Asian workers haven't yet found their Charles Dickens or Upton Sinclair to tell their story of miserable, soul-killing conditions and to shape their yearnings and aspirations into a moving narrative. Even if that never happens, they're likely to demand more money, and that will diminish one of the major advantages they have held over the West.
Wages in China are already about five times higher than as recently as in 2000, "and they are expected to keep rising 18 percent a year," writes investigative reporter Charles Fishman, who in The Atlantic predicts an "insourcing boom" for the United States. As U.S. labor union priorities change, from seeking higher wages to keeping jobs, America becomes more competitive. He cites the two-tier wage scale at General Electric's Appliance Park in Louisville, Ky.
Appliance Park was once known as "Strike City," where it was impossible to keep workers on the job and labor costs down. But workers have agreed to lower wages for new workers in return for adding and protecting jobs, and production has grown at Appliance Park. The low cost of natural gas needed for operating a factory, which is a quarter of what it is Asia, against the high cost of fueling cargo ships to Asia, is a large incentive to increase production here.
Over the past several decades, while manufacturing was moving from the rich countries to the poor countries, cost-efficient technology was swiftly developing in America. Ideas became reality. Innovation in three-dimensional printing, for example, accelerates the process of designing a product here and making more of it here, as well.
Manufacturing in the United States will probably never be what it was before "the mighty boiler" that was the Midwestern manufacturing heartland disappeared into the "Rust Belt." But Americans have always had the gift of getting smarter. America has been a mighty magnet for talent and ambition from the rest of the world. We must keep the talent we train, and encourage our designers and engineers to make products in America, which we can easily do with the miracles of technology.
Apple surely knew what it was doing when it decided to manufacture some of its Macs here. If that's not exactly a startup, at least it's a start. Let's hope it starts a trend.