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Why America can 'make stuff' again – just not the old stuff

Obama and GOP candidates like Romney and Santorum compete in Rust Belt states like Michigan by promising a return to the heyday of manufacturing. They must instead focus on America's unique receptivity to new ideas for business.

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Astro Manufacturing & Design operator Aloysius Rosipko checks finished parts. The company in Eastlake, Ohio, cannot find enough skilled workers, despite pay as high as $30 an hour.

Aaron Josefczyk/REUTERS

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A certain nostalgia has crept into the American presidential campaign. Let’s hope it is not the kind that turns the clock back.

Both President Obama and his GOP rivals have begun to compete in key Rust Belt states like Michigan and Ohio by promising a return to the days when manufacturing drove the economy.

As Mr. Obama put it, the aim is to “create opportunities for hardworking Americans to start making stuff again.” On the GOP side, Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney, and Newt Gringrich have rolled out proposals to revive the kind of factory jobs that were once a ticket to the middle class.

Their ideas are certainly worthy of a debate on the level of taxes, regulations, and incentives that would allow business to produce more things. Obama, for example, wants to lower the corporate tax rate for manufacturers even more than he does for other businesses.

Even pinning down a definition of manufacturing would be helpful. Otherwise lobbyists for industries from hair salons to app developers might try to fit into this category of industry in order to receive government largess.

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