Robert Samuelson Spreads Confusion on Manufacturing

Dean Baker

The Washington Post seems to have a quota for pieces that spread misinformation on manufacturing. Today’s piece by Robert Samuelson fills the quota for the day.

The gist of the piece is that manufacturing employment has been declining in importance in the U.S. for decades and also everywhere else around the world. Therefore we should not expect any substantial boost to manufacturing employment.

This is the sort of three-card Monte story that people expect from the Post when discussing economic issues that are relevant to working people. Yes, manufacturing has declined in importance everywhere and yes, it has long been declining in the United States. However the issue is the rate of decline.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, from 1973 to 1989 manufacturing employment declined at an annual rate of 0.3 percent. By contrast, it declined at a rate of 1.7 percent annually between the years of 1989 to 2012. If we had simply maintained the earlier rate of decline we would have another 4.7 million manufacturing jobs.

These years are business cycle peaks, however we get an ever sharper picture if we put the break in 1997 when Robert Rubin was able to put muscle behind his high dollar policy through his control of the IMF’s bailout of the East Asian countries from their financial crisis. The annual rate of decline from 1973 remains the same at 0.3 percent, however the decline since 1997 has been 2.5 percent. If we had maintained the 1973 to 1997 rate of decline through 2012 we would have 4.9 million more manufacturing jobs today. That would be more than a 40 percent increase in manufacturing employment.


This post originally appeared on Beat the Press, the Center for Economic and Policy Research blog.

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