Not that I blame you. It’s not like you’re setting out to hurt America or anything. You just want to make phone calls and maybe play a few rounds of Plants vs. Zombies. I understand.
But consider that every single iPhone out there is made in China. I don’t know how many iPhones were sold in the US last year, but cumulatively they added $1.9 billion dollars to our trade deficit with China. (And that’s not addressing my issues with AT&T, which has exclusive rights to distribute the iPhone at the moment, or lost productivity from messing around with the various apps available, or any of that.)
Now lest you think I’m picking on the iPhone, this goes for iPods, iPads, iMacs, and pretty much any other consumer product made by Apple. Not to mention other high tech manufacturers like HP and Dell. And it isn’t just high tech. From flower pots to electrical testing equipment, a lot of what we buy and use in this country comes from the Middle Kingdom. But let’s stay with high tech for now.
Unfortunately this isn’t likely to change anytime soon. Part of the reason for that is that the rare earth elements necessary to build our high-tech gizmos, like neodymium, samarium, gadolinium and dysprosium, are increasingly being mined in China, which currently controls 95% of the world’s supply. In order to move our manufacturing capabilities onshore we would have to ramp up our own production, which experts estimate will take at least 15 years.
Over the last few decades we have increasingly moved our manufacturing capability offshore into cheaper markets like Mexico and China. We say we want to promote jobs that don’t pollute the environment, but honestly, how many of us can work for Oracle or Microsoft? How many of us can sell these imported goods to other fellow citizens who are selling other imported goods to us? Sooner or later we need to make something of our own.
I did a brief inventory this morning of things we still make that we can export to other countries. Unfortunately it’s not a very long list. Movies. Music. Fashion. Cars. Food. Software. Airplanes. Weapons. Soldiers. I’m sure there are more, but you get the idea. (And even these aren’t exclusively American. Boeing gets parts for its planes from overseas now, and numerous software companies have operations in places like India and China.)
Until we can get turned around and start making items for domestic use so we can ease ourselves away from the allure of cheap goods from overseas, we’re going to continue to have this problem. Simply put, we need to start making things again. Even if we have to go ytterbium mining to do it.