In many ways the national manufacturing narrative has moved beyond the apocalyptic themes of a decade ago. Ten years of growth has changed everything.
Yet naysayers persist, and today the unlikely source is The Heritage Foundation, the respected conservative Washington D.C. think tank.
In "Biden's Manufacturing Plan: Wasteful Investment in Industry of Past," Research Fellow Elizabeth Hanke opens a new front in D.C.'s scorched-earth power struggle, using manufacturing as a cudgel. She conjures up a story that Biden's "Buy American" plan is a dead-end as long as it includes support for low-skilled manufacturing jobs, surmising that "investing and restoring the manufacturing industry is costly, inefficient, and puts American firms at a disadvantage compared to firms based in China and Mexico where production costs are significantly less expensive."
Her "key takeaways":
Biden frequently talks about reviving domestic manufacturing, an industry that has sharply declined over the past 40 years.
The movement of American manufacturing away from low-skilled labor has been economically beneficial.
Biden's unnecessary approach lacks any economic consideration to implement such guidelines.
You get the message, and Hanke sums it up nicely for us near the end. "Biden's manufacturing plan does not "build back better" or help American workers," she writes. "It wastes taxpayer dollars by investing in a declining sector of the economy."
In other words, U.S. manufacturing's not worth the investment. Better just to say, "If Biden's for it, we're against it." It would make for a better argument.
As a practical matter, it's impossible to invest in manufacturing's future without investing in people and industries powering its growth today. A realistic American manufacturing agenda has to include investments in "low-skilled" labor so long as it takes until we have a more highly trained workforce. Manufacturing's comeback is being fueled by a mix of industries and companies, many that rely on blue-collar talent -- labor that we stopped training -- and celebrating. Today a labor shortage in manufacturing is the price we're paying.
I don't begrudge a so-called thought-leader a misguided position here and there. For a decade we've listened to manufacturing's critics pronounce the sector dead or irrelevant. Hanke's missive is more of the same.
But events the past year shed even more light on why those pronouncements were wrong. In this case The Heritage Foundation should know better -- or tee up a more compelling argument that manufacturing is no longer strategic to the U.S. economy. This attempt falls flat. Politics provides no cover for a byline from even the most haughty of sources.
Bart Taylor is publisher of CompanyWeek. Contact him at email@example.com.