April 7, 2013

THANKFULLY, IT'S A JOBLESS RECOVERY:

Myths of post-industrial America (Robert J. Samuelson, April 7, 2013, Washington Post)

On manufacturing, a huge gap separates public perceptions and economic realities, as Marc Levinson of the Congressional Research Service has shown in several reports.

For starters, manufacturing's decline is misunderstood. The truth is that output has continued to climb. In 2010, Levinson reports, U.S. manufacturing production of nearly $1.8 trillion was the largest in the world; it was slightly ahead of China's, about two-thirds higher than Japan's and nearly triple Germany's. China may now be No. 1, but the United States remains a manufacturing powerhouse. In 2011, near-record output was 72 percent more than in 1990 and six times greater than in 1950. Recall some American-made products: commercial jets, earth-moving equipment, gas turbines. (Output refers to "value added," which is the difference between the sector's purchased inputs and its final products.) [...]

[A]utomation improves the workplace. It replaces exhausting, dangerous or boring jobs. In his book "America's Assembly Line," historian David Nye quotes an early worker at a Ford plant on the demeaning regimentation of factory work: "Henry [Ford] has reduced the complexity of life to a definite number of jerks, twists, and turns. ... When the whistle blows [the worker] starts to jerk and when the whistle blows again he stops jerking." Many electronic assembly jobs outsourced to Asia today are similar: "The assembly line ran very fast," complained one worker for the electronics assembler Foxconn, "and after just one morning we all had blisters."

More important, greater factory efficiency raises living standards. Prices are held down; purchasing power expands. This has enabled Americans to spend more on education, health care, travel, recreation -- and much more. Because these activities typically don't require the huge energy inputs of heavy industry, society becomes less energy intensive. This is happening in all advanced nations; since 1973, manufacturing's share of Sweden's employment dropped from 28 percent to 13 percent.

Posted by at April 7, 2013 9:07 PM
  

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