Problems with Gerber’s Perspective on Manufacturing Growth in the United States

Introduction

There is a common perception that the US economy is in a multi-decade period of decline. The Business Insider reported the US was becoming the first post-industrial country and the country that brought the industrial revolution to the world shipped more garbage abroad than it did goods (Snyder, 2010). In 2012 the Wall Street Journal reported a hostile taxation climate toward United States businesses continued to drive them overseas (McKinnon & Thurm, 2011). The Washington Post echoed a similar sentiment by naming names with 73 formerly US-based companies totalling more than $679 billion in revenue and many targeted for takeovers by multinational companies (Douglas-Gabriel, 2014). The Philadelphia Trumpet accentuated this perception when they reported, “Manufacturing as a share of the economy has been plummeting. In 1965, manufacturing accounted for 53 percent of the economy. By 1988 it only accounted for 39 percent, and in 2004, it accounted for just 9 percent,” (Morley, 2006). The Fiscal Times expressed a similar pessimism when it noted the manufacturing sector would never recover from these losses (Goozner, 2012).

These reports come on the heels of many socio-political commentators and academics whose punditry celebrates the loss of global US prestige (McCoy, 2015). In 2014, the Business Insider reported that America was in jeopardy of losing its place as the number one economic and super power in the world where it noted:

America’s global economic dominance has been declining since 1998, well before the Global Financial Crisis. A large part of this decline has actually had little to do with the actions of the US but rather with the unravelling of a century’s long economic anomaly. China has begun to return to the position in the global economy it occupied for millennia before the industrial revolution (Ro, 2014).

The Economist reported that America’s military lost a competitive edge due to its inability to maintain the technological gap against potential military rivals (“Why America’s military is losing its edge,” 2015). Harvard Business School alumni reported in 2012 that America had lost its competitive edge in the world markets and advocated for budget and tax reforms in Washington, D.C., reformation of poor trade practices that penalize US business and to invigorate and incentivize the energy sector (Porter, Rivkin, & Kanter, 2013). A 2013 Pew Research poll noted that for the first time in 40 years a majority of Americans believed the US played a less important and powerful role as a world leader than it had in the preceding decade (Dimock, Doherty, Horowitz, & Oates, 2013).

To complicate things, countries like China court American businesses with incentives to purchase their products and services if these companies build manufacturing facilities in their China (Swanson, 2015). Sean Williams noted that China made more than the US does and owned more debt than the US did–which gave it international leverage (Williams, 2012). Given recent market challenges the world’s largest economy in China revitalized its economic position with more nationalistic and protectionist attitudes toward foreign investment and multinationals (Denyer, 2015). On a smaller scale, Chilean financiers lure tech entrepreneurs from abroad with $40,000 grants to start a small business with one of the lowest business tax rates in the world (Farrell, 2004). Brazil also announced that it would invest $78 million on foreign entrepreneurial tech start-up firms in the country (Cutler, 2013).

Conversely, The Federal Reserve offered statistical data noting that the industrial capacity of the US increased every year since 1993 except for two years (Historical Statistics for Industrial Production, Capacity, and Utilization: Manufacturing, 2015). This same report noted relatively consistent ratios for industrial utilization percentages which however around 77% (Historical Statistics for Industrial Production, Capacity, and Utilization: Manufacturing, 2015). This kind of number is reflected in various markets.

