Some say crises don’t so much alter the course of history as accelerate changes already underway. That’s certainly the case when it comes to the coronavirus pandemic and the offshoring of American jobs.
In recent years, businesses have been rethinking the way that overextended, overseas supply lines expose them to unacceptable risks, a reassessment that got a boost from President Trump’s reorientation of U.S. trade policy. A lemming-like desire for “efficiency” had caused many of them to move manufacturing over the past two decades to China, Vietnam, and Indonesia, among other places.
They did so to save on labor costs or to avoid environmental standards, but that wasn’t the whole story. Offshoring was a trend that morphed into a craze. Egged on by Wall Street analysts and management consultants, or simply swept up by the herd mentality of their peers, businesses came to see offshoring as something they were expected to do to serve the interests of shareholders. Many failed to weigh independently the long-term costs or meaningfully consider alternatives.
For business, this strategy paid off in the short term. Cheap labor meant higher profits. But for America, the effects were traumatic. The United States lost five million manufacturing jobs. That, in turn, devastated towns and contributed to the breakdown of families, an opioid epidemic, and despair.
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