WASHINGTON - The term "post-industrial society" was first popularized by the sociologist Daniel Bell (1919-2011) in a 1973 book.
We live in a post-industrial age, defined more by Google than by General Motors.
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.
To be sure, manufacturing is reviving - and the more the better.
Rising wages abroad and heightened anxieties about global supply chains are causing some U.S. firms to relocate production from China or Mexico back to the United States. Cheap U.S. energy costs, reflecting plentiful natural gas, also favor American factories.
Though these trends are welcome, they stop well short of a sweeping transformation of the economy.
On manufacturing, a huge gap separates public perceptions and economic realities, as Marc Levinson of the Congressional Research Service has shown in several reports.
For starters, manufacturing's decline is misunderstood. The truth is that output has continued to climb.
In 2010, Levinson reports, U.S. manufacturing production of nearly $1.8 trillion was the largest in the world; it was slightly ahead of China's, about two-thirds higher than Japan's and nearly triple Germany's.
China may now be No. 1, but the U.S. remains a manufacturing powerhouse. In 2011, near-record output was 72 percent more than in 1990 and six times greater than in 1950.
Recall some American-made products: commercial jets, earth-moving equipment, gas turbines. (Output refers to "value added," which is the difference between the sector's purchased inputs and its final products.)
Manufacturing's "decline" refers mostly to job loss, which is stark and long-term.
In 1970, the 17.8 million manufacturing jobs represented 25 percent of all 71 million U.S. jobs.