Promised Land and Made in America

PROMISED LAND,2012, Focus Features

2012, Focus Features

One of the recurring elements of the movie Promised Land (2012) is the idea of “Made in America.”

The main character (played by Matt Damon) is mocked by his business partner at one point for wearing his old beat-up boots and refusing to buy new ones.  He contends that he likes to wear them because they were made in America.  The obvious corollary is that new boots would NOT be made in America.  Separately, there is a gripping revelation that what motivates Damon’s character was the closure of a major manufacturing facility operated by Caterpillar in Davenport, Iowa (by the way, Caterpillar did announce the closure of its Davenport plant in 1987).

Also, I noted in a prior post that there is a recurring joke about an American-made car from the 1980s that is unreliable and serves as a comic symbol of the stuttering success of the energy industry throughout the movie.

That car together with the Caterpillar plant closure and old boots forge a statement about the decline of American manufacturing.  In parallel, the movie makes several comments about the national security benefits of producing domestic natural gas.

In some ways, the movie seems to be saying that natural gas is an antidote to the decline of American manufacturing. The natural gas itself is “made” in America (well, extracted in America, anyway).  And while it goes unstated, the movie seems to plant the notion that with more gas will come a rebirth of Americanism and manufacturing.

The interesting thing about this theme is that it actually seems to be happening in the United States.  Many facilities that manufacture high-value chemicals (such as fertilizers) went offshore a decade ago, but have declared plans to return so that they can use the cheap natural gas as a feedstock. Many billions of dollars of new investments in manufacturing capacity have been announced, and many of those press releases offer some credit to domestic natural gas as a motivating factor.  And, the productivity, employment and economic data for manufacturing are on the rebound from their abyss during the early 2000s.

So maybe this movie is really a silent anthem in support of US manufacturing?

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