America's Unsung Industrial Might; Or, Take a Half-Bow, Bob Dylan!


For a while now, John Merline at Investors Business Daily has been putting out always-interesting charts and data.

His latest is over there on the right. Despite claims by politicians ranging from Barack Obama to Rick Santorum that U.S. manufacturing is dead and buried, Merline shows that sector is alive and kicking.

"By all relevant measures of economic performance — growth in profits, output gains, employment growth, and unemployment rates — American manufacturing remains the shining star of the U.S. economy," said Mark Perry, an economist at the University of Michigan and a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, who closely tracks this industry.

Others have noted that, even without Obama's tax code inducements, manufacturers are starting to bring some jobs back from overseas, known as "on-shoring."

And while Santorum is right that fewer people work in manufacturing — the industry lost more than 7 million jobs since its peak in 1979 — and the industry accounts for less of the nation's GDP than it once did (less than 13% today compared with nearly 25% in 1970) — these aren't necessarily bad indicators.

More here.

Indeed, for those of us who have worked in factories, it most certainly is not a bad thing that fewer of us work in such places. A lot of industrial work is necessary and not awful, but getting off an assembly line is rarely a bad thing. Even in terms of wages. As this Cafe Hayek post from a couple of years back notes, service-sector jobs, which typically have easier conditions, also typically pay better.

It's always the right time to listen to Bob Dylan's incredibly non-prescient "Union Sundown" which proclaimed circa 1983,

Well, you know, lots of people complainin' that there is no work.
I say, "Why you say that for
When nothin' you got is U.S.-made?"

NEXT: A.M. Links: Banks to Resume Foreclosing, Congress Critter Bachus Under Investigation for Insider Trading, Romney Downplays Losses to Santorum

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  1. Those numbers are heartening. However, the world didn’t begin in 2010, last I checked, some context on numbers for prior years would be helpful. We’re still well below the prerecession level of 13 million manufacturing jobs and well below the level, of that economic hellscape known as 2000, when there were 17 million.

    1. It is called gains in productivity. My current employer produces 225% more units than in 1990 with the same number of workforce. This is due to high speed CNC machines replacing lathes. In the 1980s I worked for a company (unionized) that didn’t put in
      modern machinery. It was liquidated by
      1991, done in – not by foreign competition – but by wiser and better capitalized U.S. competitors.

    2. the world didn’t begin in 2010, last I checked, some context on numbers for prior years would be helpful

      Nice. Trying so hard to be first you only read the title and graphs? Gillespie quoted Merline’s article where it gave some context showing we are off-peak:

      the industry lost more than 7 million jobs since its peak in 1979 ? and the industry accounts for less of the nation’s GDP than it once did (less than 13% today compared with nearly 25% in 1970) ? these aren’t necessarily bad indicators.

      1. It’s easy to brush of jobs lost between 1979 and now due to productivity, but still being 10% below the level of 2007 is another.

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  2. manufacturing drew-down inventory during the boosch recession…which must be replaced during the obama recovery. >so its on to teh war on religion!11!!

    1. Re: Triple Asshole,

      manufacturing drew-down inventory during the boosch recession…

      The US has been on a recession since 1998, the ridiculously low interest rates pushed by the Fed and the increase in regulations (SarbOx for one) making it difficult all this time to increase productivity above the level required for the growing population – unless you want to believe the heavily-cooked governemnt numbers. Now, this is Obama’s Depression, in case you didn’t realize. Remember this? “The unemployment level will not go above 8%” It did.

  3. Some jobs are gone, they aren’t coming back, and there’s no good reason why they should. We should not be trying to compete making cheap shit like baseball hats and happy meal toys. We do have an edge on stuff with lots of moving parts or that are highly engineered. And thats what our focus ought to be.

  4. No kidding.

    But nearly every single day, somebody will try to tell me “We don’t make anything in this country anymore!”

    1. A lot of our nonconsumer industry remains here. And, of course, we still are home to most of the companies that are manufacturing products in other countries.

  5. Holy shit, is that employment number right? That’s $500,000 profit per employee. I need to move into manufacturing. Also, not that it should, but that’s the kind of number that could stir some populist rage. Is that gross profit, net profit, EBITDA?

