(Article by Bernard Guibert, Jean Laganier and Michel Volle in Économie et statistique No 20, February 1971)
French version: Essai sur les nomenclatures industrielles.
There can be no economic analysis without a classification. Only a classification can give precise enough meaning to the terms that crop up so often in economic reports - "textile industry", "furniture", "steel industry" and the rest. Classifications play an absolutely crucial role, but they tend to be dismissed as tedious. They consist of tiresome lists with only the occasional intriguing oddity to break the boredom. A classification specialist is seen as a real technology geek, and has to be exactly that to answer the seemingly hair-splitting questions (s)he is faced with every day: should the manufacture of plastic footwear come under footwear manufacture or under manufacture of plastic products? What is the distinction between shipbuilding and the building of pleasure boats? Should joinery be classed as manufacture of wood and wood products or as building construction?
The authors of this essay (1), who have used industrial nomenclatures on a daily basis either at INSEE or at the French Ministry of Industrial and Scientific Development, attempt to explain and then to overcome this prejudice. Their presentation, which aims to identify the principles on which present and past classifications were built, knowingly or otherwise, would probably not be accepted by other specialists without adjustment. It does succeed, however, in turning a supposedly disagreeable topic into an accessible, even fascinating, one).
- as we have seen, they must be a subdivision of the set of singular units;
- they must reflect the purpose of the study.
- the nature of the establishment, i.e. its activity; there is no indication of how it is determined;
- the municipality in which it is situated;
- the name of the manufacturer or producer;
- the rental value;
- the amount of business tax;
- the value of the raw materials used annually;
- the value of the products manufactured annually;
- the number of workers (men, women, children);
- average pay (men, women, children);
- power units (a picturesque list): mills (windmills, water mills, horse-driven mills), steam engines, horses and mules, oxen;
- burners: furnaces, forges, ovens;
- machines, whose curious breakdown illustrates the persistent dominance of the textile industry: looms, others, spindles.
- The least common viewpoint these days advocates a classification founded on raw materials or products consumed: everything made from the same input would be grouped under the same heading. This criterion rests on the concept of the economy as a technique for using rare resources and on the memory of the shortages of the Second World War, when supply problems had to be given top priority. It is well suited to the examination of these problems.
- Far more people prefer to group activities by the technology used. This approach sees things from the material and human investment angle; engineers frequently take this approach. It fits the examination of equipment problems particularly well.
- Economists often favour the product criterion, which places under the same heading activities requiring very varied technologies and raw materials but supplying analogous products. The "product" viewpoint rests on a portrayal of the economy in which the market is the dominant element. It agrees with the marginalist economic doctrine currently in vogue ("demand drives supply"), and also with the idea, widespread nowadays, that market problems are becoming serious.
- The use of the association criterion, as pointed out in the preface to the 1949 classification , leads to the alternate use of the above criteria. They come together as specific cases: when the most difficult task for enterprises really is to create a market, they will tend to specialise in a product and will use all possible technologies and raw materials to manufacture it. The use of the association criterion then means grouping under the same heading the elementary activities contributing to the manufacture of a single product with the help of various technologies: the priority will thus be given in this particular case to the "product" criterion. Hence the French activities nomenclature constructs the heading "games and toys".
- Classifications are expected nowadays to last for some time (usually ten years). Clearly a classification must fit not the industry of today, but the industry which will prevail in five years' time. We therefore have to make assumptions about the trend in industrial structures. Moreover, the pointers given by the association criterion have to be interpreted from the point of view of their statistical meaning. Lastly, there must be good consistency with foreign classifications. This obligation, though technical, is already halfway to the institutional viewpoint.
- Those responsible for classifications tend to adhere increasingly to the institutional view, claiming that the classifications studied have more than just statistical or informative aims, since they also serve management and legislation, and compiling a classification does not mean constructing a theoretical tool for an abstract definition of reality. The classification is essentially a tool for management, for data collection and processing, and for study. A complex task is thus defined. The classification must be a management tool: what we need is not an instrument of pure ("abstract") knowledge, but something that gives managers - "decision-makers" - the easiest means of collecting and analysing data.
- Textile industry.
- Extractive industry.
- Metal objects.
- Leather industry.
- Wood industry.
- Chemical products.
- Clothing and toilet articles.
- Means of transport.
- Sciences and arts.
- Luxury and entertainment.