In defending trade from misguided protectionism, economists argue that the main killer of manufacturing employment around the world has been technology, not trade. This column explores how globalisation has caused the sectoral structures of countries to conform more closely to their factor endowments. In the skill-abundant developed regions, manufacturing became more skill-intensive, while in skill-scarce and land-scarce Asia, labour-intensive manufacturing expanded. In land-abundant developing Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East, by contrast, manufacturing contracted.
Adrian Wood, 18 March 2017
Andrew Bernard, Valerie Smeets, Frederic Warzynski, 22 June 2016
Deindustrialisation is a major policy concern in high-income countries not only because of resulting unemployment, but also because of the long-run implications for growth. This column uses evidence from Denmark to analyse whether it is being measured in the right way. A substantial fraction of the decline in manufacturing actually reflects the changing nature of production. Service sector firms that still perform many of the value-adding activities of traditional manufacturing firms should not be overlooked by policymakers.
Brian Varian, 29 May 2016
Modern discussions about a country’s ‘decline in manufacturing’ are seldom meaningful. Such talk of industrialisation and deindustrialisation across the entire sector tends to ignore important variation across individual industries. This column draws lessons from the revealed comparative advantage of late-Victorian Britain – the ‘workshop of the world’. Advantage lay mainly in industries that were relatively capital-intensive and that didn’t rely on large pools of unskilled labour. Despite its resource wealth, even Britain in the first era of globalisation was at a measurable comparative disadvantage in a number of industries.
Jayant Menon, Thiam Ng, 01 October 2015
Malaysia’s fortunes have taken a turn for the worse in recent years, both in manufacturing and across the economy in general. This column argues that the country is moving back to processing its agricultural and mineral resources, and that such ‘premature deindustrialisation’ is mostly policy driven. The biggest concern with such structural shifts is that they lead to low-productivity, low-wage manufacturing. Malaysia must address these issues and improve its business environment if it wants to realise its aspirations.
Uri Dadush, 13 March 2015
Manufacturing is often seen as the key to sustainable export and productivity growth in developing countries. This column argues that, while manufacturing played a key role in some countries’ development, high growth can be sustained without relying primarily on manufacturing. A process of learning, productivity improvement, and investment that touches all sectors characterises the most successful economies. Policies that artificially favour manufacturing should instead give way to maximising learning from the frontier in all sectors of the economy.