In an earlier posting, I complained about economists not understanding manufacturing. Here are a couple of relatively recent articles that get it right. First, David Wessel gets it mostly right on the importance of manufacturing in his piece "Factory Floor Has Ceiling on Job Creation". It is not necessarily the factory floor jobs - but all the activity that surrounds the factory floor:
There are good reasons to cheer for domestic manufacturing. Expanding factories have beneficial side effects. "If you get an auto-assembly plant, Wal-Mart follows," says Ron Bloom, until recently President Barack Obama's manufacturing czar. "If you get a Wal-Mart, an auto-assembly plant doesn't follow."But he, and many others, are also right that manufacturing "isn't going to be the ticket to the middle class for unskilled workers who haven't gone beyond high school."
Modern factory jobs, many of which require more brainpower and computer know-how than muscle, often pay well and are secure. Research and development--the key to maintaining the U.S. edge in innovation--sometimes migrate abroad when production does, a good reason to strive to keep production at home.
In fact, as Steve Denning points out in his piece in Forbes -- "The Future Is (Gasp) Manufacturing?", factories many not even be factories in the future. He is talking about something I have mentioned a number of times: 3D printing aka additive manufacturing:
Now the economics of large-scale production runs carried out overseas are being disrupted by the possibility of making, selling and delivering millions of manufactured items one unit at a time, right next to the customer.There is a lot more going on right now under the rubric of "advanced manufacturing" beyond additive manufacturing that will forever change the processes by which we manipulate atoms (aka make things). I hope to be talking about some of these in the not too distant future. Bottom line is that manufacturing is far from a dead (or dying) activity. It just not going to look the way it did in your grandparent's time.