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商业 - 工业和采矿

揭开美国制造业复苏的假象

Tory Newmyer 2012年03月23日

近日出炉的一份新报告声称,人们听到的关于美国制造业重现生机的所有消息都是错误的。

    不少美国人正在为制造业的复苏欢呼雀跃,奥巴马总统俨然已经成为这支啦啦队的总队长。他在工厂车间发表演讲称,制造业脆弱的好转迹象理应为他赢得第二个任期。“只要我们能制造出比世界其他国家更好的东西,美国就将会展现出一派蓬勃发展的景象,”本月初,他在弗吉尼亚州一家劳斯莱斯轿车(Rolls-Royce)制造厂对听众们说。

    但一份最新出炉的报告称,近期那些大肆宣扬制造业显露复兴迹象的新闻报道掩盖了一个更加严峻的现实:过去10年,美国制造业遭受了一场灾难性的衰退,如今的状况要比大多数经济学家愿意承认的状况还要糟糕得多。

    周二,这份由技术政策智库信息技术与创新基金会(the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation)发布的报告显示,以创造的就业机会来衡量,制造业在过去10年的表现堪称史上最糟,总计共裁减了570万个就业岗位。如果按照在全部工作岗位中占据的份额来衡量,这一轮衰退甚至比制造业在大萧条(Great Depression)期间遭受的打击更加严重。

    二战后的数次衰退中,大多数时候,制造业往往都是经济复苏的引领者,这个经济部门丧失的就业机会通常都能在相对较短的时间内失而复得。但不同的是,制造业在过去10年消失的绝大多数就业机会现在依然没有得到恢复;而在大衰退(Great Recession)期间,这一数据还不到14%。

    技术与创新基金会使用这些数据来证明,美国制造业目前正面临结构性衰退。他们认为,各个流派的经济学家和专家一直在粉饰太平——这些人不仅采用的错误数据不但低估了制造业当前面临的挑战之严重程度,而且秉持一种拙劣的理念:劳动力的变化可以用生产力的提高等一些变量来解释,这些因素同样对我们的竞争对手发挥着类似的不利影响。

    “就算我们还不能做出正确的决策,但我们首先至少得理解现实,”技术与创新基金会总裁罗布•阿特金森说。“我们正面临的竞争力挑战远大于我们现有的认识。”

    这份报告称,那些戴玫瑰色眼镜的乐天派所秉持的一项关键论断其实并不正确,他们认为,效率的提高使得用更少的工人生产更多货物成为可能,这最终是制造业实力的一项标志。问题是,经济学家一直在使用政府发布的数据来衡量美国工厂产出的增长,并从中找到了大量好消息:比如,如今1个工人干的活放在1950年需要5个工人来做。

    但技术与创新基金会认为,这些数据所反映的情况无法充分解释日益全球化的供应链。剔除这些变化后,该基金会发现在过去10年间,美国制造业的产出其实下降了11%——除大萧条之外,这是制造业绝无仅有的一次。

    虽然许多经济学家认为制造业的衰退无关紧要,或者说,它实际上预示着美国正在迈向以服务为导向的“创意”经济时代,但阿特金森的研究团队认为,制造业可以对整个经济的其它部门产生一种无可比拟的连锁反应:我们每失去1个制造类工作,就会相应地损失2.5个其他门类的工作。

    President Obama is becoming the cheerleader-in-chief for the manufacturing recovery, hitting factory floors to make his case that the fragile turnaround should earn him a second term. "America thrives when we build things better than the rest of the world," he told the crowd at a Rolls-Royce plant in Virginia earlier this month.

    But a new report argues that recent headlines touting a nascent manufacturing renaissance belie a grimmer reality: The sector suffered a cataclysmic decline over the last decade and is in much worse shape than most economists will admit.

    The report -- out today from the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, a technology policy think tank -- says that measured by job creation, manufacturers registered their worst performance in history over the last decade, shedding 5.7 million jobs. As a share of total jobs, that decline is worse even than the one manufacturing suffered during the Great Depression.

    And unlike the periods following most post-World War II recessions, when manufacturing helped lead the recovery and jobs lost in the sector were restored in relatively short order, the vast majority of manufacturing jobs that disappeared over the last ten years haven't come back -- in the case of the Great Recession, that number is less than 14%.

    The group uses the numbers to make the case that American manufacturing is now facing a structural decline. It's a situation they argue that economists and pundits across the spectrum have papered over, owing both to faulty data that has understated the severity of the challenges facing the sector and a misbegotten belief that changes in the labor force can be chalked up to market dynamics -- like productivity gains -- that are taking similar tolls on our competitors.

    "We need to at least understand reality before we can make the right decisions," says Rob Atkinson, president of the ITIF. "We have a competitiveness challenge that's bigger than what we thought."

    The report argues that the key claim of the rose-colored glasses crowd -- that increased efficiency has made it possible to produce more with fewer workers, which is ultimately a sign of the sector's strength -- is in fact wrong. The problem is that economists have been using government data to measure the growth in the output of American factories and finding plenty of good news: it takes one worker today, for example, to do the work of five in 1950.

    But ITIF holds that the numbers telling that story don't adequately account for an increasingly globalized supply chain. Adjusting for those changes, the group found manufacturing output actually fell by 11% over the last decade, the only time outside of the Great Depression when the sector notched a dip.

    While many economists say manufacturing's decline doesn't matter -- or that it actually augurs progress toward a service-oriented, "ideas" economy -- Atkinson's group hopes to make the case that the sector has an unrivaled ripple effect throughout the rest of the economy: for every manufacturing job we lose, 2.5 others go with it.

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