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Better Than Britian

May 2024
1min read

As a Briton who has spent a third of his lifetime in the United States, who has been in business in both the United States and Britain, and who has seen American manufacturing struggle in the 1980s at firsthand, I would like to add a simple thought to “Are We Really Going the Way of the British Empire?”

When living in Britain, I was painfully aware that—at least in the preThatcher era—the country was not even trying very hard to manufacture successfully. I came to the States in 1980 expecting to find that fullblooded capitalism would make attitudes and achievements quite different here. No such luck. Manufacturers wanted to make money—but not so much that they were willing to flush out the under-investment, wasteful overmanning, extravagant salaries, aversion to risk, and heavy health costs and so on that rendered American manufacturing incapable of withstanding foreign competition.

Look at the truly successful American manufacturer these days—and you will often find he is Japanese-owned and -led. Such ownership and leadership enables the Hondas and the Toyotas to make good profits with American managers and workers. The same is true in Britain. Meanwhile, domestic manufacturers in Detroit or Coventry languish.

Perhaps the underlying truth is that a managerial elite automatically indulges itself and—given free competition—is flushed away. This happened in Britain, and in the 1980s it happened here. If so, we must welcome the Japanese, Canadian, European, British, and other foreign transplants to the States. They will generate jobs and profits here, and produce competitive products for consumption here as well as abroad. They will do so not because they are geniuses but because they have to make their own way, unable to rest on laurels earned by previous generations of Fords, Manvilles, and whatnot. They will send very little home as dividends. And they will always have to contend with the rare up-and-coming U.S. firm, like the Nucor steel people.

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