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The De-Industrial Revolution
November 16, 2011 2:48 PM   Subscribe

Why doesn't Britain make things any more?
posted by fearfulsymmetry (108 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
It's probably because the men of Britain have forgotten how to build things, and get their hands dirty. It's a shame, but there's a solution: James May sets out to save Britain with James May's Man Lab!
posted by BrandonW at 2:55 PM on November 16, 2011


"At his firm, Pearson Engineering, Clark introduces me to a plater called Billy Day. Now 51, he began at the firm at 16. His 23-year-old son William is still out of work, despite applying to dozens of small factories. As the local industry's gone, so too have the apprenticeships and jobs. "No wonder you get young kids hanging out doing whatever," says Day. "We've lost a whole generation.""

See also the American version in song...James McMurtry, "We Can't Make It Here."
posted by MonkeyToes at 2:56 PM on November 16, 2011 [5 favorites]


We're supposed to wait for James May to drive somewhere in order to fix this? I don't think we have that kind of time.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 2:57 PM on November 16, 2011 [9 favorites]


Short version - the Austin Allegro. Longer version - because Britain threw away its proud manufacturing tradition in the 1960s and 1970s through timid management, overbearing government, strike happy unions and shoddy workmanship. Stuff made in Japan was more modern, stuff made in Germany was better and stuff made practically anywhere was cheaper. That said, it still has the best engineers in the world, which is why most of the Formula One teams are based in England rather than Germany or Italy or Spain.
posted by joannemullen at 2:58 PM on November 16, 2011 [8 favorites]


I suspect the same reason we don't in the US, a combination of outsourcing, an unwillingness to train or increase pay/benefits to attract new employees, and turning people away from the trades because "we're an ideas economy now."
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 2:58 PM on November 16, 2011 [7 favorites]


I think the real reason is the same as the U.S.. The companies (and consumers) don't want to pay workers fair wages to make things.
posted by drezdn at 3:01 PM on November 16, 2011 [45 favorites]


I don't understand....it's not a "de-industrial revolution." It's corporations moving to where costs are cheaper. This is what happens. I'm union. I hate it, and the show I'm working on closes Friday, because it doesn't make enough money. It makes money, it just doesn't make enough money.

I think this is a measure of the managerial class. They produce little to nothing besides savings, and they need to produce more and more savings to justify their ever-inflating numbers. But does anyone who champions capitalism really question what's going on here? Capital has no heart and no patriotism, it only has a pocketbook. You can throw as many tax breaks as you like at the problem, but it is never going away. I despise it and I question my choice of career at least weekly, but really? This isn't something that most people understand?
posted by nevercalm at 3:02 PM on November 16, 2011 [22 favorites]


Because it's cheaper to get it done overseas.

Next question.
posted by Decani at 3:03 PM on November 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


because Britain threw away its proud manufacturing tradition in the 1960s and 1970s through timid management, overbearing government, strike happy unions and shoddy workmanship.

That's a remarkably partisan interpretation of the decline in manufacturing, and conveniently ignores everything that has happened since 1979. The answer is much more interesting than "because of the evils of social democracy".
posted by howfar at 3:05 PM on November 16, 2011 [11 favorites]


I would like to say that we still make magnificent cheeses and sausages. And some of those white wines are starting to take awards, you know. Don't laugh. Even I was astonished by how good some of them are.
posted by Decani at 3:06 PM on November 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


Well, you know, you could actually try read the article... just a suggestion
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 3:07 PM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


What nevercalm said, and to expand, because they are allowed to. In the past governments in the West protected their industries through use of tariffs and the like, but those barriers have all been eliminated in the name of "free trade" (an oxymoron if there ever was one) so all the production moves to the Third World because their governments protect their industries by subsidy and keeping wages down. And the 1% make more money.
posted by zomg at 3:07 PM on November 16, 2011 [12 favorites]


Everything can be explained by comedy.

IT Crowd, Made in Britain.
posted by LoudMusic at 3:08 PM on November 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


> Three academics tracked what happened to 300 MG workers, interviewing them regularly for three years. Sure enough, about 90% got another job. A lot retrained and some went into the service sector. In other words, they did everything the government told them to. Only now they were earning an average of £5,640 less every year than they had at MG Rover.

In totally unrelated news, on the 2011 Fortune 500 list released on July 7, Shanghai Automotive Industry Corperation Group (SAIC) was ranked 151th with a combined revenue of $54.26 billion, making its seventh appearance on the list.

When globalization and free trade were being pitched to us proles, organized labour should have run commercials in the style of those old AT&T ads:

"Ever been laid off after a corporate merger? You will."
posted by The Card Cheat at 3:12 PM on November 16, 2011 [9 favorites]


The British economy is in the doldrums, with the manufacturing sector flagging, so why aren't there more campaigns encouraging people to be patriotic and buy products made in the UK?

When buying a jumper, a piece of furniture or a bag of apples, do you check to see where it has come from?

Do people care whether it was designed, manufactured or grown by British firms or farms?

These are troubling times for Britain's manufacturing sector, once a relative bright spot in the country's lacklustre recovery, which contracted at its fastest pace in more than two years in October, as new orders plummeted.
BBC Magazine: Buy British: Why isn't there a new campaign?
posted by infini at 3:13 PM on November 16, 2011


> Three academics tracked what happened to 300 MG workers, interviewing them regularly for three years. Sure enough, about 90% got another job. A lot retrained and some went into the service sector. In other words, they did everything the government told them to. Only now they were earning an average of £5,640 less every year than they had at MG Rover.

In totally unrelated news, on the 2011 Fortune 500 list released on July 7, Shanghai Automotive Industry Corperation Group (SAIC) was ranked 151th with a combined revenue of $54.26 billion, making its seventh appearance on the list.


Not that job loss isn't a human tragedy, but a tradeoff between people fortunate enough to be born in an affluent Western country losing £5,640 in annual income, versus the lifting of millions of Chinese from wrenching poverty, is not an unambiguous failure from a social perspective.
posted by dsfan at 3:17 PM on November 16, 2011 [10 favorites]


Stuff made in Japan was more modern, stuff made in Germany was better and stuff made practically anywhere was cheaper.

Yeah, that's at least partially because both Japan and Germany had both had enormous investments in plant and infrastructure in the post war era, whereas British manufacturing industry was largely using plant that had been created in the industrial revolution.

And as long ago as the early 70's, my factory worker father was complaining about the tendency of multinational firms to ship off manufacturing to places like Taiwan, where there was little or no labour regulation, and labour costs were a pittance comparatively. What we're seeing today in that respect is the end of a process that's been happening for the last forty years or more.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:21 PM on November 16, 2011 [7 favorites]


The answer is much more interesting than "because of the evils of social democracy".

