This week I delivered my monthly commentary on PBS television. Captain America is not over.
It’s been a tough time for America. Shares of Bank of America (NYSE: BAC) have been hammered. American Airlines teetered and tottered with bankruptcy rumors. Well, at least the movie “Captain America” sold a lot of tickets. But with China appearing to dominate world exports, is there any hope for America? The answer is yes. U.S. manufacturing exports have been steadily climbing for the past 40 years. We still produce about 20% of world manufacturing, not much different from 1980. Sure, China has boosted its market share but mostly by snatching business from Asian neighbors like Japan. Yes, the U.S. has lost factory jobs but so has nearly every country. That’s not failure, it’s productive technology. And, by the way, the first jobs we lost were the most dangerous — jobs where mine workers came back up to the surface with black-lung disease and steelworkers came off the shift with one less hand.
Think about the world’s top firms. Reach for an Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) iPhone, fly on a new Boeing (NYSE: BA) 787. If you have to, get an MRI in a GE scanner. Heck, even if you drive a Toyota (NYSE: TM) Corolla, you’re steering a car made in Kentucky or Indiana.
I’m not telling you the U.S. economy’s in good shape. The job market is lousy. But would you rather invest in Europe, where the Parthenon is crumbling and Germans must bail out all their neighbors? Japan, with a shrinking population? China, with its one-child policy? No country has been shielded from the great recession. Maybe “Captain America” has taken a few hits, but let’s reject that cartoonish view that we face an unstoppable decline.