About a month back I wrote a piece eloquently titled "Putting Perfume On A Pig", in which I blasted the collection of people so smart they have convinced themselves America doesn’t need manufacturing. This gang, called The National Summit On Competitiveness reissued an old Joe Lieberman study raising the alarm on outsourcing techie jobs (no problem with outsourcing manufacturing), and included the quote by the think tank dolt who said, "At the risk of sounding like a heretic, I have to say that quality and lean production is sooo last century."
Kathleen Fasanella commented that my post sounded rather depressing. She didn’t know the half of it. The depressing part just kicked in. The loud message from these folk to George Dubbya was that America needs more technical folks if we are to become competitive with the rest of the world. I am all for more technology competence, but what they are really saying is that manufacturing is best done elsewhere, and the way the country is going to prosper is by having people who can invent new stuff faster than the MBA/Wall Street crowd can outsource it to China. The President bought the package lock, stock and barrel. Those of you who caught last week’s State of the Union address heard all about the multi-billion dollar plan to re-energize science and engineering.
He also bought into the "lean is sooo last century" part. What didn’t get much ink – the really depressing part – is where our Commander In Chief is getting the money to pay for the techies. The federal budget that was sent to Congress guts the MEP’s. The official policy of the Bush Administration is to deal a body blow to lean manufacturing, in favor of the outsourcing strategy.
The MEP’s – Manufacturing Extension Partnerships – exist in every state and while much of what they do can be classified as "lean lite", they are the every day, nuts and bolts water carriers for the lean effort. Thousands of small manufacturers get their lean training, and for many of them their first exposure to lean, through the MEP’s. All of the MEP’s are good, and some of them are very, very good. Mostly they are staffed by people who are very committed to lean manufacturing. The Bush Administration is cutting MEP funding by almost two thirds, from $106 million to $39 million.
"Just as U.S. consumers have enjoyed lower prices from foreign manufacturers, so too should they benefit from services being offered by overseas companies that have lower labor costs," says N. Gregory Mankiw, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers. This moron is so far gone he even said that, "We don’t have a comparative advantage in producing clothing, textiles, and that’s one of the reasons we’ve tended to lose textile jobs. Maybe we’ve learned that we don’t have a comparative advantage in radiologists." Now there’s a bright idea – outsource radiology to India. We can put our kids on the next flight to Bombay for X-rays when they break their arms on the school playground. What seems certain is that we do not have a comparative advantage in Economic Advisers.
In addition to the MEP’s, Bush is gutting the Small Business Aministration and its micro-loan program, along with a number of other SBA programs. The CATO Institute is cheering all of this along, referring to the SBA and the MEP’s as "Corporate Welfare".
Most depressing of all is the National Association of Manufacturers. Their response to trashing the MEP’s is silence; and nothing but praise for the Bush budget. Apparently they have devoted themselves entirely to the full time tasks of running a George Bush fan club, promoting free trade, and trashing Lou Dobbs. No time left for supporting lean manufacturing, or any other kind of manufacturing, it seems.
"These guys just don’t get it, period," said Paul Kennedy, president of Kennedy Die Castings Inc. in Worcester, Massachusetts.
"Let’s put it this way. The Bush/Cheney yard sign that was in front of my house may just stay behind the Oldsmobile this fall," said Gary Henderson, purchasing manager of Aircraft Precision Products Inc. in Ithaca, Mich.
Paul and Gary – count me in. If this doesn’t change, I may have to vote for Hillary in ’08, not because I think she will do better – she would be an abomination – but to send a message to the Republicans that they better get their heads out of Wall Street and the think tanks and back into the heart and soul of America.