Why the U.S. Manufacturing Renaissance Is Essential for U.S. Survival

Jerri-Lynn here. I would have framed this article differently, focusing on the importance of maintaining viable manufacturing is to U.S. economic survival, and less on national security points. I’m posting it for the useful information it contains on industries and supply chains

By Tom Conway, the international president of the United Steelworkers Union (USW). Produced by the Independent Media Institute

Sam Phillips and Trey Maestas fought tirelessly to save TIMET’s titanium sponge plant, both to protect the jobs of about 420 coworkers and to safeguard America’s future.

The decades-old facility in Henderson, Nevada, was the nation’s last remaining producer of the coral-like material essential for manufacturing warplanes, munitions, satellites, civilian jetliners, ships and even joints for artificial hips.

The plant’s closing last year—despite the best efforts of Phillips and Maestas of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 4856—left the nation completely dependent on foreign imports of titanium sponge and further decimated manufacturing supply chains crucial to the nation’s security.

America can only be truly free if it rebuilds these and other vital lifelines.

On February 24, President Joe Biden signed an executive order requiring an immediate, 100-day federal review of supply chain vulnerabilities in industries like computer chips and pharmaceuticals.

That’s a welcome start. But it will take a much broader and long-term rebuilding commitment to overcome the damage that decades of neglect and offshoring inflicted on the country’s manufacturing base.

Over the past year, widespread shortages of face masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) needed to fight the COVID-19 pandemic laid bare the withered state of U.S. industry.

However, the nation cannot regain industrial strength merely by ramping up the assembly of PPE, cars, refrigerators, electronic devices and the other finished products that consumers need for emergencies and everyday life. That would leave the job half done.

The country’s security also depends on patching hollowed-out supply chains and building back the capacity to produce all of the raw materials, parts and components, like titanium sponge, that go into those end products.

That means ensuring America not only makes sufficient numbers of face masks and surgical gowns but also continues to produce the homopolymers that go into them.

It means manufacturing and stockpiling hand sanitizer, as well as the springs that operate the hand pumps.

America needs to manufacture air conditioners to cool homes and businesses and earth-moving equipment, wheat combines and elevators to power a diverse economy. But it’s just as important to produce on U.S. soil the bearings and other parts that keep these machines running.

“We’re at the mercy of whoever is supplying us,” said Maestas, vice president of Local 4856 and a TIMET worker for 17 years, noting foreign nations can cut off shipments for economic or political reasons whenever they want. “Our supplies could change at the drop of a dime.”

Maestas and Phillips, the Local 4856 president, repeatedly warned last year that eliminating domestic production of titanium sponge posed a grave threat to national security.

“We were keeping planes in the air, military and civilian,” Maestas recalled. “I, for one, was proud of what we were doing.”

The USW sent an urgent letter to the previous administration, stressing that the importance of titanium sponge “cannot be overstated” and demanding that the plant be saved “to assist in the defense of our nation.” But no help ever came.

It wasn’t just the USW raising the alarm. The Defense Department has cited unavailability of titanium sponge as a “potential single point of failure” in military supply chains.

Yet TIMET idled the plant anyway. And more losses like this will only render the country weaker and weaker.

“If you can do this to the only titanium sponge plant in North America, what else are you going to do it to?” asked Phillips, who has worked at TIMET for 20 years. “Where does it stop?”

Right now, America’s failure to produce sufficient numbers of computer chips hinders recovery from the COVID-19 recession.

Ford and General Motors scaled back production in three states in recent days because of severe shortages of the semiconductors needed to operate vehicle entertainment, navigation and safety systems.

But the bottleneck puts more than automobile production at risk. Computer chips also power vacuum cleaners, kitchen appliances, cell phones and the U.S. space program, among many other industries, so scarcities imperil vast swaths of the U.S. economy as well as millions of jobs.

Biden’s executive order requires the government to conduct 100-day reviews of supply chain weaknesses in the computer chip, pharmaceutical, electric battery and rare minerals industries while also launching yearlong analyses of capacity in the defense, transportation and several other industries.

Filling the many gaps will require historic, long-term investments in manufacturing facilities, in innovation and research, and in the roads, ports and other transportation systems essential for moving U.S. goods across the country and around the world.

America’s prosperity and security will require shoring up the supply chains in all industries, not just the handful that Biden has highlighted so far. Because while the nation faces urgent shortages of PPE and computer chips today, it could face just as pressing a demand for other products—like components and infrastructure for energy generation—tomorrow.

“We make important stuff,” said Paul Bartholomew, president of USW Local 2285, whose 200 members produce valves, spacers and compressor disks for gas turbines, along with products for the aerospace and defense industries, at Wyman-Gordon in Massachusetts.

“You just saw what happened in Texas,” Bartholomew said, referring to a collapse of the state’s power grid that plunged millions into darkness during frigid winter storms in February. “You need electricity. You need heat. We assist in power generation.”

After decades of decline, Bartholomew said, the nation now seems “on the brink” of understanding that it’s let far too much manufacturing capacity slip away.

Phillips hopes the nation will yet realize the mistake of idling titanium sponge operations in Nevada. But once a plant like that goes idle, it takes time to build the capacity back.

Phillips estimates it would take two years to have the facility fully operational again. And in a crisis, America may not have that time to spare.

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  1. Sound of the Suburbs

    Why is it so expensive to get anything done in the US?

    Neoclassical economics and the missing equation.
    Disposable income = wages – (taxes + the cost of living)

    The US’s high cost of living pushes up wages making it expensive to get anything done in the US.

    See where neoclassical economists go wrong?
    Employees get their money from wages, and the employers pay the cost of living through wages, reducing profit.
    It is the US’s employers who pay the high cost of living, via wages, reducing profit.

    Do you really want to pay the US’s high cost of living in wages?
    No way.
    You will have to off-shore to maximise profit.

    1. Sound of the Suburbs

      It’s supposed to be like that.

      The early neoclassical economists hid the problems of rentier activity in the economy by removing the difference between “earned” and “unearned” income and they conflated “land” with “capital”.
      They took the focus off the cost of living that had been so important to the Classical Economists as this is where rentier activity in the economy shows up.

      It’s so well hidden no one even knows it’s there.

      The neoliberals picked up this pseudo economics and thought it was the real deal.
      Things were never going to go well.

    2. LawnDart

      Imagine the Chamber of Commerce actively lobbying for state-supported child care, massive increases in funding for public transportation, public education, public health, and housing.

      Perhaps we should take a look at China to learn how we too can become better capitalists, and so help USA businesses focus on the business of business.

      1. Sound of the Suburbs

        Maximising profit is all about reducing costs.

        Western companies couldn’t wait to off-shore to low cost China, where they could make higher profits.
        China had coal fired power stations to provide cheap energy.
        China had lax regulations reducing environmental and health and safety costs.
        China had a low cost of living so employers could pay low wages.
        China had low taxes and a minimal welfare state.
        China had all the advantages in an open globalised world.

          1. Larry Y

            Well, here are some differences:
            * Financial sector serves the government
            * Mass transit and high speed trains
            * Massive investments in “Green Technology”
            * Industrial Policy
            * Commitment to public education
            * Scientists and engineers are high status

        1. Synoia

          Maximising profit is all about reducing costs.

          Actually it is not. Maximizing profit requires customer first, The so call high wage costs in the US also drive purchases.

          Maximizing profit has a very large sales dimension. Destroying one’s customers, by impoverishing them is not going to lead to record profits.

      2. Sound of the Suburbs

        What was Keynes really doing?
        Creating a low cost, internationally competitive economy.

        Keynes’s ideas were a solution to the problems of the Great Depression, but we forgot why he did, what he did.
        They tried running an economy on debt in the 1920s.
        The 1920s roared with debt based consumption and speculation until it all tipped over into the debt deflation of the Great Depression. No one realised the problems that were building up in the economy as they used an economics that doesn’t look at private debt, neoclassical economics.

        Keynes looked at the problems of the debt based economy and came up with redistribution through taxation to keep the system running in a sustainable way and he dealt with the inherent inequality capitalism produced.

        The cost of living = housing costs + healthcare costs + student loan costs + food + other costs of living
        Disposable income = wages – (taxes + the cost of living)

        Strong progressive taxation funded a low cost economy with subsidised housing, healthcare, education and other services to give more disposable income on lower wages.
        Employers and employees both win with a low cost of living.

        Keynesian ideas went wrong in the 1970s and everyone had forgotten the problems of neoclassical economics that he originally solved.

