Use University Research to Increase Manufacturing Jobs

Manufacturing jobs have been declinining as a percentage of total jobs in most OECD countries for several decades, with Ontario being especially hard-hit as a jurisdiction. At the end of the Second World War, manufacturing jobs accounted for 26% of all Canadian jobs; by 2007, this figure had dropped to just 12%.

And as I’ve written about elsewhere, the Harper government has made substantial investments in university research in an effort to create “high-value” jobs, investing in such areas as genomics research and medical isotopes (albeit it in a context of rising tuition and rising student debt).

But how’s this for innovation: two days ago, President Obama taught Prime Minister Harper a lesson in dot-connecting, announcing “a $500 million endeavor through which universities and companies will be asked to develop innovations in manufacturing with the goal of expanding domestic employment.”

If Mr. Harper isn’t smart enough to steal this from Mr. Obama’s playbook, maybe Mr. Layton will be.

Read the full article here.


  • Denise Freedman

    As a recent graduate of social work, in the course of which I met the author of the above post, I am all for more, and higher tech manufacturing.

    How could anyone be opposed to more jobs in the very same industries that govern our lives, extract the surplus value we create, and despoil our environment?

    The question I struggle with as I enter the Master of Social Work program is whether university study can make life better.

    To put it more sharply, as Russel Jacoby would say, whether life can be more than just an increase in the GDP, and whether the work we do, in, say, social work, can actually contribute to life not only being better, but to life that we can no longer imagine.

  • If “Mr. Harper isn’t smart enough to steal this from Mr. Obama’s playbook”.

    Could it involve profit in the tar sands for impoverished oil companies?
    Could the idea be supported by some sort of weird interpretation found in the bible?
    Does it help Israel?
    Does it improve his image in the eyes of his followers?

    If he can answer yes to any of the above then yes he will.

  • Nick, Are you advocating investment of the kind being undertaken by Obama? Really? Nick, neoliberalism isn’t always about austerity – you know this, right? And what about the problems related to the commercialization agenda? I’m thinking here of the degradation of patent quality, the extension of the “anti-commons”, the (re)construction of “evidenced-based” medicine by Big Pharma, the money pit that biotech has long been (at least for the state), the transformation of what we conceive of as “basic” or “curiosity-driven” research, and the general degradation of our science-base. You’re also undoubtedly familiar with the degree to which the pattern of investment undertaken by Obama is really an extension of the kind of policy advocated by every government in the US and Canada since the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, no? And you then know well that such policy is informed by devoted followers, wittingly or otherwise, of folks like Hayek and Friedman, who firmly believed that knowledge could be treated like any other commodity and was/is best produced in and by the market. And this would mean that you are well versed in the degree to which such ideas are rooted in a fundamental contempt for human potential and for democracy. And we should also mention the problems, which are legion, with human capital theory, or the issues one encounters when trying to classify particular forms of work and workers as “knowledge-based”, especially in an environment where “quality” is assessed most frequently as a by-product of quantity.

    Nick, the connections between higher tuition-fees and student debt and more government money for R&D are hardly just about opportunity cost. Further, if we really dig into these patterns we find that in as much as the social scientism upon which such policies are based is itself born of so many ontological and epistemological contradictions, there is nothing so contradictory about the parallel programs you mention, save of course for the long-run limits to accumulation that they impose. But then, as the most recent crisis has demonstrated (and more recent events too), even those limits can be put to good use.

    If research is to be so instrumentalized as you advocate, and I am not at all arguing that we should not look to leverage new knowledge to improve our condition, then we best examine much more thoroughly than you have the institutional underpinnings of the present science base and the potential that more public investment has within that context to generate meaningful returns for Canadians and for humanity. In other words, if Layton does pick-up the gauntlet of commercialization in the way Obama has, the side-show about preambles won’t really matter.

  • This in turn makes me wonder about something.
    Neoliberalism tacitly approves of fairly high unemployment. The idea is to “discipline” the work force, so that working people will accept less for fear of becoming unemployed and finding it hard to get a new job. This works in concert with little social safety net, trying to make the condition of unemployment as onerous as possible. I’ve also seen it argued that the real main point of the “law and order” agenda is to crack down on alternative ways of making money, whether panhandling, prostitution, selling drugs, street performance or whatever, thus making unemployment even scarier as alternative sources of income either dry up or at least are more dangerous and stigmatized, thus less attractive. One more contribution pushing people to accept absolutely any treatment, hours or income for the sake of having employment.

    So the question is, just how much unemployment is enough? Can there be a level of unemployment so high that even the right and the economic/business mainstream actually begin to consider unemployment a serious problem rather than just paying lip service to it?

    Does the rise of the financial sector and the major source of wealth for the hyperrich becoming decoupled from the industrial sector increase this fondness for unemployment?

  • Hm. To answer my own question, apparently the neoliberal consensus has not faltered in Greece, Spain or various Eastern European countries at unemployment levels ranging up to 20 or even 30%, combined with massive drops in GDP. So basically, for all practical purposes no, there is no level of unemployment so high that it will prompt a re-evaluation by neoliberals, as long as the financial leeches are still getting their “rent” payments.

    So yeah, I don’t think Stephen Harper has any interest in stealing this from Mr. Obama’s playbook, or any other measure likely to create jobs, especially good ones. What he wants is cheap flexible labour, not educated uppity labour. Education is for upper class managers and executives.

  • Nick,

    Manufacturing actually jumped rather nicely during the mid 90’s and early 2000’s, which was undoubtedly driven by our low dollar and a booming industry, that later rather than bursting transformed into the housing bubble. However, in 2002 in the US and a bit later in 2004 in Canada, the % declined dramatically. I have a nice couple of charts I completed for a recent article that compares the US and Canada over a 30 year period.

    There are many ways to move manufacturing, and some-kind of R&D and support within the higher education space could be helpful, as long as we do not turn the learning institutions into an outright corporate surrogate for R&D like they have in the USA.

  • Paul:

    I’d love to see the charts and your recent article.

    Mind sending them to me?


  • sure Nick itw as published in the CCPA monitor I think in Feb. or JAn this year. Lets see if I can find it. Mainly just talked about manufacturing decline and the move to resource extraction and how one cannot build a economy given our industrial heartland is manufacturing based.

    There are some linkages between manufacturing and resource extraction but they are far from a balanced industrial strategy that will benefit the entire economy.

    Ontario and Quebec will start needing some real solutions soon- not just band aids, as the blood flow of a high commodity based dollar is driving a knife further into the heart of manufacturing.

    I had a couple other interesting papers and will send them as well.


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