It is clear in order to dig ourselves out of the hole we’ve fallen into as a nation we will need to have years of sustained growth. It is also clear that we cannot afford to have that growth be the result of a speculative bubble and must be instead based on strong secure progress. What is not clear is how to achieve this. I have a simple proposition why don’t we waste a lot of money on industrial nationalism.
By it’s very nature waste is generally something to be avoided. We look desperately to eliminate it. In this case though waste is an essential aspect of the plan. I say this to be provocative of course, but also to be honest. First I must back up and explain what I mean by industrial nationalism, I’m referring to an idea of creating policies, laws, and tariffs around the idea of creating industries centered in the United States that address the pressing needs of the nation, and spending governmental money to research and develop such industries. This isn’t a new idea, we are already doing this we just don’t call it what it is. Currently this falls under many guises: educational research grants, military spending, trade deals, and a host of other spending spread across different agencies. This lack of coherence is a problem. First it fails to create an identity. Identity is psychologically important, personalities, thought patterns, ideas of self worth are all tied in part to identity. Identity also creates culture which has an effect on the society as a whole.
This was not always the case mind you. It was never called Industrial nationalism but it accomplished the exact same thing and followed the same guiding principles if by accident or necessity. The Space Race, The Manhattan project, World War I & II mobilization, these are all examples of the government spending and controlling industry in ways that were radical, bold, and wasteful. The goals of each of these programs were clear and with varying degrees accomplished their fundamental goals, but it was in their excess that the true gifts were realized. The mobilization for the wars expanded our manufacturing sector infrastructure which upon the conclusion of the wars led to an explosion of productivity. The Manhattan project led to the development of nuclear power as a source of energy for the power grid. The space race laid the ground work for most of the technological innovations of the last quarter of a century.
All those advancement took place in the excess of the desired goals of the project. Everyone knows the saying one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, in this regard these programs produced boundless treasure. Without a national program with grandiose goals and a bold mandate such as these there is little room in our current budget for the excesses that lead to advancement. This is mostly due to the fact that governmental agencies must have a singular focus on the present. The exception to this rule is NASA, one of the last agencies of it’s kind it has a bold mandate but again most of it’s benefits come from its excess. NASA is also a prime example of creating a strong identity and culture that influences our society as a whole.
It is funny I was listening to a conservative debating the efficacy of the US postal service. He argued that the problem with the postal service is that it has not innovated enough and as a result their revenue streams are starting to dwindle and they will be facing bankruptcy sooner or later. The thing about innovation is that while sometimes it is profitable it often takes a lot of upfront spending, a lot of failure, and a lot of waste. Because of our expectation of a fail safe government, we have created a government that strives for risk aversion, efficiency, and austerity. The downside is we create governmental entities that can’t be innovative. The only programs that will create new industries grow the country and innovate are the ones who are allowed to reject this premise.