Most People Disapprove Of Free Trade

Image credit: J Laumer, based on CNN/WSJ poll question/response data from September 2010.

Most Americans disapprove of free trade. Poll results on this have been strong as recently as late 2010 and the disapproval rate cited inferred by the above response data are consistent with polls taken before the 'Great Recession' hit, in 2009. Sure, it's probably true that most elected officials and Federal agency administrators do approve of free trade. (What else would you expect of people who owe their jobs to campaign donations made with world-wrapping strings attached?) There is an environmental dimension to this disapproval.At the rate China has been taking renewable energy manufacturing jobs away - occasionally even jobs born of taxpayer support - environmentalists might consider supporting a Presidential candidate who will take a stand on reasonable limits - just so things are a little bit less pure Libertarian and that the Chinese playing field is recognized as steeply tilted toward the Chinese government's goal.

For example.
How about a rule that there be no Federal support of pilot tests or precommercial manufacturing design work unless recipient(s) agree in writing, up front, to keep pre-identified portions of administrative and R&D; and manufacturing jobs here for for a period of time? (Ideally, they'd also be required to make private lenders and investors aware of these limits before Federal support documents were signed, and then wait a few weeks before the contract is counters-signed - just in case there is push back.)

It's starts innocently enough.
I don't believe Federally supported renewable energy technology firms have secret plans to split for Asia when they get close to commercially viability - wanting greedily to increase their operating margins. It's more likely that renewable energy equipment designers start from a "build it and they will come" mindset, get totally excited with a big breakthrough, and then solve problems one step at a time.

Lacking manufacturing experience, project managers may find that scale-up costs are larger than they had projected. This same kind of thing happens even without government involvement - especially if bean counters and lawyers are in charge. (Enron had a wind turbine division that languished until GE snapped it up, applying a broader level of business expertise. Now GE turbines are everywhere, even in China.)

Don't even act surprised.
The risk of failure and outsourcing of jobs gets amplified if some iconic young geek or master financier gets media attention for his involvement in the exciting renewable dream. If there are big cost overruns or process development delays or lost orders, as there often are, project officers are pointed to the tried and true solution taught in every business school in America: "flip" the business case to Chinese outsourcing, leaving just the financial execs, senior management, and a small sales force back in the States.

Ever since Nike was recognized as a global success because of their outsourcing practice, it has been MBA gospel: a gospel nearly every member of Congress ascribes to and will keep to unless the Presidential race challenges it.

Solutions.
Best to tell investors directly what the expectations are for US job creation: either outsourcing is possible at the will of corporate officers; or, it is disallowed for some period if Federal money is involved. No more willing self delusions.

Stop listening to MBA's and Ex-Silicon Valley types. Keep them the hell away from renewable energy projects until seasoned process engineers have finished looking at results of pilot runs and the manufacturing costs and outer bounds of full scale production costs are better known. Do a risk management review, from start to finish, and include environmental and social issues not as just an afterthought. (Skipping that step is why corn based ethanol failed "unexpectedly" when it was scaled up.)

Politics.
I wish a serious Presidential candidate like Romney or Huntsman or Obama would put free trade on the table as a campaign issue.

Assuming the poll results cited here are reflective of the Tea Party, people in the media would listen up and give it an airing. If there should no more 'free government lunches,' per Tea Party and Libertarian ideals, there's no basis, either, to keep trade absolutely 'free.' Show me a place in the Constitution where it says otherwise!

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