UpFront: Speaking Up for Manufacturing
By Brian J. Hogan
Pretty regularly, I hear manufacturing defended by someone who insists that it provides good jobs at good wages. Although this statement is true, it has little impact on either the public or opinion makers.
Relatively few people in any industrial country have close contact with the three basic means of producing wealth—agriculture, mining, and manufacturing. Relatively few people in any great industrial nation have extensive technical education or training, and are thus able to understand the fundamental importance of applied science in industrial society.
When the average Joe or Jane, the average journalist, and the average legislator hears the "good jobs at good wages" argument, the unspoken retort is that many fields of endeavor provide good jobs and good wages. The argument doesn't convince; it especially has no effect upon folks like legislators and journalists, who imagine themselves to be creative and vital, and regard the basic means of generating wealth as marginal and dull. We need an argument that can, at the least, make such people stop, reconsider their views, and think a bit.
Perhaps we might try this: Let's argue that manufacturing is not an optional activity because it's fundamental to the organization of our civilization. If manufacturing goes away, we lose a basic component of what we are, and the consequences may be deadly.
It's not simply a matter of good jobs at good wages; it's a matter of our nation, our civilization, remaining a vital, growing, healthy social organism. Those persons who ignore manufacturing, which has created the environment (buildings, vehicles, electrical grid, modern medicine, etc.) in which we live, are negligently, foolishly, turning their backs on something of inestimable value to our citizens, and our world.
Basic science and applied science (engineering) have lifted the human race out of a medieval existence. Manufacturing is a particular branch of applied science, and the means by which the discoveries of basic science and the innovations of applied science are made available to humanity. Furthermore, manufacturing is a creative activity that enriches the lives of the men and women involved in it. People in responsible positions should value manufacturing as a foundation stone of our society, and an undertaking of great worth to the individual.
Manufacturing offers good jobs at good wages. But we should argue that manufacturing is a critical component of modern civilization, and its true value transcends good jobs and good wages. So the next time someone in the public eye says we can let manufacturing go offshore without any problems, perhaps we should accuse him/her of being indifferent to the survival of our society.
Our molders of opinion may listen and, as I say, think a bit.
This article was first published in the May 2006 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine.