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Something doesn’t smell right about foreign trade

January 31, 2010
By LARRY RINGLER Tribune Chronicle

From the Financial Times comes a story that China has grown into the world's second-largest fount of ''research knowledge'' behind the United States, and it is poised to take the top spot by 2020.

From Richard McCormack, the editor of Manufacturing & Technology News who spoke in Youngstown last week about the sorry state of manufacturing, comes word that the U.S. consumption of machine tools has declined 23 percent since 1998. China's consumption of lathes, drills and other machines considered vital to national security has surged 714 percent in the same period.

Ditto for printed circuit boards, photovoltaic cells used to make solar panels and, of course, vehicle production, where China is second to Japan, with the U.S. at third.

President Obama is planning to cut NASA's next moon expedition. China is increasing its attention on launching a manned moon shot, with the intent of exploiting that body's minerals and helium-3, unavailable on Earth but seen as an ideal fuel for nuclear fusion power plants.

Anyone see an ominous pattern?

China is making the stuff that will make the world of the coming century and beyond.

The U.S. isn't.

We're too busy buying Chinese-made refrigerators that keep our drinks cool so we can enjoy them while watching Chinese-made big screen TVs while wearing Chinese-made jeans and sneakers.

Wake up and smell the wait, let me check if it's grown in China coffee.

It's actually not China's fault. Or Japan's, or Thailand, or Germany.

It's our own fault for losing sight of what made us a world power.

It wasn't Hollywood, which by the way will be eclipsed someday by India's Bollywood.

It wasn't Wall Street, where our financial sharks someday will be eaten by bigger sharks from Hong Kong or Shanghai.

It wasn't Redmond, Wash., home of computer software giant Microsoft, or Cupertino, Calif., home of Apple Inc. and its latest so-precious gadget, the iPad.

For anyone who thinks those techno whizzes are the new U.S. Steel and General Motors Corp., ask yourself if some 12-year-old in China, India or any other developing country won't be the next Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, while our 12-year-olds want to be Lebron James or Jeff Spicoli (the Sean Penn burnout from "Fast Times at Ridgement High," for those too young to know).

In his "The Plight of American Manufacturing" article, McCormack cites Winwood Reade's 1872 book "The Martyrdom of Man," which describes a road on which carts by day brought the wealth of the world - silks, spices, marble and timber - into Rome. On their return trip out of Rome, the carts hauled piles of dung.

America's biggest export via ocean containers is waste paper - and that was hauled by a Chinese company, McCormack writes.

Something is starting to smell in America, and it's not coffee.



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