Edited by Giacomo Becattini, Marco Bellandi and Lisa De Propis
Chapter 46: Massachusetts High Tech: A ‘Manufactory of Species’
Michael H. Best 1. Introduction: from manufacturing to high tech At mid-20th century the economic outlook for Massachusetts was bleak. The president’s Council of Economic Advisors described New England as an archaic economy beset by aggressive, low-cost competitors (Browne and Sass 2000, p.202). The region’s per capita income dropped by roughly 20 per cent relative to the national average in the 1940s.1 Textiles and the shoe industry still employed 25 per cent of the region’s manufacturing workers in 1948 and both industries were in rapid decline. Textile employment fell to 180000 by 1954, a loss of 100000 between 1948 and 1954. The forces of structural decline were deeply entrenched. This is an old story in economic history. Once-thriving regions get locked into mature industries and lose competitive advantage to lower cost competitors. Few were willing to bet on the economic future of Massachusetts. Nevertheless, the expectations of industrial gloom turned out to be wrong. By the end of the century, Massachusetts income per head was 20 per cent above the US average. The engine of growth was not manufacturing. The immediate post-war defense industry and the minicomputer industry had fostered a growth rebound. But the end of the cold war and the collapse of the minicomputer industry drove an abrupt loss of one-third of the State’s manufacturing jobs in six years between 1986 and 1992; they dropped another third in the first years of the present century to less than 10 per cent of the labor force.2 Thus while the...
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