There are successful social democracies where labour unions work with management in a constructive manner. British labour unions destroyed any hope Britain had of being a competitive manufacturer - just as American labour unions nearly destroyed the American auto sector by (a) raising the price of labour to levels uncompetitive with Japanese branch plants, requring that cars consquently be stripped of content to the point that they were no longer competitive and (b) taking such an adversarial approach to management that quality plummeted (enclosing empty Coke cans in car doors to guarantee an unfixable rattle being the most famous example).

In Britain, it was far worse. If you view your job not as an opportunity to build a fantastic product, but as an act of class struggle against the bosses, then your product is going to reflect that, both in quality and in (greatly inflated) price. That's why people didn't buy British cars. You want a manufacturing sectore? Build a product people want to buy and a price they want to pay.

Because it's cheaper to get it done overseas.

Germany is an expensive place to build anything, but they've done well building high-quality products for export. Britain's labour relations meant that it was nearly impossible to build a high-quality product reliably (i.e. without worrying about strikes).
posted by Dasein at 3:22 PM on November 16, 2011 [6 favorites]


>...the lifting of millions of Chinese from wrenching poverty, is not an unambiguous failure from a social perspective.

Fair enough, but that's the thing about capitalism; there always have to be winners and losers and Chinese factory workers are not going to be the winners, either.
posted by The Card Cheat at 3:22 PM on November 16, 2011 [5 favorites]


The working classes are obsolete/
They are surplus to society's needs/
So let 'em all kill each other/
Get it made overseas

That's the word, don't you know?
From the guy's that's running the show
Let's be perfectly clear boys and girls
C--- are still running the world...
posted by Maias at 3:23 PM on November 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


Decani: I would like to say that we still make magnificent [...] sausages.

HAHAHAHAHA

no.

Sincerely,
WURST
(World Union of Respected Sausage Tasters)

PS: we do acknowledge that you do in fact make some pretty good cheeses though
posted by Hairy Lobster at 3:24 PM on November 16, 2011


Definitely worth a read if you want to know more on this topic:

Broken Britain: Nothing is Left of the Family Silver
posted by cell divide at 3:31 PM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh Maggie, what did we do?
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 3:32 PM on November 16, 2011 [6 favorites]


I suspect the same reason we don't in the US

The US manufactures more than any other country in the world.
posted by The World Famous at 3:42 PM on November 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


In the past governments in the West protected their industries through use of tariffs and the like, but those barriers have all been eliminated in the name of "free trade" (an oxymoron if there ever was one) so all the production moves to the Third World because their governments protect their industries by subsidy and keeping wages down.

No, generally free trade is done by agreement, and thus neither party is engaging in (much) protectionism, or someone gets taken to the WTO.

What is happening is that free trade is ONLY being applied to the flow of goods and capital, while the flow of labour remains heavily, if not completely, restricted.

That's why people will sell their labour for less in some countries - because they're not allowed to move freely to the best markets the way that capital is allowed, so they can't sell fairly on the global market, so they get exploited.

If we had genuinely free trade, including free trade in labour, then there wouldn't be quite as much inequality between people selling labour of similar quality. That means people from the wealthiest countries would probably have to be pretty good to avoid taking a hit, but people from the poorest countries would be able to do much better.

But... no way that's ever going to happen. Ever. :-)

And the 1% make more money.

Indeed :-/
posted by -harlequin- at 3:45 PM on November 16, 2011 [13 favorites]


Germany is an expensive place to build anything, but they've done well building high-quality products for export. Britain's labour relations meant that it was nearly impossible to build a high-quality product reliably (i.e. without worrying about strikes).

How do workers in Germany avoid being exploited? How does Germany maintain good working relations such that strikes are not so problematic?
posted by -harlequin- at 3:48 PM on November 16, 2011


They can't think of anything else to make leak oil.
posted by punkfloyd at 3:49 PM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Apparently not any more (U.S. America == largest manufacturer, that is):

http://www.manufacturingdigital.com/news_archive/tags/us/china-vs-us-manufacturing-comparison

Still, ~10 times more output per a worker (not counting robots; never count the robots!).
posted by titus-g at 3:50 PM on November 16, 2011


For the record the reason most formula one teams are in the UK is because there is no domestic industry to be an engineer in. Also having owned a British built sports car...
posted by Samuel Farrow at 3:50 PM on November 16, 2011


Samuel: Also having owned a British built sports car...

It broke down before you could finish the sentence?
posted by titus-g at 3:52 PM on November 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


Why doesn't Britain make things any more?
I suspect the same reason we don't in the US


I really hate these memes.

The trend in manufacturing output in Britain is... up. Not down by 2/3. Not down at all. Up. How much less does Britain make now than it did in the fifties? None much less.

What Britain has lost is manufacturing jobs, not output. As if it were some surprise that a sector that exists to exploit automation and economies of scale would continue to do so.

The same is true in the US, only more so. Both countries make lots and lots of stuff. Huge, great whopping piles of output. But they do it with fewer people.

The US manufactures more than any other country in the world.

I'm pretty sure the PRC has just recently passed the US in gross manufacturing output. Obviously it would be lower in per-capita manufacturing output, but Germany is the koenig there.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:55 PM on November 16, 2011 [12 favorites]


Hmm. 'worlds best engineers'. Will have to ponder that a bit...
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 3:55 PM on November 16, 2011


The value of manufacturing in Britain has doubled since 1958.

The wikipedia article on Manufacturing in the UK provides an interesting contrast to this article.

Although the manufacturing sector's share of both employment and the UK's GDP has steadily fallen since the 1960s, data from the OECD shows that manufacturing output in terms of both production and value has steadily increased since 1945.

A 2009 report from PricewaterhouseCoopers, citing data from the UK Office for National Statistics, stated that manufacturing output (gross value added at 2007 prices) has increased in 35 of the 50 years between 1958 and 2007, and output in 2007 was at record levels, approximately double that in 1958.[1]
Using the same argument as this article does around agricultural employment you could say agriculture has collapsed from employing 95% of the population in 1800 to ~1-2% now.
posted by sien at 3:55 PM on November 16, 2011 [5 favorites]


For the record the reason most formula one teams are in the UK is because there is no domestic industry to be an engineer in.

The racing industry in the UK is the most in-depth and intense in the world. As a consequence there is a massive amount of infrastructure and supporting companies that are able to specialise in the same sort of low volume high technology required for that kind of competition. Racing in the 50's 60's and 70's took off with England at the forefront. That kind of momentum was maintained while the industry developed - especially as most of that growth occurred before it was cost effective to source parts and technology from more than a few miles away.

Once the level of racing (from F1 all the way down) is established, it is very hard to justify setting a team up anywhere else. Even setting up a race team in a lower formula (so relatively simple by comparison) in a high technology area 300 miles from the racing epicentre (which I have done) is significantly harder (for personnel particularly) than it is to set up yet another team in Oxfordshire or within 100 miles from it.
posted by Brockles at 4:01 PM on November 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


No future
No future
No future for you...
posted by Renoroc at 4:01 PM on November 16, 2011


I own four British cars and two British motorcycles. They're actually pretty well built and engineered for what they are--especially when you consider the shoestring budget they were often developed on.

What they aren't is maintenance-free (except my modern Triumph, a very good product and completely the equal of any other modern bike), and that, unfortunately, is their downfall. British vehicle manufacturing always seemed to be fairly innovative--at least through the mid-sixties--but labor-intensive to build and made with the assumption that the new owner of their product would be happy greasing 62 fittings every 1000 miles and changing an old-fashioned built-it-yourself oil filter every 3000 miles, etc. That of course was completely counter to the way their largest export purchaser, the US, expected to interact with their product, where you buy a car, drive it for 50,000 miles without doing anything at all except maybe a couple of oil changes, and then get another.

The lack of capital investment and the unwillingness of labor and management to actually, you know, work with each other, guaranteed the demise of Britain's transport industry. The Jaguar XJ6, for example, when introduced in 1968 was probably the best-designed, best-handling, quietest, and best-overall sedan in the world for the price. All the motoring press came to the same conclusion. So how did it end up still being built almost 20 years later, long past its sell-by date? Or why was the MGB, a decent small sports car which was a very good machine when introduced in 1962 still being built in 1980?

I think a lack of capital investment, lack of vision, and a change from being proactive to being reactive as times changed. And I can't help but feel that much of this is class-based. No one in management actually was much interested in the workers as anything other than replaceable cogs to be paid as little as humanly possible. The workers were going to do their damnedest to sock it to the toffs who motored in chauffeured cars and rarely, if ever, visited the floor to see what work was being done and by whom. Nothing good is going to come from that environment.
posted by maxwelton at 4:12 PM on November 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


The trend in manufacturing output in Britain is... up. Not down by 2/3. Not down at all. Up. How much less does Britain make now than it did in the fifties? None much less.

What Britain has lost is manufacturing jobs, not output. As if it were some surprise that a sector that exists to exploit automation and economies of scale would continue to do so.



Apparently that data may rely on older stats as this extract from the BBC Magazine article seems to contradict the output story viz.,

Manufacturing in the UK

* The sector is in relative decline. Over the past 30 years, manufacturing shrunk to about 12% of the economy. Banking and business services contribute 32% of what the UK produces
* The number of people employed has dropped steadily from 5.2m in 1990 to 2.6m in 2009
* Output reached an all time-high in 2007 though it has been struggling since 2008
* It is the world's sixth largest manufacturer
* Third largest sector in the UK, contributing £140bn to the economy in 2009

Source: BIS, ONS and PWC

posted by infini at 4:13 PM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I'll always think of the 90s and early 2000s as "the time leftists inexplicably got into bed with the cheap-labor-capitalists". That's what happened in America anyway. I remember having lotsa heated debates against Friedman acolytes, wherein I was accused of everything from protectionism to racism (!) for expressing the view that offshoring and outsourcing weren't always a net plus for the US economy.

I wonder what some of those friends are doing now? I know at least one of them is out of work.....
posted by Afroblanco at 4:15 PM on November 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


I have a friend who's father used to work at a furniture factory in North Carolina. Made a decent living for his family. They never wanted for anything growing up. A decade ago the factory closed down and moved to China. His father now works in the produce department at Wal-Mart, now making perhaps 1/3rd of what he used to.

In my mind, the current world situation puts the lie to the old capitalist canard that when first-world nations de-industrialize, the laid-off workers can just go back to college and get better, "smarter" jobs. Generally, they just get poorer or just drop out of the labor force entirely.

We simply aren't seeing millions of Americans or Britons enhancing their skillsets and finding new and exciting positions in the "new economy" or whatever. What we are seeing is millions of formerly middle-class Americans and Britons falling into the lower classes.
posted by Avenger at 4:16 PM on November 16, 2011 [8 favorites]


Recently, the Economist carried a story with the quote: “Sometime around 2015, manufacturers will be indifferent between locating in America or China for production for consumption in America,”

Amazing as it might seem, manufacturers are starting to return to the US because of rising wages in China and plummeting wages in the States.

Perhaps a similar process is taking place in the UK?
posted by jason's_planet at 4:24 PM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Britain's labour relations meant that it was nearly impossible to build a high-quality product reliably (i.e. without worrying about strikes).

French manufacturing must be thanking their lucky stars for their tractable labour force.

More seriously, we're not going to get an accurate assessment of what actually happened telling competing fairy stories about lazy commie union bogeymen on the one hand and the evil milk-snatcher on the other. There was a failure of labour relations, and part of that was politicisation of the manufacturing process by all parties. Let's not carry the same mistakes into the analysis.
posted by howfar at 4:25 PM on November 16, 2011 [8 favorites]


The second China lets the yuan float is the second that a massive amount of manufacturing will return domestically.

I wonder why they won't let the yuan float?
posted by Talez at 4:34 PM on November 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


This article is misplacing its analysis. The problem isn't with manufacturing, but regional differences in economic structures. The heaviest and most labor–intensive industries were concentrated in a few areas, specifically northern towns. While manufacturing output and value has still retained a somewhat reasonable level, the use of labor in certain areas has plummeted: in some cases whole towns have been made redundant. To find the cause of this, don't look at 1979, but rather 1879. Many of the heaviest industries were first industrial revolution industries, such as cloth, iron and steel, ship and engine building. By the time second industrial revolution industries began to appear and mature, much capital investment was foreign and not inward, and free–trade had destroyed the possibility of nurturing homegrown businesses. The existing industrial centers effectively stagnated because they were never reinforced with diversity.

Already by the 1900s the problem of regional imbalance was clear, and early town and country planning acts were actually instituted to try and address the lopsidedness of investment. They failed for the most part, and the Depression exposed just how rotten the economic structure in some areas had become. Even the post–1945 economic boom was noticeably less in the UK than other European countries. The economic problems of the 70s were caused not by new factors upsetting a sound economy, but rather their re–revealing of a fundamental unsoundness. Only by the grace of oil and gas, a morally and regulatorily lax financial market, and privatization of social assets has the UK managed to limp into the 21st century. The current Government can keep everything things going a little while more if it doesn't upset the City and can find more assets to sell off such as the NHS, but it's an economic dead–end.

At some point the UK will have to deal with this, perhaps first by admitting that large parts of the country have become economically dysfunctional.
posted by Jehan at 4:38 PM on November 16, 2011 [5 favorites]


The second China lets the yuan float is the second that a massive amount of manufacturing will return domestically.

I wonder why they won't let the yuan float?

See, that's part of what I mean by 'protectionism' - it's not free trade if the market is restricted only to certain things. And in this case the market for money isn't free. Anyway.
posted by zomg at 4:39 PM on November 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


I am American and have lived in Britain (Birmingham and London) for the last few years. I would say that British manufacturing is mainly in the parts sector and the milling industry. I was surprised to learn, for example, that I lived next to the largest titanium mill in the world when I lived in Perry Barr, Birmingham. I was also surprised to learn that most of the parts for MG cars are sourced from Malaysia, even for the MG B. Frankly, manufacturing makes up 10% of the UK economy and construction makes up 8%. I work for a charity which champions entrepreneurship in young people, particularly college and university students. Finding a way to get the manufacturing base involved is difficult because there is no innovation from the bottom there. We are facing the problem that demand for English manufactured goods comes from the US, China and Europe (Europe being a much more lowered export market now because of the exchange rate). That demand creates an imbalance for manufacturers. They are still concerned for quality but because there is no base for their products in their home market they have no reason to innovate effectively. There is good reason to change that approach but so far no one has come up with an economic reason for doing so.
posted by parmanparman at 4:46 PM on November 16, 2011


Surely the UK could not complete with post Marshal plan Europe or Deming's Japanese revival.

The other reason I think is the headlong rush to shit quality.

Why would someone buy a shoddy Leyland Maxi when for less money one could buy a Datsun 120Y with independent rear suspension, a radio and great build quality? You still see them driving around today - I only see the rare Leyland Mini these days, still plenty of old Morris Mini's (or even Minors) but zero other British Leyland marques.

It's sad how the efficient overseas manufacturers can take brands like mini, Rolls, Rover, Bentley and Jaguar and produce quality that is just somehow impossible to achieve in the UK? I don't get it - why not?

This short-shortsightedness that everyone will be looked after with either an awesome job in IT or the service industry - and that somehow free trade agreements are meant to deliver some great benefit? I don't want this... this cornucopia of cheap Chinese-made flotsam continually dumping irrelevant plastic shit into my kid's bedrooms. I'm sick of standing on it in the night, I'm sick of picking it up, and I'm sick of throwing the shit out.
posted by the noob at 4:54 PM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Britain threw away its proud manufacturing tradition in the 1960s and 1970s through timid management, overbearing government, strike happy unions and shoddy workmanship

Oh FFS. When are we going to stop hearing the myth of the Poor Capitalist Unable To Get People To Work According To His Beautiful Vision?
posted by DU at 4:59 PM on November 16, 2011 [13 favorites]


"this cornucopia of cheap Chinese-made flotsam continually dumping irrelevant plastic shit into my kid's bedrooms" - um I assume you have it least some part in that no?
posted by zeoslap at 4:59 PM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


They are still concerned for quality but because there is no base for their products in their home market they have no reason to innovate effectively. There is good reason to change that approach but so far no one has come up with an economic reason for doing so.


a) more Dysons
b) UK Design council working on this exactly, however, seeking SMEs to assist with the innovation process rather than the firms themselves seeking help.

The Design Council is searching for forty SMEs in the manufacturing sector to join its Designing Demand programme, which gives senior teams intensive help to identify how the business can be more innovative, and how to use design as a key tool to find new markets, compete better, and transform the way the business operates.
posted by infini at 5:05 PM on November 16, 2011


a) more Dysons

How are vacuum cleaners made in Malaysia going to help?
posted by Talez at 5:14 PM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Damn, just found out he's dissolved the school of design and innovation - he was really promoting design engineering (without which you'd have nothing to manufacture or innovate, much less outsource) and education

In late 2008, following four years of planning and negotiation with various authorities, the Dyson Foundation finally cancelled its project to build a school in Bath with the purpose of inspiring the next new generation of design engineers.

Warwick District Council and Warwickshire College (the sixth largest Further Education College in the UK) were keen to persuade the Foundation to consider siting their school in Leamington Spa, in a brownfield location but with huge visibility and essentially a gateway site to the town.

The project, if successful, would result in a £56m private-public investment (PFI) in the Leamington, itself a strategic location for the automotive and gaming industries. Warwick DC appointed OXYGENCY to originate, design and develop the proposal which was submitted to Sir James Dyson and the Trustees in early 2009. Sir James was particularly impressed by the quality of the submission but by then the recession was really beginning to bite. The Foundation put the project on hold for review and to consider cheaper means of setting a design curriculum: this is still its position.

posted by infini at 5:21 PM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


The UK unemployment rate went through a nasty patch in the mid 80s and early 90s, but right through the noughties it was below 6 percent, closeish to full employment or at least NAIRU. People need to get over a fetish for 'making things'. Unemployment rates are far more important, they're what matters.
posted by wilful at 5:35 PM on November 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


"this cornucopia of cheap Chinese-made flotsam continually dumping irrelevant plastic shit into my kid's bedrooms" - um I assume you have it least some part in that no?


I do advise on how they spend their pocket money.
posted by the noob at 5:37 PM on November 16, 2011


When a factory of a company that recevied federal/provincial/state/local tax funds goes dark, why can't those selfsame governments just take the damn land and equipment (that they paid for) and form a crown/government corporation or cooperative and get it going again?

Oh, toyota has pulled out of their manufacturing plant here in Bronersville? We paid them 50 million 2 years ago to keep those jobs here! Let's take the land and equipment, start them up making I dunno, FlagWaveOilburner Mark 2s and sell them at production cost +5 (because we won't advertise them anywhere but on the internet and sales will be direct)

There, you need designers, line persons, supplies and so on, Bronersville's car manufacturing plan continues on and it'll work until some "Private Business does it better" dunderhead closes is down or sells it to a foreign national who once again closes it down.


I really want my FlagWaveOilburner Mark 2 though.
posted by NiteMayr at 5:52 PM on November 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


There is a popular argument which holds that all the rot in the British economy began in 1979. I don't believe that.

Many blame Margaret Thatcher. Well, we know that she didn't help very much. In an aside, the author of The Economist's Tale: A Consultant Encounters Hunger and the World Bank implied that she drove down the unions by manipulating currency values. I don't know the details, so any insight is welcome.
posted by ovvl at 5:53 PM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Because it's cheaper to get it done overseas.

And it's cheaper because we don't have import tariffs. A wealthy middle class can't ever compete against workhouse labor. You need an economic barrier to import. If it costs $5 dollars to make a shoe in Nation X, and $10 to make it in Nation Y, Y needs to levy a tax of $5 at the border. Otherwise X's shoe industry drives Y's out of business. The end.

That's the way it was in the U.S. until the 80s when Reagan ushered in the FTA and Thatcher deregulated British trade. The middle class in both nations has been in decline ever since.

I get really sick of the blame for this being laid at the feet of consumers. Like somehow the WalMart shoppers are these greedy pigs ruining the economy for the rest of us. As if the shoppers of the prosperous 50s and 60s didn't also seek bargains.

It's grumpy right wing bullshit and victim blaming. All consumers in all times will make tradeoffs dictated by their means. As jobs evaporate and wages decline WalMart is what people can afford now.
posted by clarknova at 6:24 PM on November 16, 2011 [11 favorites]


As if the shoppers of the prosperous 50s and 60s didn't also seek bargains.

Dude, do you remember even how much a tv cost, even in the eighties and seventies? A fridge? A freaking VCR?

Our TV cost thousands of dollars, as did the fridge, and the VCR was about $600. In 1970s and 1980s dollars!!

When Joe Public in Australia is complaining about a carbon tax - to avoid catastrophic climate change - that is going to cost less than 5 dollars a week, if you think consumers are going to rush back to those halycon days where tvs cost several month's of the average salary you are huffing some high-quality, domestically made paint.
posted by smoke at 6:47 PM on November 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


Not that job loss isn't a human tragedy, but a tradeoff between people fortunate enough to be born in an affluent Western country losing £5,640 in annual income, versus the lifting of millions of Chinese from wrenching poverty, is not an unambiguous failure from a social perspective.

You have less than ten years to make that work, because we are around 5 from major, perhaps violent, internal political upheaval in the Western democracies. As much as the right wing would wish it were otherwise, these generally tend to favor the laborer over capital... the American Revolution (fight against the West India Company and British aristocracy), the Dorr Rebellion, the American Civil War, Trust-Busting, the New Deal, and we can go on all day...

Once the middle and lower class discovers they can tax and tariff their way back to prosperity, it - is - fucking - over for globalization. This isn't Smoot-Hawley, this is keeping trade links open with other top-tier economies and slamming the fucking door on the developing world for anything that isn't raw materials. You're on your own unless you can engineer as well as manufacture, and it better be a cut above the domestic product.

If the gains in the developing world are to be kept, the middle class in the first world needs to be prosperous and content. Otherwise, it's back to the favellas and the communes and the slums you go once trade barriers come back in force and with vengeance.

The other option is to make sure first world living standards don't slip while bringing up the developing world, so everyone prospers. This ain't a zero-sum game. There can be winners and winners, and not winners and losers.

The developing world and the first world management class has less than ten years to make that happen. Maybe less than five.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:54 PM on November 16, 2011 [6 favorites]


If it costs $5 dollars to make a shoe in Nation X, and $10 to make it in Nation Y, Y needs to levy a tax of $5 at the border. Otherwise X's shoe industry drives Y's out of business. The end.
...
It's grumpy right wing bullshit and victim blaming.


There's nothing inherently left-wing about protectionism, but as -harlequin- pointed out upthread, free movement of goods and capital logically and morally implies a corresponding free movement of labour. We need more freedom, not less.

The idea that it is the citizens of the developed world who have suffered might almost be offensive, if it weren't plain silly. Given the option I'd rather watch an affordable sweatshop TV than make one.
posted by howfar at 6:54 PM on November 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


Otherwise, it's back to the favellas and the communes and the slums you go once trade barriers come back in force and with vengeance...There can be winners and winners, and not winners and losers.

Your primary analysis may well be correct, but the ultimate consequences of such protectionism would be bloody and terrible for everyone. I'd suggest that there can be winners and winners or losers and losers. One thing humanity has demonstrated a remarkable ability to globalise in recent times is war.
posted by howfar at 7:00 PM on November 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


* The sector is in relative decline. Over the past 30 years, manufacturing shrunk to about 12% of the economy. Banking and business services contribute 32% of what the UK produces

Key word there: "relative" -- not relative to past output, i.e. actual decline, but relative to other industry. As a percentage of the whole economy, it is lower than it once was -- because there are other industries that are growing, which manufacturing is also doing, just at a slower rate.

Hmm... What industry, other than banking, could have grown tremendously over the last thirty years, making manufacturing a smaller relative percentage of the economy? Hint: You're looking straight at it RIGHT NOW!
posted by Sys Rq at 7:12 PM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Snarking grew massively as a percentage of the economy?

Who knew?

(Good point BTW @Sys Rq)
posted by sien at 7:22 PM on November 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


The UK lost fewer days to strikes than any other major industrialised nation bar the BRD in the immediate post-war decades; in 1964 the Tories actually boasted of this fact. The militancy of the late 60s and early 70s was in large part unofficial (i.e. not union backed) due to the 'big society' behaviour of women and men on the shop floor, yet still the lost production was far less than that due to accident or industrial illness, and higher levels of strike activity were seen in much of the rest of Europe. So basically, what the bullshit right-wing account would have you believe is that short two bursts of industrial unrest were what did for manufacturing, rather than years of under-investment and shit management and planning followed by the revenge for Saltley Gates enacted under the 1979 Conservative government.
What widespread trade union membership did bring, though, was a higher proportion of GDP going to ordinary people's wages than at any other point in modern UK history. Better to
posted by Abiezer at 7:23 PM on November 16, 2011 [14 favorites]


...better to leave 'em guessing what the hell those two words are doing there.
posted by Abiezer at 7:24 PM on November 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


Once the middle and lower class discovers they can tax and tariff their way back to prosperity, it - is - fucking - over for globalization. This isn't Smoot-Hawley, this is keeping trade links open with other top-tier economies and slamming the fucking door on the developing world for anything that isn't raw materials. You're on your own unless you can engineer as well as manufacture, and it better be a cut above the domestic product.

First, I'd like nothing better than a simulation game to test these scenarios and "what ifs" regarding ye olde developing vs developed (meaningless words) nations.

Second, I'm seeing an increasing trend in "within the developing lumpen masses" regions of bilateral and multilateral trade, investment and knowledge exchanges. Ironically, due to sheer size and thus, uneven distribution of the mythical development, India and China fall firmly in the emerging markets category of developing nations, as do Brazil, Russia and South Africa. Just a case in point is Brazil's presence in the recent ASEAN meetings in Bali.

While certainly closing the EU door would hurt the horticultural exporters of Sub Sahara, I truly wonder what indeed would happen if these doors were slammed shut. Saturated markets and shaky currencies are as much of a barrier to continued trade and opportunities as any overt protectionist measures.

It might just be like pulling a tooth, hurts for a bit and then it heals.

On the other side of this scenario, from the developed world perspective - (does that include Australia and New Zealand? Check their trade and investment flows ) - the slammed door shut against the rising tide [insert your favourite first world nightmare here] means that the US will trade, invest and exchange knowledge with only Europe, Canada and Oceania and vice versa? How will this scenario play out?
posted by infini at 8:01 PM on November 16, 2011


I'm saying it doesn't matter if it's a mere toothache to the developing world or not (You have a problem with that term? Really? Howabout "Third World?" How about "Uncivilized?" Those words are being bandied about right now by working class folks... folks with the most voting power.)

If the first-world, excuse me, developed world, excuse me, civilized working class is going down, they will fucking take you with it.

We are ALL in this together, or we will all drown on our own.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:34 PM on November 16, 2011


I'm quite happy to called Third World and Uncivilized by voting powered working class folks of your fine upstanding nation, its nothing new.

In the meantime, would you like a cold refreshing glass of Coca Cola?
posted by infini at 8:45 PM on November 16, 2011


Is it bottled by union workers at a living wage? Then yes, I would.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:48 PM on November 16, 2011


Our TV cost thousands of dollars, as did the fridge, and the VCR was about $600. In 1970s and 1980s dollars!!

When Joe Public in Australia
...

I only described the situation in Britain and the U.S. I gave as much mention to Australia as I did Antarctica: zero. I don't know what the situation is there, but I DO know that high-end consumer goods are always very highly priced. So much so that an Aus friend paid me to buy electronics and ship them to Brisbane , as the whole affair, including import tax cost him far less than to buy from a store.

If USD retail + shipping + customs duty + my expenses cost less than AUS retail, you must be getting horribly undercut by foreign manufacturers when they sell you goods wholesale.

In the states tv prices in the era you mentioned ranged between $180 and $300. So I don't know what's wrong with Australia. My guess would be that you've got a long history of low industrial output coupled with horrible price gouging. But again, I'm not talking about Australia.

In the United States the cheapest TV I can find at Best Buy now costs $400. That's about fifty five dollars in 1960, so yeah, prices on manufactured goods have gone down considerably. By your TV index, including inflation adjustment, prices are down about 20%.

But between between 1967 and 2011 salaries for the middle-income bracket have remained virtually flat. Adjusted for inflation, real wages are down a staggering 584%. And real housing costs have gone up over 1000%.

Again, I can't speak for Australia, but don't tell me what spoiled swine the American big-box shoppers are. What we're saving on TVs and bath towels is the merest consolation prize.
posted by clarknova at 8:54 PM on November 16, 2011 [5 favorites]


but don't tell me what spoiled swine the American big-box shoppers are.

I'm not saying that at all. I'm saying that consumers vote with their shopping dollars and that as a totality they prefer lower-priced goods - regardless of provenance - to higher priced one, and thinking that consumers will rejoice at the reintroduction of high-tariff, closed trade barriers is crazy and political suicide - and that's not even getting into the economics of it. Those days are gone, and hankering for them is a form of somewhat reactionary nationalist nostalgia.
posted by smoke at 9:07 PM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm sorry but it's not nationalism to protect your countrymen from economic dumping. It's justice and it's survival.

Telling me that I'm just indulging in nostalgia, and 'those days are gone' and I should get over it... that's telling me to shut up and accept a bad situation going to worse. Sorry but I'm not going to do that for you. We didn't end feudalism that way. We didn't end slavery that way. We didn't end child labor that way. We didn't end apartheid that way.

Every advance in human rights and was won through struggle. That's not nostalgia. That's progress.
posted by clarknova at 9:30 PM on November 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


* ...and economic equality... *
posted by clarknova at 9:33 PM on November 16, 2011


So Walmart is actually a stealthy Chinese ploy?
posted by infini at 9:34 PM on November 16, 2011


Are you implying Walmart is a secret Chinese nationalist front?
posted by clarknova at 9:39 PM on November 16, 2011


I have no idea about the Chinese, they're inscrutable. However, I do know the impact of Walmart from the perspective of the product design, development and thus, manufacturing and pricing situation particularly from 2004 to 2007 when the squeeze really began on US manufacturers to either lower their prices, change their designs or withdraw from the stable. I do know that this was the period when American industrial design houses were opening offices in and around Shanghai and Hong Kong, selling out to private equity and overhauling their strategies in order to cope with this shift. They are not insignificant in their influence.
posted by infini at 9:48 PM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


There are two different issues: the use of automation to radically reduce the number of employees in high-end manufacturing, and China's (arguably unfair*) tactics to get a large proportion of the low-end manufacturing business.

If China straight up disappeared into the Pacific tomorrow, our T shirts and iPods wouldn't be made in Britain. They'd be made in Vietnam or India or Brazil.

Either way our aircraft engines would still be made in Britain. And it turns out you only need a small number of very smart people to make an aircraft engine, so that doesn't do much for the overall unemployment rate.

* China definitely does manipulate its currency, but the high estimates are that this lowers the cost of Chinese goods by 10%. It's not big enough to make a huge difference in the overall balance of trade.
posted by miyabo at 10:13 PM on November 16, 2011


There was a war between owners and workers. Owners won. End of story. It really couldn't be more simple, despite the gnashing of teeth and machinations of various commenters.
posted by cell divide at 10:18 PM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Either way our aircraft engines would still be made in Britain. And it turns out you only need a small number of very smart people to make an aircraft engine

...and that's working out so well for Rolls Royce, yeah?
posted by coriolisdave at 10:25 PM on November 16, 2011


They are not insignificant in their influence.

Oh, I thought you were trying to snark down some imagined, reactionary nationalist sentiment on my part.

Sam Walton and his successors were true blue Amurricun Capitulists when it suited them, but Walmart and every Chinese supplier they ever met had the same goal: undercut the native competition and drive them out of business. Can you go through Walmart, shelf by shelf, and say "this chinese good was shipped below cost as part of a dumping scheme"? I certainly can't. But that was Walmart's scheme when it came to undermining their retail competitors. Whether China, as a matter of national policy, deliberately under-priced their goods to aid Walmart in this, or whether their horribly exploited labor pool simply allowed this vis a vis the invisible hand, the result was the same.

Incidentally, the Chinese are using dumping to kill any domestic solar industry we might try to build.

Owners won. End of story.

Says you.
posted by clarknova at 10:28 PM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


How do workers in Germany avoid being exploited? How does Germany maintain good working relations such that strikes are not so problematic?

I think that the major reason is mitbestimmung. The legal framework doesn't cover the majority of manufacturing firms in Germany (which are usually under 500 employees, making niche products1), but they typically embrace the philosophy behind it all the same.

1A good example is Wippermann. 300 employees that just make chains and chain-related accessories, including what are easily the world's best bicycle chains.
posted by cmonkey at 11:06 PM on November 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


I think people don't appreciate the huge increases in productivity caused by automation and better machinery. Sixty years ago my father worked on moulding machines that practically needed a full-time operator to produce decent goods. They moulded four items at a time. When he retired the newer machines (not the newest available, I think these were bought second hand) were moulding dozens of items per cycle with no operator intervention. I think there were only two workers on the night shift - one worker in case a fuse blew, and the second in case the first guy had a heart attack.

So new machinery meant that this factory was producing vastly more plastic bits and bobs, but employing the same or fewer people to do so. I don't think the world demand for bits and bobs expanded that much - so I suppose competing factories must have closed down. Eventually a lot of plastic manufacturing moved to Malaysia and his factory closed down too. But if you take a look at Malaysia I'm sure you'll see smaller, older factories closing and being replaced by more efficient ones. It isn't just cheaper labor: it's cheaper labor plus better equipment creating economies of scale. It's an unstoppable process: more and more manufacturing will be concentrated in fewer and fewer plants using fewer and fewer operators and eventually Malaysia will lose manufacturing jobs too. One day hardly anyone will be employed in large-scale manufacturing; the only people who make things will be craft workers making specialised goods and items for the luxury trade.
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:21 AM on November 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is pretty poor article in terms of the title question, because it chooses to ignore some important factors.

First, there are only a couple of glancing references to China, but that's a hugely important factor over the last couple of decades. The reason we don't make a lot of things is that China can make them more cheaply.

Second, there are no references at all to the British Empire, but that's a hugely important factor in terms of the post-war decline. The British Empire had a lot of rhetoric of free about free trade, but in practice it used tariffs and trade to favour British manufacturing: in the cotton industry for instance. Basically, military force was used to ensure consumers in the British Empire had to buy goods made in Britain even if they were more expensive.

Third, there's no reference to automation. Even though China has gained manufacturing business, it hasn't necessarily been gaining manufacturing jobs. China lost 16 million manufacturing jobs, a decline of 15 percent, between 1995 and 2002. Automation means that it just doesn't take as many people to make stuff as it used to.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 2:28 AM on November 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Free movement of labor is only one of the factors in outsourcing. Another issue is whether environmental regulation forces companies to capture externalities. There's a reason why 1/10th to 1/6th of China's farmland is contaminated with heavy metals.

As for UK's lost generation of workers, is this like the US where it's primarily a loss of male dominated jobs as the economy shifts? Because that's not all bad.

The inevitable result of free trade is the betterment of the capitalist class at the expense of the worker. At the same time that Britain is losing manufacturing jobs it's increasing dramatically in net direct foreign investment.
posted by BrotherCaine at 3:24 AM on November 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Adam Curtis - The Mayfair Set - the asset-stripping of British manufacturing by Fishpaste et al.
posted by marienbad at 4:02 AM on November 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


But if you take a look at Malaysia I'm sure you'll see smaller, older factories closing and being replaced by more efficient ones. It isn't just cheaper labor: it's cheaper labor plus better equipment creating economies of scale.

Yes. We closed ours in the mid eighties and pulled out of manufacturing in Malaysia and shifted focus to trade out of Singapore.
posted by infini at 5:45 AM on November 17, 2011


See also the American version in song...James McMurtry, "We Can't Make It Here."

Jeez, that's good.
posted by stargell at 6:27 AM on November 17, 2011


In the United States the cheapest TV I can find at Best Buy now costs $400

Never get a job as a personal shopper. The cheapest TV on bestbuy.com is $99.99. I have to so, I'm not
brimming with confidence about your stats now...

Adjusted for inflation, real wages are down a staggering 584%

According to your own link mean household income has increased in real terms in every income bracket. So. Um. Yeah.

real housing costs have gone up over 1000%


Again according to your own link, the nominal cost of a new house has increased by over 1000%, while the real cost has increased by around 230%. At this point I'm not sure you know what the words you're using actually mean.

posted by howfar at 7:48 AM on November 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


I Ctrl-F's "City" to see if anyone pointed out that ONE THIRD of UK's GDP is produced in the financial sector concentrated around an area in London called "the City".

Any vague whiff of financial sector regulation will make the UK's economy sink.
posted by ruelle at 7:51 AM on November 17, 2011


Financial-sector GDP doesn't necessarily represent value to the real economy, however.

Suppose someone pays a firm of accountants £5 million to avoid paying £10 million in taxes. That £5 million shows up as GDP, part of that is taxed at various levels: £2 million might even make its way back to the treasury. But there's been no net gain to the real economy, and the treasury has made a loss.

On the other hand, some financial sector GDP does have a real value to the economy. If someone buys insurance, or a currency hedge, that may have a real value in reducing the risk to their business.

It's very hard to tell statistically how much is real.

However, given that the UK financial sector has grown so much from what it used to be, and is a larger share than in the rest of the world, and yet UK non-finance businesses don't seem to benefit noticeably from access to it, it seems likely to me that majority of activity in the UK financial sector does not benefit the real economy.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 8:13 AM on November 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


I Ctrl-F's "City" to see if anyone pointed out that ONE THIRD of UK's GDP is produced in the financial sector concentrated around an area in London called "the City".

Any vague whiff of financial sector regulation will make the UK's economy sink.


If I may make the cliche reply-by-analogy, this may be like saying that tinkering with the speedometer dial will make a car slower. When it comes to measuring the wealth added to the economy by the finance sector, GDP seems like exactly the wrong way to measure it.

GDP assumes that any movement of money represents a gain in wealth.
In most sectors, production of wealth results in movements of money. In the finance sector, movement of money sometimes enables production of wealth.

To my layman eye, I think that figures suggesting that 30% of a nations wealth is produced by the finance sector are suspect. I realise it's not a closed system, and the finance system might be earning a lot of wealth from other countries for services rendered, but... 30% is a lot and seems more likely to be the result of measuring with GDP instead of something more balanced.
posted by -harlequin- at 8:17 AM on November 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Any vague whiff of financial sector regulation will make the UK's economy sink.

I don't know if it would sink the economy, but the government sure is taking the proposed EU financial transaction tax as a direct attack on London, so I assume the UK would take quite a hit if it's implemented.
posted by cmonkey at 8:24 AM on November 17, 2011


The Competitive Position of London as a Global Financial Centre (pdf 2005)
posted by infini at 8:52 AM on November 17, 2011


I would like to say that we still make magnificent cheeses and sausages.

Indeed you do!

But put this way, it gave me a nasty shiver, recalling as it does the comment allegedly made by Reagan economic adviser Michael Boskin on concerns about manufacturing jobs: "Computer chips, wood chips, potato chips. What the difference? They're all chips."
posted by IndigoJones at 12:25 PM on November 17, 2011



I'm sorry but it's not nationalism to protect your countrymen from economic dumping.


God knows, I'm about as far from capitalist as it gets, but your response here completely elides the meat of my comment to focus on the last sentence.

Firstly, the answer to economic dumping is typically more free trade, not less. Much of the time it's a result of tariff protected industries; indeed, the US does a nice line in this with some of its own agricultural sectors. It is far more common in agricultural product and commodities than in manufactured products, and I don't think it means what you think it means - cheaply manufactured stuff coming from China or elsewhere is not necessarily economic dumping.

Secondly, dumping or no fails to address my real comment which is that consumers - whether involuntarily or by choice - abhor higher prices and will consistently and regularly pick lower priced items.

Thirdly, it's pretty orthodox economics that productivity in the manufacturing sector is much, much higher now than ever before, and returning to pre-1970s manufacturing, at least at the moment, would engender a huge hit to productivity, and that stuff exacts a real toll on national economies, and the public would end up paying for it; the public ends up paying for everything one way or another. And I don't mean less automation, I'm talking about the trade barriers and tariffs that made that stuff competitive back then.

I can't help but feel you're seeing factories close down and getting angry about it, but you have to place this stuff in its larger, national, macroeconomic context. It seems to me, your real problem is with labour protections, unemployment programs, etc. This is all outside of the factories, and more tariffs will not help there.

I also think the current US experience is shaping your response - recession, terrible labour rights, etc. But again, this is all outside a simple manufacturing debate; the problem is multifaceted and bringing back domestic factories will not resolve the fundamental issues you're rallying against, and it will cost the economy and citizens a shitload.
posted by smoke at 1:02 PM on November 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


clarknova: Incidentally, the Chinese are using dumping to kill any domestic solar industry we might try to build.

Did you link to the wrong page? The link you provided only went to a story announcing the US has going to look at whether China was dumping solar panels, not that it had been found that they were dumping.
posted by biffa at 1:42 PM on November 17, 2011


consumers - whether involuntarily or by choice - abhor higher prices and will consistently and regularly pick lower priced items

iPhone.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:42 PM on November 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Even in among the so called "$2 a day" crowd, this does not hold true. In fact, in many situations, the decision is for the tried and tested vs cheaper unknown because minimizing risk is as important as maximizing ROI.
posted by infini at 1:53 PM on November 17, 2011


Did you link to the wrong page?

No I linked the right page so that people could see the latest development in the case: namely that the FTC is lumbering reluctantly into the fray. These things aren't criminal cases. By the time the comission deigns to hold hearings the evidence is usually really strong.

The facts according to the the WSJ
.
posted by clarknova at 2:20 PM on November 17, 2011


iPhone.

Is not even the most popular type of smartphone, let alone the entire mobile phone market.
posted by smoke at 2:30 PM on November 17, 2011


Exactly. And, despite that, it's nonetheless a popular, successful product that enough people are willing to pay an arm and a leg for (despite the fact that it's made by cheap labour in China and marked up to an insane degree).
posted by Sys Rq at 4:50 PM on November 17, 2011


Fair enough. I feel like I'm edging into caricaturing my position. I don't want anyone to feel I'm saying outsourced sweatshop labour is great and consumers are slavering bargain-hunting bastards. Just that the reality of the decline of manufacturing in the west is multi-factorial and nuanced; superimposing a narrative of simple class warfare covers over these ambiguities, reduces the scope of the issue to one within the sector as opposed to a societal one, and runs the risk of positing a much more simple solution than the 'problem', such as it is, needs.
posted by smoke at 5:01 PM on November 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


That is, what I hear you saying is that its far more a function of the entire crafted creation of mainstream consumer culture rather than simply one single aspect or the other.
posted by infini at 5:07 PM on November 17, 2011


I would argue not even consumer culture, infini; it's largely commercial and industrial as well; but yes, just one facet of modern global economics, definitely, and very hard to deal with in isolation.
posted by smoke at 5:34 PM on November 17, 2011


Yes, I just tend to [maybe not so clearly to others] think of it as the crafting of consumer culture i.e. commercial and industrial forces need consumption at one end of the pipeline in order for the other end to continue functioning
posted by infini at 6:29 PM on November 17, 2011


Jeez, that's good.

James McMurty is what Country could be.
posted by clarknova at 11:46 PM on November 19, 2011


The answer to other nations making shit cheaper than you can is not tariffs. That just acts as welfare from the home country's consumers (via higher prices) to the manufacturers.
Instead, demand suitable labour conditions, environmental controls etc. and exploit comparative advantage.
If China is able to manufacture much cheaper than the UK (assuming level playing fields for the environment and labour safety etc.) then that is great. The UK already has a natural advantage in that local goods don't need to be shipped internationally, benefit from 'buy British' campaigns and all the other advantages of local manufacturing.
What they don't have is dirt cheap labour, and that is currently enough to make Chinese manufacturing more viable.
The UK manufacturing workforce is better educated, healthier, English speaking and in a useful timezone. If they can't turn these natural advantages to a profitable end, why should the community be forced to prop them up? They already offer welfare and subsidised retraining via government programs, so why try to cement uncompetitiveness?
So I'd urge you to direct energies to the improvement of labour and environmental standards globally, rather than trying to tilt the deck locally through tariffs.
posted by bystander at 11:25 PM on November 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


So I'd urge you to direct energies to the improvement of labour and environmental standards globally, rather than trying to tilt the deck locally through tariffs.

Without tariffs on goods produced in countries with poor environmental or labour standards, where is the fiscal incentive for countries like China to improve things?
posted by BrotherCaine at 7:13 PM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


There is a difference between tariffs targetting a specific issue (e.g. EU carbon tariff on inbound jets) versus 'slap a tariff on all imported steel because our foundries can't compete'.
posted by bystander at 10:51 PM on November 23, 2011


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