As the greatest of the American capitalists of the turn of the 20th century understood, superiority belonged to those who held economic might and economic might came from control of the means of production. In fact, control of the means of production was what won the Civil War for the North, the Second World War for the Allies and the Cold War for the United States. For decades, no one in the world doubted our nation’s ability to out produce anyone else in the world while holding the vastest supply of natural resources and the native market to support that level of production. As long as we were the mightiest economy in the world, we could force the world to bend in any direction we chose—and we did. This is the foundation for the concept of “American Exceptionalism” that so many conservatives and libertarians are promoting and mourning the loss of.
These conservatives and libertarians blame government for the disappearance of “American Exceptionalism,” but in fact they only have to look at their supporters and donors for the true culprits. The loss of “American Exceptionalism” is not new and has little to do with Obama’s so-called “apologizing for U. S. supremacy” and more to do with the now 40 plus-year trickle of America’s control of the means of production to other nations, some of whom are arguably our enemies.
Look back to the “heyday” of the 1950’s. Blue collar jobs in manufacturing and production were plentiful and provided a basis for a solid, prosperous middle class who drove a strong consumer market. Cheap, legal labor performed by minorities and women was available for the production of inexpensive goods. America had an abundant and seemingly unlimited supply of natural resources. Technology developed during World War II was fueling the development of a wide range of innovative products and technology, which were then manufactured by American workers in American plants. The means of production were here, from start to finish, and the excess inventory was shipped around the world. With many goods, the only way to get a quality-built, long-lasting product was to buy American. American workers and American industry became confident and complacent in their assumption of continued superiority.
All that began to change in the 1960’s and 1970’s. The recognition of civil rights for minorities and equality of pay for women drove up the cost of artificially cheap labor. Many small items could be made cheaper using foreign labor and these items became so cheap they were disposable, so quality was no longer an issue. A period of prolonged peace for the majority of the world allowed nations such as Japan and Germany to focus their industrial might on producing things such as steel, automobiles and heavy equipment. China was beginning to rebuild its formerly feudal society into one dominated by central control. After a while, Americans became used to the flood of cheap foreign goods from countries such as Japan, Korea and Taiwan and companies began to move their factories to these nations—the beginning of outsourcing. As production of American goods began to take place outside the country, the American technology used to produce them fell into foreign hands as well. Nations such as Japan did not have to research, develop or create innovative products; they only had to reproduce and tweak them in order to capture the market. Foreign goods became as good, if not better, than American-made goods and were still cheaper.
By the 1990’s the majority of goods sold in the United States were manufactured in other countries, such as Mexico, China, India, Pakistan, Korea, Vietnam and Bangladesh. Many of these goods were being produced by “American” companies, but the means of production were anywhere but America. Since the means of production for American goods exist in foreign countries, then the means of production for American goods lay in foreign hands. The governments of those nations or any strong militant interest, are free to take over and control those means of productions anytime they choose and stop production, divert distribution or control inventory as they choose. THESE NATIONS have control of the means of production, not the United States or the “American” companies that “own” them. And as Carnegie or Rockefeller would tell you that means that these nations are the ones with economic might and superiority.
With China being the undisputed leader among these nations, with over one-sixth of the world’s population alone for use as cheap labor, it could be argued that China, and not the United States, has world superiority. Think that’s BS? Just ponder what would happen if China launched a full trade embargo with the United States; no import or export of goods or services with the United States. How much of the merchandise on store shelves would disappear? Who in the United States would be able to produce those goods, period, or at a rate and cost that matches China? Answer—nobody! India has almost as many people as China and is a large supplier of labor for the technical sector in this country. What if they chose to do the same? Where would the computers and other technology this nations now relies on come from and the technical support needed to maintain it? Not from here!
Ladies and gentleman, once we get over this ridiculously false notion that we are superior to everyone else and begin to humble ourselves into working with the rest of the world in response to a situation our nation’s industrial leaders and our own complacency created, the better off and more prosperous we will be. The greatest of our modern economists understood the power of division of labor and that is our shining beacon. Instead of thinking “America First,” maybe we should look more at how we can become a vital, indispensable niche in the world economy other than as a consumer of everybody else’s goods. We need to find what we are best at in the entire world, specialize in it, guard it and certainly not export it to everyone else. If we do not, we will not even be able to sustain our power as a nation of consumers and our children and grandchildren will continue to watch our slide into mediocrity and irrelevancy.