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Monday, October 27, 2003

Disappearing Manufacturing Jobs: A Worldwide Phenomenon

Bloomberg's Caroline Baum re-iterates a fair point here. Manufacturing jobs aren't being stolen from anywhere, since technological change means that even with rising output employment is gowing down: globally. This is why there's no 'lump of labour' to share out. Of course this isn't quite the same thing as saying that articles which were previously made in the US are not now made in China (there is a little slight of hand somewhere here), but still, the reductions in China are impressive. This is why the global impact of China is still likely to be deflationary: all the surplus labour continues to exert downward pressure on wages. On the productivity numbers, we are bound to get the 'usual arguments' that always surround these, but please not the low (very low, and continuingly low) Italian performance:

Last month, in a Labor Day appeal to union workers, President George W. Bush announced the appointment of a new manufacturing czar. He could have saved himself the ridicule. The government doesn't create jobs; the private sector does. A domestic manufacturing czar isn't going to bring back the 2.6 million factory jobs lost on Bush's watch, or stanch the losses, when the problem is global in nature.

So while a figurehead czar will do far less damage than any of the protectionist measures wafting through the Capitol, it won't fix the problem. Manufacturing jobs are disappearing around the world, according to a recent study by Alliance Capital Management, reported in this column two weeks ago. No one is stealing jobs from us. Something -- productivity -- is. Nowhere are manufacturing jobs vanishing more rapidly than in China, the presumed villain in this tale. The study by Alliance's global economic research department, headed up by Joe Carson, created a flurry of interest when it was reported in the Wall Street Journal last week because the results were contrary to what was commonly believed. The Commerce Department, the Treasury, Federal Reserve District Banks, manufacturing trade associations (national and state), lobbyists and the media all wanted the results of the study. (Aren't some of these folks the ones who should be producing the data?)

Prompted by intense interest in what's quickly becoming the No. 1 myth (China is stealing our manufacturing jobs) and what could become the No. 1 problem (protectionist trade sanctions), Carson's group mined international industry data on manufacturing production workers (the folks who actually make things). The economists found that China is even less of a thief than previously thought.

The initial study found a decline of 16 million manufacturing jobs in China from 1995 through 2002. Further digging unearthed a total loss of 25 million. The initial finding of a 2 million increase in manufacturing jobs in China since 1999 morphed into a loss in every year since 1995. "All of China's 28 industry categories showed losses between 1995 and 2002,'' Carson says. ``Only two industries -- garments and electrical and telecom equipment -- experienced positive job growth since 1999.'' China's huge contraction in manufacturing jobs is largely the result of shuttering inefficient state-owned enterprises. Employment at SOEs, both manufacturing and non-manufacturing, fell by two-thirds since 1995, Carson says.

Employment in private enterprises has risen sharply as many workers from the defunct SOEs are absorbed. However, neither China's rapid economic growth -- 9.1 percent in the last year -- nor growing ``number of private sector enterprises has been large enough to offset the drop in factory jobs at state-owned enterprises,'' Carson says. ``Productivity is killing inefficient industries in China in the same way it is here.''

The results of the second Alliance study found more global manufacturing job losses than on first blush. Over 31 million manufacturing jobs vanished worldwide from 1995-2002, versus an initial estimate of 22 million. Factory employment declined in every year in the biggest 20 economies in the world and in almost every year in the three major regions (North America, non-Japan Asia and Europe).

Europe ranked No. 1 -- in terms of the fewest number of manufacturing job losses (2 percent) in the seven-year period of the study. No surprise there: The continent's rigid labor laws deny businesses the flexibility to fire workers during lean economic times.

When it comes to things that really matter, such as the standard of living (an outgrowth of productivity growth), Europe loses its star ranking, based on international comparisons of manufacturing productivity in 14 economies by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. While the BLS doesn't aggregate country data, Germany, Europe's largest economy, saw output per manufacturing hour increase an average 2.4 percent from 1995 to 2000 and less than 2 percent in 2001-2002. That compares with an average rise of 4.5 percent (1995-2000) and 3.4 percent (2001-2002) in the U.S. One European country, Sweden, topped the U.S. in manufacturing productivity growth, but its weighting isn't big enough to raise the European average by much.

Italy recorded average annual manufacturing productivity growth of less than 1 percent in the last seven years. The U.K. and the Netherlands got the booby prize in 2002 in the BLS comparison, with growth rates of 0.4 percent and 0.5 percent, respectively. Both countries had average annual manufacturing productivity growth of 2.5 percent in 1995-2000. Europe hasn't benefited from the innovations in information technology to the same extent as the U.S. in the past decade. Since the technology itself is available everywhere, the assumption is Europe's structural rigidities are to blame. Europe will have to liberalize its economy in order to reap the full benefits of productivity-enhancing equipment. If companies had more leeway to fire workers, shorten the workweek and cut generous benefits, maybe it would have been the bureaucrats in Brussels who dreamed up the idea of a manufacturing czar instead of President Bush.
Source: Bloomberg

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