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We live in a post-industrial age, defined more by Google than by General Motors. The term “post-industrial society” was first popularized by the sociologist Daniel Bell (1919-2011) in a 1973 book, and the change has generally been a boon. The transition from factory to office has raised living standards, curbed pollution and reduced the number of grueling, often-monotonous jobs. Yet, this largely beneficial transformation suffers in the popular imagination. The vast “service sector,” which now dominates the economy, is seen as inferior, low-paying and even frivolous because it produces nothing tangible.

Almost everyone seems to yearn for a manufacturing renaissance. This would, the reasoning goes, solve many problems. It would kick-start the sluggish recovery. By providing well-paying jobs, especially for semi-skilled men, it would strengthen the middle class. By restoring a heritage of “making things,” it would reduce U.S. trade deficits and re-establish our global economic pre-eminence. No doubt, millions of Americans endorse this appealing vision. It’s make-believe.

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