The Worst-Laid Plans of Industrial Planners

Between the iron hand of tyranny and the hidden hand of the presidency lies a myth: that the winning hand of capitalism and freedom is invisible. More than a sentiment about morality or a statement about the efficiency of markets, the invisible hand does not exist. It is either a blur or a bludgeon, but never without the ability to bless or curse entire industries. Those who would use that hand to give handouts to the purported industries of tomorrow miss a central fact about centralized planning—that it does not work.

Were we, in other words, to adopt Japanese policies to fight Chinese Communist practices of theft and deception, we would further ruin our economy. 

We need only look to the past to see how wrong Japan was about the future. We need only look at our screens to see the failure of Japan’s Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI).

The failure is sharp, the transmission clear: a high-definition reminder of MITI’s losing bet on HDTV. More ironic is the fact that those TVs do not work—they will never work—without converter boxes that turn digital broadcasts into analog pictures. 

At the time, however, Japan looked ascendant; its ascent seemed never-ending. To question the country’s rise was akin to staring at the sun: a suicidal act before the Land of the Rising Sun. That the land is now more aged than young, that its sun lowers as another star—a golden star—rises, should cause futurists to rethink their past predictions because the future belongs neither to Japan nor China.

The future belongs to freethinkers who reject the groupthink of inevitability. The future is not what we see, but what we do. We must, therefore, think a second time about what we think we know. 

Do we think free peoples trust the Communist Party of China? Do we think the words Made in China are a trust to keep? Do we think Americans want the world’s wealthiest companies, the nation’s biggest trusts, to outsource more jobs to China?

Those questions answer themselves.

The answer is not to stop trading with China, but to lessen our dependence on goods made in China. 

The answer should include a combination of tariffs and tax incentives, balancing low-priced imports with a domestic market for American-made goods and services.

The answer should also exclude resignation and fear, so we may avoid a repeat of the past; for the past contains gaseous words and ghastly phrases of a single color. 

The language colors everything yellow, with narration about the yellow peril, while the facts tell a different story. 

The story features dancers holding metal-cased devices attached to adjustable headphones, in which orange discs shine like the sun disc of the national flag of Japan.

If the story reads like an example of bad planning, of obsolescence through superior technology, the reason is simple: the Walkman is a relic. 

An icon of Japanese ingenuity, Sony’s Walkman lost the future to Apple’s iPod.

We can do the same to China, provided we steel ourselves for battle and arm ourselves with the mace of honor.

The words resonate across the vale of years.

Give us the tools, and we will finish the job.

About Bill Asher

Bill Asher is a writer and retired executive. He lives with his family in Massachusetts.

Photo: Getty Images

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