An article this month (Moving Parts, Moving People, Keeping People) took me to a region of the country I had never visited before. I knew what to expect, however—a straight shot by interstate from the airport to my destination, chain hotels and restaurants all along the way, and congenial, helpful people practically anywhere I stopped. This country is equally accommodating in just about every place between her two shores.
July offers a holiday for thinking about our country. How well she will continue to prosper in the future has always been uncertain, but lately the matter seems a little more uncertain than usual. The question is bigger than manufacturing, but manufacturing is one place to begin. A nation that used to pride itself on production has lost some zeal for this work. Meanwhile, judging by the weakness in other sectors of the economy, it’s hard to see where that interest may have gone. If American manufacturing is to transform itself, where will the transformation come from? Or, if America is to find greater opportunities than what manufacturing provides, where will those opportunities be found?
The interstate offers a hint at the answer. We live in a time when democratic freedoms are not limited to the United States. However, what does remain distinctive about the United States is the freedom to roam. I can drive 3,000 miles from ocean to ocean without anyone asking to see my papers or demanding to know the reason for my trip.
Something like this freedom applies to our economy as well. A local business owner can relocate his shop to any other American town. An employee who persuades just one employer to hire him can start fresh in a new line of work without having to offer credentials. And most importantly, the innovator transfixed by a new idea can freely pursue that idea, with our laws and culture imposing no penalty worse than a shrug of incomprehension.
Dedicated people doing their jobs well every day are the ones who keep this country moving, but there’s more to the story than that. There are also the ones—maybe 10 percent of the people, maybe 1 percent—who are ready to see something different. These are the ones who spiral off in a new direction from time to time, and in so doing occasionally find a way to let the dedicated people work even more productively.
America, and American manufacturing, can provide ample space not just for the many but also for the few. So long as we are able to do this, we will find our way to a better future along whatever path it lies.