FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The American Economy is Destroying Itself

by PAUL CRAIG ROBERTS

 

The historian who chronicles America’s decline will lay the blame on free market ideology.

I say this as a believer in the market. My books and scholarly articles demonstrate the superiority of market systems over government allocative schemes. The problem arises when market economics ceases to be thoughtful and becomes ideological or a dogma.

A good example of the latter is a recent Heritage Foundation study that argues that global outsourcing is the best way to equip the US military with the best technology at least expense. The study brushes away concerns with the erosion of the American manufacturing, science, and engineering knowledge base by asserting that such concerns imply protectionism and that protectionism means the death of innovation.

Protectionism can be problematical for innovation, and the study is correct to point this out. Where the study fails is in ignoring that innovation does not take place in a vacuum. Innovation requires a material base and depends on a strong manufacturing, science and engineering foundation backed by R&D programs.

In an interview with Manufacturing & Technology News (August 8), the study’s project leader, Jack Spencer, sees protectionism as the only threat to American innovation, which he otherwise takes for granted:

“Our belief is that subjected to the free market, the United States is still going to produce most things because our comparative advantages are innovation and new technology. If liberated from protectionism, we can compete and that is where we will always emerge as winners.”

This belief is simply untrue. As this belief is the basis for the study, the study has done nothing but confirm a preordained belief.

The US has no God-given comparative advantage in innovation and new technology. We were leaders in these fields, because we were leaders in manufacturing.

We were leaders in manufacturing, because Europe and Japan destroyed themselves in wars, and the rest of the world destroyed themselves in various forms of socialism and cronyism.

America’s hegemony in manufacturing, science and engineering was the product of historical circumstances. Moreover, it occurred despite American protectionism.

The historical circumstances have changed. The US gave away its scientific and engineering education and its agriculture. It did this partly for idealistic reasons and partly as cold war strategy.

Once socialism collapsed in Asia, US corporations began outsourcing abroad the manufacture of products for US markets. Success with offshore manufacturing has led to offshore outsourcing of research and development and now innovation itself.

As a recent report from the National Research Council recognizes, “product development and technical support follow manufacturing.” One consequence for America is the loss of many manufacturing capabilities and “the increasing availability abroad of unique technologies not found in the United States.”

This development is taking a huge toll on America’s human resources in manufacturing skills, engineering and science. The first American victims were blue collar workers. Millions of them lost their jobs and experienced sharp declines in the quality of their lives. But as research, engineering, design, and innovation followed manufacturing abroad, now it is white collar workers in information technology and university graduates in engineering and physics who are being displaced.

American university enrollments in science and engineering are declining because there are no jobs for graduates. It is pointless to invest money, sweat and toil in an education that has no payoff. Markets do work. Markets are working to shrink the demand for, and supply of, American engineers and scientists.

The next impact is going to be on project manager jobs, practically the sole remaining source of career related employment for many engineers and technical people. Project management jobs require people experienced with the technology of the job. The loss of technical and engineering jobs empties the pipeline of people who have the experience to assume management positions. Far from being able to innovate, the US will even lack the human resources to manage technical and scientific projects.

Many uninformed people believe the problem is that America doesn’t produce enough scientists and engineers. Manufacturing & Technology News reports that “a group of 15 US business organizations has launched a national campaign aimed at doubling within 10 years the number of bachelor’s degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.”

What is the point of this when there is a huge supply of unemployed engineers and technical people who have been displaced by offshore outsourcing and by H-1b and L-1 work visas for foreigners? I know an American software engineer in his thirties whose job was outsourced. After searching fruitlessly for a job for four years, he took a job in Thailand writing software programs for $850 per month.

The anecdotal stories are legion. Yesterday, a friend reported to me that the service technician who repaired his garage door opener said his company was flooded with resumes from college graduates and engineers who cannot find work and are willing to take jobs installing garage doors.

US executives, with an eye to quarterly earnings and their bonuses, continue to spend considerable resources lobbying for increases in work visas that enable them to replace their American engineers, scientists, and technical people with lower cost foreigners. These executives lie through their teeth when they assert the lack of qualified Americans for the jobs. The fact of the matter is, the executives force their American employees to train their foreign replacements and then fire their American workers.

In a word, American capitalism is destroying itself by dismantling the ladders of upward mobility that have made large income inequalities acceptable. By rewarding themselves for destroying American jobs and manufacturing, engineering and scientific capabilities, US executives are sowing a whirlwind. American political stability will not survive the turning of an American university degree into a worthless sheet of paper. Libertarians and free market ideologues who rejoice in freedom should open their eyes to freedom’s destruction.

