on the verge of a renaissance. But that won't necessarily mean a flood of blue-collar jobs.
In the past year, the conversation about U.S. manufacturing has undergone a quiet but remarkable change. Gone is much of the doom and gloom about the death of American factories. Instead, many now seem certain that industry is due for a comeback here at home.
The latest murmurs of good news came last week, when Cook Associates released the results of survey finding that 85% of manufacturing executives expected at least some kinds of factory work to return to the U.S. from overseas. The firm polled roughly 3,000 executives at small and mid-size manufacturers, about two-thirds of whom said their companies were currently manufacturing or outsourcing work abroad.
What could drive the revival? Rising wages in China, to start. Workers there are still cheap -- in the country's southern manufacturing hub, they earn just 75 cents an hour -- but they're not as cheap as they used to be. According to the American Institute for Economic Research, the average hourly wage in China doubled between 2002 and 2008. The country's currency has also risen gradually since 2005, from about 12 cents per yuan up to roughly 15 cents.
Pile on the logistical headaches that come from coordinating operations across the Pacific, as well as high fuel costs that make shipping more expensive, and all this has some business people considering a move back to the states. For some kinds of work, at least. In August, Boston Consulting Group released a report predicting a global realignment in the manufacturing sector. By 2015, the firm believes that many kinds of production will be just as cheap in the U.S. as in China, especially in low volume, heavy goods where labor only makes up a small part of the cost equation. Those include products like car parts, construction equipment, and appliances. Not everything is moving home. Textile mills in South Carolina? Don't hold your breath.
Factories are about to disappear from Shenzen. They'll still be there, churning out iPods, TVs, and pretty much whatever else you can imagine. But they'll cater more to China's domestic market, which is expected to grow exponentially in the coming years. Meanwhile, factories would move back to the United States to build products for sale in North America.
So we could one day be seeing more made in the USA labels. But how many more American workers will be stamping them on? That's where things become tricky. One of the great misconceptions about America's manufacturing decline is that the country no longer builds things. That's simply not true. As the BCG report notes, the value of U.S. output increased by a third between 1997 and 2008, a period when the economy shed millions of manufacturing jobs. The culprit: productivity.
U.S. factories simply need workers than in the past. We've become exceptionally good at making products using very little labor and lots of machines. Think of that GM Superbowl ad with the oddly sympathetic robot arm that starts moping after it drops a bolt. That sulking hunk of metal is the real face of most U.S. factories.
Of course, someone has to operate all those robots. The increasing importance of technology on the factory floor has turned manufacturing into a high skill field, as the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland noted in a recent speech. As manufacturers have laid off blue collar workers, they've been hiring more college grads. That means, even if BCG is right, and a return of U.S. factories creates 2 to 3 million domestic jobs, it won't be a cure-all for the problems that now afflict the labor market. Building things takes a degree. And the current jobs crisis has, more than anything, been about the plight of the undereducated male -- the kind of worker who increased productivity made redundant in the first place.
The return of more manufacturing would be a great boon for the U.S. But it doesn't mean yesterday's factory worker will get his job back.
With friends like these, the president should probably reconsider his messaging strategy.
The presumption of innocence is essential to the American legal system. Sometimes prosecutors and the press need to be reminded of this. It’s not as often that the allies of a defendant, or even a prospective defendant, forget.
Yet allies of President Trump have made some peculiar comments over the last few days, as Jonathan Chait, Josh Barro, and Orin Kerr note. Anthony Scaramucci says Michael Cohen would not flip on Trump because he is “a very loyal person.” Alan Dershowitz, enjoying a strange encore act as Trump’s most prominent legal defender, told Politico, “That’s what they’ll threaten him with: life imprisonment. They’re going to threaten him with a long prison term and try to turn him into a canary that sings.”
A new study warns it has become a “highly altered, degraded system.”
Once upon a time, there was a city so dazzling and kaleidoscopic, so braided and water-rimmed, that it was often compared to a single living body. It clustered around a glimmering emerald spine, which astronauts could glimpse from orbit. It hid warm nooks and crannies, each a nursery for new life. It opened into radiant, iris-colored avenues, which tourists crossed oceans to see. The city was, the experts declared, the planet’s largest living structure.
Then, all at once, a kind of invisible wildfire overran the city. It consumed its avenues and neighborhoods, swallowed its canyons and branches. It expelled an uncountable number of dwellers from their homes. It was merciless: Even those who escaped the initial ravishment perished in the famine that followed.
A crop of books by disillusioned physicians reveals a corrosive doctor-patient relationship at the heart of our health-care crisis.
For someone in her 30s, I’ve spent a lot of time in doctors’ offices and hospitals, shivering on exam tables in my open-to-the-front gown, recording my medical history on multiple forms, having enough blood drawn in little glass tubes to satisfy a thirsty vampire. In my early 20s, I contracted a disease that doctors were unable to identify for years—in fact, for about a decade they thought nothing was wrong with me—but that nonetheless led to multiple complications, requiring a succession of surgeries, emergency-room visits, and ultimately (when tests finally showed something was wrong) trips to specialists for MRIs and lots more testing. During the time I was ill and undiagnosed, I was also in and out of the hospital with my mother, who was being treated for metastatic cancer and was admitted twice in her final weeks.
