American Experience: Henry Ford
Deindustrialization has been a disaster for America.
Fifty years ago, we had a country where a young man of any background could find a decent factory job.
A 21-year-old man could expect to have a wholesome career and would be able to earn his keep by laboring every day for a living wage. Today, the average 21-year-old is leaving college with an unimpressive education and a mountain of loan debt. He can probably afford a bunch of foreign-made junk but he’ll have a tough time finding the dignity and stability that comes from a solid blue collar job.
This new, depressing 21st Century reality was imposed on him by a political establishment that cares more about corporate profit growth than the American worker. The Free Trade deals that both parties began passing under President Clinton and continue to shove down our throats have made it exceptionally easy and profitable for companies to move their factories overseas.
Unless we force Washington to change our country’s trade policies, we are living through the sad end of the American industrial era. The educational documentary “American Experience: Henry Ford” takes us back to the beginning to show how a combination of ingenuity and hard work made us a modern industrial superpower.
At the turn of the 20th Century, Henry Ford was the uneducated son of a Michigan farmer with a love of machines.
In 1908, he brought automobiles to the middle class by introducing the $825 Model T. In 1913, Ford changed the world again by turning his car factories into highly efficient assembly lines.
The problem with assembly lines is that the work is tedious and dehumanizing. There was a huge problem of labor unhappiness and high turnover.
In 1914, Henry Ford came up with perhaps his most world-changing invention — the $5 day.
By suddenly doubling every Ford workers’ wages, Henry Ford essentially founded 20th Century America. The work was still unpleasant, but the pay was so terrific that a responsible man would stay there for life. And by paying his workers more than a subsistence wage, Ford turned his laborers into car customers. He had invented the blue collar middle class. That, as much anything, is what changed the United States into the greatest country in the world.
Ford was not a fan of the modern corporation. He hated the fact that shareholders who did none of the work received most of the profits. So, in 1919, Ford bought out all the other stockholders and took back complete control of his company.
Now, instead of giving away Ford Motor Company’s profits in dividends, he invested in the company’s future by building the giant and wildly ambitious River Rouge auto plant in Dearborn, Michigan. River Rouge was more like an industrial city than a factory. Instead of making the 1% richer, Henry Ford gave 100,000 more people steady jobs.
In 2016, we desperately need a leader who cares more about the working class than the bottom line of corporate political donors. We need a leader who is going to rip up free trade agreements and slap a prohibitive tariff on imported goods. We need a President who will promote a tax plan that punishes companies that have factories overseas and rewards companies that build new plants at home. Please consider supporting Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump.