Jennifer Delton

 

On her book The Industrialists: How the National Association of Manufacturers Shaped American Capitalism

Cover Interview of April 15, 2020

A close-up

I would urge the reader to look at the Reagan chapter first. Contrary to conventional wisdom, I suggest the Reagan era was a low point for NAM. During the 1980s, deindustrialization and a hostile takeover wave decimated NAM’s membership and hence its influence. While Reagan advocated cutting taxes and regulations, policies favored by NAM, he offered nothing to help the U.S. manufacturing sector or small manufacturers, which were NAM’s bread and butter. Instead, Reagan’s policies benefited the rising service and finance sectors to the detriment of manufacturing.

But I would also recommend the chapter “A Changing Workforce,” which examines how NAM embraced and helped operationalize the civil rights legislation of the 1960-70s, including affirmative action. Was it in NAM’s interests to do so? Yes, absolutely, but does that make it any less notable?

I had the most fun writing about the epic battles between NAM’s ultra-conservatives and its slightly less conservative “moderates,” who saw the practical benefit to industry of accepting labor unions (while still curbing their power) and lowering tariffs. One of the more moderate influences in the organization was an executive secretary named Vada Horsch, one of the few female characters in the story. A fervent internationalist, her interests and influence on NAM in the 1940s and 1950s is evident in the archives and it was fun to give voice to NAM staff members, many of whom were women, since so much of the scholarship is focused on NAM leaders, who were overwhelmingly male heads of corporations.

Finally, take a look at chapter 12, which features interviews with former NAM president Jerry Jasinowski, whose 1990s-era NAM helped U.S. manufacturers and factory workers adjust to just-in-time production and international supply chains, thus reviving productivity and American manufacturing.