        1. Mike

          “Keynesian ideas went wrong in the 1970s” and from the 80s on because the (primarily) Republicans had forgotten that Keynes originally stipulated that the government debt incurred during “bad times” be liquidated during “good times”. Since Reagan, Republicans have increased debt to stimulate the economy, but failed to pay it down once that part of Keynes’s took effect. Republicans are the biggest half-Keynesians of all time.

    3. drumlin woodchuckles

      US wages are only “high” when compared to the semi-slave-labor “low” wages zones.

      Abolish Free Trade and restore Militant Belligerent Protectionism and you solve that problem.

  2. ambrit

    Behind all this is the neo-liberal renunciation of any ‘national’ policies. Define a ‘nation’ as you will, it still is a valid category. It has definite ‘needs’ and requirements to function well and continue as a viable entity. The ‘national’ government has functioned in the past as the representative and facilitator for the ‘nation.’ “Drown that in a bathtub” and you eventually eliminate the ‘nation’s’ ability to function. The end stage of that process is the collapse and extinction of the ‘nation.’
    The above process should be familiar to anyone who has studied the past few decades of American history. What the proponents of the neo-liberal dispensation have not advertised, if indeed they even know, is what replaces the ‘nation?’ An International Syndicate of Oligarchs? If so, such an endeavour is doomed to failure. History has shown, time and again, that the concept and practice of commercial business is not an adequate organizing principle for large scale human society. It simply does not make allowances for human variability.
    The best example of the point above that I can think of is the present dominance of short term thinking and planning in the business sphere. Restricting the inputs of the decision making process to short term issues, such as quarterly earnings and stock prices in the bourse, leads to the dysfunctions bemoaned in the piece above. Offshoring a factory makes sense from a short term business point of view, but ignores the long term ‘national’ implications. Here is a direct conflict between the two methods of social organization. At present the short term methodology is ascendant. Alas, it looks as if America is going to have to learn this lesson of setting proper ‘national’ priorities the hard way; such as by losing a war decisively.
    I look on the bright side here. A small thermonuclear exchange between America and some peer adversary will not only ‘thin out’ the population, but also bring on a nuclear winter and retard the progression of global warming for a while. It might be the breathing space the Terran human race needs to survive beyond the upcoming evolutionary bottleneck.

    1. fajensen

      It simply does not make allowances for human variability.

      Replace people with machines … and it might just work better.

      America already has a thing for “programming”, in the sense that Everything in America has to be designed according to “code” – That is Flowcharts and look-up tables, accompanied by huge volumes of Prescriptive legislation. The Adding of Workflows to business processes has already happened, so the next logical step, hooking some Machine Learning up to run the Workflows will eliminate those pesky humans gumming up the workings for Free Market Capitalism.

    2. Acacia

      Regarding your example of how offshoring a factory “makes sense from a short term business point of view”, I would add that even in the business sphere, offshoring is often a bad sign.

      If we consider the three most common business strategies to achieve profit, i.e., (1) cultivating more business in an existing market, (2) trying to enter a new market, e.g., by offering new products/services, and (3) cutting costs to achieve profit, e.g., by offshoring and/or automation, the choice of (3) is often an admission that there is no strategy for (1) or (2).

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        If the Americonomy did not spend money buying things from outside the Americonomy, the Americonomy would not have to make other money to balance that money by selling other things into outside-the-Americonomy.

        Bring trade in both directions as close to zero as feasibly possible, and then America can restore an industrial ecosystem within its own borders, making what it uses and using what it makes.

  3. Another Scott

    TIMET is also known as the Titanium Metals Corporation and is a subsidiary of Precision Castparts, which is itself a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway (as is Wyman-Gordon). Does anyone want to ask Warren Buffet why he brags about investing in America when his company is closing plants in the US?

  4. SufferinSuccotash

    What the proponents of the neo-liberal dispensation have not advertised, if indeed they even know, is what replaces the ‘nation?’
    What replaces a nation is often referred to as a “colony”, where most of the inhabitants are no longer “citizens” but “natives” who can be exploited at will.

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      And if the colonial power is a transnational anti-national global elite, then the colony is a geographically diffuse social-class colony, and some of the colonized are living in every country, and might well be called
      social class “natives”.

