In 2001, Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson published a book titled "Untruth: Why the Conventional Wisdom is (Almost Always) Wrong."
In his Post column April 7, he attacked a familiar piece of conventional wisdom that we all hold near and dear — that our manufacturing economy is largely gone and its successor, a service economy, is not nearly as good.
All myth, says Samuelson.
Citing a Congressional Research Service report, Samuelson argues that U.S. manufacturing output is still the largest in the world, still slightly ahead of China and three times larger than Germany.
Our manufacturing output is now 72 percent higher than in 1990 and six times larger than in 1950.
The work is still being done, but there are far fewer people employed doing it. Far fewer. In 1970 we had 17.8 million manufacturing jobs and we now have about 12 million.
Samuelson cites the steel industry as an example. Today it employs 97,000 workers but produces 10 percent more steel than 399,000 workers did in 1980.
What's gone are millions of factory floor jobs. Today one third of all manufacturing jobs are for managers and professionals, he writes.
To Samuelson, we have replaced "exhausting, dangerous or boring jobs" with higher-paying technical and professional positions.
This has happened in all advanced nations, he says, but "there is plenty of industry left in post-industrial America."
All of which is reassuring to know as an American, especially if you are already a highly skilled professional or technical worker.
But the transition has been brutal for places like Maine, places dependent on heavy industry, manufacturing, agriculture, logging and fishing.
Samuelson glosses over the decades of suffering and dislocation that resulted as manufacturing jobs left places like Maine, or were replaced by automation.
Entire communities, even large metro areas like Detroit, have been decimated in the transition.
In Maine, we are still struggling to not only attract higher-paying manufacturing and service-sector jobs, but to retrain our workforce.
Samuelson also fails to explain how if things are so much better for workers, why has income growth been declining or stagnant for most workers for several decades.
The only income growth in the U.S. has been at the tip top of the wage pyramid.
The model for the new economy can be found in Lewiston-Auburn and in Western Maine.
Manufacturing companies here seem to be begging for more highly skilled technical workers, and Gov. Paul LePage is intent on filling that gap.
The TD Bank commitment to Lewiston and the Bates Mill complex is an outstanding example of how a factory for bedspreads can be turned into a "factory" producing skilled business services.
Employment in the once abandoned mill building has climbed to 800 people since 1998 and TD has signed a lease through 2025.
Few if any of those workers would want to change places with their ancestors who tended the looms on those floors.
The reality in all this is that while some manufacturing jobs are thankfully returning to the U.S., our economy has entered a different era and there is no going back.
The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and the editorial board.