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How can American manufacturing be reinvented to thrive in an era of globalization?


Abolish the Minimum Wage

And Slate readers' other compelling ideas for reinventing American manufacturing.

An employee prepares parts of automatic gearboxes.
An employee prepares parts of automatic gearboxes for Ford

Photo by Jean-Pierre Muller/AFP/Getty Images.

We’re nearing the halfway point of our Manufacturing Hive, for which we’ve asked readers to submit their ideas about reinventing the American economy. Here’s a look at the most interesting ideas you sent us so far.

Although it might not play well politically, jgorin22 suggests we remodel our education system after Germany’s. Not everyone wants or needs a college education, but America’s current system offers few alternatives for less academically inclined students. If the United States shifted to a German system, students interested in manufacturing or other trades could be targeted early and directed toward vocational schools instead of universities.

For Katie D, that plan wouldn’t go far enough. She insists that students should begin learning manufacturing skills in kindergarten and start working for pay in the second grade. Most of the money earned from this labor could be placed in a high-interest savings account for college or trade school. The rest could go toward Social Security, dramatically increasing the flow of money into the program.

But even if more Americans go into manufacturing as a trade, how can the country remain competitive in a global market? DuckBadger proposes a repeal of federal and state labor laws such as the minimum wage and workplace safety regulations in order to create more jobs and allow American manufacturers to spend less on overhead. To give manufacturers an even greater edge, Bob proposes massive tax breaks for worker-owned businesses, while an anonymous reader encourages the United States to place high tariffs on overseas goods in order to protect homegrown industries. Sandy also proposes increasing tariffs, linking them with the level of labor protection in other manufacturing countries. That way, the United States could promote humane labor, raise revenue, and protect homegrown industries simultaneously.

AndrewDover has a drastic plan for Social Security: Halve the Social Security employee tax and force the federal government to match 50 percent of employer and employee contributions. Snarfangle has an equally radical proposal, calling for Congress to replace minimum wage with a universal wage subsidy. It might not be politically expedient, but it could increase quality of life for laborers without negatively affecting industries.

The role of unions in American manufacturing looms large in readers’ submissions. Greg Pabich wants to eliminate them altogether and let the free market do its work; Los Grantos agrees but thinks businesses should overhaul the corporate pay structure to reduce the income gap between CEOs and laborers. Michael Rowe, on the other hand, calls for worldwide unionization to reduce competition and encourage cooperation. Somewhat less radically, Just an Idea proposes continuing the unions’ fight for better pay and regulations, allowing consumers to feel proud to buy American.

What should manufacturers actually make? One reader makes the case for boutique manufacturing, focusing on quality over quantity in order to make American goods the gold standard of the market. MrWright85 agrees about promoting local, automated manufacturing of high-tech goods in small plants scattered throughout the country. In the same vein, Elizabeth argues for a revival of cottage industries, allowing small manufacturers to produce quality artisanal goods for the mass market.

To NathanF, the problem with American manufacturing isn’t the products but the factories themselves: He proposes adapting factories to produce whatever good is popular on the market at a given time. And finally, Jay Urban makes a pitch for remanufacturing, requiring that durable goods be repaired within the United States with American-made parts.

Like these ideas? Have one of your own? Visit the Hive home page to vote for your favorite submission or to enter one of your own. Winners will be announced on Oct. 17.

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