This week, the White House unveiled a new initiative to bring back
manufacturing, including a new Assistant Secretary of Commerce for
manufacturing and a get-tough trade policy with China.
It was bound to happen. It always does. Sooner or later, often in the year
before an election, a President vows to bring manufacturing jobs back. It
doesn't matter whether the President is Republican or Democrat, liberal or
conservative. All modern presidents eventually become born-again manufacturers.
They start a new initiative, establish a new office. They rail against unfair
foreign traders. They promise to level the playing field. We've been here
It's true that America's manufacturing sector has lost jobs for 37 months in a
row now, a total loss of 2.7 million since July of 2000. So of course the White
House is nervous. An election is coming up. The President has to look like he's
taking action. And, yes, it's true that China is keeping its currency
artifically low in order to promote its exports.
But the fact is, America has been losing manufacturing work for decades. In the
1960s, manufacturing accounted for almost a third of all jobs in the American
economy. Now, it's about 16 percent. And nothing the President says or does is
going to change this fundamentally, because as long as we define manufacturing
jobs as basically assembly-line factory work, they're going to continue to
Go into a modern factory today and what do you see? A lot of numerically-
controlled machine tools and robots, and a few technicians sitting behind
computer consoles. The old-style assembly line factory worker is going the way
of the bank teller, telephone operator, and service-station attendant.
Blaming China or any other nation won't bring back most of these jobs. Nor will
a new office in the Commerce Department.
But there's a different way to think about manufacturing, and here we're doing
much better. Take a close look at any manufactured item -- a pen, a cup, a car,
a dress -- and see who's actually earning what portion of its purchase price.
Much of it goes to Americans, even if the factory that made it is located in
Asia. More and more of any item's value is going to researchers and designers,
engineers, entrepreneurs, marketers, advertisers, distributors, bankers,
lawyers, wholesalers, retailers. None of them is considered a manufacturing
worker, but they are the future of manufacturing.
The loss of blue-collar manufacturing jobs is a huge problem for America.
That's because many young people with only high school degrees no longer have
access to middle-class wages. But that problem, which has been growing for
years, won't be solved by an Assistant Secretary for Manufacturing or any get-
tough trade policy. To solve it we need good schools, ready access to technical
skills and community colleges, and companies that continuously retrain and
upgrade their workforce.
The White House's sudden love affair with manufacturing is a pre-election-year
gimmick that will go nowhere, have no effect, and be forgotten. In other words,
it's just like all those other promises to bring back manufacturing jobs, that
we've heard from every president for thirty years.
You need to be logged in to comment.
(If there's one thing we know about comment trolls, it's that they're lazy)