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  • Star Trek vs. Elysium

    Posted on April 22nd, 2014 Michael No comments

    What type of society is the world headed to?  Will it be more like Star Trek or Elysium?  Why is this important on a blog site about manufacturing?  For those of you not familiar with either science fiction depictions of earth generations from now, here is a quick synopsis.   In Star Trek there is enough of everything for everyone while in Elysium there is not enough of anything for everyone except the super-rich.  In both cases technology advances allows for ample production of virtually everything utilizing a minimal manufacturing workforce.

    To answer the last question first, at some point manufacturing will be so efficient that supplying the worlds needs for an item will be satisfied by a relatively small workforce.   Companies are continuing to automate production and trim the number of workers needed.  Even China is finding that their large and cheap labor pool is becoming less competitive for many areas of manufacturing.   This is behind the movement of some manufacturing jobs back to the United States.  I would be remiss if I did not point out that the returning manufacturing jobs is also helped out by the stagnant wages of domestic manufacturing workers over the last several decades.   This is why businesses are relocating manufacturing closer to the market being served.  It is not surprising that manufacturing jobs have been moving into, or back to, many other countries and not just the United States.

    When the United States, and other countries, started their push to globalize manufacturing it was a good thing for businesses and workers in rich countries and poor countries.  Low end manufacturing, such as flatware, quickly moved to low cost countries.   Our economy was okay for a while since we had new markets for other, more complex, items from automobiles to electronics.  Problems started to appear when two things happened; low cost countries developed the infrastructure to start producing higher end items and higher cost countries where producing some products better than we did domestically.  It could have been worse.  Thanks to the higher cost countries realizing that they needed to move their production closer to the markets they served, many foreign companies, such as automobile companies and other manufacturers, moved production and/or assembly to the United States.

    Despite the recent, slight rebound in domestic manufacturing, the long term trend will continue to be less workers and more output per worker.   Eventually, there will be such a small percentage of manufacturing workers needed to supply an economy that a transition to another type of economy will be needed.

    I have never been a strong believer that an innovation economy is the answer.  Innovation jobs do not have the same, multiplier, effect on job creation as manufacturing jobs and they often did not help the economy the innovation was from.  This means that more innovation jobs are needed to replace lost manufacturing jobs. also, innovation jobs are under the same pressure for productivity as manufacturing jobs.  At some point there will not be enough innovation to support any, or all, economies.

    All is not doom and gloom.  Many things can happen that can make this a non-issue, but who knows when/if that will happen.  This makes the need to support domestic manufacturing more important.  The longer we support and maintain our domestic manufacturing, the longer we provide a foundation for our economy.

    So what type of society is the world headed to?  I do not have an answer, but I hope for the best.  All I want to do is keep our economy strong for the next generation and on.  Buying domestic products will help our economy and maybe help ease into a better low manufacturing workforce economy that will have enough of everything for everybody.

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