I am C3-BOBO, Human-Suburb relations…
File under: “The Lyin’ of the Elders of Protocol”
This will be the briefest assay of a Bobo Brooks column I have ever done, because everything that is Epic Fail about it flows from its first, two sentences.
From the NYT:
No. Stop. Stop right there. Shut it down.
The Protocol Society
By DAVID BROOKS
In the 19th and 20th centuries we made stuff: corn and steel and trucks.
Now, we make protocols: sets of instructions.
Because this is simply wrong.
A widely accepted economic platitude? Yes.
One that has sold millions of bad books for fatuous globalists like Tom Friedman? Yes.
A fairy tale, and a very, very dangerously one, because the epidemic perpetuation of this bourgeois, Frappuccino-slurping Conservative elitist notion that we don't manufacture things in the United States anymore -- that we are (as such pronouncements always either state outright or unmistakably imply) inevitably and irrevocably becoming a two-class economy of white collar persons living in stylish suburbs manipulating bytes in office parks...and peons living in trailer parks manipulating beds in nursing homes and upscale hotels -- has such a powerful and destructive effect on public perception and policy that we are well on our way to making it a self-fulfilling prophecy.
By, among other means, spreading it as the plainsong, axiomatic truth of the New Century in the nation's newspaper of record.
Just one of those things that everybody knows.
Except, of course, that it just isn't true.
We still make stuff (from a handy aggregation of good data here:)
The chart above shows manufacturing output of selected countries and the BRIC countries, as a share of world manufacturing output in 2007, using United Nations data via the BLS (I haven't been able yet to find comparable data for 2008). It's interesting that U.S. factories produced almost twice as much output in 2007 as China, and the U.S. produced an amount equivalent to the total manufacturing output of the four BRIC countries combined (Brazil, Russia, India and China).
Lots of stuff (from the incredibly far-right Cato Institute, with which I disagree about so many other things, but which has this one exactly right):
Thriving in a Global Economy: The Truth about U.S. Manufacturing and Trade
Reports of the death of U.S. manufacturing have been greatly exaggerated. Since the depth of the manufacturing recession in 2002, the sector as a whole has experienced robust and sustained output, revenue, and profit growth. The year 2006 was a record year for output, revenues, profits, profit rates, and return on investment in the manufacturing sector. And despite all the stories about the erosion of U.S. manufacturing primacy, the United States remains the world's most prolific manufacturer--producing two and a half times more output than those vaunted Chinese factories in 2006.
Lots and lots of stuff (from the Alliance for American Manufacturing):
Manufacturing in the U.S. generates about $1.6 trillion, or 12 percent of our gross domestic product, accounting for nearly three quarters of the nation’s industrial research and development (R&D), two-thirds of our nation’s total exports of goods and services, and supports more than 20 million high-paying jobs. Manufacturing also ensures we have a strong industrial base to support our national security objectives.
In fact making stuff holds the potential for helping to solve lots of our other problems (from the Economic Policy Institute Briefing Paper "Renewing U.S. Manufacturing by Promoting a High-Road Strategy" [PDF]):
U.S. manufacturing: Why shrinkage is a problem—and is not inevitable
Why manufacturing matters
A stronger manufacturing sector could alleviate a number of problems plaguing the U.S. economy. These problems include:1.Sagging infrastructure. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE 2005) rates 27% of the nation’s bridges as “structurally deficient,” a danger exemplified by the recent collapse of the Interstate 35W bridge across the Mississippi River in Minneapolis on August.1, 2007. In addition, the ASCE reported large shortfalls on spending for clean water, cleanup of toxic waste sites, and waste-water treatment.
2. Failure to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. According to the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2007), the world faces potentially disastrous changes in climate.
Manufacturing can contribute to this reduction both by adopting energy-efficient production techniques and by making equipment to produce renewable energy.
Making stuff also drives innovation (from "Manufacturing a Better Future for America")...
“Contrary to assertions by many that we can jettison manufacturing in favor of focusing on ‘innovation’ and high-wage services sectors to lead growth, the reality is that manufacturing industries account for 70 percent of all U.S. spending on research and development and employs more than 40 percent of all engineers,” Hira continues. “Innovation is inextricably linked to manufacturing and vice versa—lose one and you’ll lose both."
And making stuff also not only pays pretty well, but generates other jobs in the economy, effectively propping up the American Middle Class (from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch):
...To understand the cost of losing these jobs, you need to understand just how valuable manufacturing jobs are. Manufacturing supports large numbers of upstream suppliers, pours research and development investment into the economy and stimulates innovation.
With their high productivity, manufacturing jobs pay good wages and provide needed benefits. Moreover, 35,000 retirees and their families depend on the tire industry for their retiree health care benefits; when that industry can't compete because of imports from China, it puts those important benefits at risk.
Manufacturing jobs are the backbone of the middle class, supporting entire communities in many areas of the nation. Every job in the tire-and-rubber industry supports an additional 2.4 jobs in supplier industries and through respending of wages earned by those workers.
This is bang for your buck we just cannot get by creating a new job at Wal-Mart, or even on Wall Street.
"Protocols" are fine things, Mr, Brooks, and stacking and shuffling bits for a living around keeps geeks off the streets and out of the gangs, but we are still very much a country that makes stuff, and our future (and, indirectly, jobs like yours) depend on us not only remaining a global manufacturing heavyweight, but on getting better and better at it every year.
Which, in turn, depends on convincing a skeptical public and an ignorant ruling class still drunk on the cheap popskull get-rich-easy dreams of a Goldman Sachs/casino economy that it is worth the expensive, long-term investments and radical changes in our cultural and educational institutions needed to secure this future; a task that is made all the harder every time someone like Bobo Brooks opens his yap to regurgitate another bit of commonly accepted yahoo disinformation on a subject about which he knows almost nothing at all.
Still, perhaps we cannot blame C3-BOBO too much this time around.