Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Envisioning America's Tomorrow - and Today

There are two narratives regarding America's present; two narratives call on voters in this year's presidential election to make a decision on the direction for the future.

One narrative says that we are in the midst of a disaster: high gas prices; sputtering employment; jerky improvement in the housing market are among the signs that if we don't make a change in the White House and adopt an ideology that shrinks government and taxes, America will no longer be the most powerful nation on earth.

The other narrative posits that while we are struggling to pull out of the greatest economic decline this generation has ever seen, there are nascent signs of growth that are encouraging...

Unemployment is lower than it has been in three years; a rebounding stock market; public sector growth; the recovery of the auto industry and an actual national health plan (if the Supreme Court doesn't kill it) are all signs that America's economy is healing - even if the patient is still ill.

Washington Post columnist David Ignatius suggest that the latter narrative is the more accurate. Indeed, if we are taking a long term view instead of one governed by a presidential election cycle, America is actually poised to be more powerful than we've ever imagined. That, according to Ignatius, is especially true in the area of energy and manufacturing.

Of energy he says...

"America is entering a new era of energy security: "...Robin West, chairman of PFC Energy, a Washington-based advisory group. He argues in a series of recent reports to clients that, because of the rapid expansion of oil and gas production from shale, America is likely to become by 2020 the world’s No. 1 producer of oil, gas and biofuels — eclipsing even the energy superpowers, Russia and Saudi Arabia."
"West explains that the natural-gas boom will mean a dramatic change in energy imports and, thus, the security of U.S. energy supplies. He forecasts that combined imports of oil and natural gas will fall from about 52 percent of total demand in 2010 to 22 percent by 2020. The totals are even more impressive if supplies from Canada are included."
"“This is the energy equivalent of the Berlin Wall coming down,” contends West. “Just as the trauma of the Cold War ended in Berlin, so the trauma of the 1973 oil embargo is ending now.” The geopolitical implications of this change are striking: “We will no longer rely on the Middle East, or compete with such nations as China or India for resources.”"
"Energy security would be one building block of a new prosperity."
Of manufacturing Ignatius suggests...
"...according to BCG [Boston Consulting Group], [there] is a “reshoring” back to America of manufacturing that previously migrated offshore, especially to China. The analysts estimate that by 2015, China’s cost advantage will have shrunk to the point that many manufacturers will prefer to open plants in the United States. In the vast manufacturing region surrounding Shanghai, total compensation packages will be about 25 percent of those for comparable workers in low-cost U.S. manufacturing states. But given higher American productivity, effective labor costs will be about 60 percent of those in America — not low enough to compensate U.S. manufacturers for the risks and volatility of operating in China."
"In about five years, argue the BCG economists, the cost-risk balance will reach an inflection point in seven key industries where manufacturers had been moving to China: computers and electronics, appliances and electrical equipment, machinery, furniture, fabricated metals, plastics and rubber, and transportation goods. The industries together amounted to a nearly $2 trillion market in the United States in 2010, with China producing about $200 billion of that total."
"As manufacturers in these “tipping point” industries move back to America, BCG estimates, the U.S. economy will add $80 billion to $120 billion in annual output, and 2 million to 3 million new jobs, in direct manufacturing and spin-off employment. To complete this rosy picture, the analysts forecast that in about five years, U.S. exports will increase by at least $65 billion annually."
There's a huge difference between viewing our present as the end of all things versus seeing where we are as the beginning of something challenging but knew. I tend to think vision doesn't have quite as much to do with how you see where you'll be tomorrow, but how you see where you are today. 

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