Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Are American athletes at London competing in American-made shoes?

Or, for that matter, are American politicians wearing American-made suits when fulminating about causes that are as unrealistic as they are meaningless and difficult to oppose? Ralph Lauren caved quickly when politicians complained, though complained is putting it mildly considering that some politicians threatened to burn the uniforms, about the company had American uniforms for the opening ceremony at the Olympics made in China. If there's one thing politicians around the world do well, it's meaningless symbolism in the face of an actual crisis, such as taking the irreversible loss of jobs in America's manufacturing sector and responding to it with the demand that Olympic uniforms be produced domestically.

If these outfits ought to be manufactured domestically given that American athletes will be representing their country to the world while wearing them, then surely the suits that American politicians wear (ROK Drop should be advised, though, that US presidents at least wear American-made suits) when representing their people should also be made domestically . It is likely that the politicians complaining about this seldom wear clothing manufactured in America, never use an American-made cell phone and may well not drive an American-made car.

American athletes certainly don't wear American-made shoes when competing at the Olympics, not to mention American-made athletic apparel, and virtually nothing will change this. Whether America should go to the length it has to ensure that a small number of lowly-paid jobs come back to America while raising costs for a variety of products is a larger debate that no one, at least no sensible person, is having, because it makes for an awful solution. Millions of unemployed Americans might go for these jobs in the meantime, but I think America could probably promise its unemployed better than a $10-per-hour job making athletic apparel or goofy Ralph Lauren apparel.

There are developed countries that continue to play major roles in manufacturing, and they are Germany, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan, among others. All these countries, much like most, though not all, people who have a good job anywhere, manage to do this by doing something that others can't do. No amount of symbolism and nationalism will ever make it possible for Americans to earn a middle-class wage, the sort that lets them take vacations and own a home, without even a high school diploma in the way that was possible for so long.

The future for American manufacturing is to develop some sort of specialty or skill, the kind that The Atlantic profiled some time ago, where workers with a technical education produce items that low-skilled workers in China or Bangladesh can't make. This is already happening, but the shift from unskilled to skilled manufacturing on a large scale in America is one plausible solution to the biggest problem it faces, that of the inability of those outside the professional class to make a comfortable living. America, in this typically absurd made-for-TV pseudo-crisis at least was able to identify that something is wrong, but didn't even manage to grasp the solution.

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