Manufacturing’s Decline?

I am not thrilled with the choice of this chart to illustrate Louis Uchitelle’s article on the Obama administration’s manufacturing policies:

This is accurate, but so is this:

One is a chart of a sector in terminal decline. The other is a chart of a sector adversely effected by a severe global recession. The latter is, I think, a better way to think about what’s happening.

What’s more, even if you did think the best way to look at manufacturing was in terms of share of total output rather than actual output, your analysis needs to look at the whole denominator. “Manufacturing policy” isn’t going to change the fact that the health care and education sectors are growing as a share of GDP. And if health and education are growing, then manufacturing is going to shrink. I think it would also be useful to try to decouple the manufacturing-exports linkage a bit. The United States exports lots of soybeans, television shows, copies of Microsoft Office, etc.