Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio
Please note: These show notes may be in various stages of completion -- ranging from brainstormed notes through to well-polished monologues. Please excuse anything that may seem rough around the edges, as it may only be a first draft of a thought and not be fully representative of what was said on the air.
Warren Buffett vs. Donald Trump:
How blankets became wind farms (and they're never going back)
If you can't describe the history of the American textile industry, you'll never get industrial and trade policy right today.
Raw cotton from the South
Textile production in the north
Northern production was much more efficient, but over time it became sclerotic
Labor competition from better jobs
Equipment and upkeep costs
Some manufacturers tried to specialize in high-tech materials, and many came out:
The net result was that margins on the basic stuff shrank and competition became harder than ever
Some labor shifted to the South
Could build new factories from scratch for less than cost of renovating old ones up north
Eventually, the manufacturers faced a stark choice: Produce overseas or get out of the business entirely
Plenty of adaptation followed
The book "How to Lose $100 Million and Other Valuable Advice" was written by Royal Little after he created Textron as a textile company. Textron makes helicopters now, but no textiles.
Segment Make money
A popular opinion holds that if only America had more factories, we'd be a much better country. But that opinion relies on a badly outdated stereotype of manufacturing and of the economy overall.
The fact is that Rust Belt cities have evolved. They are no longer dominated by "smokestack industries" belching pollution into the air. Yes, there are still factories -- but the smartest communities have evolved and adapted so that they are more diversified and less dependent upon churning out raw goods.
For example: What you see in Pittsburgh today, yes, still includes heavy manufacturing. But it also incorporates lots of other things, including a vibrant financial sector, cutting-edge computer and tech companies, and high-value manufacturing.
High-value manufacturing is good to have as part of a local economy. But high-value manufacturing is (generally) much more a process of taking lots of components and turning them into sophisticated equipment than it is about churning out lots of commoditized goods from raw materials. And if you don't understand the difference, you can't get economic policy right. High-value manufacturing usually involves complex assembly, computer programming, and highly-skilled finish work, not big smokestacks and long assembly lines full of people doing the same mind-numbing turn of the wrench over and over.
America produces more value in manufacturing than ever before. We just happen to do it with a lot fewer people -- because the people doing the work are producing much more value per person. That's good for all of us. What isn't good for us is to fall into outdated stereotypes about manufacturing "greatness" means.
Thinking that we just have to turn back the clock and return to manufacturing the same things we made in the 1950s is like writing a prescription without getting the right diagnosis first. What we really want is for lots of Americans to be able to obtain fulfilling, stable jobs with good middle-class pay and benefits. That's not something we're going to achieve by going back to making all of our own toasters again.