Serious questions surround the manufacturing sector of the American economy right now, and the need to confront these issues is an objective that cuts across the entire political spectrum. While America may be united in the goal of trying to resolve the issues plaguing manufacturing, the different political factions of this nation couldn't disagree more about what should be done.
There are no easy answers of course, and every potential solution is complicated, but the inaugural Financial Times Future of Manufacturing Summit USA, held yesterday right here in Chicago, articulated what sort of direction big business should take.
It was held at the Hilton Towers on South Michigan Ave, and it featured an impressive list of guest speakers and high powered corporate types. The summit's theme "thriving in complexity" says it all, as it was the kind of session that required the attendee to have a MBA and or be fluent in shop talk.
Not to sound a tad Marxist, but this country does need to re-prioritize "the means of production." What's currently hindering that are two major unstoppable forces:
a.) globalization of the economy through "free trade" deals that only slightly uplifted portions of the third world, at the expense of eradicating our middle class.
b.) automation and the rapid pace of progress, in which Moore's Law and the robots it creates are replacing the jobs once held down by human beings. In the spirit of today's holiday, May the 4th, #MayTheFourthBeWithYou "these are not the droids you're looking for."
Science fiction was correct, the robots will rise up and overwhelm us, it's just that they're not going to physically exterminate us; instead they'll send us to the unemployment line.
The current political climate makes these complex issues even harder to deal with, as much of the populace reacted to these swift changes in about as poor a manner as possible.
Political leaders have been able to use propaganda and lies to make real life, genuine American human beings sound like the 1/8 dimensional white trash red neck background characters on South Park who shout "DEY TOOK YER JOBS!"
The "dey" can refer to undocumented immigrants, migrant workers, or minorities in general.
The #BuildThatWall crowd themselves don't know who or what they're actually trying to stop with the Mexico border wall idea, a concept that seriously sounds like it originated with a drunken carnival barker who cross-bred with a two bit huckster.
The wall has zero pragmatism, it's just a security blanket for many of the manufacturing workers who have seen their industry, and thus their way of life dissipate. What they actually fear more than anything is change, and that fear manifests itself in xenophobic, racist, white supremacy, nativist, nationalistic, ethnocentric scapegoating.
However, there's a reason we have some overlap between the America Firsters, MAGAheads and Bernie Bros. The rust belt, i.e. the manufacturing workers of America have truly been left behind, by all the elites in government, business, the media- you name it.
Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by three million, but she failed to gain the presidency because she lost the heavy manufacturing states by the 70,000 votes she needed to take the electoral college. During her campaign, she treated this part of the country in the same manner that the media-entertainment industrial complex does-
viewing it as pointless, worthless fly over country in between New York and Los Angeles.
There are many reasons why the rust belt voter felt so desperate and abandoned that he/she selected a crass, crude, disinterested in actually governing reality show D-list celebrity trickster to be president. He peddled the impossibilities of quick fixes to an audience that was ready to buy just about any snake oil he could hock.
The manufacturing sector feels like the red-headed step child of the business world because it's been treated as such.
Sree Ramaswamy, Partner, McKinsey Global Institute pondered this during a FT Future of Manufacturing panel discussion entitled: "Jobs and Management 4.0 - Upskilling Manufacturing Workforce and Leadership:
"How can a sector that's responsible for 70% of R&D (research and development), not to be considered cool enough to attract the best people?"
He's right, a lack of a coolness factor is impeding manufacturing right now and corporate culture has a lot to do with it. It's not just manufacturing, but all sectors of big business in general. Our descendants will wonder how corporatespeak technobabble replaced English as our official language back in the 2010.
One speaker, in just a single sentence, said "we're in a paradigm shift," "robust," and "scalable."
It was five seconds of awful.
There was a lot of "in the space," instead of just saying "industry" or "field." As one speaker said "platform is a buzz word now, I don’t know what platform is supposed to mean, but everyone has one now."
Within 30 minutes I heard "best of breed," "cloud based model," "strategic agility," "core competencies,"
"machine learning," (about 20 times) "core mission," "value-add," "brand trajectory," "vis-a-vis," and "supply chain" (about 100 times).
It was basically Weird Al Yankovic's brilliant music video "Mission Statement," which was intended to be a parody. Manufacturing people don't want to be talked to like this; they're a practical, well-grounded sort.
Hell, no one wants to be talked to in corporatespeak. This kind of speech is so widespread and utterly unlikable that even displaced manufacturing workers felt compelled to vote in November of 2016 for someone who "tells it like it is."
Trump obviously doesn't, as his lying is ludicrously unprecedented, but given our era of political correctness and corporate buzz words, you can see why so many were tricked into believing he's an alleged straight shooter.
Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank.net and TheBank.News, which is partnered with News Now. Banks, a former writer for the Washington Times, NBC Chicago.com and Chicago Tribune.com, currently contributes regularly to WGN CLTV and the Tribune corporation blogging community Chicago Now.
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