America: Why the High Unemployment?

by John Brian Shannon

In 1970, of the 89,244 new cars and trucks sold in the U.S.A., 84.9% of them were built in North America, while only 15.1% of them were manufactured in other countries and shipped to this continent for purchase and registration.

In 2012, of the 14.4 million new cars and trucks sold in the U.S.A., 44.5% of them were built in North America, while imports accounted for 55.6% of registrations. Read here.

By any measure, this is an ongoing paradigm shift — which directly relates to American unemployment statistics since 1970.

A total of 15.4 million car and light truck sales are expected in the U.S. for calendar year 2013 — the best year since 2007. By 2014, U.S. sales are expected to reach 16 million, with imports continuing to increase their market share in the U.S.

Since the first Model T Ford rolled off the Dearborn, MI assembly line, millions of  workers have been employed by American automakers – including some workers who worked for the same company their entire career. Fathers who worked at Ford, GM or Chrysler from their childhood until retirement, found their sons and daughters good-paying jobs with their old employers. Unemployment in the 1945 – 1975 era was generally quite low — and that, in the midst of an economically damaging Cold War which negatively affected many parts of society including the unemployment rate, not incidentally.

Generally during the post-war boom, everybody worked, everybody earned a paycheque, and almost everybody contributed to the economy. About late 1973 or early 1974 this began to profoundly change in the United States and in the Western nations generally.

Not to blame the American auto manufacturers for the Arab Oil Embargo, as the Big Three had been assured of low petroleum prices by foreign governments and several domestic administrations — hence the big, V-8 powered cars of the era and their consequently-low MPG figures were popular with both manufacturers and consumers.

But American consumers are a fickle lot. Once the gas price shot upwards in the aftermath of the Arab Oil embargo, Datsun (now Nissan), Toyota and Honda nameplates began selling as fast as the ships could deliver them from Japan.

If only the foreign vehicles were of inferior quality! But they’re not. If only they used more fuel than their U.S. equivalents. But they don’t. The corporate fuel economy average for foreign and domestic makes still favours imported vehicles. Not by the wide margin it once did — and not that GM and Ford haven’t scored impressive MPG victories in some categories, because they have.

But, to put it bluntly, many employed Americans prefer their foreign-built cars. (“And those millions of now-chronically-unemployed Americans will just have to get by.”)

It’s not just cars and trucks either. Historically, most home electronics sold in the U.S.A. including televisions, smartphones and computers were also ‘Made in the U.S.A.’  — but not these days.

Most of the clothing, plastics and extruded metals purchased in the U.S. are now manufactured in Asian and Southeast Asian nations, where countries like Indonesia rely heavily on textile exports to us and other Western nations.

Much of the American conversation these days revolves around the old austerity vs. stimulus debate which reporters and op/ed journalists are required by their respective organizations to cover.

Meanwhile the 80-ton elephant in the room is the trillions of manufacturing dollars which have transferred from the West to Asia since 1970 — and the manufacturing jobs that have gone with them.

Export nationalism — MY COMMENT

by John Brian Shannon

Read Hans Kundnani’s article here.

The solution for more success cannot be aiming for less success!

But this is one of the counter-intuitive prescriptions being offered up to Eurozone members in order to stabilize an imbalance presently occurring between uber-successful Germany on the one hand — and the (economically, at least) failing Eurozone member nations on the other hand.

The astounding post-WWII success story named Germany is one that other nations in Europe should be emulating.

Instead of Germany trying to slow down to the speed of the other Euro nations — those nations should be gearing-up with German assistance, to become full partners in Germany’s success. Which will then become their success!

Let me say it another way. When one finds a good working model, one does not abandon that model – he seeks ways to improve on the performance of that model.

There is nothing wrong with the German model. I quote your words, Hans, to prove my point: “Germany will have a trade surplus of $220 billion in 2012 – bigger than any other country in the world, including China. (The institute predicts Germany will also have a trade surplus with China for the first time since 1988.) If there is a new “economic miracle”, it is one produced by exports.”

What needs to happen in Europe is harmonization with Germany — not the other way around, for such would be a slow spiral of economic death for the continent.

How would that work in practice? In this post, I describe but one way out of many possible ways to accomplish that goal.

