The other day, I noticed that my new New Balance running shoes were made in the United States. I was thrilled.
I knew that some American, who shops, pays taxes, is part of a community, and probably raises a family here made those shoes. I knew that his or her community benefited from the presence of a factory, and that the tumble down benefit radiated outward. And I knew that someone's father, or mother, or friend was leading a better life because of the wages from making those shoes.
You don't have to have an advanced economics degree to know why all of that is good for the U.S. economy. And you don't have to be a psychologist to know why all of that is just plain good for everyone.
Sadly, the "Made in the USA" label has all but disappeared. Even New Balance, the only athletic shoe manufacturer still making shoes in the United States, only produces about 25 percent of its shoes here. Indeed, we don't make much in this country anymore. That is a devastating loss to all of us.
How can we turn this around? How can we rebuild the manufacturing sector, create the high-paying and stable jobs needed to restore pride and a comfortable standard of living to our workforce, and get the country back on its economic feet?
Yes, the construction jobs created through President Barack Obama's stimulus program are good for pump-priming. And they will make a dent in the unemployment statistics. But without a solid industrial base, the United States cannot rebuild its strong middle class.
We need to find the root causes of our near total reliance on, and addiction to, foreign manufacturing. It's not just that labor is cheaper elsewhere. That's too simple. Otherwise, high-wage countries like Germany, with very advanced social programs, would have lost their industrial prowess long ago.
There are solutions. To find them we need creative thinking. If restoring manufacturing jobs is the goal, why not bring to the table those who are most affected, the real stakeholders, the American workers? For example, German law requires that labor representatives have a strong voice on corporate boards of directors. Thus when belts have to be tightened, labor as well as management determines how to do it. If steps are needed to compete with cheap labor elsewhere, labor and management take those steps together. And if it works in Germany, it can work here.
Next we need action. We need a Congress focused on restoring our once admired industrial base. We need political leadership prepared to bring labor into a creative, solution oriented process. If the goal is to restore manufacturing, rebuild the middle class, make things here, improve out trade balance, and once again see "Made in the USA" on our products, then there is no issue for partisan conflict. If one party insists on blocking solutions, then the American people need to know, see, and feel that.
Let's stop the nonsense and get to work to improve the working American's standard of living and way of life. And get our country moving again. It's about time.
John Steel is an attorney and the former mayor of Telluride, Colorado.