Here at Riverside Green, we take our readers seriously, at least until they are unmasked as shibari addicts or serial fantasists. So I promptly went over and read the suggested article, which contains the following paragraph:
Given the abundance of facts about manufacturing’s strong position the US economy, why would anyone argue that it is even struggling, much less in decline? Other than ignorance or malevolence, I don’t have a good answer to that question.
Ah, but the writer does have a good answer to that question, and I’m happy to show you why.
We can start with his core point, quoted by totitan:
We are, right now, at the peak of industrial production in the US. The industrial production index peaked in December 2007, then dropped by 15% by the summer of 2009. It took five years to recover to a second peak in 2015. As the world economy dipped in 2015 and 2016, so too did US industrial production. We are back at a record level of industrial output. It’s worth noting that total US industrial production is more than twice what it was in 1979, when employment peaked. And yes, of course, that is adjusted for inflation.
Okay. that sounds like very good news. It’s even adjusted for inflation. It is not, however, adjusted for population. We now have 327 million people in this country, compared to the 225 million of 1979. Still, even when we adjust for population that is clearly more total industrial production per person than we had in 1979. This is great! Let’s return to the text.
Manufacturing employment, which all too many folks think is a good sign of the industry’s health, is about 1.5 million less than it was at the start of the Great Recession and about a third lower than at its peak month in 1979.
Since about 2000, manufacturing jobs held by non-college graduates have declined by almost 45%, while manufacturing jobs held by those with a college degree are up nearly 17%. In net, all the new jobs and almost all the replacement jobs in manufacturing are going to college graduates. That trend accelerated during the recessionn
Does this mean that modern manufacturing jobs require more education, or does it mean that factories are picking Gender Studies majors over high-school graduates to work on the line? Either way it’s bad news.
Geographically, there was very little relocation of manufacturing between rural and urban places since the start of the recession. But the longer trend is far more disruptive, with nearly seven times the manufacturing GDP growth in urban American than rural America since 2000. That trend has returned since 2009. This is unsurprising, since that is where the new workers manufacturing firms need are located.
Economists call this agglomeration, but it looks like urbanization to demographers. Since 2001, 60% of all manufacturing GDP growth has occurred in just 10 cities, the smallest of which is about 2.2 million people. More than one in four metropolitan areas actually lost manufacturing GDP during this period.
The simple truth is that US manufacturing is doing extremely well and is enjoying record levels of production. At the same time, the places factories are located and the people who work in them have gone through epic change. The big winners in this transformation are college graduates with technical degrees located in large urban places. This trend will continue for the remainder of the 21st Century.
The author of this piece, Michael Hicks, claims that only “ignorance and malevolence” would permit someone to claim that American manufacturing is in decline. Well, sir, allow me to display both of those qualities.
I am ignorant enough to think that manufacturing is primarily valuable as a means to employ the citizenry and offer them a chance at a better life. I don’t give a shit if Scrooge McDuck’s Fully Automated Widget Factories are producing more widgets than ever before, enabling Mr. McDuck to upgrade from a Gulfstream G450 to a G650. In fact, the only people who could possibly care about that are McDuck’s fellow members of the investor class.
I am also malevolent enough to have no interest in supporting or promoting a “manufacturing renaissance” that doesn’t employ anybody but urban techies. Nothing against urban techies — the automotive hobby, and the magazines that cover it, depend on urban techies to some extent — but you can’t build a country on the backs of a privileged group of robot tenders.
Allow me to suggest a “simple truth” that Mr. Hicks willfully overlooks: Millions of jobs have been sent overseas since President Clinton signed NAFTA into law and renewed China’s most-favored-nation status. These were not all great jobs. Some of them were really crummy and depressing. My first wife took a summer job at the Dirt Devil factory in Cleveland once, assembling vacuum cleaners on a line. She didn’t last very long. But if we’d had children at that point who needed to eat, both of us would have high-tailed it back there.
The American middle class as we know it today was built on factory labor. This is doubly true for black families, which have been devastated by the disappearance of high-paying factory work. We often hear a bunch of duckspeak from wanna-be Paul Krugmans about how much regular Americans benefit from being able to buy cheap Chinese goods. How often does anybody have the courage to draw the line between the disappearance of factory work and the catastrophic collapse of the black family in America? What has that cost us? Is it more than we saved by being able to buy cheaper toasters?
We are also told that the manufacturing jobs have been replaced by other work in the service, retail, and hospitality sectors. Anybody with two eyes can see that this is a complete lie. Even if there were enough McJobs to replace the factory labor that made the American Dream possible for so many people, the fact of the matter is that not everybody is suited to work in those professions. If we really cared about human dignity and quality of life, we would have automated McDonald’s well before we automated the assembly plants, because this country is chock fuckin’ full of 90-IQ types who can put Tab A into Slot B like nobody’s business but who are utterly helpless when confronted with something as difficult to operate as a McDonald’s fry station.
Meanwhile, China has risen to a sort of frightening prominence on the back of a labor-and-manufacturing-related economic boom. They build everything and anything. Some of it is even built well. We find ourselves surrounded by Chinese goods, because having something made in China is so shit-simple even Instagram hookers can do it. We didn’t just give away the manufacturing — we gave away the infrastructure that supports manufacturing, which makes everything infinitely harder. In order to make something from scratch in the United States now, you basically have to be Cameron Weiss and devote every waking moment of your life to building the machines that build the machines.
So yeah, maybe manufacturing in the United States is doing just great if you’re in the business of selling F-35s to Israel or if you’re the mega-wealthy owner of a fully-automated factory. But all of that is just as irrelevant to the everyday American as the price of an Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore would be. The fact is that we can’t operate a functioning national economy on the idea of everybody selling each other real estate, double-mocha lattes, and online advertising. Somebody has to make something. The “somebody” part is just as important as the “something”. Maybe more so. Call me ignorant, call me malevolent, but trust me: the real ignorance and malevolence won’t appear until all the jobs are gone. And then it will be, as the old man once said: solitary, poor, brutish, nasty, and short.