Milwaukee JS: Nuts-and-bolts Advice for New Manufacturing Czar

In “Nuts-and-bolts advice for the new manufacturing czar,” The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel’s business columnist, John Torinus, previews Wednesday’s press briefing by Rockwell Automation’s CEO, Keith Nosbusch, who propose a comprehensive national manufacturing strategy. (Rockwell’s news release.)

Torinus discusses the possible appointment of Ron Bloom, the White House’s person in charge of the automotive restructuring, as a White House manufacturing czar; he names several manufacturing leaders he regards as more qualified than Bloom, a former investment banker and Steelworkers union executive.

Torinus then proposes policies to compromise a manufacturing policy.  The first four suggestions:

  • Keep the pressure on the Chinese government to harden the yuan. Henry Paulson got it done in the Bush administration when the yuan rose about 20% against the dollar. That was a big help to U.S. exporters, the most important job and wealth creators for the country.
  • Push for balanced trade on a bilateral basis with China, so their exports to the United States are better matched to their imports from the U.S. The gigantic trade imbalance with China is one of the biggest destabilizing forces on the U.S. economy. It has to be fixed.
  • Understanding that the U.S. cannot sustain itself with a lopsided service economy – we have to make things, too – drop or eliminate the corporate tax on manufacturing. Other countries have dropped corporate taxes without triggering trade pact violations. If necessary, go to a value-added tax on goods as a replacement, a consumption tax on consumers.
  • Promote Toyota-like lean disciplines across the whole manufacturing sector, much as Wisconsin government is attempting to do. Persuade union leaders to support lean disciplines and junk work rules that get in the way.

There’s a lot to like in his list for strengthening the manufacturing economy. You could add other items, to be sure, such as enacting tort reforms to bring the cost of the U.S. legal system in line with other leading manufacturing countries. In the process, speak out against the campaigns by the alliance of trial lawyers and “consumer activists” that ignore risk and demonize safe products and ingredients. (Since we’re reading the Journal-Sentinel, the campaign against BPA comes to mind.)

Torinus says the “manufacturing czar” strategy repeats the Bush Administration’s practice. Not quite. There the advocate was an Assistant Secretary of Manufacturing and Services in the Department of Commerce. Admittedly, that’s post has a much lower profile than a White House point person, but it does require the vetting and accountability that accompanies Senate confirmation.

Thanks to the Van Jones debacle, we’re about to see a new round of debate about the wisdom of manufacturing czars. On Fox News Sunday this morning, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), a member of the Republican leadership, responded to a question about the radical-cum-green-jobs czar by calling White House czars “an affront to the Constitution”: “When you take all these people that make policy close to the president and the White House … and aren’t approved by the Congress, you’re just adding fuel to the fire by those who think Washington is taking over everything.”

We imagine most manufacturers would welcome a strong advocate in the White House to promote U.S. industry. Still, czars, prelates or factotums aside, most important are the policies the Administration and Congress pursue. First, as NAM President John Engler likes to say, “Do no harm.” And after that, there’s a lot of good substance in Torinus’ list, and we look forward with interest to the Rockwell briefing.

The old political saw is that personnel is policy. Sure. But in the case of the manufacturing economy, the primary strategy should be to have policy be policy. Good policy being good policy, that is.

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