Economists are pleased at the latest export figures, which show American-made goods doing increasingly well in world markets. Instead of the negative growth that greeted the start of the Eighties, U.S. exports are booming, driving a steady upcurve on analysts' charts. What is especially encouraging is the fact that the big growth has come in manufactured goods: aircraft, up 99.4 percent since 1986; electrical machinery, up 133.1 percent; cars and trucks, up 61.4 percent; computers and office machines, up 69.5 percent; and small manufactured goods, up 145.9 percent.
The fall of the dollar's value against other currencies has played a big role, to be sure. Analysts point to an even bigger role for productivity increases on America's shop floors, an improvement many observers gave up on when "trade deficit" joined the lexicon.
U.S. factory productivity grew at an average 3.6 percent a year in the 1980s, making U.S. products cost-effective even as manufacturers struggled to boost quality to match the best imports. In the auto industry, shellacked by Japanese products on one end of the market and European products at the other end, factory efficiency rose about 4 percent a year. Part of that was due to "transplants" assembling Japanese cars, but part of it was due to hard lessons learned in Detroit. Many of those autos being shipped out to foreign ports are American brands, not cars turned out by transplants.