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Who Will Make the Bullets?

January 12, 2010

We buy items from all over the world.  The global market has truly brought the price of goods down.  A quick look at products, such as televisions, shows this to be the case.  Ten years ago a 36 inch TV cost around $700, now a set with a quality not dreamed of then, is yours for $350 – about half the price.  If you judge by that alone, we receive better value for the products we buy.  What is the true cost?  Not to us individually, what does it cost us as a nation?

Of course, one has to look further back to see a time when televisions manufactures prospered in the United States, but at one time, they did.  There was a time, before World War II, most of the products we purchased where made here.  Having that ability gave us a national power few understood then and even fewer do now.  Oddly enough, the one man who understood it best lived in Japan.  His background was not in manufacturing though; Isoroku Yamamoto’s background was in Japan’s Imperial Navy.  Yamamoto was the commanding admiral that planned the attack on Pearl Harbor.  Yamamoto went as far as to publicly state war with America was ill-advised.  After his successful and stunning attack, Yamamoto is quoted as saying “I fear all we have done is awakened a sleeping giant and filled him with a terrible resolve.”

Yamamoto came to understand the manufacturing might of the United States while he studied at Harvard.  He understood that when America converted its peacetime industries to military production, no force on earth could withstand it.  He was right.  Almost all industry ended up manufacturing products to support the war effort, factories that made brass buttons converted to making ammunition.  Remember the television makers, they made walkie-talkies and radar units.  The auto industry made tanks and jeeps.  Aircraft companies turned to warplanes.  Even the food supply played a part, ever heard of “meatless Tuesday?”  It is the practice of giving up meat one day a week to feed the solders and sailors.

As we accept more globalization, keep this point in mind – each manufacturer we buy products from overseas, is a manufacturer we do not have here.  It is one more stab in the heart of our ability to manufacture products at all.  It is one less button company we can convert to make bullets in time of war.  While no right-minded person hopes for war, only a fool does not prepare for it.  The cost of giving up our industrial might is much higher than a job or some price point at the check out stand.  It can cost us our country and our future, if a war the size of World War II comes again.  Need proof, just look around – next time, who will make the bullets?

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4 comments

  1. Mike, while I see the argument in much of what you say, I cannot agree with you. Being back in college in this day and age, the subjects are FAR different, and globalization and international business are very important. 9th century economist Richard Cobden continually fought for free trade as the only way to unite people in the bonds of peace. He said, “Peace will come to earth when the people have more to do with each other and governments less. The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is—in extending our commercial relations—to have with them as little political connection as possible.”

    He was visionary…and he made sense. Think about it. If you go to a country and teach someone how to raise pigs and farm them, you certainly have created some good feelings. If you go further by buying their pork, they will truly like you. If you are the person who sells pig food to that pig farmer, you don’t want anything to happen to him. If you are in business, you do not want to kill your buyers or suppliers. You don’t see service station owners shooting the people who come to buy their produce.
    The positive outcomes don’t end with only a more stable world peace (not saying it would be free of conflict). The competition has lowered prices by forcing competitors to be more efficient to reduce their costs. This has resulted in more efficient use of global resources.
    If the U.S. tries to avoid this flattening of the world (the business playing field), as Thomas Friedman described it, they will just be left behind. It IS happening, WILL happen with or without the U.S, and the U.S will find itself as insignificant in the world scheme of things as Great Britian has found itself. Want proof? Go look at where the parts for a Harley Davidson motorcycle are made. China. If Harley Davidson doesn’t outsource the part manufacture, they can’t compete because the cost of manufacturing here is too high.

    An example of successful trading partners who make strange bedfellows in every other way would be China and Iran. They enjoy free trade and stay out of each other’s political business. China would not want to invade Iran…they need their oil. Iran wouldn’t want to do something to seriously piss off China, they want their goods and want to SELL their oil. As free trade increases between nations, governments will find they cannot paint whatever picture they want of foreign nations to their citizens. Citizens will be making their own opinions based on first hand knowledge of these people. Regardless of who we are or where we are from, human beings all want basically the same things.
    Do we need a military? Yes. There will always be the threat of a bully, but with global free trade, the bully won’t have nearly as much punch. I don’t think we should restrict free trade because of fear about who will make the bullets. I understand that you meant bullets to simply represent the war machine, but I think that this attitude is harmful to America. It reminds me of a person who has been deeply hurt in a relationship and because they see the danger of being hurt again, they refuse to open up to any future relationship because of the risk.

    America will never again be the huge, globally dominant nation that it once was…not because it is failing, but because so many other nations are rising up. We must learn to do business with these nations in a post-America-dominated world to remain significant and to keep our economy from utterly failing.


    • Suzie,

      You make a very strong argument. The problem with thinking like that is it assumes the best and does not plan for the worst. I have no problem with a profit motive behind finding the best price for goods. I am not suggesting the United States take an isolationist stance like we did at the end of World War I, I just think our ability to produce has value too. A value that lives in areas other than economics.

      One of the driving forces that lead Japan to war with America was a lack or raw material in Japan and our embargo of that material. We did that because we did not agree with the politics they chose to pursue in China and other places. You approach assumes a continual abundance of basic needs. When a nation is use to having them and suddenly does not, something will give. The question is whether of not we will be prepared to deal with it.

      I did not say a thing about restricting free trade, and I would like nothing better than there being a level playing field, I just don’t see how that is possible when a nation, like China, pays workers next to nothing and we demand a wage that is much higher. The real irony is you point to Iran and China as your example of free trade, two countries where the government is dictatorial in nature and freedom is an alien concept.


      • All good points, and reading back over my reply, I realized that I forgot one of my most important points. Free trade promotes specialization and leaves each nation able to do what it does best and for the least. It then can outsource much of the rest. If we make televisions here, they are more expensive because our labor is too high compared to the rest of the world. The solution used up to now to even the playing field was to tax imports. This creates trade barriers and problems with the relationships we have with neighbors. You might be surprised to learn that 70% of what the U.S exports are not GOODs, but intangibles.
        I am not trying to be blunt, but I got to go…kids are home!


      • Suzie,

        Looking at the reasons for war in economic terms gives a myopic view. While it is a strong motivation, it is only one in a complex mix. World War I, for instance did have its economic elements, but political pacts between the various nations turned a civil war into a much larger conflict. In the book Why Nations Go To War, John G. Stoessinger states the reasons as over optimism about the outcome, and misunderstanding of the enemy’s intentions. This is true for the first World War. Economics played a part for certain. It just was not a central driving force, but an enabler of it. It was the cost of maintaining standing armies that was of concern. They were not there for economic reasons but to maintain a balance of power. Armies grew to the point of either fighting or standing down. When the match of war was lit, the powder keg went off. Very similar to the situation that existed between the United States and Soviet Union. In the end, they went bankrupt try to keep up with our spending. In the case of World War I, build up lead to conflict.

        In both the Cold War and World War I, strong economies allowed for a build up of forces. Internationalism lead to mutual protection treaties for both sides. Looked at in this way, strong economies, not weak ones, lead to a build up and in the case of World War I, war itself. Going back to my original argument, no one sees into the future. Disease, famine, lack of natural resources and economic power (both preserving it and gaining it) are all reasons for starting a war. If tomorrow, we are the only country with clean drinking water, there will be a war over control of it. Economic models fail at that point, nations will fight for their survival at all costs. Granted this is a dark view, one I pray never comes about. I just think we need to maintain the ability to fight an all out war that requires industrial as well as military might. A better safe than sorry approach.



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