It’s simply sweet fuck all to do with China, globalisation, whatever the mantra du jour is.
It’s that labour productivity in manufacturing is now very high. Thus there just aren’t that many jobs, whatever the size of the manufacturing industry.
The Sunderland plant is eye-opening for a columnist who has never seen a 500-tonne press stamp out car doors faster than a cook can cut pastry. It makes a car every 30 seconds at full tilt, sending most of them abroad. These undistinguished low-slung white sheds account for 1.4% of Britain’s manufactured exports; 4,900 people work in the factory, which, says Nissan, supports 13,500 more jobs across the country.
Multiply those numbers up. That’s 350,000 (at these rates of labour productivity) directly employed in Britain’s manufacturing exports. Or directly and indirectly, 1.3 million (and note that many of those are SFA to do with manufacturing, they’re to do with people having a job at all).
So, let’s try the herculean task (in fact, impossible) of doubling manufacturing exports. We end up with another 350,000 people employed in manufacturing: that’s about 5% of the economically inactive working age population.
It just doesn’t work does it? Manufacturing, because labour productivity is high, just isn’t a good source of jobs.