Pushing Daisies

A new report is out on the top ten dying industries in the United States. There’s little that’s a surprise, but it is dismaying to see the list anyways. These are good industries that provided (and still do, in a couple cases) valuable services to the American people.

Among the lowlights on the list are #4, DVD, game, and video rental; and #6, recordable media manufacturing. This is one of those industries that has little real value left to it. Because information is now mostly weightless, there just is no space for an industry that relies on physical media as the lynchpin of their success. When these industries disappear, it won’t be necessary to shed a tear for them because the real product they dealt in, information, will still exist. The delivery method will have changed, that is all.

A couple of the industries that made the list do so purely from the effects of outsourcing. Shoe manufacturing, apparel manufacturing, hardware, all of these industries are hurting in the United States not because we can’t do them or because there is no longer a buck to be made. Rather, American businesses are taking advantage of the fact that the developing world has yet to have its workers’ rights movement, so wages are low. That’s it. No unions plus lax labor laws means that foreign workers are ripe for low pay and, in many cases, outright exploitation. There’s not much that can be done here in the states to reduce the outflow of manual labor to countries where it is cheaper. The burden, unfortunately, is mostly on the workers of those countries to fight for the rights that American workers did over a century ago.

It’s #2 on the list, newspaper publishing, that is a real downer. As I’ve written on this site before, newspapers are more important than their profitability. They don’t just move information from point A to point B. Newspapers are content generators, that put a lot of time and resources into getting the stories they publish right. Without newspapers, the idea of accountable government or business would be laughable. At their best, newspapers shine a light into the darkness. But with the coming of the internet, their profit model has been severely damaged, reducing the amount of resources they can commit to reporting. Former venerable institutions like the Philadelphia Inquirer and Los Angeles Times are being eclipsed by pseudo-journalistic sites like HuffingtonPost.com, which does little original reporting. The downfall of newspaper publishing is not something to shrug one’s shoulders at, like with Blockbuster falling apart. It is a genuine tragedy.

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