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Let Him Imprison Prometheus

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Here’s a letter sent a few day’s ago to the Gray Lady:

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) asserts that America has “lost millions of well-paying manufacturing jobs as a result of unfettered free trade” (Letters [2], Jan. 6).  Wrong.

Today’s decline in manufacturing employment is no more surprising than was yesterday’s decline in agricultural employment: both are overwhelmingly the result of technology advances that enable far fewer workers to produce far more output than in the past.  The average American manufacturing worker today produces annually 660 percent more than did the average American manufacturing worker in 1947.  Moreover, the rate of increase in manufacturing productivity has itself risen in recent years, reducing even faster than in the past the need for human labor to produce manufactured products.*

Mr. Sanders might lament the innovation that ‘destroys’ manufacturing jobs, and he might regard these job losses to be worse for America than were those caused by advances in agricultural technology.  But he should stop blaming trade with the Chinese and other foreigners.  He should instead blame human creativity and one of its fruits, technology.  If he wants to thunder against the ‘injustice’ of manufacturing job losses, let him point his accusing fingers at schools of engineering; let him propose a tariff on R&D; let him use parliamentary tactics to block any further spending on roads, bridges, and other infrastructure projects – as well as on education – that he surely believes make American workers more productive.  In short, let him sing the praises of human stagnation and ignorance and decry reason and science and those other habits, practices, and institutions that enable and inspire the human mind to innovate.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA  22030

* See Carpe Diem’s Mark Perry here [3].