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Can America Compete?

By Robert Lawrence

An examination of the performance of U.S. manufacturing in historical and global perspective indicates that, contrary to recent fears, international trade competition has not induced the deindustrialization of America. During the 1970s the U.S. manufacturing sector fared relatively well compared to its counterparts in other industrual countries and its own post-war track record. Most of its problems in the early 1980s are linked to domestic recession and the strong U.S. dollar. A number of implicit assumptions in the current discussion about U.S. industrial performance are shown in this book to be inappropriate—changes in international trade are not the major reason for the declining share of manufacturing in U.S. employment: even though foreign productive capabilities are catching up with those of the United States, the U.S. comparative advantage in high-technology products has increased. The author looks at these and other issues and seeks to clarify some common misperceptions about U.S. manufacturing. He examines long-term trends and changes since 1973 in U.S. manufacturing—employment, capital formation, research and development expenditures, and output. He looks closely at manufacturing trade flows and their major determinants and at the role of trade in the U.S. manufacturing sector. The last part of the book addresses policy options for the United States, including laissez-faire, matching foreign subsidies, and new industrial policies. Changes in U.S. policies are suggested that might facilitate efficient structural trade adjustment, improve trade policy, and compensate for market failures.

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