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Is America Falling Off the Flat Earth?
A recent USA Today article pointed out that 59% of the parts content of the “US” General Motors Chevrolet HHR is not made in the United States or Canada (revealingly, the US government’s reporting system does not distinguish between the two countries) and, furthermore, is assembled in Mexico. In contrast, 85% of the parts content of the “Japanese” Toyota Sienna is made in the United States or Canada, and it is assembled in Indiana. The question is, Which is the American car? General Motors spokesperson Greg Martin helps to answer that question: “We’re a global car company,” he explains, “that happens to be based in the United States.” The world’s borders are becoming increasingly indistinct. Several years ago when traveling in Peru and visiting with the owner of a small kiosk, I asked whether the gentleman had ever been to the United States. “No,” he replied, “only to Miami!”
In the case of most large US employers, it is quite probable that a substantial majority of their shares are owned by institutional investors, and the primary, if not sole, interest of that set of shareholders is financial return—preferably near-term financial return—and certainly not the matter of preserving jobs. In fact, announcements of job layoffs in times of prosperity are almost always greeted favorably on Wall Street. Ironically, the institutional investors who own those companies often are fiduciaries for the pension funds of American workers—workers who, for their own part, have seldom displayed any great reluctance to purchase foreign-made cars, television sets, and DVD players if they thought doing so was in their immediate interest as consumers. Perhaps one should not be surprised by this proclivity, at least when it comes to cars: US-based Consumer Reports identifies only one traditional US brand in its top dozen automobiles as ranked by reliability.
Few would disagree with the observation that most large US firms are becoming global enterprises. A more recent and less noticed trend is that many US universities are following suit. It is well known that universities often have one or two foreign affiliations, but this practice is now expanding to the point where some institutions have numerous locations abroad. Thus, universities are also gradually losing their national identity. Not atypically, the University of Chicago states, “We educate the next generation of the world’s leaders, not just United States leadership,” and a few years ago, 260-year-old Princeton University changed its motto from “In the Nation’s Service” to “In the Nation’s Service and in the Service of All Nations.”