Wednesday, May 12, 2004
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A PG-13 post about heavy manufacturing
Be warned. If you think heavy manufacturing is really important, or that unions are vital to the development of American capitalism, do not click on this Tim Belknap rant.
The following contains strong language about the manufacturing sector, and may not be suitable for economic romantics under the age of 80 who believe that the United States needs to return to the "good old days" when what was good for GM was good for America.
A brief preview:
What's with the double post?posted by: sam on 05.12.04 at 11:38 AM [permalink]
Well, thanks for making my above post look totally nonsensical. Seriously, why were there two identical posts up?posted by: sam on 05.12.04 at 11:38 AM [permalink]
I guess I understand some of the attraction of the.."heavy industry, mega-company, big factory..etc." behemoths of days gone by. They are (in miniature) a proxy for the benevolent State that Democrats laud. What puzzles me is how such entities lasted as long as they did before being outcompeted. Any ideas?posted by: Bruce Cleaver on 05.12.04 at 11:38 AM [permalink]
Sam -- you saw a temporary posting glitch, which I've fixed.posted by: Dan on 05.12.04 at 11:38 AM [permalink]
I think that rant is spot on as far as his definition of manufacturing jobs.
But I think the definition of manufacturing jobs is a bit flawed. Most manufacturing jobs today are not unionized, yet they are still valuable. There are huge number of manufacturing jobs that are in smaller companies, growing companies, and companies that compete everyday to be more productive and more efficient.
The importance of manufacturing jobs is that they a chance for less skilled segments of the workforce to find opportunities that enable them to be critical to an organization and get some stability in life. I am not talking about anything beyond pure economic logic here. If a person is part of a production process stability is desired by the employer. The employer thus pays a premium to make sure that their production process is not held up by absenteeism or turnover. This same thing does not apply in many service oriented environments.
There are real incentives against stable employment, such as the linkage of health care costs and employment, that hinder the hiring of people for manufacturing jobs. There is definitely an issue here. It may not be the one that he thinks politicians are talking about, but this talk does matter and hopefully will lead to a search for answers that will contribute to the economic prosperity of America.posted by: Rich on 05.12.04 at 11:38 AM [permalink]
Who is this Tim Belknap? He's great (except for spelling the word 'do', but never mind that):
'Out of every 100 people you meet, you would hire all 100 of them if you were paying the bills?
'I bet not..you'd find a way to make due with 95.'posted by: old maltese on 05.12.04 at 11:38 AM [permalink]
"If your average, unmotivated, unskilled person can not find a gravy-train life long job in the 21st century as easily as they did in the 20th century...isn't that progress?"
Who the hell is this guy to say that only people he approves of should have a job? Who the hell is he to call factory workers "unmotivated and unskilled?" Because they don't meet his definition of a superior being (such as himself?). Why don't we just practice eugenics and get rid of all the undesirables that are not like this guy?
Look, I'm not saying that we need to return to the "good old days" and I don't disagree that the world has moved on and it is not efficient or productive to focus on heavy industrial jobs. Clearly, we cannot expect to maintain these kinds of industries. But I find this guy's attitude infuriating.posted by: MWS on 05.12.04 at 11:38 AM [permalink]
Nobody thoughtful would say that union manufacturing jobs are only and always good.
But unions do create intra-plant gains (like lower absenteeism and higher productivity than non-union factories in like industries, see Friedman) and also important social gains (like steady income, insurance, and something that approximates a middle-class lifestyle).
As these jobs continue to bleed away, we experience increasing gaps in income and wealth. Unless we get our healthcare and pension systems fixed, and our funding for higher education, it's going to get much worse.
