Aren’t production jobs the foundation of a healthy economy?

BY Paul Solman  May 7, 2008 at 3:54 PM EDT

A total of 3.2 million, one in six factory jobs, have disappeared since the start of 2000.: AP

Question/Comment: Having grown up around workers and plant
managers in western New York,
and knowing the vibrant history there, one factor stands out as fundamental to
our current economic problems today: the massive loss of production jobs here. Since
the ’70s, the scale of loss in this sector is astronomical. Isn’t this the
foundation on which a healthy economy builds?

Paul Solman: Yes and no. 

Yes, because it’s unhealthy when an economy changes faster
than its people can. There can be whopping costs to being laid off if you are out of work for months or years. Try it some time. And what about an
economy where less than 30 percent of people graduate from college, having
assumed that a high school education would suffice for well-paying production
jobs that are no longer there?

No, because what’s so special about production jobs? Why not
lament the far greater number of jobs lost in agriculture? Or the fact that,
because of automation, goods like a dress or shirt became available to the
masses whereas before they’d been heirlooms?

There’s a famous phrase to describe free market capitalism:
“creative destruction.” Very tough to strike a sustainable balance
between the two, however.