  5. The Rev Kev

    Apparently there is a surplus of titanium sponge at the moment so the decision was made by TIMET to source it all from Japan. There are only six other sponge producing countries in the world – China, Japan, Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and India – so Japan was seen as the most reliable – or maybe least problematical. And who owns TIMET? TIMET, which is part of Precision Castparts, an industrial holding group owned by Berkshire Hathaway, operated that plant. Maybe somebody should have phoned Warren Buffet to see if he could not keep that plant open but I guess that it was never made.

    And that workforce? Well obviously they have lost their jobs but I doubt if the administration cares about them. They should. Of those 420 people, I would imagine that a lot of the older ones would retire or maybe move. There are no other plants in the US now that need their long-acquired expertise now. A lot of the younger ones will move or hopefully shift into a different industry. The point is that after a few years, all those skills will atrophy or be lost entirely. If they try to re-establish this facility, they may have a problem staffing it and I bet that a lot of those skilled workers will not be there anymore. And I doubt that you can take the Boeing method and train up a bunch of ex-MacDonald workers to replace them with at lower wages, worse conditions and no union. We reap what we sow-


    1. Laura in So Cal

      On Skills. Corporate decided to close a plant and transfer the manufacturing of their products to our plant. We do make the same sorts of items and use a lot of the same basic processes. The plant that was closed had a lot of older workers and most of them were offered retirement. A few moved to the new plant but only a few. It took @ 4 years for our plant to get to the point that ALL the items are being manufactured at the contracted rate. A few items (mostly newer designs) transitioned pretty easily, but the older designs had a lot of problems. Documentation wasn’t complete or didn’t have all the latest customer changes incorporated, processes that were unique that we didn’t normally do, Suppliers we hadn’t previously dealt with, test issues, rework requirements etc. We lost most of the institutional knowledge that existed in the old workforce and had to re-create it thru trial and error. These were the issues moving to a plant that already existed and had technically competent and experienced workers. I can’t imagine having to start from scratch.

      1. David in Santa Cruz

        Thank you for this important and insightful comment!

        The elites’ “Let them eat college” view of industrial workers and their contributions is the peril our economy finds itself in. America had a literate and motivated workforce with a “git ‘er done” attitude. They possessed a huge cache of institutional knowledge passed from journeyman to apprentice over a century and a half of industrialization. All lost.

  6. chuck roast

    American unions…pathetic, absolutely pathetic! We have been hearing this very same winging from them for 50 years. Then they, universally, go out and support the glad handing politicians who do a few rounds of golf with the their bosses and a few more jobs are lost. Mention to them that maybe they would have a bit more job security if owned their factories and work places, and watch the smoke start to rise from their collective heads. A hundred years ago you could have sat in a bar, discussed workers owning the means of production and the beers would have kept magically appearing in front of you. We are a long, long way from Flint.

    The limited successes of the old trade unions in the US have been their undoing. If only because they always had, and continue to have, limited vision. They all think that they have scored major victories if they squeeze another dime out of the bosses. According to this union VP…“We’re at the mercy of whoever is supplying us.” The guy is an idiot. He and his cohort are at the mercy of their bosses, and they will always be at the mercy of their bosses until they become their own bosses. Pathetic!

  7. Starry Gordon

    I thought Mr. Conway’s connection of domestic manufacturing with war and imperialism, a.k.a. ‘national security’, was pretty obvious. ‘War is the health of the state.’ However, I suppose one might say that the American state now includes Japan. God, yes, we need more and more ‘airplanes, munitions, satellites, civilian jetliners’ and so on, and more reasons to keep armies in Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and also so on, till the end of the world.

    1. Phlip

      Well yes, but the opposite also applies. If you have a self sufficient economy you don’t have to get involved in wars on the other side of the planet because that’s where “your” energy, raw materials, finance, food, key manufactured goods etc come from. The US did not have to get involved in either WW1 or WW2 for economic reasons, it was nearly self sufficient at that time. That is not the case today, hence the fore-ever wars in the middle east, and military bases scattered as confetti around the globe. Did America have to globalise its economy? No, but the wind fall profits (initially) that could be reaped from doing so could not be resisted by America’s elites. The problem now is that America’s economy has now been so gutted that it cannot function without globalisation, which will bankrupt it further. However look on the bright side, America’s elites have never been so despised and hate in their history. And nobody expects them to change, because they have not changed for 50 years. People are now figuring out that they have to change things themselves. Expect fireworks.

