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Warfighting and Production

12:44 PM, Aug 24, 2009 • By JOHN NOONAN
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Interesting bit on the decline of U.S. production capacity, via Loren Thompson at the Lexington Institute's new blog.

With the Obama Administration moving to put more emphasis on manufacturing policy, the Lexington Institute is releasing a report this week detailing just how severe the nation's industrial decline has become. Here are some key facts you may not have heard. China produced five times more steel last year than the U.S. The U.S. has not built a single new domestic oil refinery in 30 years. U.S. companies can no longer make antibiotics like penicillin without supplies from foreign sources. American shipbuilders have not produced a single commercial vessel for use in international trade in this decade. China surpassed the U.S. in electronics production in 2006. Despite all the bold talk a few years back about America becoming a services-based, information-age economy, the reality is that our share of global output is eroding steadily. A CIA assessment says that the shift of wealth from the West to the East is without precedent in modern history, and that America's future as the world's dominant economy is now very much in doubt. The problem isn't really with our science or with our schools -- we still have the most scientists and the best universities in the world -- but with the disappearance of manufacturing. Over the last 30 years, the amount of domestically consumed manufactured goods made overseas has increased from a tenth to a third of the total.

Thompson thinks it might be one of our most pressing security challenges (at least in the long term), and I'm inclined to agree. America's ability to produce, innovate, and create has traditionally served as the backbone of our warfighting efforts. Quoth the old axiom, amateurs study strategy, professionals study logistics. During World War II, the Germans marveled at the infinite stream of fighting vehicles that rolled off the rust belt's auto assembly lines and poured into the European theater, while they were porting artillery with horse drawn carriages. During the Cold War, the Soviets poured billions into strategies that would close the Atlantic to US resupply convoys -- fearing only our nuclear weapons over our ability to manufacture.

Today, that "Made in America" tag is just too pricey. Unions have driven up the cost of labor to unsustainable levels, while choking environmental regulations and aggressive corporate taxes have suffocated our ability to produce domestically. It's no wonder the next generation of American weapon systems, which our troops desperately need, are so expensive.

Aside: go take a look at the Lexington Institute's new blogging endeavour, Early Warning. Should be an outstanding security policy resource.