James A. Stuber could not have imagined his 2017 book, What if Things Were Made in America Again, would resonate so clearly and loudly in 2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic, the militaristic nationalist rise of China and the focus on impact investing. Not only these events, but also the growing awareness of the environmental consequences of our purchases. Finally, addressing the political and social instability caused by the shrunken industrial economy, which is now a priority.
All these above and more have come together to make Stuber’s subject the center of America’s economic and political discussion.
As he told Worth, “The number of Google searches for ‘Made in America‘ has increased five-fold for some categories. Anyone making something in America is seeing holiday-level sales volumes for months now.”
There are dozens of books and studies about the impact the decline of American manufacturing has had on our society. One of the latest and most important is by the husband and wife team of Princeton economists Angus Deaton and Anne Case. Their book, Deaths of Despair, makes the case that several hundred thousand Americans have died from suicide, alcohol and drugs as a consequence of the deindustrialization of America. The 2005 documentary The High Cost of Low Price, an in-depth look at the business practices of Walmart, is another example. So is the 2016 MIT paper The China Shock.
This does not surprise Stuber (pictured left). “When I had my ‘lightbulb moment,’ the realization that America which invented the lightbulb no longer made one, I also realized that the societal costs of offshoring manufacturing was disastrous, not only to the balance of trade, the transfer of technology to an authoritarian state, the collapse of cities and state economies…but also the human suffering from lost jobs. When dignity goes out the window, despair walks in. We need to turn this around.”
To say that this is an obsession for Stuber—a Georgetown University lawyer with Bachelors and Masters in political science from Penn and Columbia, legislative assistant to a House member, husband and father of four—would be an understatement. Bringing back living-wage jobs is his calling.
Like the Bible, his book starts at the beginning: post-WWII foreign and economic policies that rebuilt Europe and Japan. Then, he moves on to China and the era of globalization. From there, he analyzes how we allowed, even “promoted and encouraged,” the sourcing of everything from the lowest wage suppliers Walmart scoured the world to find. In the chapter “How did this work out?,” using scores of charts and tables, he demonstrates that the answer is, “Not very well.” Other chapters cover topics like “The vicious circle and the hollow economy.”
There is no political party ax-grinding in his analysis. A subhead in chapter 10 for example states, “Our elites have failed us.” Not for one second does he believe the academic theorists and their free-trade-lifts-all-boats mantras. A visit to the thousands of abandoned American factories, closed and reopened in China, Vietnam and Mexico, is all he needs to know that no economic plan, like battles in war, survives the first contact with the enemy. The enemy in this case is us. “We shipped our jobs overseas; no one came here and stole them.” Well, not exactly. He points out how the hundreds of subsidies, incentives and outright mercantile policies of our trading partners intentionally created a very uneven playing field.
Impact investing is one of the hottest trends in capitalism right now. In an attempt to reform our society, to bring about economic justice, rehabilitate the environment and our distressed cities, investors are looking beyond pure profit. They are interested in positive outcomes for humanity. Stuber’s book is prescient here, too. “There can be no greater impact on America than a revitalized living-wage middle class,” he writes. “It saves lives by promoting economic and racial justice.”
It is Stuber’s core tenet that, “We live in a demand-driven economy. If consumers demand that manufacturers and retailers make their products in America, they will. Only consumers can force this change.” He believes that policymakers are now profoundly aware of their past mistakes. He is pleased to see that both parties and their presidential candidates have strong platforms promoting Made in America products. “No sentient politician can ignore the agony of the American worker and the aggressive rise of China any longer.”
Will this be easy? “Yes and no,” Stuber says. “Basically, we have no choice. As we send higher-paying tech, medical and data jobs to India and Eastern Europe, we are going to hollow out yet another stratum of society. The offshoring pain is going to be felt by people who thought it could not happen to them.” He imagines a common cause will awaken almost everyone (except international investment bankers) to the disaster of offshoring work.
In closing, he added, “I wrote this book not for academics or the chatting classes but for anyone with a high school education. I wrote it for any American who wanted to understand what happened to their job, family, community and country.”
Stuber is in the beta phase of Made in America Again, a website that will educate consumers on how to buy American and bring Made in America products to the buying public. If you’re interested in helping him out, you can reach him through the site.