Examples of re-shoring are growing in the popular press and getting debated more and more in social media. MSNBC recently examined the case of Master Lock returning to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, after losing the low-wage advantages offered by offshoring to China.
Per usual, the main issue is cheap labor. However, reader comments on this article quickly broach concerns about effects of offshoring on national security. Before you know it comments turn to war and conflict. But most of the concern is about the negative pressure of low-wage countries on the U.S. standard of living.
There will always be another country to fill the void when China loses its advantage in labor cost. Robots and automation can balance the playing field and bring jobs back to the U.S. (CBS Report Finds Job Opportunities at Dow Linked to Robotics.)
Without manufacturing, we will lose our competitive strengths and President Obama has responded by committing $500 million to for an Advanced Manufacturing Partnership featuring $70 million for a National Robotics Initiative.
Some people will be spooked by the idea of robots, but China uses them, too. We are talking about a machine that uses the latest technology (such as machine vision) to improve quality and productivity. Robots don’t solve or cause social issues . . . we’d still be having this conversation even if robots did not exist because it all comes back to cheap labor.
Low wage countries treat their workers pretty much like robots (to put it kindly), but in America, we fought for a higher standard of living and better treatment of workers. President Obama is right in his belief we have to “out-innovate, out-educate and out-build” our rivals. And we need technology to do that (as well as a generation of workers with the knowledge and skill set to use it).
Nothing is easy in matters of national self-interest. Don’t get distracted by romantic notions of robots. See them for what they are – advanced automation. Those who embrace robotics will have a future selling, maintaining, operating and building them. There is nothing magical or mythic about them, although many people feel that way. (See “Robots Then and Now – From Magic to Legend and Beyond.”)