Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Finding Common Ground

In National Review, I explore the idea of a "party of the nation" as reconciling both populists and their critics.

Friday, December 14, 2018

RIP Weekly Standard

(In light of the announcement that The Weekly Standard is being shuttered, I offer the following appreciation. I've long enjoyed the magazine as a reader and--to my great fortune--as an occasional writer for it. So, in the paragraphs below, don't expect any gimlet-eyed, cynical analysis. Instead, prepare yourself for the soft-focus glow...)

If, as Emerson said, an institution is the lengthened shadow of a man, The Weekly Standard combined the witty iconoclasm of Bill Kristol with the rigorous reporting of Fred Barnes.  It had an impressive stable of staff writers, who could do everything from political profiles to policy explainers to techno-fad eviscerations (see, for instance, this Matt Labash piece on Google Glass).  A host of regular contributors--including Charlotte Allen, Harvey Mansfield, and William H. Pritchard--supplemented this in-house crew. A lot of careers were started at the magazine, and, I hope, those careers sustained at that magazine will be able to continue elsewhere.

The Weekly Standard played a leading role in public affairs.  Taking a hawkish stance, it rallied for the Iraq War and, later, the surge.  It was a crucial advocate for the eventual Republican vice-presidential nominees in 2008 and 2012.

But the contribution of a magazine of ideas is not just about influence over public policy--it's also about fostering an exchange of ideas.  While many obituaries will portray The Weekly Standard as a "neoconservative" or "anti-Trump" publication, it hosted a variety of views and Trump was only a dominate presence in the last few years of its run.

It served as a testing ground for new ideas from a variety of angles, and its editorial vision was open to heterodoxy.  For instance, the 2005 Ross Douthat-Reihan Salam essay "The Party of Sam's Club" called for the GOP to be more attentive to working-class interests; this piece was a forerunner of the reformocon (and maybe popucon?) movement.  Ten years later, The Weekly Standard featured as a cover story a case for the political insights of Donald Trump written by none other than Julius Krein, who would go on to start American Affairs (a journal that has helped prompt new thinking on a host of foundational questions).

Though I've so far emphasized the political side of The Weekly Standard, I should also note how solid the book section was.  It featured rigorous reviews that not only summarized a book but set it in a broader intellectual conversation.  To its intellectual credit, that section was the opposite of clickbait.

One of the core insights of conservatism is that institutions matter.  You don't have to agree with everything that appeared in its pages to think that The Weekly Standard played an important role as an institution for fostering serious debate about public and private life.  A time of tabloid hysteria makes the loss of any such institution even more painful.  This doesn't mean that other institutions won't rise to take its place.  The talented folk in the orbit of The Weekly Standard will, one hopes, find new opportunities. (And, though I've been talking about ideas, livelihoods are at stake here, too--and opportunities for other employers to recruit some top-class talent.)  Mourning has its limits, but, in due measure, it can be an opportunity to reflect on the virtues of what is gone.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Manufacturing Growth Up

Trade and manufacturing have been big political battlegrounds recently.  So I thought I would look at the number of manufacturing jobs generated by year and found a few interesting things.  By one measure, 2017-2018 has seen the strongest growth in manufacturing jobs since the 1990s.

The change in the number of manufacturing jobs from month to month is very noisy (there might be a big swing up followed by a decline in the next month).  Also, we are months away from having data on 2018 as a whole.  So, in the chart below, I look at the percentage change in manufacturing jobs year over year, by month (so, for instance, how much the number of manufacturing jobs changes from June of one year to June of the next).

This chart shows how miserable manufacturing-job numbers were from from 2000 until early 2010; within that period, the number of manufacturing jobs was either treading water or sinking in almost every twelve-month interval.  Starting in April of 2010, the U.S. began actually to gain manufacturing jobs, and 2010 to the present has begun the slow process of trying to rebuild from the manufacturing collapse of 2000-2010 (we still have millions fewer manufacturing jobs now than in 2000).

Another thing stands out in this chart: Starting in May of 2018, the United States began having a year-over-year growth of manufacturing jobs of over 2 percent.  From May of 2017 to May of 2018, it was around 2.1 percent; from June of 2017 to June of 2018, it was 2.2 percent (and so forth).  As this chart suggests, the last time the United States experienced this kind of manufacturing-job growth was in the mid-90s.

Looking a little closer at the past few years reveals something else.
By early 2017, the rate of job growth in manufacturing had begun to slip.  In fact, manufacturing jobs were lost in half the months of 2016, and there were fewer manufacturing jobs in December 2016 than there were in January of that year.  This changed in 2017; since January of 2017, there has been only one month of job loss in manufacturing, and the overall growth has been much more vigorous.

A few provisional thoughts arise from this:
  • Manufacturing was already on an overall upswing when Donald Trump became president.
  • But it had begun to decline at the end of the Obama administration, so it's not clear that Trump inherited the best manufacturing growth from Obama.
  • Manufacturing has grown at a relatively aggressive rate in the past 18 months, at a pace unmatched in the past 20 years.
  • The continued strong rate of manufacturing growth in 2018 suggests that the current trade negotiations between the United States and many its principal trading partners has not yet inflicted great pain on the manufacturing sector's employment picture as a whole. (This is distinct from its effect on other employment sectors.)
(The underlying data for these graphs come from FRED; the calculations are my own.)