OPINION: Unlike in Australia, US elections are all about manufacturing

source: www.youtube.com

Unlike our previous election, in fact unlike our past three federal elections, in the US, both candidates for president are vowing to revitalise and resurrect the U.S. manufacturing industry.

In fact, Donald Trump says he will “reclaim millions of American jobs” while Hillary Clinton is pushing a “make it in America” strategy.

“While too many politicians and experts in Washington gave up on American manufacturing, Hillary never did,” her campaign website says. According to a story in www.marketwatch.com, Trump, for his part, has drawn a wide base of support from blue-collar workers who’ve typically voted Democratic in the past.

“He’s going to … bring back our steel, to bring back our trades,” as one voter in Ohio told CNN. Both the candidates blame unfair trade practices by China and greedy companies that outsource jobs overseas. Each promises to get tough with China and either reward firms that move manufacturing operations to the U.S. or punish those that seek to leave, says the Market Watch story.

Contrast that with the deafening silence on manufacturing from Kevin Rudd in 2007 or Julia Gillard in 2010 or Tony Abbot in 2013.

Even the limp-wristed Damascus-like conversions to manufacturing from the likes of Malcolm Turnbull this year (Jobs and Growth anyone?) have failed to impress anyone, a fact borne out by the tortuous election result.

And let’s not even talk about John Howard and his compulsion to push middle-class welfare in 1998 and 2001 over helping Australian manufacturers.

Kevin Rudd once famously said he wants to live in a country that makes things. If that is true perhaps he should consider moving overseas as Australia now has a similar share of manufacturing in its economy as Luxembourg and Norway.

To be fair, manufacturing is in decline across the world and as the Market Watch story noted, “The chief reason the U.S. manufacturing sector is so much smaller is improved technology and automation that’s made current workers more productive than ever.” Consider the steel industry as the canary in the mine if you like.

The U.S. for example, employed nearly 800,000 steel workers in 1967 to produce 115 tons of steel. By 2015 only 90,000 people worked in the industry and they produced about 79 million tons of steel.

The rise of China and other low-cost countries said Market Watch, “sped up what had been a gradual decline in U.S. manufacturing job. After peaking at 19.5 million in 1979, industrial employment hovered around 18 million until the late 1990s, when China officially because part of the global trading system and Washington signed a slew of free-trade deals.”

Both Trump and Clinton are well aware that better policies would help domestic manufacturers grow, get U.S. firms to relocate plants at home or even entice foreign companies to set up shop in America, said Market Watch.

OK, so the halcyon days of U.S. and Australian manufacturing are well and truly over, and much like in Australia, the US too has firmly transitioned to a post-industrial society in which service jobs — finance, healthcare, entertainment, hospitality and education now employ more than 80 per cent of all working age people.

But at least in America, manufacturing is well and truly at the forefront of the political debate, while here in Australia, every time there is an election, our politicians can only promise billions of dollars to build new sports stadiums to pork-barrel their own electorates.

Seems we still have a lot to learn from the US no matter how you dice it.