Manufacturing, politics, and economic growth: How are all three really related?

Aug. 7, 2015

Is a strong manufacturing sector really vital to economic stability and growth?

There are countless stereotypes about the manufacturing sector that deters many young workers from entering the field. The New Yorker recently published an article that downplays the significance of manufacturing to American prosperity, and reinforces the long-held beliefs of manufacturing plants as dirty, dark and depressing places. Do you agree or disagree?

Here is an excerpt from the article:

"The number of manufacturing jobs in the U.S. has increased modestly the past few years, but when parties offering different economic visions rush to take credit for a renaissance, it suggests that some kind of larger deception is at work. To many Americans who’ve worked in factories, including me, the hype feels misplaced and anachronistic. What few politicians will tell you is that most factory jobs are decidedly unpleasant. Having any job usually beats unemployment, of course, and today’s factory workers are far better off than those who toiled in the nineteenth century’s dark Satanic mills, but their jobs often epitomize what Karl Marx identified as the alienation of the laborer from his or her labor. They lead the human employee to be treated, in the enduring phrase of Marx and Friedrich Engels, as “an appendage of the machine.”

It says something about the nature of the work that so many manufacturing tasks have proven to be replaceable by automation. Machines are better equipped to handle numbing repetition, and are immune to the unsafe and unhealthy conditions of much industrial work. Despite the advent of modern workplace-safety regulations, factories remain likely, for example, to damage employees’ lungs and hearing. (In the screw-machine factory where I worked in college, there was an earplug dispenser on a wall, but anyone who wore plugs was considered a wuss.) Furthermore, workers in low-autonomy, repetitive manufacturing jobs display disproportionately high rates of alcoholism, drug abuse, and depression."

Click here to read “What’s So Great About Manufacturing?” from The New Yorker.

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