I’ve heard some rather direct and harsh criticism of President Obama’s recent comment about the USA being a “bit lazy” the last few decades.
I’ll agree his comment is a bit unfair from one perspective: The USA has had nearly non-stop increases in productivity, and this for many years. Americans are working harder and doing more with less people, that’s true. And most workers are also doing it for less money. This squeeze is creating a tension that runs parallel to, and resonates with, the Occupy movement — but that’s another discussion.
The fair part of Obama’s remark is that in the last 30 years the USA has watched it’s manufacturing base, and many of its competitive advantages, such as the deep science behind materials research, shrink. I won’t talk about infrastructure here, another fair critique of USA “laziness.” Obama’s remarks were actually specific to the USA attracting new businesses to come into America, and not a commentary on the productivity of American workers. Of course, those who fault Obama for apologizing for America find it easy to ignore the context. I’m reminded of what President Truman once said about his moniker “give em hell Harry” — he said, “I just tell the truth about them, and they think it’s Hell.”
It’s a tough pill to swallow the idea the USA is lazy — in any way.
Innovation is alive and well in the USA, but with a caveat. Good ideas thought of in the USA, those new widgets (or iPad’s) are now usually made offshore. The late, great, Steve Jobs complained to Obama that Apple would need 30,000 factory engineers in order to build a plant in the USA — and those trained engineers simply did not exist.
I think it’s lazy not to have those 30,000 engineers in the USA. This is something that could be addressed in fairly short order, but it’s simply not being tackled. This is a bi-partisan issue is it not? It’s frustrating to watch the lack of action. I could extend these comments to the UK as well — if you want manufacturing you need to have trained people who can make things.
Example of the mindset: I was in a discussion recently about creating a fairly small number of printed manuals. I observed that the mostly American team did not even consider printing in country — the default was China or Korea — for printing! I realize that in the years since I ordered a lot of printing the whole game has changed; expertise and capacity once taken for granted, no longer exist.
MIT President Susan Hockfield recently sounded off on the subject of investment in innovation and warned that cutting federal funds to education, research and manufacturing will stifle growth and job creation. She said “The big question is: Where will our much needed jobs come from? Will we let other nations lead or will we seize the lead.” Well said Ms. Hockfield.
So, while I take the point about nearly continuous productivity gains, there is more than one way to measure a countries efforts to stay competitive. It has to include an investment in people, science, materials — innovation. Not making that investment is — Lazy (I would add stupid). We (the USA) need to be a country not just of hard workers, but educated workers, who make things. I don’t blame the American worker, I blame the American government’s lack of action in the last 30 years.
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