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The Manufacturing Myth

Everyone knows that Americans can’t manufacture anything anymore, we just aren’t competitive on labor costs. In order to have the stuff we want, we have to send those manufacturing jobs overseas. Sure it destroys the working class but those people can learn to code or better yet get low paying service jobs at dollar stores selling stuff workers in China made. Progress! The free market at work!

It is pretty hard to get anything made in America, from electronics to clothing to just about everything else, all of it is made in China or some third world shithole full of child labor sweatshops. As a nation we are pretty much resigned to grumbling about everything being made in China while still buying stuff made in China.

Not to mention that China is a controlled economy with a billion people making low wages and living in cramped conditions most Americans would find intolerable.

But is that paradigm true? Can Americans really not compete with China and other Asian countries when it comes to manufacturing? I don’t think it really is, not on everything, and the big reason is that there is one thing that Americans make that is affordable and high quality:


America makes guns. Lots and lots and LOTS of guns. From “low end” stuff to super high end firearms costing multiple thousands of dollars, like Staccato 2011s that run from a couple grand to over three thousand for competition guns. There are guns for every price point and every budget.

This video helps demonstrate that as The Honest Outlaw tests a Bear Creek Arsenal AR-15 and finds it to be actually pretty decent.

Let me say clearly that BCA is not my first or fifth or tenth choice for a primary or back-up rifle. Thanks to my dealer discounts I am in a position to get higher end ARs and BCA does have something of a reputation for the occasional quality issue. Still, for the vast majority of AR owners it is probably more than adequate. Bear Creek makes their firearms in North Carolina and has something like 220 configurations and calibers in their line-up (see here).

On the other end of the spectrum you have outfits like Sons of Liberty Gunworks and Daniel Defense who make very expensive rifles for people who like to mock “Jus’ as Gud” poors. Between the two extremes are an enormous array of manufacturers from Palmetto State and Anderson to the big names like Ruger and Smith & Wesson and the smaller mid-tier places like Stag and Rock River. Of course you can also mix and match as the parts needed to make an AR are also widely available and made in the US from barrels to detent springs.

Pistols are the same, although I would caution that there are brands you should never, ever buy, most specifically Hi-Point and SCCY, both making absolute garbage. I refuse to carry either brand as an FFL. Right now you can buy all sorts of handguns for under $500 that are well made, reliable and accurate for the majority of shooters from places like Ruger, S&W and many others. The most popular handguns for a long time running are made by Glock in Austria but the rest of the industry has caught up to and I think surpassed Glock, and of course most serious shooters who own Glocks replace most of the Glock parts with after-market parts made in America.

You can probably tell, I am not much of a Glock fan.

Even cheaper guns made overseas are mostly made in Europe, like the Springfield line-up that is made in Croatia, and the garbage “tactical” shotguns made in Turkey. There doesn’t seem to be much of a market for guns made in China, other than ChiCom AKs or surplus SKSs. Even the AK market, once a near monopoly of former Warsaw Pact nations, now has a significant competitor in the domestic AK market thanks to Palmetto State Armory.

It is also worth noting that small arms manufacturing is governed and heavily regulated by both international treaties and American rules, most notably the International Traffic in Arms Regulations or ITAR. Technically if I was buying compete lowers and complete uppers, pushing the pins in and making a complete firearm, I would need to change my FFL from a Type 1 (Dealer in firearms other than destructive devices) to a Type 7 (Manufacturer of firearms other than destructive devices), and would also be governed in addition by ITAR as a “manufacturer”.

What this tells me is that Americans can indeed manufacture competitively, especially if our laws were designed to aid our manufacturing base like most nations instead of letting our companies try to compete with subsidized industries overseas. Can we make the sort of consumer goods on sale at Amazon Slime Days, cheap chink crap that will fall apart after a few uses? Maybe not but who the hell wants that stuff? We end up buying the same thing over and over because they fall apart. Clothing shrinks and the seams give out, shoes fall apart after six months, household goods break after a short time of usage. I am confident U.S. manufacturers could make higher priced but still competitive products that would last longer. After all, we can make guns and those are pretty complex. An AR has what, 200 pieces and parts counting all the springs and crap, and we can make those by the millions.

An economic populism that protects American manufacturing as a national security and quality of life issue would be a powerful political platform. Trump sort of talked about this but ended up getting distracted by personality squabbles, terrible personnel decisions and letting his daughter and son-in-law interfere with governance. The economy of a nation should work for the interests of the people of a nation, not just for the profit of corporations and shareholders. That is important but it shouldn’t completely overshadow the people who actually work in America. We would be far better off with more people making stuff than having everyone working at meaningless service economy jobs or selling cheaply made Chinese crap at dollar stores. As the gun industry shows us, we can do it if we can only find the political willpower to do so.