  8. km

    One comment that I found interesting is that, even if the manufacturing jobs were to come back, Millennials would be bored out their minds with them.

    In the supposed “golden age” of the United States (the 1950s) a lot of people were earning L2 compensation for L3 work. In a time when well-paid but monotonous labor was not considered such a bad thing (to people coming off the Great Depression and World War II, stable but boring jobs were a godsend) this was seen as desirable, but we can’t go back to that, and most people wouldn’t want to. Most Millennials would be bored [FAMILYBLOG] by the jobs available in that era that our society occasionally mourns losing.”


    1. petal

      On the car radio, I have been hearing local manufacturing companies advertising that they are hiring. Sturm Ruger, Vermont Castings, etc. The Vermont Castings gig(2nd shift) pays a little more than I make now as an academic scientist.

      1. chuck roast

        Vermont Castings…and you would have the great satisfaction of making a superior product.

  9. Steven

    Michael Hudson (of course!) has the first and last word on this. The general principle at work here is that U.S. industry and jobs must be off-shored so Wall Street and Washington politicians can create more debt – IOW keep Super (monetary) Imperialism going. The US is the world’s leader in manufacturing DEBT not the wealth that really matters in today’s world.

    1. Michaelmas

      Yes. Regrettably, the article above is whistling past the graveyard, and I too thought of Hudson’s analysis and shook my head as I read it.

      If money is created as credit — and it is — and every notional dollar of credit has an obverse side of debt — and it does — then for the U.S. to be the Richest Country In The World™ and have an elite with so many multibillionaires, there must be debt on the the other side of all those notional dollars the elite have created for themselves.

      Debt requires debtors.

    2. Chris Herbert

      You might familiarize yourself with how the national government funds its spending. It creates new dollars every time it pays a bill. No debt required. So why do we have all this public debt if it was unnecessary to begin with? It lines the pockets of the One Percent who buy the safest bonds in the world to insure their immense fortunes. It’s a subsidy. The rich have the best socialism in the world. Right here in the USA.

      1. steven

        This issue has very little if any relationship to “how the national government funds its spending” or any of the other nominally ‘conservative’ debt bugbears. Those “safest bonds in the world” would not insure squat if US debt wasn’t backed by the US military and threats to bomb any country that refuses to accept more of it back into the stone age. As Minsky wrote “Any (economic) unit can create money. The problem is getting it accepted.”

        The world is being destroyed environmentally as well as militarily because the world’s one percent can think of no better alternative than allowing the US to continue creating debt, destruction and death so they can – as Trump put it – “keep score” with each other in the game to see who can accumulate the most unpayable debt.

        To paraphrase Woody Allen (or somebody) the US is allowed to continue creating debt because the world’s One Percent needs the money to continue playing their game.

      2. Philip

        Quite correct. We should use the terms: Blue Corporate Socialist party and Red Corporate Socialist party when referring to them. The primary function of both parties is to provide welfare to corporations and those who own them.

    1. polecat

      Yeah, ‘environ mentally-ill’ protections .. as in metal fencing, razor wire, NG troops protecting the CaPiTaL from the ‘districts’.

      The muts will not be far behind in their deployment.

  10. lyman alpha blob

    After Biden’s review, my guess is the Blob decides to rebuild the supply chain by making the Southern US an “entrepreneurial” zone with unions outlawed, no minimum wage and no environmental regulation.

    Either that, or they just ask Government Sachs to finance the purchase of Myanmar, making them a wholly owned US subsidiary. The factories are built, the labor’s cheap and the heavies are already there to keep the proles in line.

    If Biden’s review were anything but theater, we would have had a $15 minimum wage in the stimulus bill.

  11. Susan the other

    We clearly need national policies to promote manufacturing. We need a long term plan. And in the planning this time around we have to include environmental clean up and recycling. If we set up a salvaging process that is directly linked to manufacturing then it could operate like paying a deposit for the return of the used item so it can be taken apart and recycled or reused. So taken together the two, manufacturing and reclaiming those materials, are a form of rationing – closely linking them will enable scarce resources to be reclaimed, and pollution to be mitigated at the source. That should be a mandatory “cost” in a new and better world.

