by Harry Moser, founder of The Reshoring Initiative.
The past few months have been full of publicity surrounding U.S. manufacturing and reshoring. With the increased interest in both, The Reshoring Initiative has been present in many prestigious media outlets including Forbes and MIT Technology Review. Most notably, I recently participated in an Economist debate, which highlighted the strong support of the Reshoring Initiative’s mission.
The online debate, which took place over nine days, pitted Columbian University Professor of Economics and Law Jagdish Bhaqawati against me. As a representative of reshoring efforts, I defended the motion, “Do multinational corporations have a duty to maintain a strong presence in their home countries,” while Professor Bhagawati debated against the motion. All arguments and reader participation was moderated by Tamzin Booth, Economist European business correspondent.
Despite the clear commitment of most Economist readers to globalization, I held a first-day lead with 58% of the vote. In my opening statement, I defined “strong presence” as investing, employing, manufacturing and sourcing at least in proportion to a company’s sales in the home country. Far too often, I have observed multinational corporations place excessive focus on the offshoring of manufacturing jobs. By deciding what to offshore based on labor rates, ex-works price or landed cost rather than on total cost of ownership, multinational corporations are making uninformed decisions. Preliminary data from users of the Reshoring Initiative’s free Total Cost of Ownership Estimator™ supports this conclusion. As much as 25% of what has been offshored would come back with higher profitability if the correct metrics were used. In reality, decisions are made that reduce the short and long-term return for the company, their shareholders and employees, as well as their home country.
But, as in any debate, a lead is never safe and the vote quickly swung in favor of Professor Bhagawati on days four thru seven. Professor Bhagawati maintained that home countries benefit no matter where the production or R&D is done because profits inevitably come back to the home country. However, he agreed that companies should reevaluate their decisions to offshore. It was refreshing to see that a devout globalization and Ricardian economics defender could not disagree with the base of the Reshoring Initiative’s mission.
I believe much of the late surge of support that ended up giving me the 54% victory can be attributed to the continual agreement on this point. With roughly 50,000 manufacturing jobs reshored since January 2010, the debate win reveals solidarity among manufacturers, employees, machine tool builders, distributors, trade and policy associations, progressive and fair trade groups, unions and Made in USA companies.
The majority of companies ignore 20% or more of the total cost when making sourcing decisions. When multinational corporations do not see past a low labor rate or direct price, they can incur a much higher total cost. It is imperative for companies to make better-informed investment and sourcing decision: offshore vs. home and long-term vs. short-term.
Special thanks to the Economist for allowing me to participate, Professor Bhagawati for his time and thoughtful arguments, and Tamzin Booth for her fair and thorough moderating. Also, thank you to all those who supported me in the debate.
A copy of the debate in its entirety is still available online.