Manufacturing Failure

Dr. Susan Hockfield, in her recent op-ed piece article for The New York Times titled, "Manufacturing a Recovery" (August 30, 2011), reveals much of the liberal/academic mindset and selective blindness that, in seeking government solutions originated through politicians, academicians, and selected businesspeople, has and continues to foster many of the problems of American manufacturing.

Dr. Hockfield, a neuroscientist and president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, makes the case for increased federal spending in research and development and the need for "more graduates with greater proficiency in science, technology, engineering and mathematics."   Barack Obama recently appointed Dr. Hockfield, along with Andrew N. Liveris, the chief executive of Dow Chemical to "lead the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership, a group of industry, academic and government representatives that will find ways to speed up research in advanced materials and processes and increase our pool of skilled labor."  In her article, she also decries the "recent debt-ceiling compromise [that] could compel some 10 percent in cuts to federal research and development money in 2013."

Government involvement in research and technology has and continues to provide benefits when it occurs in those areas in which government has a legitimate, if not mandatory, involvement.  R&D undertaken in behalf of national defense is responsible for numerous advances in fields ranging from the digital revolution in communications, to aviation and logistics, to name but a few.  The space program, justifiably an adjunct to defense, originated a wide range of materials and technologies that continue to improve the quality of everyday life.  In an era when the worldwide transportation system could speed contagion and terror along with people and cargo, the Centers for Disease Control provides an invaluable protection.

When the government steps unnecessarily into the private sector, however, the system deteriorates rapidly.  The political calculus quickly neglects pure science in the interest of selecting winners and losers based on factors ranging from financial contributions, to home districts, to ideology. 

Dr. Hockfield cites Boeing as an example of a producer of products that "require sophisticated manufacturing equipment, operated by skilled workers, and benefit from the tight integration of design and production."  Can she possibly be ignorant of the fact that the administration, through the NLRB at the behest of its union contributors, is currently attempting to stall Boeing from opening a newly completed plant in South Carolina because South Carolina is a right-to-work state?  Boeing's new plant would not only create jobs at that locale but add an estimated 2,000 more at its existing unionized plants.

Can Dr. Hockfield be likewise unaware of the dismal market performance of the Chevy Volt or the recent bankruptcy of Solyndra (a solar panel builder) and the attendant loss of 527 million taxpayers dollars, as well the jobs and 1,100 employees?  Both of these were instances in which political ideology trumped the realities of the marketplace in favor of championing immature technologies of questionable value. 

As a director of General Electric, a corporation with extremely close ties to the Obama administration and the beneficiary of numerous government contracts, Dr. Hockfield must know of the recent and prior export of jobs and technology by GE to China, currently evidenced by the transfer of the headquarters of GE Healthcare from Wisconsin to Beijing.

American business and manufacturing suffers from no shortage of technological proficiency and venture capital.  More often, it is government policies, programs and regulations that stifle our ability to build a greater prosperity at home and compete aggressively in world markets.  To cite just two examples:  programs like Obamacare, and its attendant implications regarding drug pricing, can only serve to discourage research and development on the part of pharmaceutical manufacturers; and government decrees and regulations in the energy industry continue to favor the unproven over the workable and have left us at the mercy of suppliers whose price models not only leave us vulnerable but adversely impact all our business and industry.

Insofar as improving quality and availability of education, the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership would do well to suggest ways of eliminating the top-heavy administrative structures in our universities - thereby reducing cost and increasing accessibility.

If Dr. Hockfield and her colleagues are indeed serious about advancing technology in domestic manufacturing, they can work to eliminate the burdensome taxes, regulations, encumbrances, and political preferences that have and continue to hamper our growth.  Technology does not exist in a vacuum.  Manufacturing is first and foremost a business, and government policies that facilitate the free market will not only promote technological advances but assure their timely availability to the world market.