From First Read today:
In New Hampshire at 4:30 pm ET, Jon Huntsman will unveil his jobs/economy plan. According to excerpts his campaign has released, Huntsman will say, “The president believes that we can tax and spend and regulate our way to prosperity. We cannot. We must compete our way to prosperity. When I was born, manufacturing comprised 25% of our GDP; today, it’s down to 10%.” Huntsman continues, “This does not reflect a decline in American ingenuity or work ethic; it reflects our government’s failure to adapt to the realities of the 21st century economy. We need American entrepreneurs not only thinking of products like the IPhone or Segway; we need American workers building those products. It’s time for Made in America to mean something again.”
Holy shit, where to begin. First of all, America was already admirably (if not historically) prosperous before a bunch of naive home buyers, unethical bankers, and bespoke-suited gamblers with leveraged access to hundreds of billions of dollars of other people’s money came within a few deals of torpedoing the entire global economy for decades, rather than years. After the dot com bust in 2001, GDP rose from 1.1 percent to 3.1 percent by 2005 [cite], with manufacturing making up 14.4% of GDP at that time [cite]. To say that the continued decline in our manufacturing sector “reflects our government’s failure to adapt to the realities of the 21st century economy” is to admit that you have no idea what comprises a 21st century economy.
See, the way economies work is, Jon, the more prosperous and innovative a country becomes, the more leeway it has to offload the shitty, menial, repetitive, dangerous jobs like those that make up a manufacturing sector onto more desperate workers in other countries, while our own workers continue to educate themselves to the point that they don’t need to pull a lever for ten hours a day while risking the occasional digit or limb. Likewise, the invention of machines (or “magic robots,” if that’s more to your liking) that do the work of 10, 100, or 1,000 men more safely and efficiently than any human ever could may be painful in the short run to the individual worker whose job has been displaced, but in the long run, this allows that same worker to, again, educate himself into another job or field — perhaps one that didn’t even exist a few years earlier — thus preventing the job market from stagnating and curtailing the cycle of innovation.
So yes, Jon, manufacturing has declined since you were born. But you know what else has declined since then? Lots of shit. See, for example, the percentage of white people in this country. Or living members of the Beatles. Or smallpox. But as the great Stuart Smalley wonderfully illustrates in his seminal polemic, Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, it’s all about context:
The point is, Jon, if we start making iPhones and Segways ourselves again, it means we’ll have taken a step backward, not a step forward, so unless you wanna start manufacturing cotton gins and LaserDisc players again too, I suggest you brush up on the 21st century economics that you feign such a concrete grasp of, because otherwise concrete is the only place your ideas will find any traction. Which is to say, concrete boots, though I suppose we could start manufacturing those too. Now that’s what I call a win win!