Invented in the U.S.A
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Hi, my name is Dirk and I'm a realitytvaholic. I'll watch little-people throw pumpkins from trebuchets (there's some irony in that, don't you think?); nannies whip tyrannical tots and their parents into shape; friends make over each other's home using materials only a homeless person could love; 20-somethings travel the United States for months in a custom tour bus, for free, visiting all the cool spots and yet still finding reasons to complain the entire way; I will even watch dueling Japanese chefs whip together a five-course meal using nothing but octopus suckers, squid ink and strawberries. One of the latest reality shows has me questioning what all the offshoring fuss is about.
The premise behind ABC's "American Inventor" is simple: Let a bunch of wanna-be inventors demonstrate their "next great invention" to a panel of three self-made millionaire inventors, who will whittle the field down to one contestant. That person will receive a million dollars to spend on getting his or her invention polished and to market.
From the ridiculous to the sublime, they're all there, including a flatulence filter; a doll that speaks English, Spanish and Swahili; a new type of car seat for infants; and a combination toilet paper/hand-cleanser dispenser (makes sense to me). Regardless of how goofy or ingenious each invention, the inventors all have one trait in common: a complete and utter belief in what they're doing. They are absolutely (to the point of collapsing to the floor in tears) passionate over what they've poured their heart and tens of thousands of dollars into. And that's what makes the show, if you ignore the schmaltz, inspiring.
We get so uptight about "giving jobs away" to other countries. It's as if we believe that all we do is build stuff--the same stuff we've always built--and that if someone else starts building that stuff, we're doomed. We completely ignore that we're a nation of inventors. We're a nation of tinkerers, modelers and do-it-yourselfers who would rather McGyver a broken thermostat using duct tape, a mayonnaise lid and a toothpick than go to Home Depot to buy a new one. Who cares if the fix doesn't last; I did it myself!
In fact, we're so busy inventing new stuff that for the past six years the U.S. Patent Office has issued an average of 85,000 utility patents (any nonobvious process, machine or article of manufacture) per year to U.S. inventors. That's about one invention every six seconds. The vast majority of those items that make it off the drawing board will be developed, prototyped, tested and, at least initially, manufactured in the United States.
We hear cries of "we're losing jobs," and it's true. In some industry segments people are losing jobs, and that certainly isn't any fun for them. However, at the same time, with each new invention, other segments of U.S. industry are growing. New inventions take research and development, and marketing personnel. And guess what--the top-10 U.S. college majors are all in engineering, marketing and finance, with accounting being No. 1.
Also consider this: Offshoring, by some accounts, began in the '80s. But U.S. unemployment has dropped from 10.5 percent in 1983 to 4.7 percent today, with intermittent peaks of 7.2 percent in 1992 and 6.2 percent in 2003. From the time offshoring "began" until now, we've seen a downward, not upward, trend in unemployment. During the same period of time, the number of patents issued each year doubled.
So is offshoring the end of the world? I don't believe it is. Our strength is not that we make stuff; our strength is that we create it.