American manufacturing is in obvious crisis: the sector lost three million jobs between 2000 and 2003 as the American trade deficit shot to record highs. Manufacturers have increasingly decentralized productive responsibilities to armies of supplier firms, both domestically and abroad. Many have speculated as to whether or not manufacturing is even feasible in the United States, given the difficulties. Josh Whitford's book examines the issues behind this crisis, looking at the emergence of a 'new old economy', in which relationships between firms have become much more important. Whitford shows that discussion of this shift, in the media and in the academic literature, hits on the right issues - globalization, de-industrialization, and the outsourcing of production in marketized and in network relationships - but in an overly polarized way that obscures as much as it enlightens. Drawing on the results of extensive interviews conducted with manufacturers in the American Upper Midwest, Whitford shows that the range of possibilities is more complex and contingent than is usually recognised.
Highlighting heretofore unexamined elements of constraint, contradiction, and innovation that characterize contemporary network production models, Whitford shakes received understandings in economic and organizational sociology, comparative political economy, and economic geography to reveal ways in which the American economic development apparatus can be adjusted to better meet the challenges of a highly decentralized production regime.