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Creating jobs for blacksmiths

One of the critiques you sometimes hear of the American economy since the 1970s is that since we’ve lost so many manufacturing jobs, it’s harder and harder to join the middle class. After all, say the critics, in the 1950’s, a person could finish high school (or even drop out) and still find a job in the manufacturing sector making a decent living.

There’s no doubt that it’s harder to make a good living if you’re a high school dropout today or even a high school graduate, compared to 60 years ago.

But why would we want to reverse that trend? That trend is the result of choices and opportunities available to us. If you live in a poor country in Africa, having the strength and stamina to carry firewood or corn meal long distances allows you to be in the "middle class" of a poor country because most people have no scope or reason to develop skills that require education. The middle class in such places, is of course, terribly, tragically poor.

In America, showing up to work to work on an assembly line is no longer the road to the middle class. That’s because most people have found ways to be more productive and make more money using their brains. Most people go to college. True, if you don’t go to college, or worse, if you drop out of high school, it’s hard to make a good living. But we don’t want to fix that by creating jobs for people (or artificially high salaries) for people who have little education. We want to fix the education system and encourage more people to stay in school so they can have a good living.

Arguing that we should subsidize or protect manufacturing because it can still create good jobs for low-skill workers is about as sensible as saying that we should ban cars so that horse groomers and blacksmiths can be the high income occupations they were when we had a horse-driven economy.