domingo, 19 de setembro de 2010

O Mito da Desindustrialização

Jagdish Bhagwati expõe, em belo artigo, algumas falácias do argumento da importância do setor manufatureiro. Abaixo vão as passagens mais interessantes para quem acompanha um debate nacional sobre os perigos da desindustrialização:

"In mid-1960’s Great Britain, Nicholas Kaldor, the world-class Cambridge economist and an influential adviser to the Labour Party, raised an alarm over “deindustrialization.” His argument was that an ongoing shift of value added from manufacturing to services was harmful, because manufactures were technologically progressive, whereas services were not.

Kaldor’s argument was based on the erroneous premise that services were technologically stagnant. This view no doubt reflected a casual empiricism based on the mom-and-pop shops and small post offices that English dons saw when going outside their Oxbridge colleges. But it was clearly at odds with the massive technical changes sweeping across the retail sector, and eventually the communications industry, which soon produced Fedex, faxes, mobile phones, and the Internet.

In fact, the dubious notion that we should select economic activities based on their presumed technical innovativeness has been carried even further, in support of the argument that we should favor semiconductor chips over potato chips... It turned out that semiconductors were being fitted onto circuit boards in a mindless, primitive fashion, whereas potato chips were being produced through a highly automated process (which is how Pringles chips rest on each other perfectly).

The “semi-conductor chips versus potato chips” debate also underlined a different point. Many proponents of semiconductor chips also presumed that what you worked at determined whether, in your outlook, you would be a dunce (producing potato chips) or a “with-it” modernist (producing semiconductor chips).

I have called this presumption a quasi-Marxist fallacy. Marx emphasized the critical role of the means of production. I have argued, on the other hand, that you could produce semiconductor chips, trade them for potato chips, and then munch them while watching TV and becoming a moron. On the other hand, you could produce potato chips, trade them for semiconductor chips that you put into your PC, and become a computer wizard! In short, it is what you “consume,” not what you produce, that influences what sort of person you will be and how that affects your economy and your society.

Ignorant of the extensive “deindustrialization” debate in 1960’s Great Britain, two Berkeley academics, Stephen Cohen and John Zysman, started a similar debate in the US in 1987 with their book Manufacturing Matters, which claimed that, without manufactures, a viable service sector is untenable. But this argument is specious: one can have a vigorous transportation industry, with trucks, rail, and air cargo moving agricultural produce within and across nations, as countries such as pre-Peronist Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, and modern Chile have done very successfully.

Cohen and Zysman argued that manufactures were related to services like “the crop duster to the cotton fields, the ketchup maker to the tomato patch,” and that if you “[o]ffshore the tomato farm…you close or offshore the ketchup plant….No two ways about it.” My reaction was: “[A]s I read the profound assertion about the tomato farm and the ketchup plant, I was eating my favorite Crabtree & Evelyn vintage marmalade. It surely had not occurred to me that England grew its own oranges.”"

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