The mention of Thomas Edison may provoke thoughts of creative energy and invention, but his real contribution to America’s emergence as a world superpower stems from manufacturing. In 1892, he founded General Electric, which today is the last of the original industrial firms to remain listed on the Dow Jones Index. During its storied history, the company has manufactured just about everything from light bulbs to MRI machines.
Like many humungous organizations that are ultimately judged on their ability to generate cash, GE began exploring various creative ways to pump up profits. By the time the 2008 economic crash hit, they were the sixth largest bank in the US. They swapped engineering for financial sorcery, and it didn’t end well.
These days, economic growth is up, employment is up, but only a paltry 25% of Americans believe our economy is getting stronger. The reason is personal. Unless you are at the top of the food chain, your income hasn’t improved much. History teaches us that middle-income jobs are the key to recovery, and the majority of those come from manufacturing, not creative financing schemes.
In our most recent recession, 1.6 million manufacturing jobs vanished. Some are being brought home from Asia, but the real solution is clear. We need to quit juggling the books and just build something.