All manufacturers know about ‘just-in-time-delivery‘ of parts to a manufacturing location. It is the time-tested method (and really, the only method in use nowadays) for cost-effective and profitable manufacturing, whether it be ‘white goods’, cars and trucks or electronics — among other manufactured goods.

The Euro nations need to produce billions of parts for German manufacturers and reliably deliver them in a timely fashion to German companies. This way, nations become part of their own solution and part of Germany’s success — which leads to an even greater Eurozone success story.

The ‘have not’ nations of Europe must become part of the solution, becoming ‘have’ nations in the process. And they can if they follow an outstanding (and longstanding) German success model.

In a larger context, the next 24 months may well be Europe’s coming-of-age moment, the place where it shakes off U.S. post-WWII control and direction to become a fully-fledged sovereign entity with a semblance of shared success and wealth – or it will begin a long, slow regression into what it once was, a collection of fractious, medieval states.

John Brian Shannon

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ABOUT JOHN BRIAN SHANNON

I write about green energy, sustainable development and economics. My blogs appear in the Arabian Gazette, EcoPoint, EnergyBoom, Huffington Post, United Nations Development Programme, WACSI — and other quality publications.

“It is important to assist all levels of government and the business community to find sustainable ways forward for industry and consumers.”

Green Energy blog: http://johnbrianshannon.com
Economics blog: https://jbsnews.wordpress.com
Twitter: @JBSCanada

Will the Collapse of the Western Manufacturing Base Create a Worldwide Depression?

by John Brian Shannon

The Eastern economies have traditionally been the manufacturers and purchasers of downmarket goods in their own region, while Western economies have traditionally been the manufacturers and purchasers of upmarket goods in their particular region.

Over the past 40 years Asia has taken much of the West’s upmarket manufacturing base, so much so, that the West has lost fully 50% of the manufacturing jobs it once enjoyed previous to 1980. That is the single most important reason why there is significant unemployment, under-employment and worryingly, under-reported unemployment (people who no longer look for work) stats in the Western economies.

Which obviously leaves a big hole in the economy of the West, translating into lower Western economic performance and recessions in North America, Europe, Japan, Australia and New Zealand since the 1970’s.

The fact that many Western corporations are making huge amounts of money at this (outsourcing their manufacturing to Asia – resulting in better corporate profits due to the much lower labour rates there) is now a complete side-issue.

It has now come down to this; The once broad base of Western consumers with generous amounts of disposable income is changing to an ever-broadening base of Western consumers without much disposable income.

If things continue, soon it will impact the Eastern economies — as there won’t be enough people in the West with enough disposable income to afford much of those upmarket goods and services! Translating into reduced economic performance there.

For now, China and India are the only significant economies in the entire world which maintain a healthy growth rate. They have been the economic engines of the world since 1998. Here in the West, we have suffered two recessions since then — and that, with China and India firing on all cylinders and their admirable growth rates of at least 8% per year and sometimes much higher than that.

The U.S. growth rate was an anemic 2% last year and is expected to come in at 1.5% to 1.6% next year. The U.S has not seen any growth rate over 4% since the 1980’s. Europe and Canada have posted similar percentages over that same time-frame.

If demand for Eastern-produced goods slackens any further in the West, the Eastern economies will see recession too. At that point, with the West still mired in the fog of recession — the entire world economy will tailspin resulting in a worldwide depression. This is the fear of many economists — including economists in Asia.

Which is why I favour keeping some significant amount of manufacturing here in the West, as manufacturing produces (relatively speaking) a lot of jobs — while removing resources from the ground and shipping them to Asia produces relatively few jobs.

Oil refineries here cost 12 – 13 billion dollars, while in China they cost 1 billion dollars. No new refineries are planned for the West for obvious reasons. As much as I’d like to say otherwise, there is precious little chance of adding value to our petroleum exports when new refineries are so expensive here.

Which is why we need to find ways to add value to our other resources.There are many North American resources that are being exported away and some would say, squandered away. We need much more focus on a value-added economy. We need to add value to our diminishing resources before they leave our Western economy.

One way, is to manufacture products out of our resources — and then sell them abroad, to enhance our balance of payments, which would contribute to enhancing our GDP, thereby lowering our overall debt-to-GDP ratio. Those ratios are killing us right now in the West.

