Monday, April 18, 2016

News flash: American manufacturing is not thriving - By Sierra Rayne

About a month ago, Kevin Williamson at National Review wrote an incendiary article attacking Donald Trump and his supporters.  While the title of Williamson's article currently reads, "Chaos in the Family, Chaos in the State: The White Working Class’s Dysfunction," the URL gives you the actual title: "Donald Trump & White Working Class Dysfunction: Real Opportunity Needed, Not Trump."

Strong words, and the vitriol increases as you move into and through the main text.

But there appear to be some problems in Williamson's analyses, such as the following claim about the state of American manufacturing:

On the trade front, American manufacturing continues to expand and thrive – an absolute economic fact that is, perversely, unknown to the great majority of Americans, who believe precisely the opposite to be the case.

Well, it appears that "the great majority of Americans" are correct.  American manufacturing is most certainly not thriving.

The share of the American economy from manufacturing has declined steadily since the early 1950s.  Back then, it was 28% of GDP.  By 1980, that was down to 20%.  In 2000, it hit just 15%.  Since 2009, a new low of 12% has been the steady-state.

Perhaps the argument for the thriving of American manufacturing is founded on the belief that even though the share of the U.S. economy from manufacturing continues to decline, since the economy itself has been growing, the manufacturing sector's absolute size in real terms may still be increasing.


There has been no significant increase in the value of the manufacturing sector since 2000. It was growing up until that point, albeit at an ever-slowing pace since 1960, and then it stopped. There have been a couple oscillations over the past 15 years, but no overall net growth whatsoever.
There are other problems in Williamson's article, such as the following characterization of where Trump's support is coming from, which is the most quoted and controversial part of the piece:

[I]t perpetuates a lie: that the white working class that finds itself attracted to Trump has been victimized by outside forces[.] ... If you spend time in hardscrabble, white upstate New York, or eastern Kentucky, or my own native West Texas, and you take an honest look at the welfare dependency, the drug and alcohol addiction, the family anarchy – which is to say, the whelping of human children with all the respect and wisdom of a stray dog – you will come to an awful realization. It wasn't Beijing. It wasn't even Washington, as bad as Washington can be. It wasn't immigrants from Mexico, excessive and problematic as our current immigration levels are. It wasn't any of that.

So Trump's support is driven dominantly by welfare-dependent drug- and alcohol-addicted white working-class trash in West Texas?

Leaving aside all the polls conducted around the nation during the past couple months that repeatedly show Trump generally winning all income classes from the poor through to the wealthy, the voting data out of West Texas doesn't even support these wild claims.

Ted Cruz, not Trump, clearly won West Texas – as he did essentially all of Texas.  Sure, Trump won two counties in West Texas (Terrell and Hudspeth) with just 41% of the vote, but he also won Sabine on the far eastern border of the state with 43%, Aransas on the Gulf Coast with 39%, and Webb and Zapata counties on the southern border with 35% and 40%, respectively.  Now troll around the county-level results across the state, and it becomes clear that there is no pattern to the popular vote for Trump, which in itself debunks the theory.

If Trump's national appeal, with him overwhelmingly winning the vast majority of states around the country and a much larger share of the total vote than any of his opponents, was due to West Texan-type crackheads, then why didn't he win West Texas?  And why is his average share of the West Texas vote – probably somewhere in the low to mid-30s – much lower than his national polling averages, which are in the low 40s?

So the narrative collapses, as do all superficial generalizations.  This is much like the narratives that free trade and large-scale immigration lead to high rates of economic growth – narratives that the conservative establishment has peddled for several decades and which have entirely failed to materialize.