In November of 2013 the US passed a milestone where it manufactured more oil than it imported (Koch & Jackson, 2013). In June of 2015 the US passed Russia as the largest producer of oil in the world (“U.S. Ousts Russia as Top World Oil, Gas Producer in BP Data,” 2015). The following month in a highly competitive market, again the US passed Saudi Arabia as the largest producer of oil in the world (Hebron & Hackle, 2015). In May the Daily Caller reported the state of Texas produced more natural gas than all of the OPEC countries combined (Bastache, 2015). In agriculture too, the US exports five times more food to China than it imports from it and in 2012, China passed Mexico as the largest importer of US foodstuffs (Philpott, 2014). National Public Radio reported on the largess of the US Healthcare system surpassing all others (Seigle, 2012). This market sector employed one in eight Americans in the workforce while promising continued growth and profit until 2025 (Seigle, 2012). The International Business Times described a renaissance in American manufacturing that emerged from the financial crisis of 2009 (Clark, 2014). The report noted, “American factories are producing more than ever with fewer workers and unlike the low-end goods with thin profit margins produced in China and other developing nations (toys, shoes, consumer electronics, etc.), the expensive and complicated goods many American factories now produce — medical equipment, computer chips, commercial and military jets and oil and gas equipment, to name a few — require specialized skills,” (Clark, 2014). In the text, International Economics Gerber asserted in a case study that between 1960 and 2008, the United States increased its manufacturing output while employing fewer people in the manufacturing sector. With few exceptions Gerber articulated that, “Employment peaked in 1979 at 19,426,000, and began a long-run decline after that,” (Gerber, 2011). Gerber asserted that US production in output increased despite the reduced participation in the labor force and that because of these increased outputs the American worker was highly skilled and obviously competitive in the international marketplace. American industrialist and technology leader Jason Priatt attributed this resurgence to four characteristics which included the profitability of natural gas, increased labor costs in developing countries by 20%, new automation technologies, and the changing risk profiles of global countries (Piatt, 2013). The Business Insider reported that American companies discovered in this mass exodus that off-shoring was not as profitable or easy as previously thought (Johnson, 2012) and another reported exclaimed the value of the American worker when they noted, “each US worker adds $145,000 in value, far more than German, French or Japanese employees, and more than 10 times that of the Chinese worker who contributes $13,700,” (Contractor, 2012).

In the divergent perspective of loss and gain over jobs and productivity which perspective is right? Does the American worker really produce more? Furthermore, based on Gerber’s assertions what should the US marketplace look forward to in the next 10 years?

Hypothesis: The US will see real output growth in manufacturing and a continued decline in jobs to get the job done.

Analysis and Findings

Loss. In 2014 major investors predicted a significant market correction (Bhattacharya, 2014). Such a correction is a change in the S&P that accounts for a 10% shift and CNBC News predicted a shift in 2015 (Belvedere, 2014). In order for business to grow, they must be able to provide a product or service to the market at a point where the consumer can obtain those goods and services as well as the ability to produce enough to meet the need for those products and services in the market. Velocity in both the manufacturing and logistics supply sides of the business equation are improved through finance. Companies can assume either debt or equity as part of accumulating capital from these financial sources. Therefore, manufacturing in a country often shadows the financial trends.
Silicon Valley CEO’s who will go on record note that the next market correction will look like a tightening of capital in private equity markets (Tobak, 2015). CNBC Financial Reporter Koba, noted that the next market correction will likely last less than two months as opposed to a bear market or capitulation where investors take losses for longer periods of times and often try to exit the market completely (Koba, 2015). Others are more bearish alleging that market capitulation will result in the replacement of the dollar as the world’s reserve currency by the Yuan or the Euro (Leverett & Leverett, 2014). US economic expert Amadeo noted that 43% of all cross-border transactions and 61% of foreign currency reserves are still with the US dollar but that a massive dollars dump by Japan, Russia, India, Brazil and China could trigger a dollar collapse (Amadeo, 2015). Libertarian, physician, former US Congressional Banking Committee member and Presidential Candidate, Ron Paul believed the massive amounts of the US Debt and the dollar’s devaluation could trigger this exodus (Patton, 2015).

The scope of a correction, bear market or capitulation might allow for an extremely wide variance in potential outcomes. Considering the evaluation of 10 years in prediction also becomes problematic when similar market experts missed the dot-com bubble burst, the massive insider trading on 9/11, and other major economic events in recent history. Wiedemer, Wiedemer, and Spitzer predicted the popping of the real estate bubble in 2008 and published a book called Aftershock in which they predict a major financial crisis worse than the real estate crisis before 2025 (Wiedemer, Wiedemer, & Spitzer, 2011). Investigative journalist Michael Ruppert believed that the world was beyond peak oil and remained in an unsustainable global condition where the market would eventually force corrections to localize many products and services (Ruppert & Campbell, 2009). This forced correction would cause significant shortages in power, goods, and services. Peak Oil was an idea furthered by Matthew Simmons who believed that the oil fields of the Middle East were in decline due to the massive amounts of sea water being pumped into super-fields like Ghawar (Simmons, 2006).