Most recently, the PBS show Frontline titled an episode “Trump’s Takeover.” In its telling, President Trump wasn’t yet in control of the GOP as recently as his failed effort to get a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare through Congress. Then, he succeeded in signing a tax-reform bill into law. In the celebration that followed, he was praised by Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and Orrin Hatch, even as critics like Senator Jeff Flake were preparing to step away from politics.
To get a job at the Museum of Ice Cream, hopeful future employees show up at the weekly casting call, Tuesdays at noon. They head to the former Savings Union Bank in San Francisco’s financial district, where pink banners announce, in minimalist font, the name of the employer-to-be. Inside, there are giant animal cookies on carousel mounts. Gardens of gummies. A minty scent wafting through a jungle of mint leaves. Each day, roughly 1,700 people pay $38 a ticket to march through the maze of rooms, licking pink vanilla soft-serve cones, following instructions from a cotton candy server to text someone in their life whom they consider the “cherry on top,” and, all the while, angling for photos. It is as if Willy Wonka had redesigned his factory for the selfie age.
The intense media focus on President Trump’s personal dramas hurts the party’s ability to sell its message to the voters it needs most.
It was telling that as Tax Day arrived this week, the media’s focus was riveted not on the massive tax overhaul that President Trump recently signed into law, but on James Comey, Stormy Daniels, and Michael Cohen.
In their own ways, these three players in the Trump drama symbolize the ethical storms and moral challenges constantly buffeting the president. Those tempests have imposed an unmistakable political cost on Trump—whose approval rating remains far below what might be expected in an economy this strong—and they represent an inescapable threat to Republicans in the November midterm elections.
What’s ironic is that these storms pose a challenge for Democrats, too: The intense media attention on Trump’s personal deficiencies might not actually move many more voters than they already have, and the economic message pushed by Democrats—one that’s rooted, in part, in the tax bill—is having a hard time breaking through.
The root of the problem could be social or linguistic.
The quirks in Ramsey Brewer’s conversation are subtle. The 17-year-old repeats himself from time to time and makes small mistakes in the words he uses. For instance, he says he and his best friend look scaringly, not scarily, similar. He also pauses at odd spots, and for a beat or two longer than most people do. When he’s talking, he makes eye contact briefly but then slides his eyes sideways—or closes them. And his comments swerve in unexpected directions: Asked where he goes to school, he says Boston Latin Academy, but then suddenly adds, “I’m not actually from this state,” even though he and his family have lived in Massachusetts for years.
Ramsey knows he regularly misreads other people, but he leaves it to his mother, Kathryn Brewer, to explain how. Once, she says, when she had just climbed some stairs and was short of breath, he thought she had been about to cry. During a visit to the dentist, when Ramsey put on the safety sunglasses, the dental hygienist joked with him: “Hey, you can really pull those off.” Taking her comment literally, he pulled the glasses off his face.
Is the social-media gig economy a form of entrepreneurship, fraud—or something else entirely?
“Hi! I noticed you posted about your cold today. It sucks to be sick. I thought maybe you’d like to try some greens! I love them; I swear, you’ll never get sick again!”
I did not want the greens.
This was the third time my friend from college had tried to sell them to me online. She also did things like post statuses about “That Crazy Wrap Thing” that her friends were supposed to pretend were not advertisements. My aunt who homeschools her seven children sells organic cleaning supplies. A poet I know says she sells online for the community it gives her. A young college administrator likes it for the freebies and the friendships. A stay-at-home mom said she was using a lot of makeup anyway, so Younique only made sense.
America is on the path to legalization, but as pot becomes a big business, lawmakers aren't yet wrestling with how to regulate it effectively.
The marijuana wars are entering a new phase. The first phase, over whether or not to legalize the recreational use of cannabis, is over. The partisans of legalization have won the battle for public opinion. Soon, I suspect, marijuana legalization will be entrenched in federal law. At this point, to fight against legalization is to fight against the inevitable. The only question now is what form America’s legal marijuana markets will take. Will they be dominated by for-profit business enterprises with a vested interest in promoting binge consumption? Or will they be designed to minimize the very real harms caused by cannabis dependence, even if that means minting fewer marijuana millionaires? I fear that the burgeoning cannabis industry will win out—but their victory is not yet assured.
Meg Wolitzer’s novel is a timely, dynamic examination of women and power that male readers and gatekeepers should take seriously.
Last November, I went to a swanky party to celebrate the release of advance copies of The Female Persuasion, Meg Wolitzer’s 11th novel. Bartenders created bespoke cocktails named after sections of the book; the evening’s highlight was a public conversation between Wolitzer and New York magazine’s Rebecca Traister. The mood was festive verging on jubilant. The Harvey Weinstein scandal had broken a few weeks earlier, and an anonymously sourced spreadsheet alleging misconduct by various men in media had already resulted in the resignation or firing of a handful of prominent figures. All anyone wanted to talk about was smashing the patriarchy—a conversation that flowed freely, owing to the circumstances, the cocktails, and the fact that nearly all the guests were women. In a room of 100 or so people, I counted only a handful of male faces.