Thursday, April 5, 2012

More On Manufacturing

Many people think manufacturing, as an industry, is in trouble in America.

Is a drop from 26% of the world’s output to 20% over the last 40 years a problem?

… Real value added in manufacturing, the most precise measure of its contribution to the economy, has grown by more than two thirds since its heyday in 1979 …

How is that possible? Do the math: it works if global production is up by 117%.

But, that must mean we’re doing terrible, right? Not so. Do the math: if world production not counting China is up by about 2/3, and China goes from 1% of a smaller pie to 19% of a much bigger one, then America’s manufacturing has been growing … about as fast as the rest of the world.

And, better than Germany (and Japan over the last 20 years):

Here’s a cautionary tale:

Remember agriculture? In the 1960s, plant scientists at the University of California, Davis, developed an oblong tomato that ripened uniformly, and its engineers developed a machine to harvest it with one pass through the fields. By the 1970s the number of workers hired for the tomato harvest in California had fallen by 90 percent.

In the book “Promise Unfulfilled,” Philip Martin, an economist at the university, says that in 1979 the worker advocacy group California Rural Legal Assistance sued the university for using public money on research that helped agribusiness at the expense of farm workers. And in 1980, Jimmy Carter’s agriculture secretary, Bob Bergland, declared that the government wouldn’t finance any more projects aimed at replacing “an adequate and willing work force with machines.”

It’s hard to say that workers won this battle, however. After Mr. Bergland pulled the plug, research on agricultural mechanization came to a near-halt. Yet farm work today remains probably the worst paid, most grueling job in the United States.

Read the whole thing, entitled “The Promise of Today’s Factory Jobs” in the April 4 issue of The New York Times.

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