Yeah, but Mr. Mason

To say we’ve deindustrialised is an understatement. Manufacturing has more than halved as a percentage of GDP, while “services” – that great amorphous sector ranging from Greggs to Goldman Sachs – is now far bigger than manufacturing ever was.

Manufacturing is also larger than it was then too. Manufacturing output is up from the 70s. Sure, it’s shrunk as a percentage of the economy: but then manufacturing has shrunk as a percentage of the global economy too. And manufacturing employment is down but that’s because of automation, not anything else. The global number of people in manufacturing is also shrinking now.

This isn’t some policy decision that anyone has made. It’s just the way that economies develop. First we all work in agriculture and then that’s mechanised. This means people move over into manufacturing and then that’s mechanised. Thus we all work in services.

It’s simply not been a policy choice, just the way the world works. Most importantly, it’s not reversible nor is it even desirable that it should be.

34 thoughts on “Yeah, but Mr. Mason”

  1. he belongs firmly to that tedious school of middle class socialism that decries working in offices and believes that there is an essential nobility in people (not people like him or any of his friends or even anyone he’d consider worth talking to, obviously, they’re too valuable for manual work) strugging in dirty factories and in coal mines. They are totally ignorant of the history of the labour movement and of the way that education was seen as a way for the children of miners not to have to go down the pit

  2. A part of the decline in the number of people employed in manufacturing is also due to outsourcing.

    In the past everyone who worked at a factory was an employee of the factory, from the manager to the tea lady, and as such counted towards the number of people employed in “manufacturing”.

    Today a lot of positions are actually provided by outside companies (finance, training, on-site cafe, etc) and are therefore part of “services”.

  3. To say that somebody wielding this degree of malicious ignorance is “the economics editor of Channel 4” goes some way to explaining the woeful ignorance of economic realities in the British public sphere.

  4. Mr Mason chose to end his piece with the following sentence.

    “The social laboratory of the self is open for business and nothing’s going to shut it down.”

    Try as I might, I can’t fathom what he’s trying to get at here.

  5. Another point – Greg Mankiw caused a bit of a stir ten years ago for pointing out there was very little difference between some “service” and “manufacturing” jobs. His examples included burger assembly and the mixing of drinks. His critics slated him for paving the way for an artificial reinflation of the manufacturing sector by reclassifying burger flippers, but the crux of his argument was more subtle – government policy eg on tax breaks shouldn’t be based on such “artificial distinctions”. Which is also a fair point.

  6. By his argument the decline in the proportion of GDP due to agriculture from ‘most’ 300 years ago to ‘very little’ now is a catastrophe, whereas in fact it is the best thing that ever happened for ordinary, non-SWP people.

  7. MBE,

    It’s the romantic attachment to people doing “real” work, bashing bits of metal and so forth.

    Of course, because the Guardian has a staff of Dinosaurs (people who last saw factories in the 70s) and neo-Dinosaurs (people who’ve never been in a factory and whose vision of manufacturing is what the Dinosaurs tell them) they don’t understand that very little manufacturing is like that.

    I met someone who runs a printing company recently and his high-volume printing has 3 people who do any physical work, and that’s loading paper and removing output. The other 10 staff are doing sales and marketing , IT, management and finance.

  8. But Paul Mason is a Mancunian, so for the Manchester Guardian, he’s ideal as a contributor, not being from the hated south of England. In a similar vein, for Channel 4, his regional accent is a positive boon.

    That fact that he’s an arse and ignorant of the subject area he practises in, is of no great import.

  9. I’d love to see a film or drama that actually told the whole story of the miner’s strike. Not just the striking miners and their wives and what happened at Orgreave, but a bit of background into the 3 day week, what people outside mining thought of it. It’s always been characterised as the miners being oppressed by the government, but my own experience was that the miners had very little support amongst the public, especially after the treatment of working miners and the killing of David Wilkie.

  10. “’Id love to see a film or drama that actually told the whole story of the miner’s strike. ”

    The miners strike has already been helplessly romanticised, so I fear the chance of getting a historically accurate representation is approximately zero point nothing. Endless films and documentaries and books and newspaper articles and whatnot – strange what events the left choose to lionise and hoist their banners upon.

    Lots and lots of middle-class journos and political hacks getting teary-eyed at the thought of more generations of working-men being denied the opportunity to develop the Black Lung, just like their fathers and grandfathers before them. Presumably there were plenty of young fellows who didn’t much fancy spending their working life deep underground scraping fossil fuels out of the earth, who scarpered off to try something different.

    The printers strike at Wapping on the other hand is rather overlooked by comparison – even though it features Rupert Murdoch – that near demonic entity.

  11. @Stigler – as someone qualified to talk about this and unlike pretty much any armchair warrior who quacks on about it has actually been to and worked in a coal mine, all I can say is this. You had a group of 100,000 people who were being subsidised to the tune of 8 junior nurses’ salaries EACH who had already essentially deposed one democratically elected government (Heath) to defend their Spanish practices and who were determined to do the same. All at the expense of the 50-odd million people in the country who would be forced to pay for it.

    I’ve shut a couple of misty-eyed lefties up by asking if they thought the that Countryside Alliance would have been justified in deposing Blair – after all, they had many more supporters

  12. Mason’s degree is in ‘music and politics’. Left wing politics is the necessary qualification. Understanding economics would be a handicap.

  13. Bloke in Costa Rica

    I’m a software engineer. I create things which hitherto did not exist and get paid for it. Is what I do manufacturing or services?

    As for the miners: many years ago, let’s say 1992, I was in the bar of the local Conservative Club (I was doing GOTV for the election if I recall) and there was a group of rather cheerful Northerners playing darts while their wives sipped G+T’s. They were a little too tipsy to do the scoring so I got roped in. Turned out they were a bunch of former miners from Yorkshire. In his cups, one of them confided in me: “every day I get down on my knees and thank God for Maggie Thatcher fixing it so I don’t have to go down’t fooking pit no more. Three foreign holidays a year me and the missus have out of me redundancy.”

  14. Does anyone have any links on productivity for coal mining over the years, that they’d care to share?

    I’m looking at a graph for employment which shows a huge plummet in jobs from late 50s to early 70s, far more than in the thatcher era.

  15. Just to chuck in another point about manufacturing output, computers have managed to combine tasks into single devices, so where in the past I might have had a phone, calculator, TV, video recorder, Nintendo, calendar, diary, notepad, pen, newspaper, magazine, A-Z, letter paper and envelopes, walkman and many CD’s and tapes, camera, video camera, torch, printed photographs, camera film, photo album, ruler, wildlife identification book, address book, dictaphone, alarm clock and on and on….I now have a mobile phone or a tablet. manufacturing is down, consumption of the world’s resources is down, convenience and value are up, everyone except Kodak and their ilk wins, hooray!

  16. Socialism is inherently an industrial-era philosophy. How can the workers seize the means of production, if there are no workers in those factories?

    This is why they’ve switched to nonsense like ‘citizen’s income’ over the last few years, where the owners of automated factories are apparently going to give all their profits to the government so the government can give it to the non-workers, so they can buy the products of those factories.

    And yes, I’m still bemused that the British left complain about Thatcher saving miners from an early death, while simultaneously demanding that we stop using coal because Global Warming.

  17. The miners’ strike was about the right of Arthur Scargill to ignore the rules of the NUM and dictate to all miners that they should strike without a ballott so that he could overthrow the elected government. The doped-up miners from Kent who slep on Mr Mason’s floor were there to intimidate/terrorise/physically attack miners who had undertaken a democratic ballott and voted to work. As far as Mr Mason is concerned working miners and their families and policemen have no rights.Presumably Lee Rigby doesn’t either in his worldview.

  18. @ Dan
    No I don’t (if I had I should share them) but I *can* tell you that there was a massive increase in productivity through the introduction of “long-wall” mining machines to replace the traditional pick-and-shovel. These were only useful in pits with large seams of coal so when many small uneconomic pits got closed down – usually because they were completely worked out – the NCB only opened big pits and each used machines and less men than a small pit. They also reduced mining accidents, black lung disease etc. The two leading manufacturers were Dowty (who moved into aerospace as demiand for mining machines declined) and Dobson Park (there was a third, smaller competitor, but I have forgotten its name).

  19. bloke (not) in spain

    I have one abiding memory of the miners’ strike (Apart from meeting Cher’s separated at birth twin sister at a Miners’ Benefit gig who….never mind. You’re all too young)
    That’s going round to see some Help The Miners collection coordinators at a North London house. They were filling boxes with food donations, in between swigging some rather decent white plonk. What was going into the boxes was tins of beans & spaghetti, tins of corned beef & economy ham, bags of rice, more spaghetti packaged, packets of cheap bIscuits…
    I had the temerity to point out
    “You know, if you’re out of work & short of money, this sort of stuff is the only thing you can afford. You get pretty sick of it after a time. Why don’t you send them the sort of things you like to eat?”
    Wasn’t a well received suggestion.

