Walter E. Williams
According to some pundits and political hustlers, free trade has led to a loss of "good manufacturing jobs." Let's look at it, but before doing so, let's first see whether we should work ourselves into a tizzy over other job losses.

In 1900, 41 percent of the U.S. labor force was employed in agriculture. Now, only two percent of today's labor force works in agricultural jobs. If declining employment is used as a gauge of an industry's health, agriculture is America's sickest industry.

Let's not stop with agriculture. In 1970, the telecommunications industry employed 421,000 workers in good-paying jobs as switchboard operators. Today, the telecommunications industry employs only 78,000 operators. That's a tremendous 80 percent job loss. What happened to all those agriculture and switchboard operator jobs? Were they exported to China and India by rapacious businessmen?

The easy and correct answer is that our agricultural sector has seen massive gains in productivity as a result of advances in farm machinery, innovation and technology. There have also been spectacular advances in telecommunications. In 1970, those 421,000 switchboard operators annually handled 9.8 billion long-distance calls. Now 100 billion long-distance calls a year require only 78,000 switchboard operators. What's more is, the cost of making a long-distance call is a fraction of what it was in 1970.

Here's my question to you: Should Congress do something to restore all of those jobs lost in agriculture and telecommunications, and what might that something be?

The tremendous gains in productivity seen in agriculture, telecommunications and some other industries have benefited the manufacturing industry as well. According to David Huether, chief economist of the National Association of Manufacturers, U.S. manufacturers are producing and exporting more goods than ever before. While manufacturing output easily outpaces the larger U.S. economy, manufacturing employment, at 14.2 million, is at its lowest level in more than 50 years.

Walter E. Williams

Dr. Williams serves on the faculty of George Mason University as John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics and is the author of 'Race and Economics: How Much Can Be Blamed on Discrimination?' and 'Up from the Projects: An Autobiography.'
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