President Trump���s Made In America Hurdle: Asia

I think some of you are missing the point. If Apple and its competitors moved their manufacturing home with robotic factories, that would not put a lot of additional jobs or wages into the U.S. economy. To the extent that it made Apple less profitable, it would be taking money out of the economy. It would not help with the repatriation of profits problem, since the overseas cash is being generated by overseas sales that are completely independent of where the devices are made.

As Steve Jobs pointed out (and this article just restates), the real advantage that Asia has isn’t that wages are low (you could raise your prices to compensate for that)—it is that there is an enormous population of qualified and motivated workers who are willing to relocate on short notice to follow production cycles as they move from one plant to the next. There are millions of people who are willing to forgo what Americans would regard as a normal family life to live an itinerant existence while sending checks home.

Where in America could you hire 35,000 qualified workers and start production on six weeks notice? There is no such place, so moving manufacturing home would require very high levels of automation and much longer transition times to retool between one product line and the next. That translates into enormously higher capital costs than relying on Asian labor. There would also be increased material costs, since most of the components are also made in Asia and would have to be shipped to America.

Not only do automated plants require a lot fewer workers, they require a completely different skill set than you are likely to find among laid-off miners, steelworkers, and boilermakers. As Mr. Jobs said, those onshore manufacturing jobs are never coming back. Telling people that they will is simply giving them an excuse to postpone retraining for the new economy.

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