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Factories Won't Bring Back the American Dream

During a phone call shortly after the November election, Apple Inc.'s chief executive officer, Tim Cook, got an earful from Donald Trump on the president-elect's pet economic subject: factories.

Factories Won't Bring Back the American Dream

He prodded Cook to manufacture his iPhones and other gear at home rather than outsource them to China. "One of the things that will be a real achievement for me is when I get Apple to build a big plant in the United States, or many big plants," Trump said he told Cook.

That sums up the economic vision of the Trump administration. The president and his advisers are convinced more factories can cure the trade deficits, lackluster growth, and (supposed) joblessness plaguing the U.S. economy. Trump has vowed to lure back plants that departed for cheaper locales such as China or Mexico and sanction companies that dare to leave. The result, he claims, will be investments that revitalize down-on-their-luck communities and American economic vitality. "We will bring back our jobs," he pledged in his inauguration speech. "We will bring back our dreams."

The president, though, is plain wrong. Factories won't restore the American dream. Thatís because they donít contribute as much to the economy as they once did, despite all the fuss politicians make over them. Chasing them with pro-factory policies will not only fail to bring the benefits Trump has promised but could also hurt the very middle-class families theyíre designed to help.

A die-hard conviction remains among many Americans that the more an economy manufactures, the stronger it is. Some workers feel that making steel or cars is more respectable than stacking shelves at a Gap, and the Trump administration readily agrees. Calling steel "critical to both our economy and our military," the president signed an executive order in late April that in all likelihood will lead to curbs on imports to protect U.S. mills. Peter Navarro, one of Trumpís key economic advisers, argues that bringing factories back from foreign countries will shore up the nationís growth and security. ďOne of the goals of the Trump administration is to reclaim all of the supply-chain and manufacturing capability that would otherwise exist if the playing field were level,Ē he recently said.

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