Made in the USA

Made in the USA: The Rise and Retreat of American Manufacturing

Vaclav Smil
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 256
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9qf7r4
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Made in the USA
    Book Description:

    "There is probably no other writer whose books I anticipate with more enthusiasm than Vaclav Smil. He brings remarkable insight to every topic he examines, combining his vast knowledge of science and energy, history and business to address some of the most pressing issues we face today. So I'm pleased he will be turning that keen intellect to the subject of manufacturing in the U.S."--Bill GatesInMade in the USA, Vaclav Smil powerfully rebuts the notion that manufacturing is a relic of predigital history and that the loss of American manufacturing is a desirable evolutionary step toward a pure service economy. Smil argues that no advanced economy can prosper without a strong, innovative manufacturing sector and the jobs it creates. Reversing a famous information economy dictum, Smil argues that serving potato chips is not as good as making microchips. The history of manufacturing in America, Smil tells us, is a story of nation-building. He explains how manufacturing became a fundamental force behind America's economic, strategic, and social dominance. He describes American manufacturing's rapid rise at the end of the nineteenth century, its consolidation and modernization between the two world wars, its role as an enabler of mass consumption after 1945, and its recent decline. Some economists argue that shipping low-value jobs overseas matters little because the high-value work remains in the United States. But, asks Smil, do we want a society that consists of a small population of workers doing high-value-added work and masses of unemployed? Smil assesses various suggestions for solving America's manufacturing crisis, including lowering corporate tax rates, promoting research and development, and improving public education. Will America act to preserve and reinvigorate its manufacturing? It is crucial to our social and economic well-being; but, Smil warns, the odds are no better than even.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-31674-3
    Subjects: Business

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. ix-xiii)

    In 1899 Ransom Olds began to assemble his Oldsmobiles, essentially buggies with an engine under the seat. Two years later he marketed his Curved Dash, America’s first serially produced car. Two years after that, Cadillac Automobile Company began selling its vehicles, and in 1903 David D. Buick set up his motor company. In 1908 Oldsmobile, Buick, Cadillac, and 20 other car- and part-making firms came under the umbrella of General Motors, established by William Durant, Buick’s general manager. The company kept growing and innovating, and by 1929 it had passed Ford in annual sales. It survived the Great Depression and...

  5. 1 Why Manufacturing Matters
    (pp. 1-19)

    Life enriched, and burdened, by an enormous and still increasing variety of manufactured products is a recent phenomenon. All but a few people in preindustrial societies lived with a minimum of simple possessions as only the richest could own good-quality artisanal products, made as unique items or in small series. And even the products made in larger quantities—bricks and earthenware containers, simple metal objects—were not cheap enough to be easily affordable. The poorest peasant families owned, as many of them still do in Asia and Africa, only some cooking pots and perhaps a few utensils, often just a...

  6. 2 The Ascent, 1865–1940
    (pp. 21-65)

    When the thirteen colonies proclaimed their independence from British rule in 1776, their constitution, adopted 11 years later, was a remarkably modern document spelling out the aspirations of a new nation. And, contrary to a common view that the new state had a weak industrial foundation, the newly united states were a relatively strong economic power (McAllister 1989). Like its European contemporaries, it was a traditional society where most of the citizens—close to 80%—engaged in small-scale subsistence farming (with larger-scale agricultural production limited to southern plantations); and with a low level of urbanization, in average per capita terms...

  7. 3 Dominance, 1941–1973
    (pp. 67-107)

    In 1940 the United States was the world’s leading industrial power and the largest producer of goods in virtually every manufacturing sector. US manufacturing was also the world’s most productive by any measure, in most sectors being twice as good as its nearest competitors, and the most diversified, partly the result of unsurpassed access to affordable energy in general and to inexpensive electricity in particular. The Great Depression cut the US manufacturing output and reduced the country’s labor force by millions. By 1940, when the US economy had almost completely recovered, a new crisis loomed: Japanese and German aggression was...

  8. 4 The Retreat, 1974–
    (pp. 109-153)

    Absolute numbers allow us to argue that there was no manufacturing retreat during the closing decades of the twentieth and during the first decade of the twenty-first century and that the United States has retained its primacy both as the world’s largest economy and as the top manufacturing power. Of course, converting China’s currency by using purchasing power parity (PPP) value (in 2010 Rmb 3.9/US$, according to the IMF) rather than by applying the official exchange rate (in 2010 Rmb 6.8/US$) would put the value added by China’s manufacturing well ahead of the US total—but that would indicate merely...

  9. 5 The Past and the Future
    (pp. 155-207)

    Modern manufacturing has evolved from manual work—unaided or made easier by simple tools—to often highly complex operations that rely on automated design, electronic controls, and completely mechanized production. Making things remains a quintessential human endeavor without which there can be no prosperous large economies and no socially stable populous societies. Dematerialization, understood as a reduction of material use per finished item or per unit of economic product, has been a widespread trend in modern manufacturing, whose quest for higher productivity and lower prices cannot ignore the often expensive cost of requisite material inputs—but there has been no...

  10. 6 Chances of Success
    (pp. 209-222)

    Reflexive, perhaps even complacent, optimism is an essential part of the American outlook. Born of the hope of millions of immigrants, the country’s westward expansion and the decades of its rapid technical rise during the latter half of the nineteenth century carried the message of inevitable progress into the twentieth century (Clarke 1985). Men as different as Andrew Carnegie and F. Scott Fitzgerald anticipated splendid futures: Carnegie saw “all sunshine,” Fitzgerald’s Gatsby believed in “the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us … but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms further…. And...

  11. Coda
    (pp. 223-224)

    During the six months between the book’s submission to MIT and proofreading the typeset pages, none of the key indicators of America’s performance have shown any clear improvement: they have either remained unchanged or deteriorated even further. At 11.85 million, America’s total manufacturing employment in January 2013 was no higher than during 2009 (the first full year of the economic downturn), and while the workforce in motor vehicles and parts sector was 16% above its 2009 level, broadly based deindustrialization of America has continued with new 2012 employment lows in communications equipment, semiconductors, computers and electronics products, furniture, textile mills,...

  12. References
    (pp. 225-252)
  13. Name Index
    (pp. 253-256)
  14. Subject Index
    (pp. 257-263)