Prepper and webmaster of SHTF.com, Slavo predicted that in the event of a crash several things would happen to the social order of the society. Slavo’s made six claims which included: (1) that travel would likely be restricted, (2) there would be food shortages, (3) the government would confiscate remaining wealth, (4) there would be squatter rebellions, (5) many unhappy with their material condition in the loss of jobs and property would riot, (6) and the state will impose martial law (Slavo, 2014). Media personality Glenn Beck interviewed James Rickards, an expert on financial collapses, about what an economic collapse would look like in May of 2015, and he noted that because so much currency is digital, the markets and finance would be shut down and he alleged black markets would emerge (Rickards. & Beck, 2015). Prepper, Daisy Luther described the conditions in Greece and Venezuela as examples of what would follow a severe bear market or financial collapse. She noted the difficulty in getting diapers for a baby or even the ability of the citizen to buy an aspirin in these markets and that they were more readily available in black markets as rationing and hoarding became commonplace throughout the society (Luther 2015).

When monetary policy becomes the focus of these perspectives, the manufacturing sector would also remain challenged. Supplies from abroad that are purchased on short-term credit would have difficulty coming from mines in East Africa. Parts to repair the lathe or smelting machine from Germany may have difficulty coming across the ocean because shipping companies might have trouble procuring fuel and the parts would be back-ordered several months. These disruptions in the global supply chain would have all kinds of economic impacts to include an inability of businesses to remain open and adding costs to doing business which would restrict real growth and output. Trucks bring everything to stores and a disruption in fuel supplies would hinder basic movement of goods and services. High costs of energy might limit and create shortages first in the rural areas for all kinds of goods and services and then even in food in large markets. Buying toothpaste or medicine would have problems until new market opportunities were capitalized on and restructured. Many businesses would go bankrupt, people would lose their homes to banks and become refugees.

In instances where this has happened in smaller markets the economy implodes and the International Monetary Fund opens the sovereign debt of the nation up to creditors. Companies and assets are bought in that fire sale for pennies on the dollar and employees are fired and rehired at significantly way fewer wages. People who have personal debt in these kinds of social and economic contractions lose out because they become upside down in their debt. In Greece the airports are being sold from the people (Gatopoulos, 2010). In the Ukraine the IMF is muscling its way into selling non-GMO items in the country (Nelson, 2014).

Gain. If past performance was an indicator of future results then the likelihood that the stock market would go up and manufacturing in the United States would increase. Those who have historically invested in the marketplace and kept their money have usually done better than inflation. In this perspective the World Bank’s averages the US growth at 2% between 1997 and 2013. If this trend continued, the US GDP would increase from $2.022 Trillion in 2014 to $2.416 in 2024. As capital remained available due to profitability of businesses this trend would compound and goods and services in new markets unimagined would emerge. Given the market intervention by the state and regulation the likelihood that this trend would continue with further employment is consistent with Gerber’s thesis although the winners and the losers may be influenced by the deterministic cronyism of the state.

Thomas Brook-Smith does not believe a market correction was overdue (Brooke-Smith, 2014). This sentiment was also asserted by Citigroup chief equity strategist via the Wall Street Journal (Scholer, 2015). In order for business to grow they must be able to provide a product or service to the market at a point where the consumer can obtain those goods and services–as well as the ability to produce enough to meet the need for those products and services. Velocity in both the manufacturing and logistics supply sides of the business equation are improved through finance. Companies can assume either debt or equity as part of accumulating capital from these financial sources. Therefore, manufacturing in a country often remains an echo of the financial sector.

