Posted Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013, at 11:15 AM
The Alliance for American Manufacturing has a new office and set out to see if they could furnish it entirely with stuff made in the USA. Aaron Wiener reports that the answer was no:
The short answer is no. There were certain things—electronics, mostly—that simply couldn't be found from American producers. But for the most part, AAM has succeeded in its mission, and its office is something of a showcase of American manufacturing.
"The point of this office is to show it's a lot easier than you think," says AAM executive director Scott Paul.
Our tour began in one of the small offices, where Paul showed off a desk from Washington state. But things took a turn downhill from there, when we got to the products on the desk.
Something to say about this is that I think the large size of the United States somewhat distorts people's view of this issue. Take a major manufacturing state like Michigan. Michigan has a lot of advocates of American manufacturing and especially Michigan manufacturing. But you obviously can't furnish an office with stuff exclusively made in the state of Michigan. It's just way too small. Even the Michigan-centered automobile supply chain extends in deep and important ways into Ohio, Ontario, and other surrounding jurisdictions. More broadly, the flipside of Michigan's regional specialization in the export of cars to the rest of North America is that it needs to import lots of other things from outside the state. That's not a weakness of the Michigan economy; it just reflects the fact that there are only 9 million people in Michigan and a given place is going to want to specialize in something.
Sweden has about the same population as Michigan and, like Michigan, is unusually manufacturing-focused by OECD standards (though to be clear, in both Michigan and Sweden most people work in services) and it even generally runs a trade surplus. But still, simply in virtue of Sweden's smallness there's absolutely no sense in pursuing a strategy of Swedish autarky.
America is a great big place, so it's not obviously unrealistic to try to imagine a world in which a person could get buy exclusively on made-in-America stuff. But we're still a relatively small slice of the world as a whole. And it's not a bad thing—or even necessarily contrary to the idea of having a strong manufacturing sector—if we're specialized in some stuff and not present in some other industries. The strength of Swedish manufacturing, or Michigan manufacturing, is based on whether or not the things it does do thrive in the global marketplace not on whether it can do everything.