  1. Moe Gibbs

    Sure, we could return to being a manufacturing powerhouse, if not THE premier manufacturing leader of the entire world, and right quickly, too, I think. But it would take some pretty significant sacrifices on the part of a lot of Americans. Probably most of us.

    I am one of those who “learned to code” ages ago, earning a handful of STEM degrees in undergrad and grad right out of high school. Contrary to what Brandon and others think, not just anyone can “learn to code” and I sincerely doubt that Brandon himself has anywhere near the intellectual horsepower to wrangle an old-fashioned STEM degree. I’ve spent my entire career working in defense electronics, which, like arms manufacture, did not lose its all-America focus until fairly recently. My employer, a Big Three in defense, is now admitting non-citizen H1-Bs into the workforce, citing a paucity of native-born American applicants. But just ten years ago we had exactly zero, none, nil.

    When I started in my field during the Reagan defense boom, every single assembly, pc board and wire harness was made from scratch, in house, to very exacting military standards from America-sourced raw materials using American-made tools by native-born, English-speaking American citizens. Today, we buy replaceable commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) computer-on-a board assemblies from all over the world, which are essentially ticking timebombs, unrepairable when they break, often incompatible between manufacturing sources. They are obsoleted so quickly and often that the only viable approach is to buy as many of the things as we will ever possibly need at the start of a program, including a ponderous number of ‘spares’, which results in no cost savings to the customer (U.S. taxpayer) at all.

    To bring manufacturing back to these shores, Americans would have to accept a very sharp reduction in compensation, and, hence, a serious crimp in their luxurious lifestyles. With burger-flippers commanding $15 an hour, skilled wiremen and component assemblers would naturally demand $40 an hour or better. And no way is any commercial venture going to turn a profit if the guys and gals who assemble hand mixers and home security systems and flat-screen TVs pull down such wages here while chinese slave laborers are paid a fraction as much.

    Just like another moon mission, we could bring manufacturing back home, but only if we had literally no other choice. Who is going to be first to give up their $68,000 Beamer to commute in an old beater to work on the assembly line at a repatriated GE manufacturing plant? What “successful” childless working couple is going to downsize from their 3800 square foot McMansion to live in a modest tract home and raise a brood of White children with stay-at-home mom on a single blue collar income? The genie of entitlement and affluence is well and truly out of the bottle, and wrestling that bitch back inside would take some truly monumental effort.

    • Steve

      But it’s not the labor costs that are the problem. I, too, am multiple STEM, probably about the same age, based on your having started your career in the Reagan Admin, but within 3 years I got booted up into the C-Suites, and by the mid 90s began a career in consulting. Outsourcing was almost completely driven by legal costs — regulatory and liability, primarily. And secondarily by taxation. It takes a very large expenditure on green eye shades to come up with a legal way to make revenue equal expenses.

      As you probably can attest, there is a massive difference between an 80 IQ machine operator and a 95 IQ operator. Yes, some things got outsourced to Malaysia — basic screw-cutting operations and the like, but most of the high-tech (non-chip based) stuff went to places like Germany, with even higher labor cost, but without an out-of-control lawyer and bureaucrat parasitic class.

      If you want a mid-20th century manufacturing base, you have to roll back to an early 20th century government. If you can’t or won’t do that, game over.

    • Arthur Sido

      It wouldn’t work unless we did something to protect American industry, and it would be initially pretty painful but not as painful as having a nation of people who have no jobs skills doing bullshit jobs. I am a pretty smart guy but I am not someone who could code for a living.

      The rest of the comment reminds me of a post from last year,, where I was talking about a WW II sub, the USS Drum, and how we built battleships and submarines with parts all made in America and won a war on two fronts.

  2. Jeffrey Zoar

    American manufacturing, with a high standard of living, could have, would have worked, in a strictly isolationist America, since America is or was a country that did not need to import very much in terms of agriculture, energy, and raw materials. Liars and retards like to say that isolationism is a proven failure, and for most countries that is true, but for America it is not true. Isolationism works great for America, which is uniquely situated. The catch is, the people at the top don’t get as filthy rich on isolationism as they do on “globalism.” So the latter is what we get.

