Nathan Hitchen and Robert Patterson have kicked up some dust in conservative circles by revealing that things are even worse than you thought: “The Post-Industrial Economy Has Failed.” The authors also offer potential New Right notions for digging out of the ditch.
Hitchen, an Alexander Hamilton Society fellow, and Patterson, a former Trump Administration official and vice president of the U.S. Business and Industry Council, start strong with a word play channeling Uncle Sam’s World War II manufacturing juggernaut to underscore China’s rise to an “industrial superpower:” the “21st-century Arsenal of Autocracy.”
The pair then backs up that description by crushing the longtime conceit that while the Middle Kingdom may dominate production, America will always maintain the competitive edge in “knowledge fields.”
As if. The authors cite several Chinese “Sputnik moments” in space and defense, then drop the hammer: the “stunning leads” of China (the country Joe Biden described as “not competition” for the United States) in 37 out of 44 “critical and emerging science and technology fields.” These are fields like synthetic biology, photonic sensors, advanced batteries, telecommunications, and nanoscale materials and manufacturing.
The reason: America cannot separate the factory floor and the lab and maintain innovation. Per Hitchens and Patterson, “If manufacturing lands overseas, eventually so does skilled technical talent.” While China—and India—“obsessed over production processes delivering technical know-how,” America’s “tech geniuses” were focused on “perfecting attention-grabbing algorithms for social media or inventing the next food-delivery app.”
Especially alarming: “[W]ithered U.S. manufacturing created single points of failure throughout the defense-industrial supply chain, impeding production for”—and increasing vulnerability in—“wartime.” Moreover, the American Dream “is all but dead for the middle class” because elites “chased a post-industrial fantasy.”
Now what? The United States first needs to get its act together: Hitchen and Patterson propose a director of National Strategic Resources, analogized to the existing Office of the Director of National Intelligence, to coordinate at least 11 scattered agencies and 58 programs helping foster, finance and “up-skill” labor for innovation. This official would deliver “needs assessments” via reports on “the nation’s industrial base, innovation capabilities, and net assessments of science and technology competition with China, Russia, and our allies.”
And how, pray tell, might this director address the needs assessed? Here they drop a dirty word for traditional conservatives: “industrial policies.” Only by pursuing such policies “as instruments of statecraft can we compete with China and restart our engines of domestic prosperity.”
While the authors eschew any intention of “picking winners and losers,” they call for “interventions . . . to jump-start or ramp-up American production in multiple sectors.”
Hitchen and Patterson don’t fully specify the nature of these “interventions,” but point to Ronald Reagan’s release of the military’s Global Positioning System (GPS) for commercialization and the government’s development of the “industrial commons.”
The latter included underlying infrastructure like the interstate highway system that benefited all industry, along with “commercialized government-sponsored research and innovation to power new industries,” such as grants from the National Science Foundation that advanced 3D printing.
Pending a deeper dive by the two analysts, it’s hard to offer a critique of their outline of a proposal. But this commentator will suggest some concerns, the first of which parallels many other recent gripes: woke elites have blocked all avenues to power and possibility other than their warped, destructive schemes.
What happens when the Office of National Strategic Resources gets captured by interests insisting that its goals shouldn’t be global preeminence in a technology, but rather dominance in that sector by every identity group except privileged white males? What happens when the director decides that the “strategic resources” in question must be fully green and renewable? Or when the manufacturing it is supposed to advance, as a result, is hamstrung by an expensive, unreliable electric grid?
Second: yes, investment in basic research is imperative. But when did government grants generate epoch-making technology innovators like Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Thomas Watson, Bill Gates or Steve Jobs? And what happens when those research grants (and grantees) are equally subject to woke fantasies like “racially just” transportation and distribution of the spoils of success to favored classes?
U.S. industry really doesn’t need more interventions.It needs fewer. This is where the New Right was headed under Trumpism, before it was rudely interrupted by a pandemic and a stolen election, under the rubric, generally, of three “Ts”:
- Tariffs to level the unfair advantage of Chinese slave labor and gaming of the trade system—the logical extension of which is full decoupling;
- Tax reform to free entrepreneurs and capital to pursue real innovations based on market potential, not bureaucratic reports and guesswork;
- Tearing down the regulatory and subsidy “deep state” that is perpetually dreaming up new ways to tie up and misallocate innovators’ time, efforts and, yes, strategic resources.
The last part, of course, is also fantasy unless the massive political roadblocks are cleared. But it’s the other side of the worthy and timely debate Hitchen and Patterson have set in motion for this election cycle.
Candidates, have at it.