Conventional wisdom holds that sparking a manufacturing renaissance is next to impossible: 30% fewer Americans are employed in manufacturing now as compared with two decades ago. Robots and cheap foreign labor mean that such jobs won't return.
Conventional wisdom is also wrong, argues MI senior fellow Mark Mills in his new report, Prometheus Bound. The conditions are ripe for a boom in U.S. manufacturing, says Mills, especially in high-tech, high-value-added sectors, including semiconductors, pharmaceuticals, refined hydrocarbons, chemicals, and cloud infrastructure. But there are obstacles standing in the way of a U.S. manufacturing revival.
High corporate taxes are one, and unfavorable trade deals are another. But the biggest single drag on American manufacturing has been the decades-long encroachment of the regulatory state—with an army of 300,000 regulators and an annual budget of $60 billion. Indeed, complying with federal regulations costs manufacturers a staggering $20,000 per employee per year, on average—twice as great a burden as for other businesses. In surveys, U.S. manufacturers routinely rank regulatory burdens as the top impediment to growth. A large majority also says that regulatory burdens are higher in America than in other nations.
Mark Mills is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, as well as a faculty fellow at Northwestern University's McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, where he is codirector of the Northwestern Initiative for Manufacturing Science and Innovation. He is a contributor to Forbes.com, and his articles have been published in, among others, the Wall Street Journal and New York Times Magazine. In 2016, Mills was named “Energy Writer of the Year” by the American Energy Society.