Why America Needs Factories

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If you’ve only been living in America for a few years, or if, like me, you only really became aware of your surroundings after the economy went to crap in a pleather briefcase, you might not have noticed the sharp decline in the number of factories on US soil. You might not even know what a factory looks like. How do you find a factory? Is there a password? Does it require a certain state of mind? What is a factory?

Sure, there were the days of Henry Ford and his cars of many colors (as long as it’s black), and there were a lot of factories then; there must be a lot of factories now, right?

Well…

No. Not really. There are still factories, but there are a LOT less than there used to be.

Let’s check out this statistic from Prospect.org that talks about our disappearing factories:

Since 2001, the country has lost 42,400 factories, including 36 percent of factories that employ more than 1,000 workers (which declined from 1,479 to 947), and 38 percent of factories that employ between 500 and 999 employees (from 3,198 to 1,972).

Wow, that’s pretty bad. This basically means that American industry has taken a huge hit, which most of us already knew. I’ve personally watched two factories being demolished; the main reason was that they were abandoned, outsourced and, frankly, really damn ugly. Is that really what we want our industry reduced to? Factories are where we produce the items that rake in the big bucks – things like cars, food products, natural resources, and high-technology products like semiconductors and Apple devices. It’s a crucial part of the economic system that has been a weak link in the American chain for some time now. However, an article from Bloomberg.com claims that, under President Obama, factory jobs have made a record recovery.

The BGOV Barometer shows U.S. factory positions have grown since early 2010, arresting a slide that began toward the end of the 1990s. It’s the best showing since the era of Bill Clinton , the only president in the last 30 years to leave office with more factory jobs than when he began.

That’s pretty good, right? Well, maybe. If you check out the full article, one thing you might notice is that the writer does not provide any statistics, any links, nor any evidence whatsoever to back up her claim. That’s journalism 101, back yourself up with facts. So, I’m reluctant to take her word for it. Regardless, I’ve seen American industry slipping for some time, and I feel like if it were really recovering, we’d be hearing a lot more about it. True, the article was only posted today, and perhaps the writer is still looking for statistics. But the fact that she is reporting on this without linking to the source makes me think that it’s too good to be true. Perhaps factory jobs are improving, and perhaps they’ve been improving for a while, but I suspect the actual numbers turnout is low.

An improvement, but… eh.

However, Slate.com seems to think, judging by the title of their article from April of this year, that we really shouldn’t care so much about factories.

Normally I try to be composed about other peoples’ articles, but OH MY WHOLE-WHEAT FLAKES, Mr. Ynglesias, blood is shooting out of my eyes. How can you possibly possess the opinions that you possess?

Basically the author, Matthew Ynglesias, claims that high-technology companies like “Twitter, Apple, Google, and Facebook” produce a high standard of living, while factories are usually found in lower-class areas and therefore produce a low standard of living. Logically, the conclusion is that we should encourage more growth in these high-technology companies while getting rid of the factories.

He even goes so far as to deliver this gem:

The scary thing about the factory-driven view of the American future is that it’s not totally implausible. The “insourcing” trend where firms move production back to North America is real enough. The drivers are rising Chinese wages and falling “unit labor costs” in the United States. But that’s just a way of saying that America can regain factory parity with China by eliminating the prosperity gap between our two countries—a very strange policy aspiration. Most likely there’s nothing we can do to prevent some narrowing of the gap, which will have the consequence of bringing some jobs back. But we should measure our success by the extent to which this doesn’t happen, and we instead build and expand new industries that push living standards up and keep factory owners searching abroad for cheap labor.

AHHHHHHHH.

Did he seriously just advocate for outsourcing manufacturing labor to foreign countries like CHINA!? Isn’t that what everyone in the entire country hates? Don’t we always rail against the “made in China” tag on those little lead-filled toys? AHHHHH.

Okay, returning a modicum of sanity to the discussion here, I really think Mr. Ynglesias misunderstands… well, everything.

First of all, the reason we need manufacturing jobs domestically is because producing products and then selling them is a really great way to boost the economy. That’s first grade reasoning and I’m not sure how that’s not getting across. Especially if we can create something and sell it to another country, we can be making money and maybe alleviate some of the debt we have to everybody. The reason companies like Facebook, Yahoo, and Twitter can’t do that is because, contrary to Mr. Ynglesias’ belief, these companies don’t actually produce anything. They’re service websites, and without membership fees they make a majority of their money through advertising. So basically, the money goes between two parties, the companies doing the advertising, and the website hosting. The transaction does not include consumers at all.

In the case of Apple, the industry portion of the company isn’t even domestic. The industry is in China.

So… BOOM GOES THE DYNAMITE. Owned.

But I believe factories are even more important because of the mindset they produce.

I currently work in a factory that produces food products, and I can honestly say my first week was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I’ve worked in landscaping, construction, high-technology manufacturing, and nothing has been harder than working at a conveyor belt at a food manufacturer.

There’s really something to be said for that type of work. If you slack off, the line will not slow down for you. Those boxes just keep coming and coming until you’re buried underneath them. It builds character, that’s for sure, and it also teaches you really fast that the world does not revolve around you, but if you screw up, everything comes to a screeching halt. It teaches humility and work ethic, and those are two things we really need in this country right now. So when Slate.com publishes an article that says we don’t need factories anymore, I’d hasten to say that they are part of the problem. We take away the opportunities for hard work in this country, pay more and more for minimal effort, and then wonder why our population lazy and lacking work ethic. Well you know who isn’t lazy and lacking work ethic? People who work in factories. It’s almost impossible.

So let’s start bringing factories back to America. Let’s utilize our own natural resources, manufacture things out of them, and sell them to other countries. And let’s embrace hard work.

Seriously, once your fingers stop bleeding it’s really kind of fun.

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Thanks so much and God bless.

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