Time to Stop Blaming Manufacturing Job Losses on the (Nonexistent) Shift to Services

The U.S. lost more than 5 million manufacturing jobs since 2000 (roughly a 30 percent drop), while nonmanufacturing jobs have grown by 8 percent. Understanding why is critical to developing the right policy response.

Unfortunately, too many apologists for U.S. manufacturing decline argue that manufacturing employment loss is a natural trend. They blindly follow the assumption that as economies get richer they naturally consume a smaller share of manufactured goods and a larger share of services.  Therefore, we should expect manufacturing job losses.

New data from the St. Louis Federal Reserve Economic Data should hopefully put an end to these false claims. Recent analysis demonstrates that after adjusting for inflation, the share of real consumption of services has actually decreased slightly after reaching a peak in 1992. At the same time, durable goods manufacturing consumption is growing as a share of total consumption.

Accounting for inflation, services reached a peak of 70 percent of total consumption in the mid-1990s and have since declined to around 66 percent. This is not so different from the late 1950s when services made up 62 percent of total consumption. Meanwhile, the consumption of durable

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Is the U.S. Economy in Slow Gear Forever?

Complaints about the sluggish recovery from the Great Recession are rampant and for good reason. It is by far the slowest of the recoveries from the nine recessions since WWII. Productivity and job growth have been anemic, while median inflation-adjusted household income is down.

Such extended malaise should indicate a longer-term structural problem within the economy. Instead, the problem is being treated as an extreme business cycle phenomenon. Thus, the major policy response has been monetary stimulus, which has been invoked at unprecedented levels with the result of near zero short-term interest rates for the past six years. To accomplish this historic feat, the Fed’s balance sheet was expanded from around $800 billion in 2008 to $4.5 trillion today.

The obsession over monetary policy is mind boggling. Congress holds periodic hearings on the Fed’s performance relative to its “dual mandate”: ensuring stable prices and full employment. The hearings are often contentious, as members demand to know why more progress is not being made. The financial media conduct daily assessments of when the Fed will begin to raise interest rates, as if increasing short-term rates from zero is somehow going to

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Don’t Blame ICT for Manufacturing Offshoring

During the 2000s, globalization took millions of jobs from the United States. Some have been quick to associate this job loss with the technology that ostensibly made it possible, chiefly the adoption of ICT that allowed for global connectivity. So, would the United States have been better off if it had simply never invested in ICT in the first place?

There are those who would love to somehow put the technology introduced by the ICT revolution back in the box. But a new study shows that doing so would have detrimental impact on the economy. Yes, in some cases ICT investment introduced the tools which allowed companies to outsource jobs. But, as new paper, Does ICT Investment Spur or Hamper Offshoring?, finds, the same ICT investment enabled productivity gains that kept companies at home.

Of course, it is difficult empirically to determine whether ICT investments increase the likeliness of offshoring, as causality is difficult to determine. To address this problem, authors Luigi Benfratello, Tiziano Razzolini, and Alessandro Sembenelli examined small and medium-sized Italian manufacturing firms with varying access to local broadband facilities, a random variable that was used

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Robots Don’t Eat Sugar: Productivity Growth and Sugar Consumption Now No Longer Growing Together

In recent years what was once seen as crackpot economics has now become close to conventional wisdom: the notion that productivity costs jobs. Economists call this the lump of labor fallacy. As ITIF has written here, here, and here, it’s clear that the jobs problem of today has nothing to do with productivity and that we should not worry about productivity reducing the number of jobs.

But that has not stopped many talking heads and experts from opining that yes indeed, productivity kills jobs. One graph that has gotten and continues to get widespread attention is from Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson’s book, The Second Machine Age, that shows that “productivity and employment have become decoupled.” [i]

But as any first-year statistics course will teach you, correlation does not prove causation. In fact, it is easy to get spurious correlations. Here’s one: The divorce rate in Maine is almost perfectly correlated with the per capita consumption of margarine.

In Brynjolfsson’s case, the relationship being examined merely shows two variables that happen to be increasing from 1970 to 2000, but there is no feasible underlying argument about how

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High-Growth Entrepreneurship for Development: Report of a Roundtable with Michael Dell

Policymakers around the world have increasingly come to realize that entrepreneurship, particularly high-growth entrepreneurship (HGE), is critical for economic development in nations at all levels of development. That is one reason the United Nations Foundation asked Michael Dell, founder and CEO of Dell Inc., to be the Global Advocate for Entrepreneurship and to work closely with the Foundation and its Global Entrepreneurs Council to help shape and advance a global entrepreneurship agenda.

To inform the Council’s thinking, Michael Dell led a meeting in Washington, DC, on December 2, 2014, hosted by 1776, a cutting-edge “accelerator” to help technology-based entrepreneurs translate their ideas into growing businesses. The meeting participants included tech-based entrepreneurs and policymakers, and I was asked to participate and serve as rapporteur.

Michael Dell opened up the roundtable with a discussion of proposed policy mechanisms to spur high growth entrepreneurship, including ensuring access to capital, technology, talent, and markets. The following is a summary of the themes and recommendations from the discussion.

