≡ Menu

Quotation of the Day…

… is from page 68 of Chapter 4 of my Mercatus Center colleague Daniel Griswold’s excellent 2009 volume, Mad About Trade (footnote deleted; link added):

In his 2006 book, Senator Dorgan laments that “America cannot be great if most of its workers are in the service sector or cashiering at Wal-Mart.”  That statement is both misleading and, on a deeper level, simply false.  It’s misleading in the way it equates the typical service job with cashiering at a big-box retailer, when in fact – as we saw in the previous chapter – most of the new jobs being created in the service sector pay higher wages than the manufacturing jobs being lost.  The statement is simply false because nearly four out of five American workers earn their living in the service sector today at a time when America remains a great country.

Do the senator and those Americans who agree with him really pine for the days when more than half of Americans worked outside of the service sector?  That would take us back to about 1930 when our incomes and our standard of living were far lower than they are today.  Around the world, the nations with the lowest share of their workforce in services are invariably among the poorest, and those with the highest share of workers in services are among the richest.

Parents say about their daughters and sons “I hope that she grows up to be a doctor or an architect.” and “I hope that he grows up to become a lawyer or an engineer.”  No parent says “I hope that she grows up to be a drill-press operator!” or “I hope that he grows up to become a pipefitter in a shipyard!”  (Just fyi: my father and my maternal grandfather – both of whom I dearly loved, respected, and admired – were pipefitters in a shipyard.)  Of course, there is absolutely nothing wrong with being a drill-press operator, a pipefitter, or any other sort of manual laborer in a manufacturing facility.  But no one aspires to such jobs.  And nor do such jobs pay particularly well compared to the service-sector jobs that most people aspire to perform and hope that their children will grow up to specialize in performing.

The fact that no American, at least over the course of my 58 years in this vale, speaks of jobs on the floors of factories or on the dry-docks of shipyards as jobs that they aspire their children or grandchildren to hold – and the fact that the jobs spoken of aspirationally are all in the service sector – means that people in fact regard service-sector jobs more highly than they regard manufacturing jobs.  There is every reason to believe that this widespread, expressed sense of the relative merits of both species of jobs reflects the fact that service-sector jobs are generally and truly ones that give their holders better lives than do manufacturing jobs.

The biggest point today of education – especially of college education – is to prepare students for careers in the service sector.  Harvard University offers no degrees, or even classes, in drill-press operations.  Stanford University doesn’t teach welding.  George Mason University instructs no students in how to upholster sofas and chairs.  While I strongly oppose any and all government subsidization of college education, the fact that such subsidization is so popular with the public is further evidence that the romance about lost manufacturing jobs is just that – romance, unreasonably clung to.