What bloody decline in manufacturing?

An Observer editorial:

and address what is the sharpest decline in manufacturing of any advanced economy over the past 30 years,

And my comment there:

Umm, excuse me, but what decline of manufacturing?


Manufacturing output is well over twice what it was in 1950. Heck, it was higher when Maggie left office then when she entered it, higher when Major left than when he entered.

There has been a decline in manufacturing employment, yes. But then there\’s been a decline in manufacturing employment right around the world. Really, the whole world is losing manufacturing jobs. Even China is losing manufacturing jobs.

There has been a decline in manufacturing as a percentage of the economy as well: but as manufacturing output has been growing this just means that the other sectors have been growing even faster.

Oh, and manufacturing as a percentage of the UK economy? At 12%? It the same as France: in fact, it\’s pretty much slap bang on the global average. Around and about 12% of the global economy is manufacturing.

So what is it that everyone is babbling on about?

We\’ve actually got quite a serious problem here. Vast numbers of people really do seem to believe that we\’ve had some collapse of manufacturing in the UK. And they\’re all making plans to do something about something that hasn\’t happened.

If they were instead asking \”what do we do with dim Northern boys now manufacturing is too productive to need them\” then at least they would be asking a question about something that is actually happening: however stupid their answers were.

But running around trying to solve a problem that doesn\’t actually exist is simply stupid or politics: but then I repeat myself.

9 thoughts on “What bloody decline in manufacturing?”

  1. I work in manufacturing and we are working 60+ hours a week and sometimes have to turn work away.
    We are a small company but we export all over the world .

  2. It’s odd that even the BBC has had a number of relatively high profile economic TV documentaries, by Robert Peston and Evan Davies I think, attacking the myth that the UK has no manufacturing industry.

    And yet people who should know better keep repeating this mistake.

  3. The reason for this piece of misinformation is hidden further down the article, of course:

    “A “proper” UK industrial strategy begins with an audit of the economy outside the Square Mile. We need to “pick winners” from infant industries, not those already in their death throes.”

    Yup, the state should decide which infant industries to support…..and then throw money at them. Tim, you’re absolutely right that this is about employment, not manufacturing per se:

    “In Canada, the video games industry has games tax relief and in 2008 it workforce grew by 30%, while in the UK the sector declined by 10%. Caution is required on deregulation if it means reducing employee protection.”


    The article also makes a simply silly claim about exports. Apparently the UK’s share of world exports fell from 4.4% in 2000 to 2.8% in 2009. Yes, I’m sure it did, but that isn’t necessarily because the UK’s exports declined…the increase in exports from emerging markets just might have had something to do with it, maybe? Anyway, of course, the editorial insists that Government must do something about exports. This is because they are quoting 2009 figures, in the depths of that awful post-crash recesssion. Had they used up-to-date figures they would be forced to admit that UK exports are increasing…..

    This article is yet another example of writers choosing facts and figures (including wrong ones) that suit their political argument and ignoring anything that undermines it.

  4. Look, if people will believe that eating egg yolks will doom them to heart attacks, why wouldn’t they believe every other bit of mendacious crap that’s fashionable?

  5. The Games Tax relief is an odd one. Why are computer games to be so generously treated ? Especially as the games industry is now significantly bigger and more profitable than the global film and tv industries.

    I’m sure the banks would like a reduction in the tax banks and bankers pay but that would get understandably short shrift.

  6. Some companies trying to lobby for tax breaks are inherently evil, trying to evade their civic obligations, and must be stopped at all costs. Other companies lobbying for tax breaks are inherently good and must be granted them immediately. I am really struggling to understand why writing computer games puts you in the latter category but writing Office software puts you in the former, for instance. Also I suspect the odes to manufacturing are mostly symbolic – if we still did have an economy dominated by heavy industry, I think I know which newspaper editorials would be most fiercely attacking the social, health and environmental repercussions they associate with it…

    I think anyone who has read about General Electric’s tax department (‘the best law firm in the world’) ought to be wary of letting large scale lobbying, such as that by the computer games industry in the UK, lead to sector-specific tax breaks. Even if, truth be known, the economy would benefit from breaking down any level playing fields and taxing different industries differently, I have no faith that politicians would allocate those tax breaks (and presumably compensatory tax rises in other areas) in anything like an optimal way. They have a very poor record at ‘picking winners’ and a very extensive one for being influenced by big lobbyists. Since the latter is a frequent complaint of the left (as well as of libertarians and distributivists) I’m surprised to see an editorial in this particular newspaper advocating caving in to tax-dodging corporate lobbyists…

  7. As it happens, in May I’m supposed to be visiting the premises – HQ and factory together – of the world leading offshore oil and gas metering specialists. Where? Rural Gloucestershire. What the left are really mourning is the decline of the union power which went with large factories and belching chimneys.

  8. Tim – I notice your comments attracted one or two sensible replies, before it reverted back to the eternal Guardinista meme of “Maggie’s to blame”.

    Kudos to you for trying, lad, but really, you’re on a hiding to nothing trying to talk sense on a website where facts are nowhere and comment is all over the place.

    I, and like-minded friends, generally refer to Comment Is Free as “Here Be Dragons”.

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