  12. Alex Cox

    This is the second “jawbs” story which is really calling for an increase in domestic military production. Its focus is on Hawthorne, NV, yet the author doesn’t tell us what Hawthorne is for.

    It is the home of the Hawthorne US Army Depot, which advertises itself as “The World’s Largest Ammo Depot.” The city of Hawthorne is surrounded by 2,500 bunkers containing everything from bullets to ballistic missiles. It is also the site of the Hawthorne Ordnance Museum, which at Christmastime features a banner showing Santa riding a Cruise missile.

    One time we stayed in a motel there, and my wife had a conversation with two eastern European ladies in the lobby. She formed the conclusion they were being trafficked.

    No off-shoring in Hawthorne!

      1. ObjectiveFunction

        But thay bought prosperi’y
        Daown at the ahmoury
        We’re arming for peace m’boys
        Between the Wars….

  13. Glen

    We’re going to hear the old complaint – wages are too high in the US!

    Wages in the US have ALWAYS been higher than other parts of the world. And wages remain very high in Japan and Germany where they have a good industrial base.

    So what really changed?

    American management is now rewarded for managing companies into oblivion, for sending American technology, factories and jobs to competitors. And the Fed indiscriminately backs American management with trillions of dollars to do it.

    We now have entrenched American management that can get rich by wrecking our industrial base. It’s all they know, and they are well rewarded for doing it. Until you reform them, we will see America’s industrial base continue to shrink.

    1. Philip

      No, No, No, don’t reform them, you can’t reform them, they will never reform! They are predators, not builders and makers, you can’t change their inner nature. They are America’s version of the old European Aristocracy who if they were not at war, robbing, killing and stealing spent their days hunting wild animals. America’s version would rather hunt money than blood, They use what ever tools of white collar fraud suit their needs. In their world Killing jobs is good, killing businesses is good, killing towns is good and killing cities is good. It is the predator making the prey fitter! They have become a perversion of what they once were. They have to be got rid of.

  14. Bob

    Any business manager is well aware of the the costs associated with manufacturing the finished product. And any business manager can break down the costs associated with each portion or quotient of the process.
    As an example, most businesses know by heart exactly what the cost quotient for labor, for raw materials, for overhead, and so forth are.

    And remember that U.S companies are taxed on profits – that is after the costs are subtracted the remaining profit is taxed.

    And of course should a US company shift it’s operation off shore to a more tax friendly environment it is possible to reduce tax quotient to 0%. Note that Apple among others was able to successfully go tax free by shifting to an Irish jurisdiction.

    This means that the tax quotient can be significantly reduced without the mess of buying new, more efficient machines, or expanding production lines, or God forbid hiring more labor. So what will a manufacturer do add costs to increase profit or engage in creative financial engineering ?

    So US tax policy incentivizes off shoring !!!

  15. bluedogg

    Hmm? I guess folks that horse left the barn long ago and is already light years down the road, hmm where were you when that old worn out movie actor was peddling his line that it was all governments fault, so he could prepare the people for all the deregulation which were the fence between the sheep and the wolves, then being in the same mental shape as Biden why business simply went up on the hills to their paid off henchmen known as congress and wrote their own regulations to suit themselves, Nope ain’t going to happen until this country either receives a battle loss so great that it brings the country down or a depression does it for them, and brings down the government the rest is nothing but wishful thinking for we have a government that can’t get anything done and that’s just the way they like it, !!

  16. Synoia

    Computer chips also power vacuum cleaners, kitchen appliances, cell phones and the U.S. space program…

    I bed to differ, because the word “power” is misused.

    Computer chips provide control. Electricity, line or or batteries, provides power.

    Computer chips also control vacuum cleaners, kitchen appliances, cell phones and the U.S. space program…

  17. Dave in Austin

    I do original archival research on military subjects. For the past decade I’ve been tracking the Army Industrial War College. Congress created it in 1924 to look at the poorly executed industrial mobilization of WWI. The place was organized by the Harvard Business School and used the case method. Each year the 60 students were broken up into groups of six and assigned to study one aspect of the WW I mobilization. They had access to the highest levels of business and the government. So each year they turned out the equivalent of 10-20 Harvard MBA theses on industrial mobilization- the raw materials; the labor, energy and transportation required; the financing of plants, the draft system, the availability of water and engineering staffs… they studied it all. Between 1925-1937 they did 150-200 studies and organized “the production miracle” of WW II with no public discussion, no public or Congressional input and they got everything amazingly right.

