U.S. Manufacturing Up Against an Uneven Playing Field Globally

On Sunday, the Chicago Sun-Times published the following Op-Ed by Congressman Dan Lipinski (IL-03) detailing the challenges facing U.S. manufacturing and the steps we must take to address them.
Chicago Sun-Times
December 4, 2011
By Congressman Dan Lipinski

The last 10 years were indeed a “lost decade” for manufacturing employment in the Chicago region, as the Sun-Times reported last Sunday. But as the Sun-Times also noted, the country as a whole fared no better, shedding one-third of all factory jobs.

A national crisis demands a national response. Washington should not leave the states to fight among themselves for a slice of an ever-shrinking pie.

I am a strong believer in free markets, but the global economy in which American manufacturers compete is not a level playing field. Their foreign competitors often benefit from illegal trade practices and massive government intervention that gives them an unfair advantage.

Washington needs to fight such anti-competitive practices while also recognizing that government can play a constructive role in promoting American manufacturing’s success within a free-market system. It can start by passing the Currency Reform for Fair Trade Act, H.R. 639, to make it easier to impose tariffs to combat China’s currency manipulation, which has cost America countless jobs. Though this bill easily passed the House last year and similar legislation recently passed the Senate, House Republicans refuse to allow a vote on it.

A more proactive approach to enforcing existing laws to combat illegal trade practices by foreign countries would also help. What we do not need is more NAFTA-style trade agreements like the recently passed South Korea and Colombia trade deals, which President Obama pushed for and I voted against.

I understand that not everyone will agree with all of these prescriptions. But there are steps we can take to strengthen manufacturing that should be easy to agree to. One of them is passing the National Manufacturing Strategy Act, H.R. 1366, to develop a comprehensive, long-term strategy for revitalizing the manufacturing sector and sparking job creation. This is a simple bill, but one with the potential to have a major impact. It would require a board from the public and private sectors to conduct an in-depth analysis of U.S. manufacturing and then produce a wide-ranging plan for promoting its success. This process would be repeated every four years, keeping manufacturing on Washington’s agenda.

Last year, not long after I introduced this bill, it passed the House 379-38. There is nothing in it to stop Congress from passing it in short order.

Some naysayers argue America simply cannot compete in manufacturing. They are wrong. Look at Germany. Like America, it’s a high-wage country. But unlike the United States, it runs a trade surplus.

I also doubt that the pessimists fully grasp the ramifications of American manufacturing’s decline. As a much-discussed article in the Harvard Business Review recently put it, “Decades of outsourcing manufacturing has left U.S. industry without the means to invent the next generation of high-tech products that are key to rebuilding its economy.” For example, the offshoring of consumer electronics manufacturing allowed Asia to become an innovator in battery technology, which in turn gave manufacturers there a head start in developing hybrid and electric cars. Manufacturing is also critical to the defense of our nation.

America cannot afford another decade of manufacturing job losses. Washington owes it to the American people to implement a national manufacturing strategy.

U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski, a Democrat, represents the third congressional district from Illinois, which includes much of Chicago’s Southwest Side and the southwest suburbs.