Two cheers for industrial policy!

Jon Gertner’s NYT mag piece on Manufacturing and (oh so scary!) industrial policy gets it. And, incidentally, it summarizes the guru of Obamanomics, ‘neo-liberal’ Larry Summers, rather beautifully:

“As the former White House economic adviser Lawrence Summers put it, America’s role is to feed a global economy that’s increasingly based on knowledge and services rather than on making stuff.”

Jargon over objects, this is the echt neo-liberal style. Gertner doesn’t reference the source, but I imagine it was the Lizza piece on Summers in the New Yorker that contained all the information you needed to know that Obama’s administration was set on fail, two years ago. The funniest remark of the Obama four year term so far came in this article from Summers:

“Summers was equally doubtful of the idea that fairness required the government to bail out every struggling industry. He said, “The point that some of you made is one that, frankly, a number of the President’s more political advisers make with great frequency: how could you lend money to the big banks in New York and not lend money to regular folk who are employing a hundred people and are losing a hundred jobs?” But, he said, “just like occasionally in war there are unintended benefits, occasionally in bailouts there are unintended beneficiaries.” The bank bailouts, which, he noted several times, began under President Bush, “were directed at preventing a collapse that would have led millions of people to be out of work, not as support for those institutions.”

But to get to crowning Gertner’s article with a few laurel wreaths.

I liked how this article seems to get it. The manufacturing economy isn't "modular", but full of network affects. It is a root system, not a haphazard pile of building blocks. When you ship the manufacturing of an industry to another country, contra Larry Summers, you are shipping knowledge, you are shipping the increasing return on investment that comes with every next step in the industry. Not understanding this one bit, the economists as advisors and the political elite have truly helped bring the U.S. to this point of exhaustion. And they will continue, blindly, to work against the interests of the majority, because it is in the interest of the one sector that does hire economists - the financial sector. Notice that 60 percent of scientists and engineers are employed in the manufacturing sector, and notice that these aren't fake engineers - financial 'engineers". So far, the financial industry has been so successful that the trillions 'loaned' to it hasn't even emerged as an issue in the public space - because newspapers won't report on it (the GAO report on the Fed didn't even break into the back pages of the NYT) and the economists who reporters call up for the 'expert' quote are quite proud of themselves for managing to keep us from a 'depression'.

I liked the fact that the NYT mag piece didn't spend much time quoting any economists. In Lizza’s piece on Obama’s economic team in 2009, you could almost hear the disdain in Summers’ voice for the phrase “industrial policy.” How Un-Hayekian! How cruel to put impediments in the way of creative destruction!
Economists have the same view of the people who make ‘stuff’ as bug spray manufacturers have of bugs. They know enough about the way the bug’s nervous system works to get rid of em. But if you want to know how bugs really evolve, live, and reproduce, go to an entomologist. Obama hired Raid, when he shoulda been hiring Edward O. Wilson.