Fast food workers: they're really working in manufacturing!

The reason people value manufacturing is because they are solid, blue collar, union jobs. Unions hate that the manufacturing sector is in decline, and labor still has influence.

But yeah, nobody should care. Wage rates are what’s important. And non-union manufacturing jobs, by and large, tend to suck. So we are losing a bunch of inefficient jobs paying semi-skilled labor $75K/yr because they’ve worked at the same job for 30 years and a bunch of near-minimum wage assembly jobs. In exchange, we get a medley of all kinds of jobs, as “service” can include just about anything.

Um, I don’t think the only people upset about manufacturing job loss are union members, Ben.

That’s nonsense. Most manufacturing jobs aren’t disappearing because they’re being moved overseas. They’re disappearing because domestic production is becoming more efficient and those jobs are becoming unnecessary. Just as we no longer need a nation of farmers to grow enough food to support the American citizenry, we no longer need a nation of factory workers to provide us all with appliances. The United States produces almost four times as much in the way of manufactured goods as it did fifty years ago, while the percentage of workers in manufacturing has dropped by half. (Source: http://www.cals.ncsu.edu/agcomm/writing/newsrls/12-10-02c.htm).

The jobs of the future are creative and aesthetic. They rely on the ability to identify needs and invent solutions to them, not on rote mechanical skills. Making stuff is cheap. Figuring out what to make is hard. And I’m baffled by those who scorn a service-oriented future. Is it somehow more noble to work twelve-hour shifts with dangerous heavy equipment than it is to be a yoga instructor? I know which life I’d pick for my kids.

Are you sure, Kyle? I thought it was a combination of productivity and imports.

And ketchup is a vegetable! Republicans rock![/quote]

And don’t forget: Since the Reagan administration, if you work one hour in a month, you are counted as full-time employed.

Except that typically, manufactured goods are not sold directly to the end consumer. The classification is important because economic pundits often use the manufacturing sector as an indicator for future changes in the economy. A pickup in manufacturing suggests that companies are increasing their spending, which usually means a healthier market and more jobs. Adding the fast food industry to the mix is just going to muddy those waters (either to make it seem like the manufacturing sector is doing better than it really is, or to make it harder to determine exactly how well it’s doing), which is probably why Bush wants to do it. It’s a cynical, political move.

I assume you’re referring to my comment about changing technology destroying more jobs than free trade does. I would have thought that was obvious. Compare employment in the United States now with employment 150 years ago. By and large we no longer have plowmen, curriers, farriers, cart-makers and a whole host of other careers that simply aren’t efficient in the modern world. Those jobs haven’t gone overseas, they’ve just gone.

And the same trend is continuing today. We’re projected to export just 3.3 million jobs by 2015. At the same time, between seven and eight million jobs disappear in the United States every quarter as part of the regular domestic churn of job creation and destruction. Those jobs aren’t going abroad, they’re going away because they’re inefficient and not worth the cost.

The source for these numbers is http://www.iie.com/publications/papers/kirkegaard0204.pdf, a really excellent paper on offshoring – the same paper makes the point that, again, it’s mostly the lowest-paid, least-skilled jobs that are moving overseas. Programming jobs declined last year. But software engineering jobs increased by more than the same amount. And the worst-hit IT job was data entry keying. The evidence doesn’t support the notion that we’re turning into a nation of fast food clerks. Tomorrow’s jobs require more skills and education, not less.

So is manufacturing dying? Remember that despite all the griping about a jobless recovery, productivity is going up. America is making more, not less, even if it’s doing it with fewer people. I’d say that makes American manufacturing exceptionally healthy, rather than the opposite. Hell, as George Will pointed out yesterday (Washington Post registration required), BMW, Mercedes, Honda and Toyota all choose to make cars in America, “offshoring” their manufacturing jobs to more-efficient American workers.

That’s nonsense. Most manufacturing jobs aren’t disappearing because they’re being moved overseas. They’re disappearing because domestic production is becoming more efficient and those jobs are becoming unnecessary. Just as we no longer need a nation of farmers to grow enough food to support the American citizenry, we no longer need a nation of factory workers to provide us all with appliances. The United States produces almost four times as much in the way of manufactured goods as it did fifty years ago, while the percentage of workers in manufacturing has dropped by half. (Source: http://www.cals.ncsu.edu/agcomm/writing/newsrls/12-10-02c.htm).

The jobs of the future are creative and aesthetic. They rely on the ability to identify needs and invent solutions to them, not on rote mechanical skills. Making stuff is cheap. Figuring out what to make is hard. And I’m baffled by those who scorn a service-oriented future. Is it somehow more noble to work twelve-hour shifts with dangerous heavy equipment than it is to be a yoga instructor? I know which life I’d pick for my kids.[/quote]

Kyle, our manufacturing sector has lost a lot of jobs to cheaper labor abroad, either through not being able to compete or by shifting production out of the country. Shoes, steel, a lot of domestic autos, etc., are cheaper to produce outside the U.S.

The lament over the loss of manufacturing jobs is simply the lament over the loss of jobs that pay well and don’t require a lot of specialized education. It’s not that it’s so great to work in a factory, but it used to pay well and you could modestly support a family. It’s important to have those kinds of jobs.

And if the future really is in aesthetic and creative jobs, then the future is bleak. A lot of people will never have those skills, and I can’t imagine a huge demand for that stuff anyway. It requires consumers with a fair amount of disposable income who are willing to pay more for aesthetics, because there will always be other products content to compete on price and features that will skip the extra cost of paying for aesthetics.

What Mark said. The reality is we need to have reasonable jobs for most people, and most people are neither highly educated, highly creative, nor aesthetes. I would rejoice if they didn’t have to do rote factory work, but they need decent jobs.

This isn’t just a moral argument. If the majority of American’s are asking “You want fries with that?” at low wages, I think our vaunted political stability will be at risk. Demagogues feed on dashed hopes.

Jason- But people like Midnight get their marching orders from the DNC, which is deeply in the pocket of labor. The other anti-free trade/progressive technology types are hippies and Buchananics.

Our manufacturing sector has lost a ton of jobs, but the beginning of the end of manufacturing wasn’t NAFTA, it was development of better robotic/automatic assembly processes.

Also, wow, Mark and Qenan. I imagine Jason will have something to say to your pessimism about the potential of people.

If the crux of your argument is that most people aren’t suited to any work more challenging than assembly line work or McDonald’s, and you think they’re better off on the assembly line than at McDonald’s, then there’s not much I can say in argument. Clearly we disagree in our opinion of what the average person is capable of.

Ben, let me give you some marching orders: take a long march off a short pier. Thank you and god bless.

Awesome response (at http://www.house.gov/dingell/Manufacturing_letter_02-23-04.pdf ) from Rep. John Dingell (D-Michigan).

He also endorses Mayor McCheese for the now-vacant Assistant Secretary for Manufacturing.