Manufacturing

Photograph by Chetan Karkhanis

Developing Countries Need Robots Too

Ask any economist why some countries are poor and some countries are rich, and they will probably answer, “productivity”. Essentially, this means that people in rich countries are rich because they are able to create more wealth with less effort. But how do they do this? One of the primary ways is through better technology.

Unfortunately, instead of being recognized for its contribution to wealth, better technology is all too often demonized as a threat to employment, particularly in low-income countries without social safety nets. Intuitively, people care more about the jobs and income streams that already exist than the potential future savings from automating their jobs–a bird in hand, as they say. But a new paper by Mehmet Ugur and Arup Mitra of the University of Greenwich shows that even in very poor countries, technology is far less threatening than it may appear.

We have argued here before that robots are not taking our jobs: in the long run on a macro level productivity increases have no relationship with either the total number of people employed or with the level of unemployment. This is because when automation or … Read the rest

Robots

Reshoring optimism, but not much else

You’ve probably heard the good news. After a decade of being constantly bombarded with news of off-shoring, images of deserted factories, and heart-wrenching tales of laid-off American workers unable to find new employment now that their job is in China, jobs are streaming back into the country, factories are reopening, and we’re back to whistling while we work. We’ve even got a new word for the phenomenon- reshoring.

Just don’t look at actual data. Because funny enough, the numbers illustrate that reshoring is a myth.

True, off-shoring has slowed and has maybe even stabilized. But this respite does not mean that manufacturing jobs are reappearing. Yes, there are isolated instances which your local paper can emphatically cite. However, there is no evidence that America’s manufacturing woes have magically worked themselves out, or that a significant number of jobs that left for China and Mexico are being shipped back.

The truth is that even since the recession, more manufacturing firms have been lost than created in the United States. Manufacturing establishments (the number of factories or manufacturing sites), have followed the same trend. In 2011, the United States was home to … Read the rest

Manufacturing

How America’s Manufacturing Job Loss Outpaces Other Leading Industrialized Countries

In July 2014, ITIF’s Stephen Ezell testified before the Senate Finance Committee regarding the importance of manufacturing to America’s economy and the role that U.S. trade and technology policy plays in supporting American manufacturing. As part of his testimony, Ezell cited data describing the rapid decline of U.S. manufacturing employment to demonstrate the severity of the challenges faced by America’s manufacturing industries. For the reality is that, particularly since 2000, America’s manufacturing sector has been in a steep decline, with job losses outpacing those in many peer countries.

Following the hearing, Marc Levinson, a Section Research Manager with the Congressional Research Service, produced a report countering some of the data in Ezell’s testimony, and suggesting that there is not a clear cause for alarm regarding employment losses in the American manufacturing sector. However, Levinson’s account does not fully present all of the facts and only succeeds in further muddying this important policy debate.

One critique Levinson makes is charging Ezell with bias in selecting base years, which can have a sizable impact on analytical results. Levinson presents data using the years 1991 to 2000 and then the years from 2001 … Read the rest

American Flag

RAMI Legislation Poised to Revitalize American Manufacturing

This Friday morning, July 25, the House Committee on Space, Science, and Technology will hold a full Committee markup of H.R. 2996, the Revitalize American Manufacturing and Innovation (RAMI) Act of 2013. This is the House’s companion legislation to Senate Bill 1468, which passed out of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee by voice vote in May.

The legislation would provide authorization, using existing funding of up to $300 million, for the Secretary of Commerce to establish up to 15 Institutes of Manufacturing Innovation (IMIs), public-private partnerships that would focus on developing advanced manufacturing product and process technologies, facilitating their commercialization, and developing workforce skills around advanced manufacturing technologies. As ITIF writes in Why America Needs a National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI) and How It Should Work, these Institutes would play a pivotal role in enhancing U.S. industrial competitiveness by supporting development of technologies that will enable U.S. manufacturers to compete in the global marketplace. The additional IMIs would join four already chartered focusing on additive manufacturing, next-generation power electronics, digital manufacturing and design innovation, and lightweight and modern metals manufacturing, all of … Read the rest

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Where Do New Products Come From? Insights from a new study of innovation in manufacturing

A recent NBER working paper offers up some interesting new survey data on innovation in U.S. manufacturing industries. Authors Ashish Arora, Wesley M. Cohen, and John P. Walsh surveyed more than 5000 U.S. manufacturing firms in 2010, asking whether or not they brought new products to market in the previous three years.

Most notably, the data shows that the number of truly innovative manufacturing firms is relatively small. In the aggregate, it finds that 43 percent of firms introduced new products in the past three years, but only 18 percent of firms introduced new products that were wholly new to their market. In other words, one quarter of firms, and more than half of firms introducing new products, introduced “imitation” products following the lead of other companies. The percent of firms introducing totally new products ranged significantly between industries, from just 10 percent of firms in the “Wood” and the “Metals” industries, to 44 percent in the “Instruments” industry.