PAUL CRAIG ROBERTS has held a number of academic appointments and has contributed to numerous scholarly publications. He served as Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration. His graduate economics education was at the University of Virginia, the University of California at Berkeley, and Oxford University. He is coauthor of The Tyranny of Good Intentions. He can be reached at: paulcraigroberts@yahoo.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More articles by:

Paul Craig Roberts is a former Assistant Secretary of the US Treasury and Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal. Roberts’ How the Economy Was Lost is now available from CounterPunch in electronic format. His latest book is The Neoconservative Threat to World Order.

January 18, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
The Destabilizer: Trump’s Escalating Threats Against Iran
John W. Whitehead
Silence Is Betrayal: Get Up, Stand Up, Speak Up for Your Rights
Andrew Day
Of “Shitholes” and Liberals
Dave Lindorff
Rep. Gabbard Speaks Truth to Power About the Real Reason Korea Has Nukes
Barbara G. Ellis
The Workplace War: Hatpins Might Be in Style Again for Women
Binoy Kampmark
Corporate Sickness in May’s Britain
Ralph Nader
Twitter Rock Star Obama’s Silence Must Delight Trump
John G. Russell
#Loose Lips (Should) Sink … Presidencies … But Even If They Could, What Comes Next?
David Macaray
The “Mongrelization” of the White Race
Ramzy Baroud
In Words and Deeds: The Genesis of Israeli Violence
January 17, 2018
Seiji Yamada
Prevention is the Only Solution: a Hiroshima Native’s View of Nuclear Weapons
Chris Welzenbach
Force of Evil: Abraham Polonsky and Anti-Capitalist Noir
Thomas Klikauer
The Business of Bullshit
Howard Lisnoff
The Atomized and Siloed U.S. Left
Martha Rosenberg
How Big Pharma Infiltrated the Boston Museum of Science
George Wuerthner
The Collaboration Trap
David Swanson
Removing Trump Will Require New Activists
Michael McKinley
Australia and the Wars of the Alliance: United States Strategy
Binoy Kampmark
Macron in China
Cesar Chelala
The Distractor-in-Chief
Ted Rall
Why Trump is Right About Newspaper Libel Laws
Mary Serumaga
Corruption in Uganda: Minister Sam Kutesa and Company May Yet Survive Their Latest Scandal
January 16, 2018
Mark Schuller
What is a “Shithole Country” and Why is Trump So Obsessed With Haiti?
Paul Street
Notes From a “Shithole” Superpower
Louisa Willcox
Keeper of the Flame for Wilderness: Stewart “Brandy” Brandborg
Mike Whitney
Trump’s Sinister Plan to Kill the Iranian “Nukes” Deal
Franklin Lamb
Kafkaesque Impediments to Challenging Iran’s Theocracy
Norman Solomon
Why Senator Cardin is a Fitting Opponent for Chelsea Manning
Fred Gardner
GI Coffeehouses Recalled: a Compliment From General Westmoreland
Brian Terrell
Solidarity from Central Cellblock to Guantanamo
Don Fitz
Bondage Scandal: Looking Beneath the Surface
Rob Seimetz
#Resist Co-opting “Shithole”
Ted Rall
Trump Isn’t Unique
January 15, 2018
Rob Urie
Democrats and the End(s) of Politics
Paul Tritschler
Killing Floor: the Business of Animal Slaughter
Mike Garrity
In Targeting the Lynx, the Trump Administration Defies Facts, Law, and Science Once Again
Thomas Hon Wing Polin
Hong Kong Politics: a Never-Ending Farce
Uri Avnery
Bibi’s Son (Or Three Men in a Car)
Dave Lindorff
Yesterday’s ‘Shithole Countries’ Can Become Classy Places Donald, and Vice Versa
Jeff Mackler
Lesser Evil Politics in Alabama
Jonah Raskin
Typewriters Still Smoking? An Interview with Underground Press Maven John McMillan
Jose-Antonio Orosco
Trump’s Comments Recall a Racist Past in Immigration Policy
David Macaray
Everything Seems to Be Going South
Kathy Kelly
41 Hearts Beating in Guantanamo
Weekend Edition
January 12, 2018
Friday - Sunday
George Burchett
Wormwood and a Shocking Secret of War: How Errol Morris Vindicated My Father, Wilfred Burchett
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail