How to Kill an Industry

How to Kill an Industry

A new genre of economic analysis chronicles the slow decay of key American industries. “There was a time,” this sort of tale begins, “when the United States was an example for the rest of the world. The (fill in the blank with steel, textiles, auto, or electronics) industry was efficient, innovative, and generous to all within it. What’s more, the industry was pivotal to the U.S. economy.” Taken individually, these stories are interesting vignettes; together, they form an indictment of the U.S. economy. The machine-tool industry is a prime candidate for such a story. Machine tools are “mother machines” of manufacturing: any process of forming or cutting metal involves a machine tool. Societies based on manufacturing are based on machine tools. From the Civil War to the mid-sixties, the U.S. machine-tool industry was the envy of the world. But no longer. The American Machinist estimates that in 1987 Japan and Germany exported machine tools worth almost $6.5 billion while U.S. exports were estimated at only $640 million.

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