Another good way to improve our Western economic picture is to tariff all resource exports and use that money to fund infrastructure projects, which would contribute much to the economy, but only temporarily. After all those projects reach completion in about ten years, workers (consumers with disposable income) will again be unemployed or under-employed, just as they are now. What then?

Some economists have suggested a Goods and Services Tax for the U.S. economy and to use those windfall tax funds for national infrastructure programs, as was done in Canada so successfully from 1990 – 2004. I am one of those people. However, with the latest projected U.S. growth rates set to be 1.5% to 1.6% for next year, that means there is a lot of fragility in the economy and some economists say a large, useful Goods and Services Tax might stall the recovery process. A smaller tax would be much less useful, but the taxation rate could be increased as the economy builds positive momentum. Even with those limitations, it is still a good option for the U.S.

It keeps coming back to the fact that we need to add more value to our economy, especially to our export economy on a long-term sustainable basis. We need to create MORE jobs from the resources we extract and from our agriculture and forestry industries — or eventually there won’t be enough demand for Asian-produced products and when those Asian sales sag due to lack of demand in the West, it will hit the fan everywhere.

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John Brian Shannon writes about green energy, sustainable development and economics from British Columbia, Canada. His articles appear in the Arabian Gazette, EcoPoint Asia, EnergyBoom, the Huffington Post, the United Nations Development Programme – and other quality publications.

John believes it is important to assist all levels of government and the business community to find sustainable ways forward for industry and consumers.

Check out his personal blog at: http://johnbrianshannon.com
Check out his economics blog at:
https://jbsnews.wordpress.com
Follow John on Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/#!/JBSCanada

Another Bank Bailout – MY COMMENT

by John Brian Shannon

MY COMMENT ON PROFESSOR PAUL KRUGMAN’S ARTICLE BEGINS…

The great sucking sound that everyone is hearing these days is the sound of capital leaving the Western economies by the billions – perhaps trillions of dollars – over the past few decades.

Money goes where the investments pay the best returns – and these days that means the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) and other rapidly developing economies. As uncountable billions leave the Western economies, the jobs attached to those mega-billions go with them. Is it any wonder then, that some of the weaker Western economies have been in free-fall for some time? No, it is not.

A great deal of lamenting has been gone on in recent months – but the geomacro-economy has been changing and will continue to change as it reflects the new and evolving reality, for one simple reason – “If we continue to do what we have been doing, we can continue to expect the same results.”

And what is that result, exactly?

I quote Professor Paul Krugman – arguably the leading economist alive today: “An old routine plays out in Spain, with the banks getting help while the unemployed continue to suffer.” Read Professor Krugman’s excellent article here…

Bought anything lately that ISN’T Made in China? Clothing labels or manufacturing stampings could also read Made in India, Indonesia, or any number of other fast-growing economies.

Our consumers demand lower-priced goods and services, so foreign nations have gratefully fulfilled those requirements – effectively transferring Western wealth to third-world nations in huge, glorious gobs of U.S. and European bank notes!

It is said in China these days that one must watch the sky carefully for all the Manna falling from Heaven – which is falling in the form of chunks of gold large enough to take out entire city blocks!

Lest you think this is a recent development, it all started in earnest about 1973 shortly before the Arab Oil Embargo, when oil prices suddenly shot up and Detroit’s thunderous, but thrilling V8’s became unaffordable for millions of workers in nations used to interstate highways serving distant suburbs, spirited driving on the autobahn, and long summer vacations involving hundreds of miles of travel.

Japan at the time and still to this day, exports huge numbers of cars to the West and enjoys a growing market share of (mostly) fuel-efficient vehicles – and the ones that can’t boast good fuel economy, can certainly brag about outstanding reliability and brand-loyalty.

Since the 1990’s, South Korea, China, Indonesia, India and others have also stepped up to fulfill the wants and needs of American and European consumers with everything from home appliances and personal electronics, to tools, clothing and just about anything else you might purchase. Lower labour rates and production costs in Japan, then Korea and now, China, India and Indonesia, allowed more R&D spending, better products and lower prices for consumers and business alike.

