Maybe you’re aware of the recent federal raid on Gibson Guitars. There’s been a lot of talk about this around the internet. It’s sad, sick, wrong, etc. etc. that a job-creating American manufacturing company has been crippled by the federal government for hazy legal reasons.
There’s something that’s been bothering me about the discussion of this situation though. Several times I’ve heard that Gibson is anomalous in this day and age, an American manufacturing company making a profit.
And it’s great. Manufacturing is the basis of a healthy economy. That so little is actually made in the United States is a fantastic proportion of the reason that we are in decline. Wealth comes from creation. Turning raw materials into something a person can use is the most direct way of creating wealth. Importation, marketing, retail, service and all of the other activity that comes between the creation and consumption of a product are important to the economy, but without the manufacturing none of it is possible. And the more we allow manufacturing to take place outside of our country, the less self-sufficient we become. For years we have been the world’s customer, and recently we’ve been borrowing the money needed to buy the world’s goods. By creating money instead of wealth we’ve allowed the world’s economy to become balanced on the tip of a needle.
So any manufacturing that happens in the United States is something to be celebrated. But it strikes me that the success of this particular company is kind of perverse. They are making guitars, a recreational product for sale to persons with disposable income.
Other paragons of American manufacturing are similar. Harley Davidson makes a lifestyle product. Apple products are useful for industry, but the company’s success is a result of addressing identity concerns in its marketing. Philip Morris makes a fairly useless product. The list goes on.
Certainly there are lots of American companies that make things that have little to do with entertainment, lifestyle, recreation or rely on their customers having disposable income. Caterpillar comes to mind. Case IH and Marlin Wire make products that are truly necessary for the ongoing interests of civilization.
Any manufacturing is good for America. And a diversity of manufacturing is even better. But as the decline goes on, it’s the companies that depend on disposable income that are going to fail soonest. There are only so many people on the earth that truly need a new guitar. The rest of Gibson’s customers will fall off as their money loses value and their incomes wear thin. Meanwhile, the guitar heroes of the world will be selling fewer records.
There’s a parallel universe where things are simpler and more honest. In that universe the citizens of the United States all take turns at opposite sides of the bar. Six hours mixing drinks, six hours drinking drinks, six hours drunken slumber, and six hours nursing a hangover. Repeat.