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All posts by Adams Nager


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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Yes, Piracy Costs Content Creators a Fistful of Dollars

A month ago, I examined the academic literature surrounding what turns out to be a very tricky question for empirical researchers to answer—does digital theft of music and film have a measurable negative impact on profits for content creators? Methodologies addressing the question are fraught with complications, and while the majority of papers surveyed in a recent review of the literature (Hardy et al.) find that online piracy is not, in fact, a victimless crime, some past studies remain inconclusive. The literature is sometimes inconclusive because it is very difficult to prove that content being stolen has a negative impact on revenue in an era in which almost all digital content is stolen to some degree. However, research of late has been clearer in identifying significant causal impacts of piracy on profits and content creation in the music and film industries. As academics hone in on the question, results are beginning to coalesce around exactly the answer you would expect—online piracy has a negative impact on revenue and content creation in both music and film.

(First, I should note that as literature reviews go, Hardy et al. actually

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Beyond Demand: The Supply-side Benefits of Military Spending

World War II gets credit for dragging the United States out of the Great Depression. Despite all the clear negatives of having to become embroiled in such a conflict, the demand created during the war resuscitated an economy that had been dormant since the crash of 1929.

Today, the military continues to demand high levels of labor, investment, goods, and services. And this demand still plays a role in supporting the U.S. economy. Military spending provides its personnel and suppliers with the resources to purchase additional goods and services from others, and so on.

However, according to former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, it is the supply side, not the demand side, through which U.S. military spending creates benefits for the U.S. economy.

These supply-side benefits are primarily created not by spending on current strength of arms, but by investing in capabilities for the future. Chiefly, this comes through defense R&D. Not all the benefits of new technology developed by the military are constrained to the defense sector. Instead, they “spill over” to the private sector. At a recent event hosted by the Brookings Institute focused on defense spending

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The True Damages of Online Piracy? It’s Hard to Measure

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that online piracy is detrimental to content creators, including in the film and music industries. However, academics studying the effects appear to be behind the curve. A few studies, brandished by illegal content providers to perpetuate the myth that content theft is a ‘victimless crime,’ claim to show that illegal downloads actually contribute to industry profits.

In theory, pirates are additional viewers who could purchase merchandise or generate word-of-mouth advertising that could get others to legally view the content. If the good outweighs the bad, then piracy might actually be helping the content industry. Leaving aside the issue of morality of theft, given the scale of online piracy, it’s hard to imagine the good truly outweighing the bad. Yet there are data-driven studies by real academics insisting that digital piracy is a boon for content creators.

However, a new meta-analysis of literature examining the effects of online-piracy, Friends or Foe? A Meta-Analysis of the Link Between “Online Piracy” and Sales of Cultural Goods by Wojciech Hardy, Michal Krawczyk, and Joanna Tyrowicz, shows that these papers finding that digital piracy does not have

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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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No Growth Without Labor Productivity

Last week the Bureau of Labor Statistics handed down some pretty dismal news for American manufacturing—news that was largely overshadowed by the façade of job growth numbers. Yes, American manufacturing is adding jobs. But our labor productivity numbers have fallen.

Labor productivity is simply how many goods can be produced with an hour of work and matters because along with the size of the labor pool, it determines the overall output of an economy. Factors such as technology and capital investment let workers produce more than they could on their own. In the first quarter of 2015, the number of American hours worked (a proxy for the number of workers) grew at a 1.5 percent annual rate. However, the real value of the goods America produced declined at a 1.6 percent annual rate over the same period. And that’s very dangerous, especially because that decline extends to the manufacturing sector.

Manufacturing labor productivity is actually down by 1 percent in the first quarter. And, while the first quarter findings may be the result of a measurement issue, multi-year trends show labor productivity growth much slower than our competitors. In

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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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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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The Miraculous Cell Phone

As the economy emerges from the Great Recession, it is hard to deny that times are still tough for many Americans. Some advocates have attributed difficulties to rising basic costs such as health care and, puzzlingly, cell phones, that limit discretionary spending power. The Wall Street Journal, in an article about rising costs for the middle class, reports that spending on cell phones by the average American middle class family has increased by 49 percent from 2007 to 2013 according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).  Some have interpreted this as showing that price inflation for these services is growing faster than the overall consumer price index (CPI).

But what it in fact shows is that while Americans are spending more on these telecom services they are getting more.  Americans are spending more on cell phones in part because more Americans have cell phones- the number of cell phones in the United States grew by 17 percent from 2007 to 2013. At the same time, spending on landline telephones declined by 31 percent over the same period. So spending on all phones, the more accurate measure

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