COVID-19 is highlighting an issue that’s been bubbling under the surface in America for years, if not decades: outsourcing manufacturing to China and other countries has led to a decline in quality that comes as a double whammy to jobs lost in the U.S.
At a time when medical supplies, paper products, and other health-related goods are sorely needed, the capacity to meet the demand appears to be lacking.
Last fall, months before COVID-19 entered the national conscience, U.S. national security officials expressed concern about the fact that antibiotics and many other common prescription drugs are currently manufactured in China.
For example, the last U.S. plant manufacturing penicillin closed in 2004 — leaving the U.S. at the mercy of China or another country to receive one of the most commonly-prescribed drugs in the country.
“If China shut the door on exports of medicines and their key ingredients and raw material, U.S. hospitals and military hospitals and clinics would cease to function within months, if not days,” Rosemary Gibson, author of the book “China Rx,” told NBC News.
The decline in U.S. manufacturing also manifested itself in what might seem like an odd way at first glance. At the beginning of the year, President Trump went on what seemed like a tirade about dishwashers, talking about how the quality had declined over the years and they’re not made like they used to be.
While many dismissed this as off-the-wall rambling, Trump is not wrong, according to Chuck DeVore, Vice President of National Initiatives at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. In an article for Forbes earlier this year, DeVore wrote that his wife’s own complaints about appliances these days closely mirrored the president’s.
Additionally, the Competitive Enterprise Institute calculated that dishwasher cycle time 40 years ago was just over an hour. Now, it’s close to three hours.
DeVore suggests that the increase in cycle time comes because of energy regulations mandated by the federal government. Such regulations sound great on paper, but don’t always work out well in everyday life.
“The problem though is that consumer appliances such as dishwashers, washing machines, and dryers were invented to save time,” DeVore wrote. “As with automation in manufacturing, they were investments of capital to save labor and time. If they no longer save labor and time, what’s the point?”
Trump’s efforts to bring back American jobs largely have not come through at the levels he predicted before taking office — particularly when it comes to investment from foreign-based companies or firms moving production back to the U.S.
There’s some hope that COVID-19 will help reinvigorate manufacturing, particularly when it comes to medical supplies and things like toilet paper, but the long-term consequences are far from clear.
Until then, many Americans like DeVore will keep pushing for common-sense regulations that put a priority on manufacturing quality products right here in the U.S.
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