President Bush's recent lifting of trade tariffs for imported steel would seem to reinforce the need for a better approach than focusing on the imposition of trade barriers and other negative actions.
The basic premise is that near-full employment is essential for a viable economy and for maintaining our standards of living.
China and other developing nations will continue to learn to make products of value to the United States and other countries, and do so at much lower cost. This applies to composites as well as steel and plastics and other materials. U.S. companies can overcome this problem by being more productive and using automation and other technologies.
But higher productivity means lost jobs. Yet, employment is essential to provide customers with products as well as means for maintaining people's living standards. There is really only one way to accomplish that goal: encourage ideas, leading to new and improved products, with concomitant new jobs.
Utilize every available resource to encourage and create products, and to improve current ones. Throughout history, there are examples of how the creation of products led to countless new jobs. As for the benefit from improving products, Japan demonstrated that concept when it began producing high-quality automobiles — taking business from other countries.
Certainly we should take advantage of resources. The United States has some outstanding technical capabilities that are used for other purposes. In addition to our universities, government agencies have well-equipped labs that could help create jobs. For example, NASA represents a fantastic technological resource. It would make sense to apply these facilities and staff to creating new and better products rather than to concentrate so many billions of dollars on the manned space program. Sure, there may be practical benefits that spin off from the manned space program, but why not apply the resources directly to create products? For example, nanocomposites, nanoadhesives, nanoplastics and other nanomaterials could lead to a whole new industry — and perhaps millions of new jobs. Yes, the government is already encouraging research and development in nanosystems, but more — much more — could be done.
The economy's needs can foster creative solutions to finding products that will provide the millions of new jobs required to satisfy the needs of our citizens.
Epstein is the Los Angeles-based editor of “Composites & Adhesives Newsletter,” where this column originally appeared. He also teaches an engineering course on composites at UCLA and is a composites and adhesives consultant.