Wednesday, November 14, 2007

DC versus Lou Dobbs

Washington, DC has a new opponent, and it’s not drugs, terrorism, or even Iraq. In three separate venues: the US Dept. of Commerce, a US Senator’s office, and a DC law firm, CNN anchor Lou Dobbs was vilified by name for his confrontational stance on US foreign outsourcing as enumerated in his 2004 book Exporting America.

Dobbs has increased viewer share for both his cable and radio shows by becoming the self-appointed champion of US manufacturing jobs. And he is an unlikely hero. Dobbs stepped into his media career directly from his college years at Harvard and a bank job in LA. Notwithstanding, it is with homespun fervor that he crusades against the decade-long trend of outsourcing US jobs to foreign markets.

Dobbs said this in an interview: “The principal issue I have with outsourcing is that American companies -- based in the United States, providing goods and services to the U.S. consumer economy -- are killing jobs in this country and sending them overseas to provide the same goods and services back to the U.S. economy.”

Other experts corroborate Dobbs’ anxiety. Christian E. Weller of the Center for American Progress said, “Manufacturing has experienced an unprecedented decline for the past three and a half years … [T]he decline in manufacturing jobs explains the bulk of the overall employment loss during the recent recession and recovery.”

Since 2000 we have lost over 3 million jobs in the manufacturing sector of this country. But is that giving us the whole picture? Washingtonians in key positions that I spoke with this week say “No.” Within the Dept. of Commerce, Erin Sullivan, Senior International Trade Specialist for US Commercial Service, said, “The fallacy of Lou Dobb’s argument is that it is focused on manufacturing.” Sullivan’s program offers aid to US companies expanding into foreign operations, providing contacts and even on-the-ground consulting to American business owners.

“America is moving away from manufacturing into an intellectual property and branding based economy,” said Mark Kresloff, a patent attorney for intellectual property and technology. He sat with us across a long table in the DC office of McKenna Long & Aldridge, where he was joined by Jeffrey Li, a Chinese-American attorney and Qilan Jin, an attorney for the PRC Supreme Court. Li continued his colleague’s analysis of America’s economic development, agreeing “For America, this is a good thing.”

This sentiment was echoed in a meeting room of Senator Saxby Chambliss, R- Ga, where his current chief of staff told us that those in agreement with Lou Dobbs should do nothing, but if people disagree with his ideas, we need to pick up the phone and talk to our representatives. I was puzzled by this comment, but after three references in as many days, I determined to look into Dobbs’ argument.

According to the Dept. of Labor, the US is at a 4.7% Unemployment Rate in Oct. 2007. To Dobbs’ credit, that is up from 4.6% last year, an increase of 38,000 unemployed. However, we are well below the 6% we reported during the same month 4 years ago, and 1.6 percentage points down from the 6.3% high in June 2003. So, if all our jobs are going overseas, why are we seeing a decline in unemployment?

Other sources, including our interviewees in Washington, propose that these US workers are not losing their jobs for good, but are instead being reallocated into jobs that are more fitting with the new US economy. Am I saying that we are moving away from being a nation of factories and manufacturing? Yes. It appears so. And I welcome the progress that has led us from the industrial age into the information age. The new export of the US is our knowledge, ideas and leadership. It is time to give other countries' economies the chances we've had. --Shawn Butler

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