One of the most read posts I ever wrote was a piece in April called The Hollowed-Out Economy, in which I mocked Treasury Secretary Paulson’s contention that Bush’s economic stimulus package was going to create 600,000 new jobs in America. I think he secretly thought it wasn’t the stimulus checks but rather the falling dollar that would revive America’s hollowed-out manufacturing base.
This morning it’s clear that not only was Paulson wrong about the job creation, but the current boom in exports is not from manufacturing, but rather from selling corn and soy.
Exports are the bright spot this year in an otherwise bleak economy. But the world is not suddenly snapping up made-in-America goods like aircraft, machinery and staplers. The great attraction is decidedly low-luster commodities like corn, wheat, ore and scrap metal.
This helps explain why manufacturing jobs are continuing to disappear by the tens of thousands and factories are closing even during a miniboom in exports. While the surge in commodities is a welcome relief, it is an unreliable prop for an industrial power.
As I have tried to point out in America Since Reagan, the 38 year trajectory of Republican political economics has hollowed out our manufacturing prowess, reduced our competitiveness, put us deeply in debt to the Chinese and the Russians and eviscerated parts of the Bill of Rights. Like a third world economy, we are reduced to export dependence on a literal commodity product that can be bought from Argentina or China. The vaunted knowledge economy value add cannot be applied to a shipping container full of grain. I am well aware that for a company like Whirlpool to manufacture their product abroad may make sense, but when they are shipping washing machines from their factories in Germany to South America, you’ve got to wonder if we can ever rebuild a vibrant manufacturing economy that puts good jobs in America.