The supertanker is the image that has come to symbolize America's economic might over the last decade--rock solid and steady. Low inflation, high productivity, and a booming stock market have combined to help create one of the most prosperous periods in American history. But Eamonn Fingleton would argue that this ship is steering the wrong course, and that lurking just below the waterline are some troublesome leaks.
Fingleton argues that American business is sacrificing its once valuable manufacturing base in favor of the new economy, or postindustrialism--an umbrella under which he includes the service, software, information, and entertainment industries, among others. While he writes that he does not seek to dismiss the merits of postindustrialism--although he calls the financial-services industry a "cuckoo in the economy's nest"--Fingleton finds fault with the new economy in three areas: the mix of jobs it produces, its slow income growth, and the fact that postindustrial activities don't export very well. At the same time, he believes that modern manufacturing has become wrongly associated with low-wage or stagnant economies--Japan, in particular, which, he argues, is not the basket case that many believe it to be. At the heart of Fingleton's argument is the idea that postindustrial activities are relatively easy to pursue compared to manufacturing, which requires much more capital and know-how but offers far more upside in the long run. His prescription for revitalizing manufacturing includes boosting savings, directing much of it into industrial investment, and instituting a trade policy designed to allow manufacturing to thrive in the United States.
While Fingleton's dour assessment of the new economy seems overdone, his basic argument about the relative worth of manufacturing is well articulated. In Praise of Hard Industries is a good contrarian read for policymakers, managers, and anyone interested in a different view of both the U.S. and Japanese economies. --Harry C. Edwards
From Publishers Weekly
A former editor of Forbes and the Financial Times, Fingleton ably articulates a contrarian thesis, arguing that manufacturingAnot America's "postindustrial economy" based on services and information technologyAis best equipped to deliver high wages, low unemployment and a bedrock for future prosperity. His scathing, selective tour of the U.S. computer, financial services and entertainment industries turns up colossal waste, puny exports, mismanagement and hype. Noting that, since the dawn of the computer revolution in the early 1970s, America's rate of growth in productivity has actually fallen, Fingleton suggests that the Internet has done and will do remarkably little to benefit the U.S. economy. He joins a diverse band of critics of laissez-faire globalism, including James Fallows, Patrick Buchanan and Jerry Mander, adding his own unique slant on East-West relations and manufacturing conditions. He contends that, contrary to Western press reporting, Japan is not an economic basket case, but is instead an affluent dynamo poised to challenge the U.S. for global economic leadership (a theme he set forth in his 1995 book Blindside). Bolstered by close analysis and chock full of intriguing examples of manufacturing triumphs and untapped opportunities, Fingleton's sobering report deserves close scrutiny by CEOs, labor leaders and policy makers.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.