On Competitiveness, Political Rhetoric and a Lack of Balance

Look, first off this is not some referendum on gun control, so don’t lose your place or get off track here, OK?

It’s my personal little treatise on the dangers of inflammatory rhetoric, pay-for-hire mouthpieces and the often blinding politics of self-interest.

So given that, you should know the issue I continue to have with the NRA is not about guns, or gun control.  In fact, I flat-out support the notion of citizens being able to own guns.

It is because the organization’s lobbyists, in the interest of letting the companies who fund their lobbying efforts conduct business freely and openly, without a whiff of additional government regulation, tend to position any type of gun legislation — and I mean any; even the most sane, rational and bi-lateral — as somehow an affront to their sensibility and a denial of their rights as Americans.

What’s more, those same men and women regularly drape themselves in the stars and stripes and try to convince us that any hunter who is not free to shoot squirrels and deer with semi-automatic handguns and armor-piercing bullets is being denied his or her God-given right as an American.

In other words, my issue has never been about the NRA’s creed.  In fact, it is not even about the fact that the NRA’s position always seems to directly mirror that of the companies which pay it the most in annual dues.

My issue is the utter lack of balance the organization exhibits in its single-minded pursuit of its otherwise one-dimensional goal. 

Where is the moderation?  Where is the practicality?  Where is appreciation for something known as the common good? 

And where do the interests of knowledgeable, well-intentioned public servants like the police, drug enforcement officials and those trying to combat gang violence fit in?

I bring this up, not as a way of drawing some imaginary political line in the sand, but as a way of asking you to read this op-ed piece in Industry Week by Deborah Wince-Smith, president & CEO of the President’s Council on Competitiveness.

Look at the words she uses.  Listen to her rhetoric.  To hear Ms. Wince-Smith tell it, manufacturing in the United States is drowning in a sea of onerous taxes and — to borrow her words — “strangling” regulation.

If I didn’t know any better, I’d swear she was not operating in the same country I was.  What’s more, I’d swear someone was paying her to write those things and use such caustic words about the state of manufacturing in America.

Gimme a break, huh?

Take it from someone who knows, who spends all day making things and selling them around the globe, manufacturing in the U.S. is light years ahead of its competition, including that from India and China, and the wisdom of the marketplace is starting to wake up to that very fact. 

What’s more, this country’s livability, our schools, our infrastructure, our clean air and water, and our rights, freedoms and liberties are all part of doing business in the U.S.  

That’s why so many companies now driven by, among other things, quality, value and efficiency, are starting to re-shore jobs and move their production facilities back to America.

And that’s why so many industries and foreign investors continue to place their money in American manufacturing and the most innovative U.S.-based manufacturers.

And not just the biggest ones like those in the aerospace, automotive and heavy machinery industries, but hundreds of under-the-radar ones who’ve found profitable little micro-niches manufacturing inconsequential, disposable items like Popsicle sticks, underwear and shaving products.

What bothers me about Ms. Wince-Smith?

Well for one, she’s wrong. 

America is the still leading manufacturer of goods in the world, and despite some issues that will continue to confound us for the foreseeable future, U.S. manufacturing looks far more likely to grow in the years ahead, than regress.

And while taxes remain high in some regards in this country, as a rule the American tax rate, including payroll taxes, are downright favorable. Especially in light of the kind of public services we get for that money.

Secondly, as a writer she sounds not like a free-thinking capitalist or a successful entrepreneur, but like some talking point-spewing mouthpiece for the high-level CEOs who happen to sit on her board. 

Look, if there’s one thing we’ve learned about manufacturing in this country, it’s that small and lean has rapidly supplanted large and bloated.  

What’s more, much of the off-shoring of jobs in this country that resulted in the demise of our middle class, the widening of our national disparity of wealth, and the steady rise in the ranks of our unemployed, is directly attributable to previous generations of those who now populate Ms. Wince-Smith’s board, CEOs of giant, mega-corporations who did what they did when they did it because they were under the stunningly short-sighted delusion that off-shoring American jobs would, somehow, be “cheaper” for them.

And we all know how that worked out.

But of all the things that upset me about the knee-jerk and inflammatory rhetoric used by the head of the Council on Competitiveness, this upsets me the most.  In calling this country’s regulation “strangling”, much like the NRA is always doing, she is laying balance and reason at the altar of reality and sacrificing them up to the gods of public policy — just as a way of preaching to the choir, while scoring a handful of middling political points.

The issue is far more complex than that, and relaxing regulations will, in the long run, bring about as many problems as it addresses.  What we need, in other words, is balance.  And both sides of the issue need to be analyzed in a way that makes the most sense and results in the greatest long-term benefit for us as an economy.

Well, at least she’s right about one thing. 

In the second paragraph, she writes: “We’re not believing in ourselves as a nation. And our political…leaders are not encouraging us to say we are an exceptional nation and we can do great things.”

Good for you, Ms. Wince-Smith.  At least you nailed that part. 

Now, if you’d just come to realize that, if our political leaders, ideologues and many in the polarizing, right-wing media are not going to encourage American manufacturers, the least we can do is encourage ourselves and remind ourselves that things are better than many would lead us to believe, and that industry in this country is, indeed, headed in the right direction.

In fact, if I were you, I’d repeat those lines over and over tonight in a place where they could do the most good, and have the greatest impact.   

All alone. In an empty room. And most of all, standing in front of a mirror.

3 Comments to “On Competitiveness, Political Rhetoric and a Lack of Balance”

  1. Chopper Doctor 17 November 2011 at 7:01 am #

    Again, I renew my call. Perry Sainati for President on the Commonsensical Party Ticket!

    • Perry Sainati 17 November 2011 at 8:25 am #

      As General Sherman might have said, “If nominated, I will not run. If elected, I will not serve.” 🙂

      But thanks for the kind words. Let’s hope more of us in this industry feel this way.

  2. Anonymous 30 November 2011 at 4:32 pm #

    Perry, question, exactly how much is our trade deficit over the last ten years? Next question, how is the trade deficit paid for?
    How many net jobs has the USA lost because of importing more than we export? Foreign workers don’t pay income taxes, and they don’t stimulate domestic. How much has that contributed to our national debt?
    Why is wealth becoming more and more concentrated in America?
    How much of your production is overseas? How much does yourcompany contribute to the US trade deficit? Thanks for your reply…if any?

Leave a Reply