'Industrial Policy' Ignorance

By McNickle, Colin | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, September 13, 2009 | Go to article overview

'Industrial Policy' Ignorance


McNickle, Colin, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


Americans' intelligence deficit -- their critical thinking skills, in particular -- surely has become a race to embrace the lowest common denominator.

"I never could find any man who could think for two minutes together," wrote Sydney Smith, the English clergyman, essayist and wit in 1804. Considering the reaction, or lack thereof, to one particular development last week, that sentiment is most contemporary.

How troubling. To wit:

On Labor Day, President Obama appointed Ron Bloom as his manufacturing czar. The former car czar and one-time assistant to the president of the United Steelworkers union in Pittsburgh, Mr. Bloom's official title is "senior counselor for manufacturing policy."

According to the White House, he "will work with departments and agencies across the administration -- including the Departments of Commerce, Treasury, Energy and Labor -- to integrate existing programs and develop new initiatives affecting the manufacturing sector."

Added the administration's holiday news release: "President Obama is committed to a next-generation manufacturing agenda by partnering with the private sector to spur innovation, invest in skills of American workers and help our manufacturers prosper in the global marketplace by promoting exports."

It sounds innocuous enough. By golly, it almost sounds pretty doggone good. Until you consider the translation, that is.

What the Obama administration is committed to is deciding what we manufacture -- and when, where and how -- dictating market winners and losers and subsidizing the work force it requires to meet its goals.

And this ghastly premise raised no curdling screams? Are we so inured to what this kind of creepy economic policy is that we think it should be standard operating procedure? How many of you actually recognize what this "manufacturing agenda" policy actually is?

Why, it's the promotion of that tried and failed command economics nonsense better known as "industrial policy."

"National industrial policy is a rubric for a broad range of economic reforms that emerged as a unified political program in the early 1980s," reminded Richard B. McKenzie in "The Fortune Encyclopedia of Economics."

"Had they been passed," said the noted business management scholar, "these reforms would have given government officials additional authority, as well as the necessary fiscal and regulatory power, to directly alter the country's industrial structure."

It is central planning writ large.

In its most extreme incarnation -- let's call it the John Kenneth Galbraith School of National Industrial Policy -- Professor McKenzie notes the government would "extensively plan major sectors of the economy . …

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