CHICAGO (July 8, 4:20 p.m. EDT) — The fragmented manufacturing community needs to present specific options in Washington if it has any hope of influencing government policies, an author and political commentator told a standing-room-only forum at NPE.
David Friedman, a senior fellow at New America Foundation in Washington and an author on manufacturing and Japanese economic development, told the audience at “CrossRoads Forum: The China Factor” that there is no consensus in the world for radical changes in trade policies.
Specifically, he said industry should push for things like making it illegal for U.S. companies to sign technology-transfer agreements because they are “simply blackmail” and can hurt a company in the long run.
He also said manufacturers can push to restrict Chinese imports if the country does not comply with World Trade Organization rules.
Manufacturers need to present detailed policy prescriptions to win political support, Friedman said. “Saying 'Help us, please,' earns you a handshake, a pat on the back and the status quo,” he said.
Industry also should tell government what it's willing to do to make itself more efficient, if the government is going to put some temporary protection in place, he said.
Friedman is the author of The Misunderstood Miracle, a 1988 book about Japan's economic policies. He is working on a series of articles for New America Foundation on the “promises and perils” of the new economy, and what he sees as the deepening divide between those helped and hurt by current economic programs.
He was the keynote speaker at the June 25 forum, co-organized by the Washington-based Society of the Plastics Industry Inc.'s Global Business Council and Injection Molding Magazine.
Friedman said that declining manufacturing in the United States doesn't command the public attention it once did because manufacturers are a much smaller part of the economy. In 1973, manufacturing was 25 percent of gross domestic product, but it's only about 11 percent now, and it is the only sector of the economy to have a net loss of jobs in that period, Friedman said.
“In almost any other country, you'd see major public concern,” he said. But not in the United States, because most of the job growth has been in industries disconnected from manufacturing, and because the United States decided to let other countries “fudge the rules” on trade to get their support in the Cold War, he said.
Friedman criticized some arguments traditionally made by manufacturers because they are ineffective. Arguments that manufacturing is needed to protect national security, that it is important for long-term research and development and that the U.S. should scrap trade deals have been tried but won't be effective, he said.
He urged manufacturers to seek political allies among unions and among Latinos, who he said benefit from manufacturing jobs and are becoming more politically powerful.