All three major political candidates have been known to stretch the facts a bit during their campaigns. Hey it’s politics… should we be surprised? But some manufacturing-oriented facts feed into the common misperception that manufacturing in the U.S. is at death’s door when the opposite is true. The Cato blog takes on a recent twisting of the facts, which in politically-neutral fashion could have been said by pretty much any candidate.
This presidential campaign has featured more than its share of
misleading statements about trade and manufacturing. Nowhere has that
been more on display than when the two Democratic candidates have been
hustling for votes in what used to be the nation’s industrial heartland
of Ohio and Pennsylvania.
On the eve of today’s crucial Pennsylvania primary, here is how the Boston Globe described a scene at a Hillary Clinton event in the western side of the state:
“We need to still be a manufacturing nation,” she said
at a rally in downtown Pittsburgh yesterday, as a woman in the crowd
shouted “Right on!” “I don’t think a country that doesn’t make things
can remain strong and vibrant and leading in the global economy.”
Uh, yes we still do make "things."
Right on? Not exactly. Implied in Clinton’s remark is that
manufacturing has been in decline and that we are in danger of becoming
a nation “that doesn’t make things.”
One huge problem with her statement is that manufacturing output in
the United States has continued to EXPAND in recent decades. According
to the Federal Reserve Board, America’s factories produced 30 percent
more in real output in 2007 than a decade earlier and three times more
than in the 1960s.
Yes, thanks to productivity gains we do use fewer humans to make the 3x output, and we need to be sensitive to that fact. Just as we did when rapid gains in farming productivity reduced the need for farmers, we need to invest in retraining displaced knowledge assets in order to fully utilize their brainpower. But let’s also not call that a "decline in manufacturing."