I wanted to draw your attention to an article by James Clad in The National Interest striving to make a case for “American-based supply chains”:
The drive for efficiency initially took shape in the time-and-motion productivity studies of the late Forties. By the 1980s, it had led to the tyranny of “just-in-time” inventory management. Now, under pandemic conditions, the resulting supply chains have been stretched to their breaking point. Does a simple resumption of a tireless pursuit of cheap/cheaper/cheapest really offer the best hope for a durable recovery?
If reducing consumers’ retail costs has become the all-defining metric, then the maintenance of product and service quality has taken secondary importance in our manufacturing economy. Post-pandemic vulnerabilities have become so apparent in critical supply chains that we cannot evade a comprehensive re-think.
I’m not particularly sanguine about “American-based supply chains” but I think it’s a practical necessity that we draw our supply chains, particularly for strategically important materials, closer to home. This, for example, is unconscionable:
For over fifteen years, China has made mining and mineral processing a strategic priority; meanwhile, a broken U.S. mining regime has crippled a once-dominant industry. The figures say it all: U.S. mineral import reliance has more than doubled over the past twenty-five years. China now controls the supply of twenty-three of thirty-five minerals deemed “critical” by the U.S. departments of defense and interior.
These minerals—cobalt, graphite, lithium and various rare earths—comprise the building blocks of renewable energy technology. Recent World Bank analysis shows how demand for minerals essential to wind and solar power (as well as for lithium-ion batteries and electric vehicles) will increase by at least 500 percent by midcentury. Our national decarbonization effort, as well as more global ambitions, depend on a global production ramp-up of key minerals over which China has asserted monopoly control.
and not only eminently doable but should be able to draw bipartisan support. Cobalt is one thing but rare earths another. Not too long ago the U. S. was the world’s greatest producer of rare earth elements. That has changed not because we no longer have any (everybody has them) but because they’re dirty and an ill-considered environmental policy has driven them to China where they are tidily out of sight. They’re not any cleaner or more efficient for being there but they have removed to a place where they are beyond our ability to control or reform.