Free-trade pundits love to stress that the U.S. shouldn’t worry about the loss of manufacturing jobs. It's natural, after all. Just look at the state of modern farming. You don't see the world pining for more farmers, do you?
Well, I did notice the most recent Farm Aid concert held in late September. It wasn't so much about encouraging more people to become farmers, but supporting those small farms that aren't able to compete with the large, sophisticated megafarms in this very competitive global economy.
What can these small farms offer? Actually, they are at the forefront of the "local" food movement. These are small operations dedicated to providing foodstuffs and livestock—usually organically grown—to nearby stores and restaurants. The food is fresh and seasonal, allowing people to nourish themselves as their ancestors did, before the days of genetically modified animals and insecticides, herbicides, and all the other unhealthy-sounding –ides.
These small operations are leading the way in preserving heirloom species of fruits and vegetables. You might be surprised at the varieties of tomatoes that are available outside of the bland-tasting specimens at the megamart. All have a unique taste that would have been lost to history because the large commercial farmers are interested only in the quick-growing, disease-resistant crops.
Some of these farms are doing the same thing with livestock. That "other white meat" used to have a lot more flavor only 50 years ago. Today's pork is lean and inexpensive, but it's almost devoid of taste as well.
Perhaps the comparison of manufacturing to farming is apt. I want to see more farmers, and I want to see more people considering a future in manufacturing. I want to see people who are capable of more than pushing a button on a machine; I want to see a new generation of tool- and diemakers, experts welders, and fabricators who can match the bending specs on a print without the aid of CNC programming. These are skills that should be admired, not written off as a byproduct of an age that modern capitalism left behind.
People who label this support of manufacturing as anti-free trade or populist should be ignored for the spotlight-grabbing opportunists they are. They are trying to create controversies where none need to be. The push for more free-trade agreements likely will return with a more balanced Congress after this midterm or another near-term election, and the angry Tea Party movement will quiet when robust economic growth inevitably returns.
Meanwhile, certain associations and publications will be pushing for continued recognition of manufacturing and supporting efforts that will ensure a strong manufacturing base for the U.S. in the future. The world needs more people who can make things and fewer pundits who claim to have all of the answers.