For over a half century, American manufacturing has dominated the globe. It turned the tide in World War ii and hastened the defeat of Nazi Germany; it subsequently helped rebuild Europe and Japan; it enabled the United States to outlast the Soviet empire in the Cold War. At the same time, it met all the material needs of the American people.
During this period, many American icons were born. Companies like General Motors, Ford, Boeing, Maytag and Levi Strauss became household names. American manufacturing became synonymous with quality and ingenuity.
On the back of this industrial output rose America’s middle class. High-paying manufacturing jobs, in turn, helped spur a robust and growing economy that depended little on foreign nations for manufactured goods and armaments.
However, manufacturing as a share of the economy has been plummeting. In 1965, manufacturing accounted for 53 percent of the economy. By 1988 it only accounted for 39 percent, and in 2004, it accounted for just 9 percent.
Considering the stupendous list of America’s manufacturing achievements and the vulnerabilities associated with foreign dependence when a nation lacks strong domestic manufacturing, it is alarming when economists are warning that the U.S. is facing the “gutting, hollowing out and closing down of American manufacturing forever” (Benson’s Economic & Market Trends, Feb. 27, 2004).