This is a brief essay intended to dispel the notion that de-industrialization
is a phenomena that will devastate America and bring about a cyberpunk future.
Left-wing and right-wing critics alike believe that de-industrialization in America
is a tragedy, that our precious factories are
moving to the Third World where exploited peasants toil for 10 cents an hour and we
end up with unemployed workers and a ruined economy.
First off, use some common sense. De-industrialization has been going
on for 25+ years now. Take a look around you. Are we all living in rags?
How many people do you personally know that work in a factory making
iron & plastic products? What's the current unemployment rate in America?
[4.7% as of 01/04/98] Getting the picture?
People move to better, higher value-added jobs. Factory jobs are as
antiquated as farm jobs. So what are people doing? Research, services,
design, engineering, technical, scientific, management, conceptual, the list goes on.
Anything but actually making stuff with your bare hands. America doesn't
need to have a lot of factories. There's more profit (and hence better
wages) in the above-mentioned fields. A marketing agent adds 10 times more value
(and hence gets a better wage) to sportswear than the factory worker
who actually put it together. So America won't be building cars in the future.
So what? We'll be designing them, innovating new components, working on new
car computer systems. That's where the money will be.
But won't the service jobs move to the Third World too? No, because those
countries don't have enough well-educated people or the infrastructure
(roads, telecoms, digital networks, transparent regulations, etc.) to sustain
them. They can barely handle good manufacturing. Notice how many people
from the Third World travel to America and Europe to get a good university
education...because that kind of an education is not available in their
home countries. Furthermore, there's the question of productivity (efficiency).
Americans, Japanese and Europeans (in that order) have the highest productivity
in the world, which is why their workers are paid so much more. Third-world
workers are far less productive, and therefore often more expensive to employ
than First World workers. That's why so few modern enterprises have relocated
from the First World.
Now for the drawbacks. As in any technological evolution, there are losers.
People who are uneducated will be competing with uneducated Third World
workers (just like educated American programmers compete with educated
Hindi programmers in a global labour market); consequently their wages will
go down. But you've got to remember that most young people today are much
better educated than the previous generation. The college enrollment rate
in North America is hitting 40%! This is the best way to keep ahead of other
countries. Develop new technologies, abandon old factories, invent new jobs.
The de-industrializing phenomena (which seemed to accelerate under Reagan and
Thatcher) which so affected the cyberpunk movement
during the 80s hit the previous generation of less skilled workers very
hard. As the newer generation emerges and the older retires, unemployment
rates will continue to go down, especially since so many baby boomers will
be leaving the workforce. What does this mean? Chances are that if you're
young now, you won't have any trouble finding a job when you're older.
So don't lament about factories moving to Mexico; you'll be paying less for
Mexican-made goods than if they were made in America, AND you'll be working
in a better job than putting VCRs together in some factory. Creative
destruction is the best renewing force in an economy. The conversion of
America from a manufacturing economy to an informatics economy has been
painful (and may be so for a few more years), but it ultimately pays off.
The only tragedy would be if we failed to educate our young people properly.