Matt Yglesias gets it wrong on manufacturing jobs

Posted by smorgante on 12/13/2011

Matt Yglesias has a post up on Slate discussing food service jobs and manufacturing jobs, drawing a cute comparison between the two categories:

…if I build a factory where people take fresh peas and put them in cans that's a "manufacturing" facility full of manufacturing jobs and people who "make things." But if I build a facility where people take fresh peas, mix them with some basil and a touch of mint, plus olive oil, parmigiano reggiano, and pine nuts then purée them to serve you a delicious pea pesto that's a lowly service sector employment cite that couldn't possibly generate good jobs. Similarly if I make pasta then dry it and stick it in boxes, I'm manufacturing. If I make fresh pasta and serve it to you on a plate with my pea pesto that's services.

While this comparison looks good on its face, it misses several key points on the importance of manufacturing jobs, both to the community and to the overall U.S. economy:

  • For starters, the workers in the hypothetical pesto factory are able to produce significantly more pesto than the restaurant workers. The productivity difference alone yields significant benefits for the economy.
  • This factory employs significantly more people than the restaurant, providing hundreds of jobs for a local economy, and all the peripheral jobs needed within that community. The restaurant, by contrast, has relatively few workers. No restaurant is able to sustain a small town, as many factories do.
  • The goods made by the factory are sent on trucks (or planes, or ships, or trains). These goods are then sold by retailers and wholesalers, generating jobs both for getting the products to market and selling the goods.
  • By contrast, the pesto in the restaurant is prepared by one or two cooks, and then delivered to the customer by one other person. Even if you’re making the best Pea Pesto in the world, it will be difficult to sell to more than 100 people per day. A factory could produce thousands of servings a day, employing more people at every stage of the production and distribution chains.

The choice our economy faces is not, as Yglesias puts it, deciding whether or not to have “more boxes of dried pasta and cans of peas and fewer restaurants.” Rather, it is the choice between policies that support full employment at well-paying jobs or continuing the failed policies that have sent those jobs overseas.

Mr. Yglesias might want to keep in mind that factory workers go to nice restaurants more often than restaurant workers go to factories.

1 comment

Anonymous wrote 2 years 32 weeks ago

So true

My husband works a job that packages food products. He works in the mill that is above the salt mine. This plant mines the salt, grinds it, brines it, shapes it and packages it for sell in many different fields. It is used in pharmaceuticals, animal feed and blocks and at the table. It is sold to other food packaging plants, restaurants and for icy roads. It is shipped daily by trucks and trains. My husband has worked several positions in 3 different departments, is part of the mine rescue team and is in class(yes this company employs a college too) for yet another position. This one company employs hundreds of people with so many talents. A restaurant can not provide this much work across so many lines of work.
Generally, manufacturing jobs provide a living wage. My husband is the only wage earner in our family of six. We are not rich by any stretch of the imagination but we are comfortable with our life.

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