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Manufacturing Fetishists And The Worrying Class

 March 18, 2011 12:57 PM

Don Boudreaux highlights an excellent BBC article about the manufacturing fetish of the "Worrying Class":

"The Worrying Class in developed countries laments: "We don't make anything any more." They fear that, as more people find employment in services, their nation loses the ability to provide for itself and gives up the "good jobs" which sustain the middle class. 

They obsess about exports and trade imbalances while making a fetish of manufacturing and the blessings it brings to their country. But a quick look at the data shows that the developed world actually makes a great deal of stuff. The United States alone produces roughly 20% of all the world's manufactured goods. We may not make many toys or cell phones any more, but we do make most of the world's artificial knees and hips, medical scanners and jet aircraft. Those sound like good jobs to me.

Manufacturing fetishists also ignore the fact that many factory jobs were actually not very good jobs at all. Those jobs may have offered a fairly good wage for a low-skilled position, but they were dull, dirty, sometimes dangerous and had very little chance for advancement. The service jobs the worriers dismiss as "hamburger flipping" actually offer better wages, better working conditions and much greater opportunity than assembly line work.

I wonder how many of the worriers want their children to grow up to tighten bolts in a factory instead of going to university and getting a job in the service sector? The worrier's core error is the idea that manufacturing makes "real wealth" while service jobs only move things around. This is simply wrong. There's nothing less real about service jobs. Doctors, accountants and personal trainers create value for their customers just like auto workers do."

MP: We also need to update our outdated views about manufacturing jobs in an Information Age.  When many people think of manufacturing jobs, they think of Rust-belt factory jobs in the steel or auto industry that were common in the Machine Age.  But when the Information Age started in 1971 with the commercial introduction of the microchip, that all changed.  For example, here are some of the largest U.S. manufacturers, based on sales in 2010: Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Microsoft, Dell, Apple, Intel, Sun, Texas Instruments, and ADM.  Manufacturing today has gone high-tech. 

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