- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
An economic experiment basing the national economy on financial services has failed. An American renaissance will require a return to a manufacturing economy, U.S. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md., 5th) told businessmen Tuesday during a meeting at the Clarion Inn in Waldorf.
Returning to an industrial economy will require policies promoting domestic consumption of American goods, protection of intellectual property and training for a new generation of industrial workers, he told the 5th District’s Make It in America Advisory Committee during its first meeting.
The committee of businessmen and academics is intended to advise him on reviving manufacturing.
“America unfortunately became enamored with the thought that we would be successful if we became a financial center,” Hoyer said, promoting his “Make It in America” campaign to promote industry.
The strategy has failed in the past for nations such as Spain, and “they get bloated. You can see so many instances of that. They’re not making things. I’m not saying they’re not important. They’re very important in the whole scheme of things. That’s why it was very important to keep General Motors going for the economy and national security,” he said, including maintaining a manufacturing base that can be retooled, as during World War II, for military purposes.
“The United States has been like General Motors. General Motors got fat and lazy and expected success as if it were God-given. GM was successful because they worked at it and earned it and they got fat and lazy didn’t retool” as gas prices rose and consumers’ expectations, he said.
“We need to see more being done for manufacturers,” said Michael Galiazzo, president of the Regional Manufacturing Institute of Maryland, which is based in Baltimore.
Hoyer agreed, saying that American manufacturing jobs have declined by almost half in the past two decades, from 20 million to 11 million now. While America still has more manufacturing capacity than any other country, “we are clearly losing manufacturing,” he said. While rejecting protectionism, the federal government should take steps to increase demand for American products, he said.
Mike Hutson, business development manager for Triton Metals in Hollywood, had the highest hopes for the region.
“I think with a lot of the talent we have in Southern Maryland, there’s no reason we can’t be a Silicon Valley or a [Route] 128 corridor in Boston, he said.
But there are limits to what American industry can accomplish while being consistent with American values, Hoyer said.
Relating a story published in The New York Times that morning, he described how Chinese manufacturer Foxconn handled Apple CEO Steve Jobs’ demand for a last-minute change from plastic to glass screens for the first iPhone: Managers roused 8,000 workers from their beds in huge factory dormitories, gave them a frugal breakfast and sent them to work 12-hour shifts.
“We can’t compete with that and we don’t want to compete with that,” Hoyer said.
America is a center of design and innovation, but if manufacturing remains abroad, designers might follow, he warned, calling for greater protection for intellectual property.
He decried some companies’ opposition to the Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect IP Act, intended to increase protections for a wide swath of commercial ideas, and suggested that large information technology corporations may be too influential.
“I’m very worried about the fact Google and Facebook shut down for 24 hours or denied access” during a Jan. 18 Internet protest against the bills, he said.
Neither Facebook nor Google shut down for the protest, although Google blacked out its logo for the day and both corporations publicly complained that the bills, which could have made it easier for the government to shut down websites, were too broad. Some other sites, including Wikipedia, suspended access for the day. Following the protest, legislators delayed action on both bills, media accounts state.
“I’m very worried about that kind of power … that had an immediate effect of changing the legislative perspective on the protection of intellectual property overnight,” Hoyer continued.
Hoyer took the opportunity to defend the government’s bailout of U.S. automakers.
“That investment, in my opinion, is one of the best investments we’ve made over the last 36 months,” he said, noting General Motors’ success expanding into the Chinese market, a success partly enabled by last year’s tsunami disrupting Japanese automakers.
“The fact is, this has been a huge success and we’re going to get our money back, which is good for us. And we saved literally millions of jobs. Not just 200,000 or 300,000 jobs, but millions,” he said.
To create future industrial workers, Hutson called for more science and technology education for children.
But getting people back into manufacturing could take more than just training, said Garrick T. Davis, legislative director for the National Urban League in Washington, D.C.
“That’s become like the NIMBY of the American workplace. Collectively we like to think of America as making stuff, but we don’t want our kids to do that for some reason. We think it’s dumb, dirty, dangerous. It’s not that anymore,” Davis said.
“The kids in the suburbs, their parents don’t want them to be in manufacturing and even in the city, for some reason, there’s a stigma to being in manufacturing.”