Last night, I finally finished Made in the U.S.A: The Rise and Retreat of American Manufacturing, by Vaclav Smil. It is a dense barrage of statistics, marshaled in support of a simple thesis, oft-repeated by politicians: the loss of American manufacturing has gutted the middle class, and, by extension, the economy as a whole in this country. However, unlike the politicians, Smil sees few ways to reverse this trend, and imagines a grim future of ever-expanding sovereign debt, energy shortages, a declining standard of living, and the loss of America's dominance in world affairs.
The book, put out by MIT Press, prominently features a quote from Bill Gates on the cover, who says "There's no author whose books I look forward to more than Vaclav Smil." His Amazon page is studded with similarly glowing reviews, praising him as a (tending dystopian) futurist oracle. In an interview in Wired out last summer, he comes across as a gleeful contrarian, dismissing technology companies with a shrug. "Apple! Boy, what a story. No taxes paid, everything made abroad—yet everyone worships them. This new iPhone, there’s nothing new in it. Just a golden color. What the hell, right?" His critique is pointed -- Apple employs 25,000 people in the U.S., the bulk in low-end retail jobs; FoxConn has 250,000 employees making phones in China for (relatively) middle-class wages. He goes on to point out that Germany, supposedly a pioneer of renewable energy, has actually seen its carbon emissions rise since it began heavily subsidizing solar and wind production.Read More