Given those serious problems, I reserve my right to feel some nostalgia for union jobs.posted by: TedL on 05.12.04 at 11:38 AM [permalink]
Ditto everything MWS (May 12 1:11 p.m.) says. Anyone who assumes health care coverage and generous pensions are a bad idea per se needs to be sent to a work farm for a half-dozen years.posted by: alkali on 05.12.04 at 11:38 AM [permalink]
While I agree that many unions today are run by upper management looking out for themselves, instead of their workers, I do not see how Mr. Belknap can justify his comments. I seriously doubt he has ever worked a manufacturing job, if only because he has a complete lack of understanding regarding the work required in most factories. Until he has walked a single step in the shoes of the men and women in this country who perform back-breaking work in order to provide the goods necessary to drive the economic engine of this great country, Mr. Belknap should keep his mouth shut. Any man who's hands are soft from lack of work does not have the moral authority to dictate the lives of those with calluses.posted by: jobwarrior on 05.12.04 at 11:38 AM [permalink]
Everyone knows that, under the Bush administration, manufacturing jobs include Subway "sandwich artists" and other fast-food cooks.posted by: Jon H on 05.12.04 at 11:38 AM [permalink]
Anti-union types are fond of saying that economic growth and increased productivity, not unions and the labor laws they helped create, are the factors that led to improved standards of living in the US. However, economic growth and productivity both skyrocketed in the early industrial era, and the standard of living for most workers was absolutely abysmal. Even in the late-industrializing phase of the late-19th and early-20th centuries, workers faced pretty horrifying working conditions and a hand-to-mouth, "how are we going to eat this week?" lifestyle. It wasn't until the era of union influence and federal labor standards that the situation improved significantly.
Now, I'm open to arguments that the era when unions were a positive influence has passed, but claiming that they were never a significant contributor to the development of a comfortable American middle class strikes me as blatant ideological bias.posted by: Dave on 05.12.04 at 11:38 AM [permalink]
"However, economic growth and productivity both skyrocketed in the early industrial era, and the standard of living for most workers was absolutely abysmal."
The standard of living for everyone was absolutely abysmal. People were flocking to the cities to get factory jobs because the standard of living out in the boonies and in foreign countries was even worse. We needed a lot more technological advancement and economic growth before anyone could live what we consider a decent life.
"Even in the late-industrializing phase of the late-19th and early-20th centuries, workers faced pretty horrifying working conditions and a hand-to-mouth, "how are we going to eat this week?" lifestyle. "
The "late-industrializing phase" was a hundred years ago? Umm, no. Further advancements in technology and productivity during the intervening time have continued relentlessly improving everyone's standard of living despite the interference of misguided government policy and labor cartels.posted by: Ken on 05.12.04 at 11:38 AM [permalink]
Rich is spot on. Yes, manufacturing is still loaded with dinosaurs, and Yes, we all need to compete, work smarter, upgrade our skills etc. The fact remains however that perhaps 30-40% of the workforce simple is not skilled enough, or perish the thought, smart enough, to make a go of it as a free agent in a service-oriented economy.
Is GM vastly overstaffed? Yes. Should it be broken up, and Buick or Olds and Pontiac or Chevy, merged? Probably. But the US auto industry is far larger and reaches much further than steel or coal did. How would you rationalize and slim it without transforming southeastern Michigan, and a large part of Ohio and Missouri, from prosperous, stable, blue-collar heartland into a basketcase?posted by: tombo on 05.12.04 at 11:38 AM [permalink]
Jon H --
A Subway "sandwich artist" served me very well recently.
'Everyone knows that, under the Bush administration, manufacturing jobs include Subway "sandwich artists" and other fast-food cooks.'
Oh? Citation, please.
(Sorry, sounds snarky; oh, well, I'm not a boojum and don't play one on TV.)posted by: old maltese on 05.12.04 at 11:38 AM [permalink]
Tool-and-die makers, for example, are generally not unionized and their work is being sent to china.posted by: goethean on 05.12.04 at 11:38 AM [permalink]
Old Maltese, here's your citation:
"Economic Report of President sent to Congress questions whether fast-food restaurants should continue to be counted as part of service sector or should be reclassified as manufacturers"posted by: Noah on 05.12.04 at 11:38 AM [permalink]
Answering some critics
1. fixed the spelling of "do"...don't tell my wife, she was a (unionized) High School English Teacher
2. about the calluses and first hand experience in the real world:
a. I come from a (non-gov't subsidized)family farm...chew on that
b. I've worked many long days, weeks, years in factories...hands on & as a manager
posted by: tim belknap on 05.12.04 at 11:38 AM [permalink]
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