A furor broke out last week after it was reported that the uniforms of U.S. Olympians would be manufactured in China. “They should take all the uniforms, put them in a big pile, and burn them,” said an apoplectic Sen. Harry Reid. The story tapped into the anger — and fear — that Americans feel about the loss of manufacturing to China. Seduced by government subsidies, cheap labor, lax regulations, and a rigged currency, U.S. industry has rushed to China in recent decades, with millions of American jobs lost. It is these fears, rather than the Olympic uniforms themselves, that triggered last week’s congressional uproar.
But Ralph Lauren berets aside, the larger trends show that the tide has turned, and it is China’s turn to worry. Many CEOs, including Dow Chemicals’ Andrew Liveris, have declared their intentions to bring manufacturing back to the United States. What is going to accelerate the trend isn’t, as people believe, the rising cost of Chinese labor or a rising yuan. The real threat to China comes from technology. Technical advances will soon lead to the same hollowing out of China’s manufacturing industry that they have to U.S industry over the past two decades.