Two Oxford University researchers reported earlier in 2015, that manufacturing would likely seek to automate many functions currently done by humans in the service industry and estimated that 47% of all jobs in the United States were susceptible to this automation (Frey & Osborne, 2013). Supporting this bombshell thesis, in 2015, Chinese company Dongguan built the first all-robot manufacturing plant in China (Huifeng, 2015). The New York Post reported that Japan’s Weird Hotel replaced its workforce to include the receptionist and porters with robots in a story that remained consistent with the rise of the machines (“Robots replace human workers at Japan’s Weird Hotel,” 2015). Following strikes in the United States, McDonald’s considered replacing food service workers with more reliable and consistent robotic vending technologies (O’Toole, 2014). McDonald’s deployed this technology in Phoenix in the summer of 2015 (Rubics, 2015). If a trend like this remained viable ten years into the future, business researchers Malone and Davidow noted that there would suddenly be millions of people providing zero economic contributions to the world economy and this shift throughout the world might displace several hundred million workers (Malone & Davidow, 2014). To address the security issues that might evolve out of this displaced workforce, the US Pentagon currently seeks to utilize robotic technology with a $130 billion army of them (Francis Harris, 2005).

In this outcome the workforce would continue to decline and production and output would continue to increase. The human race at that pace of change may not culturally adapt to this and likely security and destabilization in areas around the globe may erupt as a result. In what was once the stuff of Hollywood science fiction the security situation needed to protect those goods and services may also be enforced by an algorithmic machine to conduct war and humans left too idle may find other pursuits that may not involve economic production. This perspective does not seem likely that an army of 100 million scientific researchers could emerge from this gene pool of displaced workers, even in industrialized societies where retraining and stability could be paid for by these transitioning technologies.

Conclusion

Even if the dollar continues to lose value with the United States in a decline of prestige, the challenge remains for central banks around the world to do so with out creating political instability. It does not appear that following the correction in September that the Yuan or Euro is in better condition than the US dollar and to replace the dollar as a reserve currency, there is not a viable alternative. Since all currencies are currently tied to the dollar if one rises or falls, it is done together. One rumor promoted by a former hedge fund manager and economic expert, Dr. Steve Sjuggerudis is that the International Monetary Fund will issue a new world currency sometime in October of 2015 (Brown, 2015). Economic expert Sean Lynch noted that the only reason why these other countries have not dumped the dollar, “is that the economy is on the rocks. Money that would have been flowing into commodities and consumer goods is sitting in bank reserve accounts because they’re afraid to lend. In addition, the Chinese have been importing inflation from the US,” (Lynch, 2011).

Guo and Planting noted in a 2000 Report published by the Bureau of Economic Analysis that these overall changes may have measured overall output but failed to address the subtleties of the structural changes when they noted:

Over the 1972 to 1996 period nominal GDP grew at an average annual rate of 8 percent, but contributions by manufacturing to GDP grew at an average of 6.5 percent annually. During the same period, the share of intermediate transactions to total industry gross output from manufacturing fell from 22 percent in 1972 to 17 percent in 1996 while those from services grew from 21 percent to 27 percent. Both of these measures are indicators of changes occurring in the structure of the economy, but they do not tell us fully where or why those changes are occurring (Guo & Planting, 2000).

Furthermore if these conditions instead of failing or getting worse improve, the outcomes may displace human workers with a robotic trend of automation at many sectors of the economy. Robots may be used to enforce law or tyrannical aspects of competitive states and within ten years displaced workers might present as an economic force of need in a position that would destabilize entire societies. If these workers were in the developed world, this dystopian view may be lessened since these societies could manage birthrates, retraining, and prisons more effectively.

Ultimately the powers of the state trend towards intervention. If the markets go up, they intervene and likewise if they go down. The arrogance of a political class has historically and consistently disregarded the rights of the individual in order to make good for what elitists call a common good. The absence of individual conscience in this has proven in most cases to be a detriment to the very citizens their democracies require them to serve. Servants are transformed into rulers in this cycle of history and oligarchs decide what lives are precious enough to not sacrifice. In the United States this shift has been the erosion of the middle class and in other developed countries like Greece and Venezuela this has been happening at an alarming rate–causing riots in the street and social unrest—pushing norms to revolution. In instances like these countries are in danger of fascist or Marxist political leadership and repeating the horrors seen in generations past. May our quest for continued outputs not exceed our capacity to respect life.

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