The Nature of Technology-Enabled Entrepreneurship Opportunities

Policymakers around the world are interested in HGE because they understand that technology opportunities driving this type of entrepreneurship have exploded.

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The Leaky STEM Pipeline Can’t Be Patched with Higher Wages

Even with the economic recovery, recent graduates have it rough. Unemployment among young people remains high and wages remain depressed. Frequently, graduates accept low-wage positions that do not utilize their degrees.

However, one group of recent graduates—those in STEM fields—has it easier than their peers. For these graduates with degrees in fields such as computer science and engineering, high-paying jobs are plentiful. Eighty-one percent of STEM grads hold jobs closely related to their degrees, compared to 72.5 percent among all graduates. Median starting salaries for computer science and engineering are estimated at around $67,300 and $64,400 respectively, 80 percent higher than starting salaries for humanities and liberal arts majors. Moreover, most sectors of today’s economy rely on STEM skills, so graduates have a plethora of career paths to choose from. In addition, compensation is high because companies face an acute shortage of qualified STEM workers.

Economics 101 tells us that the laws of supply and demand should fix this problem as high wages motivate more students to pursue computer and engineering degrees. Instead, exactly the opposite has occurred. We currently have fewer computer science graduates than we did

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Time for America to Throw in the Competitiveness Towel

In 1871, America became the largest economy in the world. 144 years later we need to admit that while we’ve had a good run, it’s time to let other countries have their turn. China just overtook us as the largest economy last year. And other nations, like India, are on their way up.

So I say, let’s stop being selfish. We can get used to being number 2, or even number 20. We’re America after all, we can do anything, including lose gracefully.

Besides we don’t want to hurt other nations, especially those poor ones. We have lots more money than the Chinese and Indians. Why then are we trying to compete with them and not letting them have our high wage industries that they need more than us. If they want to take our aerospace, machinery, heavy equipment, computers, software and life sciences industries, who are we to say no, even if they use unfair methods to win. After all they are poor, so it’s okay for them to cheat.

Now it is true, as China specialist Michael Pillsbury writes in The Hundred Year Marathon, that China has

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Ellis island

What Creates Jobs? Welcoming STEM Workers

Politicians talk frequently about job creation. But what actually creates jobs is a subject of intense debate. Do we need more public spending? Less? Fewer regulations? Smarter regulations? The answer usually depends on the audience and ignores the deeper questions. What kind of jobs are we creating? Do other jobs get destroyed? Would high-skill immigrants take a job from an American or create a new one for him or herself?

A recent report, Technology Works: High-Tech Employment and Wages in the United States, from the Bay Area Council Economic Institute, a trade organization from an area that knows a thing or two about facilitating economic growth, sheds light on these questions by highlighting a tried and true method for creating jobs: attracting and employing technology workers. When a city, community, or region employs a technology worker, this engenders a multiplier effect on employment in the local economy. In fact, the Bay Area Council’s study finds that every one job in the high-tech sector—defined as those most closely related to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields—leads directly to 4.3 jobs in local goods and services industries across all

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R&D Credits Essential for Competitiveness: New Evidence

A new SSRN paper finds that research and development (R&D) helps manufacturers keep ahead of competition from imports. U.S. manufacturing firms in industries with strong import competition from China fared better 50 percent better when they had larger stocks of capital used for R&D. While this finding is intuitive, it provides an important piece of evidence that reiterates a critical point about the U.S. economy: international competitiveness is extremely important and smart R&D policy (including tax credits) is a key method of maintaining it.

The authors Johan Hombert and Adrien Matray use granular industry-level data on imports from China and show that these imports have a significant impact on the performance of U.S. manufacturing firms. They then examine whether this impact changes depending on how much R&D capital firms have. In order to make sure the R&D capital isn’t related to other factors, they use state-level changes in R&D credit policy during the 1980s.

Their results here show that firms that had access to cheaper R&D and were thus more likely to acquire more R&D capital had an easier time “climbing the quality ladder” and staying competitive in the face

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Think the Trade Deficit Couldn’t Get Any Worse? Think Again

For a country that has not run a trade surplus since Gerald Ford was in office 40 years ago, the United States is surprisingly optimistic in its widespread belief that the trade deficit is going to eventually correct itself. After all, as tidy macroeconomic models of international trade show, a nation’s trade deficit should lower the value of its currency, lowering the cost of exports and raising  the cost of imports, thereby gradually reversing the deficit. After all, the models show that in the long term, current accounts must balance.

As Martin Feldstein, former Chairman of the Reagan administration Council of Economic Advisors, predicts:

“The United States cannot continue to have annual trade deficits of more than $100 billion, financed by an ever-increasing inflow of foreign capital. The U.S. trade deficit will therefore soon have to shrink and, as it does, the other countries of the world will experience a corresponding reduction in their trade surpluses. Indeed, within the next decade the United States will undoubtedly exchange its trade deficit for a trade surplus.”

Unfortunately, Feldstein wrote this in 1987.

Far from his predictions coming true, the U.S. trade

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