    Of course all the documents were hidden. FOIA requests got me nowhere. I did find that the chron files of the Army Deputy Chief of Staff for Plans and Operations (which they reported to) in the U.S. Archive had a wealth of information because the declassification people had no idea what they should be declassifying. In the end I used the FOIA Thermo-Nuclear Weapon (don’t ask what that is but it usually works) and the FOIA officer quietly caved and led me to the treasure chest.

    But enough of that. Biden is totally correct in focusing on four supply chains first with a one-year study to follow. How we got here- the industrialization of America from 1980-2015 is a subject I’ll leave for another day. If anybody needs more details on the War College or how it planned the WW II mobilization I’m at mail@DavidBMiller.com… I’m 77; too old to write the book that needs to be written.

    1. The Rev Kev

      I only got this from a novel set during WW2 – Herman Wouk’s “War and Remembrance” – but what made an impression on me was how in the first year of the war, a lot of war production was wasted. One that came to mind was miles of tank-tracks being produced when they did not have the tanks to put them on. Finally they got in some honcho who took it all in hand. If I remember correctly, it all came down the the three metals commonly used to make weapons and the like which I think was steel, aluminium and copper. So if a destroyer was needed ,only enough of those metals was allocated and no more which prevented the waste seen in the first year of production. If this was all true, then it seems that the Army Industrial War College studies went to waste. Might be worth your while to borrow that book to see if I remember it correctly.

      1. ObjectiveFunction

        Ike: Plans are useless; planning is everything.

        RK, it doesn’t sound like David is suggesting the War Production Board (I always have mental pictures of a bunch of austere hollow-cheeked men right out of ‘American Gothic’) used these studies as blueprints, given that such 1930s notions as ‘infantry tanks vs. cruiser tanks’ or lol, unsinkable battleships, had long since been rubbished by the hard school of 1940-41.

        But having a well-educated and relatively youthful group already steeped in the *process* of planning meant that the Arsenal of Democracy could do root cause and adjust with what turned out to be amazing speed.

        …A similar miracle of organization occurred in the Soviet Union, where Stalin’s purges of senior technocrats had actually freed up ministry and bureau desks for more energetic, younger men. These were able to surpass, and then lap German production in war essentials within about 2 years of losing 60% of their prewar industrial heartland to German occupation (yes, Lend Lease helped a bit in the meantime).

        David, I regret I don’t have time or aptitude for this worthy project myself, but I do hope someone surviving the current Woke purges in academia (or perhaps it will be an Asian, they are fascinated with the American industrial machine) will reach out to you and carry it forward.

        Have you thought about contributing some bits and footnotes to the Wikipedia entry? even if it is tenuous as a source in itself (on the garbage-in-garbage-out principle), it can get at least get scholars pointed in the right direction.

    1. Mike

      rjs – a massive atmospheric carbon footprint will be created no matter where the manufacturing takes place. By offshoring, we export local ground and water pollution. And jobs.

  18. Equitable > Equal

    I am looking forward to seeing the mental gymanstics required to promote electric transportation despite the chronic shortage of raw materials required for batteries. At present there is no way out of this, and the battery tech that will reduce pressures on rare earth are perpetually 5 years away

  19. Big 11

    The missing piece is the absence of value attached to supply chain redundancy. Basic trade models assume no friction as supply chains extend further and further, which is how you get into a situation like today’s where domestic production is wholly incapable of keeping up with the post-covid panic recovery and container and personnel shortages are rippling throughout all major supply chains. All it would take is for a few key producers to encounter some hiccups (a virtual guarantee at current US run rates) and you will see major physical shortages in US steel and metal markets.

    Valuing supply chain redundancy is not easy but measures like 232 are supposed to help (even if the national security focus is misguided) albeit they do so very imperfectly.

    Carbon pricing like with the EU Carbon Border Adjustment Tax will indirectly give value to supply chain redundancy and do so on more defensible grounds.

    Long-term though, you are at odds with the basic Hecksher-Olin model of wage compression, which is as good a macro explanation as any for the respective trajectories of the “middle class” of both China and the US over the past 30 years.

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