Of course, those are all great things. It has been a decades-long bonanza for consumers, businesses and even the governments of the Western world are able to lower their costs by purchasing cheaper and often, more reliable goods from Asia.

American and European corporations have gladly followed this trend and contributed mightily to those developing nations attempting to service the wants and needs of Western consumers. If you doubt me on this – just do a Google search on Apple Computer for just one of many examples of U.S. companies which have elected to have their goods manufactured in China or other rapidly growing nations, instead of the U.S. Check Apple’s stock price in 1990 (mostly U.S. production) vs 2011 (mostly Chinese production). Impressive by any standard but not unusual, in fact, this Western-inspired trend is well established and continues to this day.

One day soon, there will be no manufacturing capacity in the U.S., Canada or Europe. It is dramatically cheaper to have it all done inside the BRIC countries and export those products to the West. Costs are so low, that shipping millions of products thousands of miles across entire oceans, becomes a tiny factor of the final price paid at U.S. or European cash-registers.

The “real price” of that huge manufacturing shift continues to play out in the daily media – higher Western unemployment rates, longer welfare rolls, lower domestic production, real-estate bubbles, bank failures, bank bailouts and so far, about one decade of destroyed dreams for families and small businesses.

But, man, did I get a great deal at the mall today!

Follow John Brian Shannon on Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/JBSCanada

Canada – Resource Boom or Manufacturing Boom? Why Not Both!

by John Brian Shannon

I’m a big fan of Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall. You can’t argue with success and the province has excelled with Brad Wall as premier. Well done on all counts, Premier Wall.

NDP leader Thomas Mulcair has a point, however. By devaluing the dollar, a huge part of Canada’s economy (almost 50%) could ALSO start to perform at a high level instead of continuing to sputter along at half-speed.

Not just the resource-based provinces romping along as they have been doing — but manufacturing provinces could return to full performance.

For manufacturing, a lower dollar will drive the demand of exports higher, Canadian production will ramp up, employment will increase. And we all know where – Ontario which is Canada’s largest ‘value added‘ economic zone.

Some people use the term manufacturing, but I call it what it really is, value-added. We take our provincially-owned raw resources and add value to those resources by manufacturing something from them or processing them, instead of merely selling our finite resources out of the country and getting nothing more from them.

Manufacturing has stalled in Canada, due in part to Canada’s strong dollar – our exports have become uncompetitive over the years as the dollar has risen. A direct correlation exists between those two stats.

If you want the biggest economic engine in Canada to suddenly begin to receive larger volumes of orders from other countries including the U.S. our biggest trading partner, causing those goods to become cheaper is the way to go.

Devaluing the Canadian dollar has NO EFFECT on Canadian consumers at all, unless you are purchasing goods and services from outside Canada. And if you are buying goods from other countries – shame on you – buy Canadian!

If devaluation inconveniences you because you purchase goods from other nations, a booming economy (Cdn resources PLUS Cdn manufacturing) firing on all cylinders should more than make up for it!

Some may wonder about losing our strong resource sector exports, which are already performing very well due to high demand for them in the rest of the world.

The price of raw resources will not drop when demand is so high.

It’s only different in the case of Canadian coal exporters who are facing dropping demand, which equals lower prices ($192.86 in July 2008, now at $99.75 in May 2012) devaluation could help, however, as a lower price will increase demand.

Those coal quotes are the 60 month (thermal coal) contract price from indexmundi.com — but are representative of world thermal coal price trends: http://www.indexmundi.com/commodities/?commodity=coal-australian&months=60

It is better to sell lots of coal at $85.00 per metric tonne, than hardly any at all at $100.00 per metric tonne.

Tourism to Canada would also receive a major boost as our prices would become more affordable due to devaluation of our dollar.

So, what’s the downside of getting Canada’s manufacturing sector and related (which together represent up to 50% of Canada’s economy) again firing on all cylinders — by devaluing the dollar by up to 20%?

As long as demand remains high for gas and oil there should be little downside for Canada’s resource-based provincial economies, as that high demand dictates prices will stay the same, or continue to increase.

I can understand Premier Wall’s concerns for Saskatchewan’s resource and agriculture based economy – but at this point in time, world demand remains high for all resources – and for coal too – but only at the right price.

Follow John Brian Shannon on Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/JBSCanada

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