Untrue Beliefs

Walter Williams's picture

Here’s a sample of last week’s news reporting: “A new decade is about to start ...”, “What better way to start a new year and decade ...”, and “ABC ‘World News’ Decade Look-Back.” One would think that the first decade of the third millennium came to an end midnight Dec. 31 and the new decade began a minute after midnight.

The truth of the matter is that we must wait another year before the new decade begins at 12:01 a.m., Jan. 1, 2011. Just do the math: The end of 2001 was the first year of the decade; the end of 2002 completed the second year and so forth. The end of 2009 completes the ninth year and the end of 2010 completes the 10th year and the end of the decade. One minute after midnight Jan. 1, 2011 begins the second decade of the third millennium.

Many reporters and talking heads will read this column and will still refer to 2010 as the new decade. My question: What is the most suitable characterization we can give them? I think it’s the same characterization we would make of a person who’s shown that an object is white and he insists upon calling it black — stupid.

Then there’s the person who agrees that 2010 does not begin the next decade but prefers to say it’s the next decade anyway. For that person, reality is optional. Then there’s the person who steadfastly holds that 2010 begins the next decade because that’s what most people believe. He might be a politician.

Politicians, businessmen and labor union spokesmen have whined about the decline in U.S. manufacturing. Before looking into what they say is the sad decline in U.S. manufacturing, let’s examine what has happened in agriculture.

In 1790, farmers were 90 percent of the U.S. labor force. By 1900, only about 41 percent of our labor force was employed in agriculture. By 2008, less than 3 percent of Americans are employed in agriculture. What would you have Congress do in the face of this precipitous loss of agricultural jobs? One thing Congress could do is outlaw all of the technological advances and machinery that have made our farmers the world’s most productive. Our farmers are so productive that if needed, they could feed the entire world.

Let’s look at manufacturing. According to Dr. Mark Perry’s Department of Labor employment data, in his article “Manufacturing’s Death Greatly Exaggerated” (http://blog.american.com/?p=8593), U.S. manufacturing employment peaked at 19.5 million jobs in 1979. Since 1979, the manufacturing workforce has shrunk by 40 percent and there’s every indication that manufacturing employment will continue to shrink. Before you buy into the call for Congress to do something about manufacturing job loss, there are some other facts to be considered.

According to the Federal Reserve, the dollar value of U.S. manufacturing output in November was $2.72 trillion (in 2000 dollars). Today’s manufacturing worker is so productive that the value of his average output is $234,220. Output per worker is three times as high as it was in 1980 and twice as high as it was in 1990. For the year 2008, the Federal Reserve estimates that the value of U.S. manufacturing output was about $3.7 trillion (in 2008 dollars). If the U.S. manufacturing sector were a separate economy, with its own GDP, it would be tied with Germany as the world’s fourth richest economy. The GDPs are: U.S. ($14.2 trillion), Japan ($4.9 trillion), China ($4.3 trillion), U.S. manufacturing ($3.7 trillion), Germany ($3.7 trillion), France ($2.9 trillion) and the United Kingdom ($2.7 trillion).

These facts put a lie to claims we hear about how we are a country that “doesn’t produce anything anymore,” and how we have “outsourced our production to China,” and there’s been a “demise of U.S. manufacturing.” U.S. manufacturing has gone through the same kind of labor-saving technological innovation as agriculture. Should we discard that innovation in the name of saving jobs?

[Walter E. Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University.] COPYRIGHT 2010 CREATORS.COM

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JeffC's picture
Submitted by JeffC on Sat, 01/09/2010 - 2:05pm.

"Just do the math: The end of 2001 was the first year of the decade...".

Sez who? Based on what? The end of 2000 was the first year of the new decade. Do the math from there.

Welcome to the new decade.

Cal Beverly's picture
Submitted by Cal Beverly on Sat, 01/09/2010 - 3:28pm.

Jeff, I'm no numbers nerd, but IF you start counting from Year 1 (AD), the first full 100 years would have been completed by midnight, Dec. 31, 100, NOT Dec. 31, AD 99, unless you arbitrarily define the first century by the Christian calendar (let's not get into all the other calendars) as having comprised but 99 full years.

There was no year zero, so we're stuck with the count from Year 1.

If a century contains 100 full years -- from the beginning our our Western calendar -- Williams is numerically spot on. And, yes, it follows that Jan. 1, 2000 was NOT -- by strict mathematics -- the beginning of the new millennium. That would have been Jan. 1, 2001.

Go from there.

That said, it still "feels" right that the moment we left 1999 and came into 2000 marked a new ... something. Same with entering 2010.

The mathematics state with precision that you and I are incorrect in our assertion that this month/year begins a new decade, but at least so far, there's no law against calling 2010 the beginning of the second decade of the second millennium -- even if we are a year early according to the purists.

I think Walter was being didactic to introduce a polemic. But who's counting?

Cal Beverly
The Citizen
Fayetteville, Ga. 30214

JeffC's picture
Submitted by JeffC on Sat, 01/09/2010 - 7:30pm.


Submitted by AtHomeGym on Sat, 01/09/2010 - 5:48pm.

I say shame on Walter for being didactic in front of all of us!

muddle's picture
Submitted by muddle on Sat, 01/09/2010 - 5:45pm.

All math problems aside, the way I see it is that it was such a big stinking deal when we started dating the years with a 2 instead of a 1, that the new millenium--and the beginning of this past decade--started the moment we started doing that.

Oh, but....


Submitted by Angry Taxpayer on Sat, 01/09/2010 - 6:11pm.

Either it is or it isn't. There's no kinda, sorta, gray area here.

However, it's my understanding that 2000 was the last year of the 20th Century, otherwise, we would currently be in the 20th Century until the year 2100.

Therefore, 2010 must be the last year of the first decade of the 21st Century.

Cyclist's picture
Submitted by Cyclist on Sat, 01/09/2010 - 3:47pm.

The almighty himself answered your post. That's almost like having a private audience with the Pope. How do you do it? Smiling
Caution - The Surgeon General has determined that constant blogging is an addiction that can cause a sedentary life style.

TinCan's picture
Submitted by TinCan on Sat, 01/09/2010 - 4:20pm.

I believe Jeff is correct. Year zero was inserted sometime between early 1977 and late 1980.

Submitted by jevank on Sat, 01/09/2010 - 5:01pm.

Good one.

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