If you like what’s happened to the auto industry, you’ll love this. Bloomberg is reporting today that Ron Bloom — the head of the Obama Administration’s automobile task force — will soon get an expanded portfolio, with responsiblity for crafting Administration policies for all manufacturing industries.
Yet another Obama Administration czar? Don’t expect the White House to use the dreaded “C” word, but that seems to be the plan. By itself, of course, that’s no bad thing — after all even George Bush had a “manufacturing czar” within his Commerce Department. And there are plenty of positive steps that can be taken to ease burdens on manufacturers. In 2005, in fact, OMB published a list of regulatory changes that could help.
Unfortunately, the Obama Administration — having just nationalized General Motors — seems to have quite different policies in mind. According to Bloomberg, the new position may be a response by the White House to calls for a full-blown national industrial policy for manufacturing. In recent congressional testimony, Obama advisor and former cable executive Leo Hindery starkly described the elements of such a strategy: government picking winners and losers among products and firms, government spending to support industry, and trade protectionism.
If all this sounds familar, it should — such “industrial policy” was much in fashion during the 1980s, when proponents endlessly cited the Japanese model of government-directed industry as a model. Of course, today — after a 10-year economic slump in Japan — the model hardly looks so good.
The last thing America needs is even more federal hands on private industry — neither Japan, Inc. nor Government Motors is the model for the future. Rather, the best “industrial policy” would be to reduce burdens on enterprise. With or without a czar, that would be welcome.