Will millions of dollars in political ads actually create new jobs?

Mon, 12/03/2012

Scott Paul: Will millions of dollars in political ads actually create new jobs?
December 01, 2012 5:30 am  •  SCOTT PAUL | executive director, Alliance for American Manufacturing

The polls are long closed and the votes are counted. An election-weary country has turned its attention to the holidays, happy that political ads have disappeared from the airwaves.

But the beat in Washington goes on. Politicians spent a substantial amount of money winning new seats and defending old ones this cycle. So after the most expensive election in American history, I’ve just got to ask: What did all of that money go to?

It went to ads. Ads about jobs.

With images of America’s factory floors providing a nearly constant backdrop, political advertising about creating jobs, addressing outsourcing to foreign competitors, and cracking down on China dominated television sets during Election 2012 — a reflection of the public’s legitimate concerns about the health of the economy.

These ads played everywhere. In Wisconsin, voters saw more than $7 million worth of ads discussing job growth and nearly $2 million spent on ads focusing on trade with China.

And nationwide, the presidential contest’s total bill for advertising on these issues alone came to more than $700 million.

That’s quite a sum. And the fact that the campaigns spent so much time and money on these issues suggests that they knew what voters know: that we need a jobs plan, one focused on making things in America.

In the last decade, we’ve lost more than 5 million manufacturing jobs to overseas competitors, particularly China. Simultaneously, our trade deficit with that country has grown. The deficit with China for September 2012 was $29.1 billion — the second-highest monthly deficit yet recorded. For the whole of 2011, in fact, our trade deficit with China came to a record $295 billion, and we’re on track to exceed that number in 2012.

America’s historic strength — its manufacturing sector — isn’t easily replaced. America makes things. Manufacturing makes up about 12 percent of our gross domestic product. It also accounts for nearly 75 percent of our research and development, two-thirds of our exports of goods and services and nearly 12 million good-paying jobs. This industrial capacity is unwisely conceded.

So here’s another question worth asking: Instead of continuing to forfeit a crucial sector of our economy to a global competitor, what is Washington going to do about it?

That remains to be seen. Fortunately, there are plenty of steps we can take to level the playing field for America’s businesses and workers:

• Give American businesses new tools to counter China’s currency manipulation, industrial subsidies, intellectual property theft and barriers to market access. Get tough on trade cheats.

• Apply “buy America” provisions to all federal spending so domestic firms get the first shot at procurement contracts. If American businesses are capable and competitive, this one is a no-brainer.

• Condition federal loan guarantees for energy projects on the use of domestic supply chains for construction. The recent boom in American energy production can and should be a vehicle to put more homegrown firms to work.

• Dedicate more federal education funding for technical skills programs to address looming worker shortages in the manufacturing sector. Make sure we’ve got a class of engineers and tradesmen to fuel the next surge of industrial innovation in this country.

• Ensure the benefits of tax reform go to companies making things here in America, not to Wall Street banks or retailers who don’t really face global competition.

Or in short: We must establish a national manufacturing policy to restore America’s manufacturing base and the good jobs that come with it.

There is reason to believe the sector can make a comeback. The rescue of the auto industry worked, talk of reshoring is on the rise and the economy has added 500,000 manufacturing jobs since 2010.

But we shouldn’t stop now. The political class had the wisdom to highlight these issues on the campaign trail. Now, Washington needs to follow through on its promises to fight for American jobs and hold trading partners like China accountable when they cheat on their agreements.

They talked the talk. Now let’s see them walk the walk. To Washington, I say: America is watching. So don’t allow the opportunity to revitalize American manufacturing to go to waste.

Scott Paul is executive director of the Alliance for American Manufacturing.

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