Making Things

Bridgeport Manufacturing, detail center panel
"Bridgeport Manufacturing, detail center panel" by Connecticut State Library on flickr

During the summer of 1979 I went to work as a fledgling machinist at a mid-sized machine shop in the San Francisco Bay Area.  4 dozen machinists, many of them old school craftsmen, turned out a mind boggling array of metal and plastic “things”.  Over the course of the next 3 years I finished what was an informal apprenticeship.  During this time I learned that the metal and plastic “things” were in fact the parts and pieces that helped make up some of what powered true economic greatness.

Please understand that I do not throw “greatness” around lightly.  You see, we made parts for the Space Shuttle program.  We made parts for nuclear power plants on land and at sea.  We made parts for aircraft, military and commercial.  We made parts for satellite communications.  It was a shop that made a relatively small contribution to what was the most mighty economic engine in the history of mankind.  U.S. manufacturing.

The fuel of this engine was an investment of massive amounts of U.S. tax dollars in research.  Research in space travel and nuclear weapons among other things.  Technology and innovation born from this research investment was freely spun off into the private sector and it created jobs.  Good jobs.  Millions of jobs.  My job.  Jobs that paid well, included benefits, pumped trillions of dollars back to the government in taxes,  sustained the middle class and made a claim to national greatness almost legitimate.

The very real war on middle class America entered the final stages with the Bush administration’s twin daggers of enabling offshoring of manufacturing jobs and the defunding of research.

I have been saying for a decade now that by abandoning our research investment we condemn manufacturing to a slow and painful death.  With the shutdown of the Space Shuttle program I fear the final nail has been driven into the coffin of U.S. manufacturing.  The once mighty engine sacrificed at the alter of pure, unadulterated randian greed.

Perhaps you don’t see it that way.

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