Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Only Foolin'

Sociologists might look back on the last six months, during my absence, as the “Dark Ages” of the 21st Century. The all-night prayer vigils . . . the protests of self-immolation . . . the celebrity telethons . . . all deeply appreciated. No, YOU are a beautiful person, Ryan Seacrest, and you shouldn’t worry about anyone who says otherwise.

I was wondering if anyone caught this little op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on April 1:

At first, I thought the WSJ had invited James Hoffa to join the staff as a contributing writer – a touching piece of Teamster’s nostalgia. Or, more likely, a cynical attempt to use the emotional tug of “American can-do” to generate public outrage at public sector employment. Perhaps I should explain.

I don’t think the story, here, is the replacement of manufacturing jobs with public sector jobs. That’s the headline, but it’s not the real story. If you bother to look at the data (in the spirit of my “all others must bring data” mantra, I’ve created two new WolframAlpha widgets for you to play with to see for yourselves), the real story is the shift of the US economy from a manufacturing to a service-sector market. The author expresses shock and outrage that public-sector jobs now outnumber manufacturing jobs in the Unites States. What he fails to mention is that manufacturing jobs only represent a small portion of the economy. From the ‘40’s through 2010, manufacturing in the US has declined from 40% of total employment to 14% (roughly), while public sector employment has increased from approximately 14% to 18% in that same period. ‘Dem numbers don’t add up, do they? The real shift was away from manufacturing towards services. In short, a lot of the “stuff” we used to make costs too much to produce here, so we have moved “up the value chain.” Although this shift put Akio Morita and the US labor movement all in a dither, orthodox, conservative economists viewed it as an inevitable consequence of market forces and globalization. Fighting the drift was like fighting gravity – smart money would find ways of exploiting shifting conditions to maximize wealth creation, eventually moving the US labor force into areas that emphasized intellectual capital, services, and technical know-how. Everyone recognized that shift would cause pain and displacement, but measures like import tariffs would only delay the inevitable, and would waste valuable time and resources that could be used to establish America’s dominance in sectors that had a real future.

So, what do you think – pro-Union, bleeding-heart liberal economics, or cynical rhetoric? It’s the Wall Street Journal – c’mon. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not happy about public debt and spending. But I still think you have to fight fair. I’m not buying the Normal Rockwell Assembly Line motif.

1 comment:

  1. Glad you're back. I thought there was something wrong with that narrative when it came out. Now I know. Thanks