Hardly a day goes by without an article predicting, lamenting, or celebrating America's decline. The turmoil in Crimea and Syria, the polarized and frequently gridlocked U.S. political system, the deepening income and wealth inequalities in the United States, and the growing clout of rivals like China and Russia are all offered as proof of waning American power.
These weaknesses surely exist, and some—like mounting economic inequality—are truly alarming. But the doomsayers often fail to see the ways in which America is gaining rather than losing global influence. And nowhere is this truer than the manufacturing sector. The combination of lower energy prices, innovative information technologies, and advances in robotics and materials science are powering a manufacturing revolution that will reinvigorate the U.S. economy and make many of its industrial sectors the most competitive in the world.
According to Martin Baily and Barry Bosworth of the Brookings Institution, for the past 50 years industrial production in the U.S. has grown at the same rate or even faster than the economy as a whole. This means that contrary to conventional wisdom, manufacturing has not lost ground in terms of its importance in the U.S. economy. Until 2011, when China inched slightly ahead, the United States boasted the world’s largest manufacturing sector, and it continues to be an industrial powerhouse. The general impression that factories in America are disappearing may be true for some sectors and in some regions and cities, but it is inaccurate in the aggregate. We perceive an industry in decline because the great strides that have been made in efficiency and productivity have not generated a proportional increase in jobs. More is being produced, and fewer workers are needed. Between 2000 and 2010, the United States lost 5.7 million manufacturing jobs.