The survey also breaks down the results in a number of interesting ways, including where the innovations originated. It finds that the most common source of innovation is customers. This is … Read the rest

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Let USTR Do Its Job

Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill funding the federal trade agencies that also called for more oversight of them, including the addition of language aimed at preventing the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) from negotiating trade agreements that might open up the U.S. government procurement market to enterprises from other countries. The amendment language, part of the fiscal year 2015 Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) Appropriations bill, consists of one sentence, “[n]one of the funds made available by this Act may be used to negotiate an agreement that includes a waiver of the ‘Buy American Act.’”

The 1933 Buy American Act (BAA) requires the U.S. federal government to prefer U.S. products for all goods, but not services. The BAA applies to goods acquisitions over the micro-purchase threshold of $3,000. Under the BAA, all goods for public use (articles, materials, or supplies) must be produced in the United States, and manufactured items must be manufactured in the United States from U.S. materials. The BAA creates a price preference that favors “domestic end products” from American firms in U.S. federal government contracts for:

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If Manufacturing Employment is Dead Then Take a Look at China’s Zombie Apocalypse

Policy-making relies on narratives, and narratives often come from data. Or claim that they do. One story often told by economists—by everyone from Dani Rodrik to Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee to James Kynge to Laurence Summers—is that China’s manufacturing sector has been shedding workers since the mid-1990s. This story leads us to believe that something like this is happening:

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This argument ends up as a morality tale with serious policy implications: if even China, manufacturing powerhouse with wages developed countries cannot hope to compete with, is losing manufacturing jobs, then surely manufacturing jobs are obsolete and the U.S. is foolish to try to maintain them—let alone get them back.

Unfortunately, this story is based on a gross misreading of inaccurate evidence. There are three major problems. First, even based on a simplistic look at the data, it’s flat out wrong. Take a look at this chart that shows the actual manufacturing employment in China. (You may note that this chart only goes back to 1998, and that the peak of employment  underlying most claims was in 1996—more on that in a bit.)

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Strangely enough this graph looks nothing … Read the rest

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What Manufacturing Renaissance?

It is now become accepted wisdom in economic circles that America is enjoying a manufacturing renaissance. As the general theme goes: American companies are no longer offshoring factories; foreign companies are building new factories here; cheap energy is allowing manufacturers in the United States to expand; and groups like the Boston Consulting Group are telling everyone not to worry, manufacturing will rebound. Wish that it were so. Unfortunately, reality appears to be more troubling

If a manufacturing resurgence was truly occurring we would see it in an expanded number of factories. In fact, according the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) there are fewer U.S. factories today than there were two years ago. Moreover, the BLS’ Business Employment Dynamics survey indicates that net new manufacturing establishment openings (openings minus closings) has been negative every year since 1999. In 2012 alone, 3,000 more manufacturing establishments closed then opened. This is not to mention the fact that manufactures in America face one of the highest effective corporate tax rates in the world, while the federal government doesn’t support pre-competitive manufacturing research centers like our competitor nations (e.g. Germany, Japan, etc…)

To be Read the rest

Chevy Volt Factory

Two Cheers for Martin Baily’s “U.S. Manufacturing”

It was with great interest and mostly pleasure that I read Martin Baily and Barry Bosworth’s new article in the Journal of Economic Perspectives, “U.S. Manufacturing: Understanding Its Past and Its Potential Future.”

The article attempts to analyze recent trends in U.S, manufacturing performance, including output and employment. This is an area ITIF has been working on for a number of years. And in the past, Baily has been skeptical of our analysis, which claimed that U.S. manufacturing was in fact worse off than official statistics, in part because of the overstatement of computers and electronics manufacturing output. So it was with great delight, and some surprise, to see that Baily and Bosworth have now embraced this analysis.  As they note, the fact that measured manufacturing output’s share of GDP has remained stable “is largely due to the spectacular performance of one subsector of manufacturing: computers and  electronics.” In fact, as ITIF showed, they also show that by taking out computers, overall real manufacturing output fell from 2000 to 2011, something that is unprecedented in our almost 250-year history.  They also rightly point out that the massive … Read the rest

MS-Pittsburgh

Part 4: Pittsburgh, From Rust Belt Loser to Clean Energy Leader

This is the fourth and final article of a four part series chronicling highlights from my seven-city tour, Energy Innovation Across America. The first stop was a tour of Salt Lake City’s energy innovation ecosystem, which can be found here. Highlights from my tours of five Department of Energy National Labs can be found here. And my policy discussions with leaders of the Midwest energy innovation ecosystem can be found here. My goal was to meet energy innovators from across the country and bring their stories and perspectives back to Washington. For a brief introduction to the series, visithere, and for information on the Millennial Trains Project, see here.

Ask the average American about what they feel Pittsburgh, PA represents and you’ll likely hear some typical responses: Steelers football, blue-collar middle class workers, steel mills, and coal plants. If anything, Pittsburgh is considered the quintessential rust belt city – historically focused on manufacturing and industry, but one that has fallen on hard times since the 1980’s when strong foreign competition shuttered plants and stopped offering job opportunities. That’s certainly some of the images I … Read the rest