By Paul Krugman, Opinion Columnist, Nov. 29, 2018, 837
Image: Union workers concerned about jobs interrupted President Trump at a rally in Ohio in early November.
Credit: David Maxwell/EPA, via Shutterstock
“Let’s face it: Make America Great Again was a brilliant political slogan. Why? Because it could mean different things to different people.
For many supporters of Donald Trump, MAGA was basically a promise to return to the good old days of raw racism and sexism. And Trump is delivering on that promise.
But for at least some Trump voters, it was a promise to restore the kind of economy we had 40 or 50 years ago — an economy that still offered lots of manly jobs in manufacturing and mining. Unfortunately for those who trusted Mr. Art of the Deal, Trump never had any idea how to deliver on that promise. And even if he had a clue about policymaking, he couldn’t have changed the long-term trajectory of our economy, which is moving steadily away from making physical stuff and toward providing services.
As a result, Trump, who cares above all about image, is now getting headlines that make a mockery of his campaign posturing — headlines about closing auto plants and lost jobs. Now, autos are a special case; overall manufacturing employment is still rising, although not especially fast. But relative to his grand promises, what’s happening is an embarrassing bust.
Why was the vision of revived manufacturing nonsense? Talking about what Donald Trump doesn’t know is, of course, a vast task, since his ignorance is both broad and deep. But he seems to have misunderstood three specific things about manufacturing.
First, he believes that trade deficits are the reason we’ve shifted away from manufacturing. But they aren’t.
To be fair, those deficits have played some role in shrinking U.S. industrial employment. If we could eliminate our current trade imbalance, we’d probably have around 20 percent more workers in the manufacturing sector than we actually do. But that would reverse only a small part of manufacturing’s relative decline, from more than a quarter of the work force in 1970 to less than 10 percent now.
Indeed, even countries that run huge trade surpluses, like Germany, have seen big declines in manufacturing as a share of employment. Trade just isn’t the main story. What’s happening instead is that as overall spending grows, an increasing share goes to services, not goods. Consumption of manufactured goods keeps rising, but technological progress lets us produce those goods with ever fewer workers; so the economy shifts toward services.”