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Daniel W. Drezner

Bruce Stokes goes Vizzini on “bully pulpit”

Bruce Stokes has a fascinating column in Congress Daily today (link not available) that looks at U.S. manufacturing.  First, he reels off some interesting stats:  “Contrary to what we have come to believe,” said James Womack, chairman of the Lean Enterprise Institute, a Cambridge, Mass., educational institution, “we are the world’s largest manufacturer and will ...

Bruce Stokes has a fascinating column in Congress Daily today (link not available) that looks at U.S. manufacturing.  First, he reels off some interesting stats: 

“Contrary to what we have come to believe,” said James Womack, chairman of the Lean Enterprise Institute, a Cambridge, Mass., educational institution, “we are the world’s largest manufacturer and will continue to be because of a combination of the dollar going down and rising transport costs.” Manufacturing output has increased 11 percent in the last year. U.S. exports of manufactured goods are also up over 12 percent. Moreover, U.S. manufacturers consider the United States the most desirable country for expansion of their businesses over the next three years, according to a recent survey of 321 North American manufacturing executives released in mid-June by the National Association of Manufacturers, The Manufacturing Institute, the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters and Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu. And 57 percent of U.S. manufacturers predicted they will become more globally competitive over the next five years. Nevertheless, manufacturing employment continues to suffer. U.S. manufacturers employ 341,000 fewer people today than a year ago and the sector has its fewest jobs since 1950. U.S. manufacturing employment will never rebound to levels seen in the post-war era. Even the Chinese are making more today with fewer workers.

Damn, that sounds familiar.  At this point, Stokes talks about how a combination of “lean manufacturing” and a falling dollar can preserve some jobs.  And then we get to the kicker: 

The good news is a renewal of American manufacturing will not require major new government programs. But it will require the next president to believe that manufacturing in the United States has a future. And he will need to be willing to use the bully pulpit of the White House to challenge American manufacturers to take advantage of the window of opportunity over the next few years to become lean producers and to commit themselves to constant improvement over time. It’s a worthy goal. One candidates McCain and Obama should embrace.

I love it when all a president has to do is use the bully pulpit, so I should like this.  That said, Stokes’ argument is kind of odd — it implies that unless the next president tells manufacturers that they can become more productive, they won’t be.  I’m pretty sure U.S. manufacturers alreasy have a strong incentive to do this on their own.  Maybe it’s me, but I don’t think the bully pulpit works the way Stokes thinks it works. 

Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and the author of Theories of International Politics and Zombies. His latest book is The Toddler in Chief. Twitter: @dandrezner

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