Jeff Jacoby

IN ECONOMICS AS IN APPAREL, most fashions come and go. But like the navy blazer or the little black dress, bewailing the decline of American manufacturing never seems to go out of style.

They're closing down the textile mill across the railroad tracks
Foreman says these jobs are going boys and they ain't coming back.

So sang Bruce Springsteen in "My Hometown," a hit song from his 1984 album, "Born in the U.S.A.". More than a quarter-century later, that sentiment (if not the song) is as popular as ever.

"You know, we don't manufacture anything anymore in this country," says Donald Trump in an interview with CNNMoney. "We do health care; we do lots of different services. But . . . everything is made in China, for the most part."

The Donald has his idiosyncracies, but on this issue, he is squarely in mainstream.

A recent Heartland Monitor survey finds "clear anxiety about the decades-long employment shift away from manufacturing to service jobs," National Journal's Ron Brownstein reported in December. The "decline of US manufacturing" is giving Americans a "sense of economic precariousness" -- only one in five believe that the United States has the world's strongest economy, versus nearly half who think China is in the lead. "Near the root of the unease for many of those polled is the worry that the United States no longer makes enough stuff." When asked why US manufacturing jobs have declined, fully 58 percent cite offshoring by American companies to take advantage of lower labor costs.

There's just one problem with all the gloom and doom about American manufacturing. It's wrong.

Americans make more "stuff" than any other nation on earth, and by a wide margin. According to the UN's comprehensive database of international economic data, America's manufacturing output in 2009 (expressed in constant 2005 dollars) was $2.15 trillion. That surpassed China's output of $1.48 trillion by nearly 46 percent. China's industries may be booming, but the United States still accounted for 20 percent of the world's manufacturing output in 2009 -- only a hair below its 1990 share of 21 percent.


Jeff Jacoby

Jeff Jacoby is an Op-Ed writer for the Boston Globe, a radio political commentator, and a contributing columnist for Townhall.com.