Monday, February 20, 2012

Standard Auto & Manufacturing in America

The Atlantic's summary is quite good: 
"In the past decade, the flow of goods emerging from U.S. factories has risen by about a third. Factory employment has fallen by roughly the same fraction. The story of Standard Motor Products, a 92-year-old, family-run manufacturer based in Queens, sheds light on both phenomena. It’s a story of hustle, ingenuity, competitive success, and promise for America’s economy. It also illuminates why the jobs crisis will be so difficult to solve."

Something I thought was interesting is the increasing stratification of the manufacturing labor pool, as the skilled labor (Luke, who has some really remarkable mathematical prowess) progresses, and the unskilled laborer (Madie) can hope to hang on to her occupation. Clearly, the people who are driving to keep themselves competitive in the market are doing better, presumably indicating a healthy market situation. 

I was also impressed that even after the past several decades of growth in Chinese manufacturing, Standard Auto Parts is unable to acquire the precision needed outside of the US. After listening to a podcast with the author,

 (EconTalk with Prof. Russ Roberts of George Mason University, interviewed the author of this article, in many ways a superior learning experience to the article itself. Transcript after the jump) it impressed me how much innate skill is possessed by the skilled laborers such as Luke, and by the way US production systems are designed to accentuate the ability of these individuals. In contrast, much of the manufacturing that Standard also uses in china is unskilled, in the manner of tasks that can imparted through a days worth of training. 

To touch more strongly on a point made in this article, US manufacturing has grown, and is growing faster then almost any other part of the economy except energy. Meanwhile, we have been hammered about the death of american manufacturing in popular media.
The disconnect lies in the dishonesty of our political leadership and from displaced workers, as machines have been increasing the efficiency of some workers, but in so doing many unskilled workers have become to expensive to maintain on payroll. Just remember, next time you hear of the woebegone state of American manufacturing, we make more and have far fewer people tied up in the process of material fabrication. 


Gino said...

but the problem still remains: jobs. we need them.

Palm boy said...

The jobs are still needed, but there are a host of opportunities for people to work outside of assembly plants. Realistically speaking, the opportunities for advanced (eg, post high school/GED) training is better then ever before.

Gino said...

not when yer pushing 50 and the plants that employed you are closing.