  20. My grandfather in south wales died before I was born, he spent much of his working life down the pit. And died 50 years ago of mining related lung illness.
    He didn’t want his kids down the pit – far as I know none of them ever went. Instead going into firefighting, sales, office work.
    Just minor things (firemen) like helping out trying to rescue survivors at a big south wales disaster where a generation basically were killed. Or dealing with local fires. And sales reps – hey they help shift this stuff being manufactured to where it can be used.

    Have been to local companies who manufacture – they have some making stuff, some office staff, perhaps yard staff loading and unloading but not making. Sales reps on the road or in the office. Delivery drivers to drive the lorries delivering the goods to the buyers. Again not making.
    But classed as part of ‘manufacturing’ as they work for a ‘manufacturing’ company.
    Still important jobs.

  21. This is all wonderful, but what happens when services start getting ‘mechanised’? Is that when we all get to work 10-hour weeks? Or just a few get to carry on working 40+ hours a week and being paid lots while the others are on the dole?

    And what about all the non-academic types who LIKE bashing on and making things?

    Honest question. This is the bit of the equation I don’t understand.

  22. @Dan – within two years of the end of the strike the workforce was 40% and production was back at 90% of the pre-strike levels

  23. Stigler,

    > my own experience was that the miners had very little support amongst the public

    Well, the elctorate didn’t exactly chuck the Tories out at the next election over it, did they?

    My own experience was that the Miners were the greatest force for good on the planet. But then my own experience was being brought up by a hard-Left Socialist lunatic.

    I saw Scargill address a miners’ union rally once. We knew how to have fun in those days.

  24. GlenDorran

    Too young to remember the miners striking? You may be interested in the recent film Pride, a rom com “based on the true story of pioneering gay campaigners in London who supported the strikers with the “Pits and Perverts” benefit concerts – and in so doing had to overcome tribal suspicions among both London’s gays and the miners of south Wales.”

    The film makes “a defiant case that the miners’ strike was not simply a Light Brigade charge into oblivion but a triumphant spur to gay rights and human rights, self-respect and pride. It has something to say to modern audiences grappling with identity politics and intersectionality.”

  25. Ben S,

    > And what about all the non-academic types who LIKE bashing on and making things?

    Who’s stopping them? Some people get to make a living doing something they like. Good for them. I and others don’t, so have to spend money on our hobbies. It’s not exactly oppression. Plus, of course, the fact that we’re spending money on it means that we’re creating jobs.

    > what happens when services start getting ‘mechanised’?

    There’s always loads of stuff that can’t be. You’ve got a dent in one of your car’s panels. No-one has built — or is likely to build, any time soon — a machine that can, unattended, remove dents from any part of any car. Such a machine would take millions upon millions in development costs, for something humans do for a couple of hundred quid.

    There are loads of other examples. Dancing, carpet-cleaning, setting up bouncy castles, repairing windows, bricklaying, writing…. There are thousands of things that will never be mechanised — or not until we have sentient tool-using robots, at least.

  26. @ Ben S
    “This is all wonderful, but what happens when services start getting ‘mechanised’? Is that when we all get to work 10-hour weeks? Or just a few get to carry on working 40+ hours a week and being paid lots while the others are on the dole?”
    Well, our grandchildren get the choice of living off the dole at four times our real income or working fifty-hour weeks for ten times. Some jobs you just cannot do in less than 50 hours per week (maybe some jobs ten hours for five times).
    I had an argument this week with my wife who is younger than I and born in Cheshire so does not have my memories of Lanarkshire under Attlee or Durham in the 1950s and cannot grasp how much better off we became under SuperMac – so I checked and my starting wage of £6 per week in 1964 adjusted for inflation is £109 per week in today’s money – less than half the current minimum wage (and I saved enough out of that in 8 months to be able to live comfortable as an undergraduate after buying all the textbooks I needed). My job: trainee computer programmer.
    NB my definition of comfortable was a 1960s definition which did not include a car or central heating or TV* or eating out except on special occasions or films or …

    *OK, not totally no TV – the college had one TV so we sat on the JCR floor to watch “Doctor Who” and one Varsity Rugby match

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