So far, not so good.
Originally published on Medium. Find it here.
President Donald Trump returned from his trip to Asia, and lured reporters to the White House with the promise of a “major” trade announcement in the aftermath.
Turned out to be a travelogue.
What did we learn? The president still doesn’t like trade deficits, and still doesn’t like most trade agreements. What did he deliver? Not a single new concession from South Korea, Japan, or China.
His talk is cheap. And the president’s bluster, backed by no results, has made our job as advocates for factory workers much more difficult.
First, we must get an administration that makes plenty of trade promises to finally deliver on them. All we really have right now are hot air and empty tweets, and they don’t bring any factory jobs back.
Second, we must persuade the skeptics that those trade actions and other interventions could be effective in bringing back some jobs and creating new ones.
It doesn’t take much creativity to imagine the possibilities. If we had an American-made infrastructure bill, there’d be a steel mill fired up now making steel for the new bridges we need all across the country. If we had an American-made pipeline plan from the White House, there’d be a pipe mill hiring back workers to fill a new order to deliver energy. And if steel imports were actually held in check (instead of surging by 20 percent) we’d possibly have a blast furnace somewhere in the Midwest up and running again, bringing renewed hope to an entire community.
Even in this age of automation and globalization, there are a lot of reasons to think that millions more Americans can be working in manufacturing over the next decade. We have a strong energy advantage that is likely to ensure. We have a robust, wealthy consumer market. We have an unrivaled entrepreneurial culture. More robots will be found on future factory floors, sure, but the industry is already highly automated and knows how to adapt. With new products, more market share, and sharpened skills, there can be more factory jobs.
They can pay well. They can keep a family in a home, put a kid through college. They can economically support American communities in the margins.
With the right mindsets in the public and private sectors, we can guarantee that the next generation of really amazing things can be made right here.
Factories in some nation, somewhere — it could be Germany, Japan, China, or the United States — will be making autonomous vehicles; digital gadgets we haven’t even imagined yet; space vehicles that will take us to Mars; and technology that will transform the way we live and work.
I’m enough of an economic nationalist to confess I want those things to be made in American factories, by American workers.
That sentiment is nothing new. It didn’t get picked up in the musical, but Alexander Hamilton was our original economic nationalist; he authored America’s first manufacturing policy in 1791 because he envisioned a better, more competitive economy for America.
While we know President Trump isn’t a fan of the Broadway production, he has quoted Hamilton on more than one occasion. But unlike Hamilton, the president so far has an empty legacy.
If he follows through on his manufacturing and trade promises, that legacy would be remarkably improved.