Your Lying Eyes

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03 March 2011

Doing More with Less

Less workers, that is. The BLS released preliminary 4th quarter productivity results today. Manufacturing productivity rose at an annual rate of 5.9%. Output rose 4.4% while hours worked went dropped 1.4%. You can see how hard it is to improve the labor market by growing our manufacturing sector. Our plants just keep getting more efficient, needing less and less additional workers to produce more goods.

The Industrial Revolution was essentially defined by the automation of work - beginning with the textile industry in England as steam-powered looms replaced hand operated looms. But the IR actually created more jobs, as the increased output created demand and markets for the goods produced. Because of the assembly line, employment in automobile manufacturing exploded in the early part of the 20th century. Henry Ford's innovation made jobs rather than destroy jobs.

We seem to be have past the point where technological innovations are providing more work. Or maybe when it does happen, the jobs are being created overseas. Computer Aided Design (that's starting to sound rather quaint, itself) may have increased manufacturing jobs by making it much easier to design manufacturing processes, but there doesn't seem to be many such jobs being created in the U.S.

The great engine of blue-collar job growth over the last 30 years has been construction, but of course that's completely stalled out. Yet I see no reason construction should be completely immune from this trend of needing less-and-less workers. Once residential construction starts to pick up again, I wouldn't be surprised if a significantly greater share of it consists of manufactured homes. Is it really necessary to send a whole team of workers out to a site somewhere to frame-out a home? Manufactured homes might seem a bit declasse now, but in the "new normal" that will emerge out this mess we're in, far fewer might be turning up their noses at the thought.

I find this all rather depressing - vast hordes of able-bodied men underemployed, performing demeaning service work and paid a pittance with lousy benefits, or working for the government, adding to the roles of those gnawing away at our tax dollars. Why do we never see a dystopian fantasy - besides Idiocracy, of course - that plays out this scenario?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why do we never see a dystopian fantasy - besides Idiocracy, of course - that plays out this scenario?

People would rather see 'real' dystopian fantasies, like the one where mankind loses the ability to reproduce, or the other one where England is ruled by a right-wing totalitarian fascist regime. You know, the kind of fantasies that are fun to think about because they represent circumstances that are simply impossible.

No one is interested in contemplating the dystopian future that we have been busy creating for the past few decades. That's what we go to the movies to try to forget.

March 05, 2011 12:24 AM  
Blogger Steve Sailer said...

I did an MBA school paper on factory-made homes in 1981. Prefab homes were more efficient than on-site construction for single homes on a vacant lot in a built-up area. On the other hand, sending construction workers onsite to a large suburban development was at least as efficient as shipping semi-finished homes.

Of course, that was 30 years ago.

March 08, 2011 7:11 AM  
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