Robert Reich has a new blog post entitled: "The Future of Manufacturing, GM, and American Workers (Part I)" in which he states that manufacturing jobs are disappearing all over the world - not just in the US.
Even if the U.S. were to seal its borders and bar any manufactured goods from coming in from abroad--something I don't recommend--we'd still be losing manufacturing jobs. That's mainly because of technology.
When we think of manufacturing jobs, we tend to imagine old-time assembly lines populated by millions of blue-collar workers who had well-paying jobs with good benefits. But that picture no longer describes most manufacturing. I recently toured a U.S. factory containing two employees and 400 computerized robots. The two live people sat in front of computer screens and instructed the robots. In a few years this factory won't have a single employee on site, except for an occasional visiting technician who repairs and upgrades the robots.
I left the following comment:
RR is right about the job loss due to computerization, automation and robotization, but his suggestion that these major job losses will be made up for by those who "analyze, manipulate, innovate and create" is nuts. This is the fundamental flaw in economic thinking today: that the loss of manufacturing jobs will be made up for by the service economy. Sure there are some new jobs created in these areas but not enough. And RR leaves out the fact that the robots and automatons are owned by large corporations that have the capital to invest in such devices. Where does this leave the average person? Basically as a consumer.
But in order to consume, a person has to get money from somewhere or the world's enormous production capacity will sit unused and the world's consumers will languish in poverty because they don't have the wherewithal to consume.
Could the world be a consumer's paradise? Sure it could if we could figure out a way to get money into the hands of consumers without their having to do increasingly superfluous work. Or better yet how about this idea. Let the consumers/taxpayers own the means of production. Then instead of profits flowing to an ever decreasing small circle of corporate investors, the profits would flow to we, the people, who would benefit from working a decreasing work week for an ever increasing paycheck with which to consume. Private production would become public production. Hell, we already own about 75% of GM. That means that we should be able to buy a new car for about 75% less than what we now pay.
Logically and rationally the only way to prevent recurring large scale depressions and the increase of poverty in the midst of plenty is to get money in the hands of the people. This can be done by providing jobs or this can be done by increasing ownership or it can be done by increasing welfare. Since the number of necessary jobs is diminishing, the only way to have prosperity in the world is to increase ownership and/or increase welfare which means taxing the owners more and redistributing the largesse. Our conservative friends find "redistribution" to be anathema. Their solution basically is to let there be poverty in the midst of plenty. Let there be a small "chosen class" and let the rest of the people live in poverty because "they haven't worked for it."
The prognosis for future societies is one of recurring depressions, followed by large scale government debt as government tries to alleviate the effects of large scale job loss. Taxation and redistribution will be fought tooth and nail by the ownership class. Poverty in the midst of plenty is the inevitable result except in countries such as Venezuela and Chile where they are attempting to socialize the means of production. A public option could create competing publicly owned industries alongside the private sector. This "mixed" economy could serve to widely expand the ownership society.
Expanding ownership to every citizen would amount to socialism but instead of a workers' paradise it would be a consumers' paradise, and I say bring it on!