Decades ago, well-paid manufacturing jobs were plentiful. Many people performing these jobs were solidly in the middle class. Recent protectionist talk in the U.S. has given voice to those hit hardest by the loss of these jobs. These people dream of returning to better times. Unfortunately, this won’t happen, but perhaps not for the reasons they think.
Globalization has brought us cheaper goods and has shifted jobs to countries with lower-paid workers. On the whole, these changes have been positive for countries like Canada and the U.S., but localized areas have been hit hard by the loss of manufacturing jobs. Our modern economy has created many new jobs as well, but they require different skills and many of them provide less than middle-class pay.
But it’s important to realize that globalization is only one reason why manufacturing jobs left. Another important reason is automation. Factories are now filled with machines to do jobs that used to be done by people. This trend will not reverse.
If the U.S. becomes increasingly protectionist to the point of blocking the import of all foreign goods, this will spark the return to making goods in the U.S. But every manufacturer’s goal will be to automate as much production as possible and hire as few workers as possible. The amazing technology available today guarantees that these manufacturers would succeed in near-complete automation.
Even if the U.S. closes its border, we will never return to conditions decades ago when well-paid manufacturing jobs were plentiful. The past will stay in the past.