    • pyrrhus

      The American economy grew fastest under a high tariff wall, 30% on many things…free trade will devastate your working class and agriculture, and ultimately impoverish your country…

    • Arthur Sido

      The isolationism slur, whether for trade or the foreign policy, is the neocon/libertarian version of “racism”. It is just supposed to shut down the argument but it isn’t a valid argument when you really look at it.

  3. realwesterner

    Honest Outlaw is one of my favorite yootoobers…he seldom tries to be funny, doesn’t waste many words or much time, gives honest opinions, as per his ute oob name, and he stays on point. While I am not intimately familiar with every product he discusses, his opinions and observations are similar to my own experience in the main. America can certainly regain some of its former manufacturing base if America is willing. The question is if the administrative state would permit such rebirth, or if Americans’ efforts would come to naught, strangled by bureaucratic fiat.

  4. Locust Post

    Off subject, but there is a nasty cold-blooded shooting of a high-end doctor in Memphis at his office. Killer was apprehended within minutes but identity was withheld. Guess why? Terrible story.

  5. Stilicho

    More Gibbs has some valid points, but there are a few others that need to be addressed. You cannot depress American wages to be competitve with Chinese wages. Not going to happen absent a complete economic meltdown. What you can do is tax all Chinese exports to a level that makes domestic production more competitive. Is this “protectionist” ? Absolutely. That is the point. It is also a vital national security issue to avoid dependence of foreign markets, especially hostile foreign markets like China.
    You can also use technology and automation to reduce labor costs where possible. 10 good paying jobs are better than none.
    You can encourage consumers to buy American. Tough sell, but it is gaining steam in recent years.
    Defense industry manufacturing is again a national security issue. DOD can make American sourcing and production an ironclad requirement for its contracts.
    Stop immigration. It just depresses wages and enstupidates to country. Turning the US into Mexico to make it more competitve on labor costs doesn’t work and only destroys the US. But that is the chamber of commerce plan.
    Somehow Germany has remained a major manufacturer and exporter despite the same challenges.
    Fact is, the US could cut off all foreign trade and be a self-sufficient island. Now that wouldn’t be optimal, but it highlights the enormous potential we have to reinvigorate our industrial base.

  6. saoirse

    Capitalism, mercantilism, laissez faire, free market etc. are all elitist turd scams and always have been. They’re devices that hoodwink the serfs into believing that they can play along with their wealthy idols. Give the hoi polloi a whiff of fortune and they’ll throw their fellow whites under the bus, which is what they’ve been doing for ages.
    Read the National Socialist policies regarding capitalism and it’s detrimental effects on a racial nationalist economy and ask whether the people of this cuntry have the selfless discipline to adopt and preserve something even close.
    SPOILER: They don’t – and won’t until upwards of 75% perish with the chaos they helped create.
    Churning out guns is easy. Finding people who’ll pull the triggers when necessary is like searching for the grail!

  7. Tactless Wookie

    For many years it has befuddled me how we give away the store (nearly literally) via the nonsensical free trade deals.

    If not for (((them))) we’d still have a manufacturing base. We’d not have $15 an hour burger flippers. We’d have somewhat better paying manufacturing jobs. Just like before Clinton and NAFTA etc.

    I realize my comments are quite simplistic, but gee wizz. Stop leaving the cash register drawer open.

    • Arthur Sido

      Simplistic perhaps but they make sense, and that is something professional economists hate. This is what happens when industrial policy is made by people who have never worked a real job.

  8. PJ

    Everyone hates free trade, but what is the alternative?

    The ideal trade picture is unregulated trade with a high tariff wall – PROVIDED the tax income gained from the tariff wall is offset by a tax cut elsewhere (e.g. lower income taxes). We don’t need government larger than it already is. We don’t need more trade regulation, which ensures only the multinationals benefit. But yes, a tariff wall at least arguably can protect American manufacture (the devil is in the details).

    • Arthur Sido

      To be sure, there are lots of details to work out and it won’t happen absent some calamity, but what we have been told for decades about “free trade”, something that doesn’t exist, is all bullshit.

  9. John Wilder

    We certainly can, and are mainly cost-competitive with China. The downside is we offshored so much that the “know-how” to make certain things has been offshored as well.

    • Steve

      Very much this. In my early days of consulting, I helped companies take the “free shit” that Saudi Arabia was offering for them to build Saudi plants. But the strings were that all IP would become Saudi property after 10-20 years, depending on the strength of the bargaining position, and often ALL IP developed in the intervening years.

      Not a huge problem if your business plan was to outsource all your manufacturing to Saudi Arabia, but completely forecloses your option to bring things back to America.

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