“Your smart phone was made in a labor camp, your clothes were made in a sweatshop, and your fish were caught on a slave ship.” These are among the surprising revelations in the new book from James Stuber, What if Things Were Made in America Again: How Consumers Can Rebuild the Middle Class by Buying Things Made in American Communities.
In this timely and provocative book, Stuber invites us on a journey to answer three questions that are on many Americans’ minds: Why does it seem like everything is made somewhere else? Isn’t that causing a problem? If it is, what can be done about it? The answers are surprisingly hard to find, but through painstaking research, Stuber assembles findings never gathered in one place, and they are surprising.
We learn how after World War II America stepped onto the road of “free trade,” the only country besides England ever to do so; how Japan and the other nations did nothing of the kind, pursuing “mercantilist” policies erecting barriers to U.S. products and subsidizing their exports to the American market; how in the process, the U.S. gave whole industries away, pursuing unilateral free trade and fighting communism. How trade morphed into globalization, three billion people joined the world economy, creating the “age of oversupply,” and China changed everything by adopting just enough capitalism to become the “world’s workshop.”
How these trends, and pursuit of blind faith in the global market, half-baked trade theories, and bad trade deals added up to 16 trillion dollars sent to other countries. How all this resulted in six million lost manufacturing jobs and lower wages for most Americans, destroying lives, families, and communities, and outweighing any gains from lower prices of the foreign goods.
Stuber puts a human face on the statistics, introducing us to the American workers whose jobs were sent abroad, and documenting the effects on their families and communities, as in the case of the Illinois steel town, operating a food bank and dealing with the suicide of one of its workers, because the mill was shut down when China started dumping its overproduction of steel on the U.S. market. We also meet the exploited workers abroad, as in the Chinese “factory labor camp” making smart phones, with nets to prevent workers from committing suicide by jumping off the roof.
We learn how the result has been a low-price, low-wage “hollow” economy of underemployment and related social ills, with most Americans not recovered to their pre-recession status, and how the foreign workers, too, have been paid little while suffering workplace injuries and destruction of their environment.
We learn how the future holds more jobs lost to Mexico, China, and India, in a “race to the bottom” threatening our children’s future. How we are caught up in the “Big Squeeze” of the global low-price, low wage economy, with every nation, including the U.S., competing to win over transnational companies shopping the world for low wages and subsidies. That the future looks even worse, as white-collar and professional jobs are being swept offshore along with manufacturing. How, meanwhile, globalization also is failing the rest of the world, as developing countries are de-industrialized under the onslaught of Chinese industry.
Stuber describes how our political and intellectual elites told us how good this was for everyone, or, alternatively, how the damage done in America was worth the benefits being realized overseas. Stuber invites us to confront the immorality of “volunteering” ordinary Americans in the project of eliminating poverty abroad by sending their jobs overseas, destroying their lives, families, and communities in the process, and calls out the moral hypocrisy of those who promote this practice, safe in their well-funded ivory towers. He calls on all of us to break from the thrall of the dogma of free trade and globalization, before it is too late.
We are invited to imagine a better vision for the future, grounded in American values of supporting families and rewarding work. Most importantly, we learn how consumers can implement that vision, without asking anyone for permission. What sets this book apart is its plan of action that can immediately be acted upon by individual Americans: bring home $500 billion in spending, create six million jobs, and get the virtuous circle going again. And not a moment too soon, as the window of opportunity will soon close. It is required reading for every American who is concerned about the American Dream and the promise to future generations.