Maybe you’re still reliving the best moments of the Republican National Convention. Maybe you’re following the Democratic National Convention with excitement. Maybe you’re upset because your favorite candidate didn’t get the nomination. Whatever your political feelings, you have to be wondering, will the election affect manufacturing?
The Alliance for American Manufacturing held events around both political party conventions, hoping to get the parties to go beyond rhetoric. “If there were ever a presidential contest where the issues demanded our presence at a political convention,” wrote Scott Paul, president of the Alliance, “this is the one.”
Paul says that consumers are tired of the trade off of cheap goods for good jobs. “America isn’t a nation of baristas,” he says.
But this overlooks the decades of choices American consumers have made. Demanding cheap goods — and ever cheaper goods, no matter where they’re made — is not a sign that Americans want manufacturing jobs back. Choosing college majors that qualify graduates for nothing much beyond being baristas is not a sign of support for onshoring manufacturing.
We can’t help cause a problem and then look to elected leaders to fix it.
Oh, wait, we do that all the time.
And laws can affect manufacturing. Some laws make it easier to send manufacturing jobs abroad and some make it easier to open and expand factories in the United States. But the president doesn’t make the laws. Congress, the legislative branch, has much more power in that area.
Both candidates are currently speaking against trade agreements, including TPP and NAFTA, and trade agreements can affect manufacturing. They can also affect the economy. That may be the most important way the election affects manufacturing. A rising economy has different effects on manufacturing than a sinking one.
Economists generally believe that the president doesn’t have enough direct power to make a profound difference in the economy, but Ben Inker of GMO thinks this year may be different. “A government can manage to destroy an economy if it so chooses,” he told Thinkadvisor, “and it’s possible that a sufficiently ill-advised set of policies in the U.S. could do profound damage.”
Economist Gene Sperling makes an important point about one type of economic policy. Investing in the infrastructure, he says, is essential. While the U.S. was offshoring, the supply chain — including human skills — crumbled. “If I tell you that our pipe is leaking in the basement,” Sperling says, “you don’t say, ‘Oh, you’re really fiscally disciplined, you’re really smart. You say, ‘Oh, you’re an idiot.'”
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