    1. No, your math is bad.

      $600B/12M = 50K

      1. This is way I fucking hate being retarded.

  6. About 3 million of these jobs are related to defense.

  7. Is it weird that I have a Kentucky-made MLB hat?

    1. You need two of those hats: one to shit in and the other to cover it up.

  8. Nick Gillespie’s record collection runs the gamut from Pat Boone to Ed Ames.

  9. I have a hard time understanding the obsession so many politicians and NYT op-ed columnists have with manufacturing jobs; it’s almost like, I dunno, they never worked in a factory. Because I have, and in a working life that has included jobs as a waitress, fast food fry-cook, cafeteria dishwasher, construction helper, cab driver, retail clerk, receptionist, fund raiser, babysitter, house cleaner, senior center activity aide, and telephone operator, the only job I would refuse to consider doing again is assembly line worker. The mind numbing tedium of it, the stiff muscles from the combination of staying unnaturally still while performing the same small movements over and over, the 8 hour days that only drag more the more accustomed you become to the job– all that plus the noise and the harsh lighting? And these idiots think I should be salivating at the prospect of such a swell job? I’m okay with letting the Chinese do it, thanks.

    1. Re: Xenia Onatopp,

      I have a hard time understanding the obsession so many politicians and NYT op-ed columnists have with manufacturing jobs; it’s almost like, I dunno, they never worked in a factory.

      Or anywhere else where they could be productive. Their obsession stems from a romantic notion regarding physical labor.

      Or, more likely, from their own delusions of grandeur. Factories, for a long time, were managed through a top-down topology with enlightened supervisors looking over willing laborers. This image appeals to the authoritarian mind. This hypothesis explains perfectly why journalists and politicians are more friendly to bureaucratic organizations like the State, and hostile to entrepreneurs and innovators.

      This also explains why journalists and intellectuals are so dismissive of farmers – strangely enough since farming also involves physical labor. One has to understand that most farmers are land owners and are fairly independent. They do not conform or are willing to conform to any sort of top-down management style. Farmers are the first to suffer from the State’s top-down decisions and are the first to resist to the point of extermination on some extreme cases. Instead, factory workers are more willing to accept impositions from above, at least to a certain point, and are much more participative in the implementation of bureaucratic plans than farmers, land owners and entrepreneurs. This appeals very much, again, to the authoritarian mind.

      1. Well said. As someone noted, Elizabeth Warren’s diatribe against the rich, she refered a rich “factory owner”, what I thought was a tell of the authoritarian, Marxist thought.

    2. I have a friend who used to be a big figure in the organized populist movement in the USA, and he’s one of those thinkers that mfg., especially of heavy goods, is the schiz. Combination of factors in his thinking, I think.

      One is that the sheer heft of durable goods, especially heavy ones, has a superificial appeal. It sure did to the Communists in the east bloc. Other production is invisible, insubstantial, not durable…they’re looking at the physical characteristics in a naive way.

      Another factor is nostalgia. My friend would like to restore the conditions of the 1950s, when he was born, when mfg. was a bigger part of total prod’n.

      Also, certain types of mfg. were very visible in some of the Democrat dominated centers, as with automobiles, steel, and garments.

      Finally, there’s something manly about hefting large objects, even if you’re doing it by pressing a button.

      However, in my friend’s case there’s also something galling about foreigners, esp. of other races, having a comparative advantage in anything over Americans; but of course if they didn’t, Americans wouldn’t have a comparative advantage in anything either.

      1. I think I meant shizz, not schiz!

  10. the only job I would refuse to consider doing again is assembly line worker.

    But how else are you going to pay for your hillbilly palazzo with enough garage space for your pickup truck, three jetskis, a bass boat, a dirt bike, and four snowmobiles (not to mention the Newell in the driveway)?

    1. You know, I wonder if there’s a market for a truly durable mobile home? Not the crap that falls apart in ten years but something really long-term and more weather-proof?

      1. Well, somebody thinks such a market exists.

        1. I was thinking less tiny and not really focused on the “environmentally conscious.”

          1. But they’re so real! And Oprah loves them!

            Kinda takes the fun out of the whole mobile home idea, doesn’t it?

  11. The biggest problem our manufacturing has is that the dollar is the reserve currency of the world. Just as the Spainish Empire didn’t have to make anything when they had the gold coming in from the New World.

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