October 11, 2013


The Perils of Premature Deindustrialization (Dani Rodrik, Oct. 11, 2013, Project Syndicate)

In the United States, manufacturing employed less than 3% of the labor force in the early nineteenth century. After reaching 25-27% in the middle third of the twentieth century, deindustrialization set in, with manufacturing absorbing less than 10% of the labor force in recent years. [...]

Only a few developing countries, typically in East Asia, have been able to emulate this pattern. Thanks to export markets, South Korea industrialized exceptionally rapidly. With manufacturing's share of employment rising from the low single digits in the 1950's to a high of 28% in 1989 (it has since fallen by ten percentage points), South Korea underwent in three decades a transformation that took a century or longer in the early industrializers.

But the developing world's pattern of industrialization has been different. Not only has the process been slow, but deindustrialization has begun to set in much sooner.

Consider Brazil and India, two emerging economies that have done comparatively well in the last decade or so. In Brazil, manufacturing's share of employment barely budged from 1950 to 1980, rising from 12% to 15%. Since the late 1980's, Brazil has begun to deindustrialize, a process which recent growth has done little to stop or reverse. India presents an even more striking case: Manufacturing employment there peaked at a meager 13% in 2002, and has since trended down.

It is not clear why developing countries are deindustrializing so early in their growth trajectories. One obvious culprit may be globalization and economic openness, which have made it difficult for countries like Brazil and India to compete with East Asia's manufacturing superstars. But global competition cannot be the main story. Indeed, what is striking is that even East Asian countries are subject to early-onset deindustrialization.
CommentsConsider China. In view of its status as the world's manufacturing powerhouse, it is surprising to discover that manufacturing's share of employment is not only low, but seems to have been declining for some time. While Chinese statistics are problematic, it appears that manufacturing employment peaked at around 15% in the mid-1990's, generally remaining below that level since.

China is a very large country, of course, with much of its workforce still in rural areas. But most migrant workers now find jobs in services rather than in factories. Similarly, it is extremely unlikely that the new crop of manufacturing exporters, such as Vietnam and Cambodia, will ever reach the levels of industrialization attained by the early industrializers, such as Britain and Germany.

An immediate consequence is that developing countries are turning into service economies at substantially lower levels of income. When the US, Britain, Germany, and Sweden began to deindustrialize, their per capita incomes had reached $9,000-11,000 (at 1990 prices). In developing countries, by contrast, manufacturing has begun to shrink while per capita incomes have been a fraction of that level: Brazil's deindustrialization began at $5,000, China's at $3,000, and India's at $2,000.

Posted by at October 11, 2013 1:18 PM

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