PT_Plastics Today

Plastics Today, September 2015

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66 Global Plastics RePoRt 2015 editoRs's letteR PaRtiNG sHot The (manufacturing) emperor's new clothes The recenT sTock markeT slide is bring- ing to light some truths that have long been suspected by manufacturers and economists alike: The emperor is naked. On August 24, the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF) published a critique of the Con- gressional Research Service (CRS) report, "U.S. Manufacturing in International Perspective," noting that the CRS has got it all wrong when it comes to the U.S. manufacturing sector. "The CRS report mistakenly suggests that U.S. manufacturing is healthy, while dismissing the need for supportive manufacturing," said the ITIF in "A Critique of CRS's 'U.S. Manufacturing in International Perspective.' " The rosy picture painted by the CRS report leads it to deny that American manufacturing is in trouble or that congressio- nal action is capable of helping it. The CRS "consistently errs on the side of 'all is well' when, in fact, actual U.S. manufac- turing performance is declining," says the ITIF. The ITIF points to the huge jobs losses in manufacturing. Measuring these losses from 2003 distorts the picture. Measur- ing from 2000 to 2003, the U.S. experienced a recession and lost 16% of its manufacturing jobs; unlike other sectors, "this employment was not added back during the recovery. Between 2000 and 2013, manufacturing realized a net loss of 5.2 mil- lion jobs." The ITIF notes that manufacturing jobs should be expected to increase on par with growth in the overall labor force, which grew 3.7% from 2003 to 2013, resulting in "a comparative decline of manufacturing jobs in this period of 20.3%." But the actual manufacturing job loss percentage from 2000 to 2013 is 30%, "a sign of decline," says the ITIF. It's also been noted by many reports that American manu- facturing productivity has been extremely high, and that we've experienced good productivity gains over the past 13 years. The ITIF points out, however, that these gains are driven by just a few industries, including computers and electronic products, motor vehicles and transport equipment, and primary metals. "Since 2005, manufacturing output has shrunk by 2%. And these measures do not account for other factors, such as import substitution price bias, which also appear to have artificially overstated manufacturing output." "In short, as the ITIF has shown, over 33% of America's manufacturing job losses in the 2000s was caused by a funda- mental lack of competitiveness and not by productivity gains or sectoral shifts. Despite this, the CRS report asserts that U.S. manufacturing output is at an all-time high." In its critique of the CRS report, the ITIF says that the report "errs in how it compares U.S. manufacturing output to that of other nations." Rather than being the second strongest in the world, U.S. manufacturing output is smaller than that of other nations with comparable levels of development when examined as a share of GDP. "The U.S. went from producing 29% of the world's manufacturing to just 17% in a little over a decade," says the ITIF. Clearly, the United States isn't doing well. That was borne out in August 2015, as the stock market dropped, with many calling out China as a major cause. If that seems surprising to many who believed China's strong economic numbers, an arti- cle on the front page of the August 25 issue of the Wall Street Journal, "For All Its Heft, China's Economy Is a Black Box," says otherwise. The article, by Greg Ip and Bob Davis, notes that China's "murky politics, unreliable data and opaque deci- sion making" are cause to doubt China's strength. "Economists widely doubt that China grew at a robust 7% in the second quarter, as the country's official statistics say," write Ip and Davis. "Some think the rate might be as little as half that." Obviously, many economists in the United States doubted the stock market numbers, calling it a bubble and claiming that many stocks were over-valued. Today, some economists are calling the recent drop a badly needed correction to this bub- ble, a reality check for those who thought the U.S. economy was booming. The ITIF concluded that "the health of U.S. manufactur- ing is much shakier than the CRS report suggests," and it calls on Congress to "proactively advance legislation" to give U.S. manufacturing a boost and help U.S. manufacturers prosper. "Failure to do so will lead to more of the same loss of manufac- turing jobs and output, with negative impacts on overall U.S. economic growth." Perhaps we're beginning to see through the manufacturing emperor's new clothes, and discovering what truly lies beneath. — Clare Goldsberry Clare Goldsberry

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