How America Can Steal Manufacturing Back from Foxconn (Really)

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When it comes to manufacturing, China is the new America, meaning America might be the new China? The idea, from The Atlantic's James Fallows who has visited over 200 Chinese plants, goes like this: If China continues to modernize, at some point soon things will get more expensive and harder to make there, which will bring factories back here. Or, in his words: 

Through most of post–World War II history, the forces of globalization have made it harder and harder to keep manufacturing jobs in the United States. But the latest wave of technological innovation, communications systems, and production tools may now make it easier—especially to bring new products to market faster than the competition by designing, refining, and making them in the United States. At just the same time, social and economic changes in China are making the outsourcing business ever costlier and trickier for all but the most experienced firms.

Fallows came to this conclusion after a recent visit to Foxconn. There, in addition to some people having fun sometimes, he saw all the labor horrors we've heard about for months. But he also saw a changing population of workers, much more like the working class of the 1920s than the "Chicago packing house life in the 1890s," a comparison Fallows made five years ago. We all know what comes after the roaring 1920s for America's factories. So, assuming Chinese factories follow that trajectory, things will get too expensive as labor demands more rights, and so on and so on: Rust-belt 2.0. 

But why would those jobs come back to America? U.S. manufacturing is still costly and inefficient, which has prevented companies like Apple from building iThings here, as The New York Times's Charles Duhigg and Keith Bradsher explained last year. Fallows finds solutions for that, too. As for efficiency, immigrants from Asia and Latin America have "high level of apparel skills," says Kate Sofis, the executive director of SFMade, an organization that promotes making things in San Francisco. And making things quickly and on U.S. soil — that will bring costs down. So goes the theory, at least.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.