This sort of thing gives me a huge man-crush on Ryan Avent:
- “Manufacturing”, contd. (The Bellows)
I simply can’t not quote four full paragraphs, because these are four fucking excellent paragraphs:
The truth is that the loss of manufacturing jobs was largely inevitable. High-wage jobs are expensive jobs, and the history of innovation is one of labor-saving technological change, pursued precisely because economic activity is more profitable when you can get rid of a bunch of your human workers. Labor-saving technological change revolutionized agricultural economies and in the process it destroyed a massive number of jobs. Now, there are still plenty of places in the world where humans do agricultural work. In some cases, this is because the work in question is specialized enough that machines can’t be found to do it, but in the vast majority of cases it’s because the workers are so doggone poor (which is to say, cheap) that there’s no reason not to use them for agriculture.
In industrializing nations, industry has traditionally absorbed the bulk of these displaced workers, but there too firms have labored tirelessly to automate, automate, automate. Where they can’t automate, they routinize, the better to later automate. This sounds horribly dehumanizing and generally terrible, but it’s how the world got rich — by moving workers from wretched jobs to merely crappy jobs, then kicking them out of the crappy jobs and forcing them to find merely cruddy jobs, then kicking them out of the cruddy jobs and forcing them to find merely unpleasant jobs.
Today, much of the American workforce is no longer employed in manufacturing, largely because manufacturing jobs have been steadily eliminated by technology. This is also true, by the way, of many service jobs. Now, there are still plenty of places in the world where humans do manufacturing work. In some cases this is because the work in question is specialized enough that machines can’t be found to do it, but in the vast majority of cases it’s because the workers are so doggone poor (which is to say, cheap) that there’s no reason not to use them in manufacturing.
But it’s important to point out that through this evolutionary process, people have become steadily more skilled. As agricultural employment shrank, it was recognized that primary education was an important thing for everyone to have. As manufacturing employment became more skill-intensive, it was recognized that secondary education was an important thing for everyone to have. And as all but only the most specialized manufacturing jobs have been eliminated (except of course for the world’s very poor, who, I think I’m right in saying, we’d prefer not to emulate) it is recognized that an undergraduate education is an important…oh! but we’re not supposed to say that everyone should pursue education beyond high school. Some folks aren’t cut out for that, or some such bullshit.
(Emphasis added. I’d have liked to emphasize the whole thing, but that’d rather defeat the purpose.)
It gets better from there. RTWT.