America Changes from Manufacturing to a Service Based Economy
The United States Census Bureau has the task of collecting and collating data on people residing in America. Take a look at any graph taken over the last 20 year period and you will see one very dramatic and undeniably true fact. While many sectors in the economy had a sharp decline after the financial crisis of 2008, there is one category that had a steady and sharp decline and appears to be in a freefall with no hope of recovery. That sector of the economy is manufacturing.
In order to fully understand this catastrophic decline, we must return to 1957, fully 12 years after the Second World War. Americans had, almost single-handedly, defeated the evil axis; soldiers and sailors were becoming policemen and carpenters and plumbers building homes for families of the “Baby Boom” generation. Unemployment was almost nonexistent, optimism was astronomical, we were living in a golden age. We were building bigger, cheaper homes filled with the benefits of manufacturing and technology. Housewives had washing machines, dryers, dishwashers, side by side refrigerators. Television sets, once a novelty and a luxury, were coming into every home. Teenage boys could now mow lawns using gasoline powered lawn mowers. Every family and every working man had an automobile. All the ingredients were in place for another revolution in American life. The “Age of Suburbia” was beginning. Decades earlier people began moving off the farms to go to the cities to work in manufacturing plants. Sadly, this may have destroyed the quality of American life by setting peoples apart by physical distances.
During the 1950s Americans benefited by having the best of everything. We had the best schools, hospitals and social services in the world. Our army and navy were the most powerful, our cars were the best and cheapest. You could make a list totaling dozens of pages of popular products from toothpicks to airplanes that were made in America and were the finest example of their kind in the world.
That is now in the past. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates temporarily slowed our nation’s slide toward becoming a service oriented economy.
Fords, Chevrolets and Cadillacs have been replaced by Toyotas, Kias and BMWs. Household appliances once the domain of American manufacturing and housed at the local Sears and Roebuck, have been replaced by Japanese models purchased on-line.
Innovation was once the result of research and development departments at major manufacturing firms. Possibly, the powers that be determined that we had enough R&D and needed to sell and resell the same product ad nauseum. Could it be the fault of the owners of manufacturing plants who decided we didn’t need to get better at anything; there was a scary term called “planned obsolescence” from that era, which implied to the bosses of manufacturing that a product with a limited life was better for business than a product with an unlimited life. The Edsel, sadly, had driven into our lives.