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How Many Pinheads Can Dance on the Heads of the Angels?

by BILL WADDELL

The answer is at least three.  That point is made pretty clearly in an article covering a talk made by Emerson chairman David Farr, and rebuttal comments by a guy named Kevin Griffis, the mouthpiece for the US Secretary of Commerce, Gary Locke.

Farr took over running Emerson after the legendary Chuck Knight left a few years back.  Knight was an odd guy - brilliant, abrasive, and committed to both outstanding quarter to quarter financial performance and excellent manufacturing.  Emerson was a booming, growing, extraordinarily successful company during Knight's 30+ year run.

Farr is absolutely correct when he says that "Washington is doing everything in their manpower, capability, to destroy U.S. manufacturing.”  He goes on to cite “Cap and trade, medical reform, labor rules" as examples.  The administration has been in the all-out assault mode on manufacturing from day one - seeing it as the county fair winning Poland China hog to be carved up among its labor union supporters and environmental zealots.  The lawyer in charge of Commerce, who should be the manufacturing advocate, wouldn't know a milling machine from a surface mount machine, but he has the political talking points down cold.

“This attack isn’t supported by the facts,” Kevin Griffis, a spokesman for U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, said today in an e-mail from Singapore, where they are attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meetings."  Well, yes it is Kevin.  There is a great article in today's Wall Street Journal that you and Gary ought to read on global warming before they rush off and saddle American manufacturing with Cap and Trade.  And rather than slam the manufacturing community represented by the US Chamber of Commerce because they have ideas on health care that are different from the government take-over scheme your boss urges, you ought to shut up and listen.  And even the Democrats who control the Senate won't support your ridiculous Card Check scheme to try to bring labor unions back from the dead.  You set up a labor lawyer as the manufacturing czar and a certifiable nut case on the NLRB.  You have attacked manufacturing at every turn since taking office.

The overwhelming majority of the manufacturing community is screaming stop - don't do it. Your refusal to listen to them, saying, "This administration has made a significant commitment to U.S. manufacturing" falls somewhere between being incredibly naive and an outright lie.

But the Commerce boys are not the only ones blowing smoke - trashing American manufacturing and trying to mask it with palatable rhetoric.  A little further down the article, Mr Farr says, "Mature markets such as the U.S., Western Europe and Japan continue to decline in importance and the company will keep investing in emerging markets." He adds, “We as a company today are putting our best people, our best technology and our best investment in these marketplaces to grow."

What?  It seems that it doesn't really matter what the Obama administration does.  We are in a "mature market" and Farr is taking his business elsewhere.  "36 percent of manufacturing is now in 'best-cost countries' up from 21 percent in 2003." [when Chuck Knight was running the Emerson show]  So our good Mr Farr may well be outraged at the administration, but he actually started bailing out of the United States way back when Obama was just another Chicago hack in the Illinois legislature.

The Pope said, "Business management cannot concern itself only with the interests of the proprietors, but must also assume responsibility for all the other stakeholders who contribute to the life of the business: the workers, the clients, the suppliers of various elements of production, the community of reference."

He placed the blame for the world's woes largely on the backs of "a new cosmopolitan class of managers ... who are often answerable only to the shareholders generally consisting of anonymous funds which de facto determine their remuneration."

He urged giving "serious attention to the damage that can be caused to one's home country by the transfer abroad of capital purely for personal advantage."

Farr says, "My job is to grow that top line, grow my earnings, grow my cash flow and grow my returns to the shareholders."  No mention of his employees, his suppliers, his customers, or the communities in which Emerson does business.  You sound like a very cosmopolitan sort of a guy, Mr Farr.

Farr may be correct in his criticism of the US government, but his opinion is irrelevant.  He sold out US manufacturing, tens of thousands of US Emerson employees, a number of American communities long ago as a matter of his own business values and management philosophy, and blaming it on Obama - or anyone but himsef - is about as disingenuous as it gets.

You laid off those people, Mr Farr.  You trashed the communities.  You decimated your US suppliers. You obviously decided to get out of US manufacturing years ago and now you are trying to use the Obama administration's policies to justify yourself?  You aren't fooling anyone. How about you buck up and be a man and accept responsibility for your decisions, instead of blaming others?

Let those of us who are committed to manufacturing, not just in the United States but everywhere - regional manufacturing where the people in each part of the world can grow a vibrant manufacturing economy to support their own regional markets for the benefit of everyone - do the talking.  Farrcashed in his right to express an opinion on American manufacturing policy a long time ago.

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3 Responses to "How Many Pinheads Can Dance on the Heads of the Angels?"

  • TMLutas
    12 November 2009 - 2:17 pm

    It just doesn’t make sense for the companies to ship things halfway around the world unless there is such an advantage in cost that it justifies the shipping. The first thing that we’ve got a problem with is that our education system has been systematically shrinking our advantage by dumbing down our workers. We score badly on 1st world educational rankings.

    We also are losing our regulatory edge by growing our regulatory state. We are losing our energy edge by locking up our domestic energy resources.

    Faced with all that, is it any wonder that manufacturers expand to where the total cost package is cheaper? If they’ll stay no matter what, why wouldn’t the political class beat them down even more until they lose market share to foreign competitors?

    Give me an alternate feedback loop that will get the politicians’ attention other than picking up stakes and leaving. I haven’t seen one. And even shut downs and departures don’t seem to get through to a lot of our political class. They go right on over regulating and over taxing far past the point when an ordinary person would get the picture.

  • Mike_K
    12 November 2009 - 5:38 pm

    This country has had huge advantages since the Second World War. We have had the legal climate, contract law, abundant energy, a skilled workforce and, with the GI Bill, an educated population. What has happened ? Contract law took a major hit in the Chrysler bailout when senior creditors were not only stiffed but attacked by the President. Energy needs little said. We are on the path to blackouts and $20/gallon gasoline. Workforce skills have not kept up as unions focused on older workers health plans and ignored changes in manufacturing methods. Our education system has focused for 30 years on parenting instead of hard knowledge like math and science.

    I remember reading a few years about the worries of auto company executives who were going to have to replace the older workforce members with young people who did not have a work ethic and who could not do the math necessary for such tasks as setting up milling machines. Well, we solved that problem. Large companies like Ford were essentially taken over by “financial people” and engineers went to the back of the room.

    I’m not sure I blame Farr for anticipating a trend that has only accelerated under Obama.

  • Rick Bohan
    14 November 2009 - 7:54 am

    I’ve come to believe that manufacturers’ favorite pastime is whining about how badly everybody treats them even as they shoot themselves in the foot. It’s Obama’s fault. It’s Congress’ fault. It’s the tree-huggers’ faults. It’s the elitist liberals’ fault. How could anyone possible believe any of our travails are our own fault?

    Cap and trade was originally developed by folks who said a market approach to controlling the crap business is inclined to spew in the air and water would work better than just throwing CEO’s in jail. I think throwing CEO’s in jail would be more effective, but the “make a market in industrial crap” people won the argument.

    If the conservatives have a better approach to this health care crisis, why didn’t they implement it when they held the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches of the federal government? Like so many of our problems, they ignored it, it got worse, now they are simply hoping that the people showing some leadership on the issue will fail. Mind you, they have nothing in mind themselves….they just want to see their political opponents fail.

    As for “business friendly”, that last administration sure was great for creating jobs in the manufacturing sector, wasn’t it?

    In US manufacturers spent as much time truly creating a core competency of manufacturing as they do whining, the whole country would be much the better for it.