‘Infrastructure bill’ or ‘industrial policy’?

‘Infrastructure bill’ or ‘industrial policy’?

President Biden travels to Pittsburgh on Wednesday where he’ll use the erstwhile Steel City as the backdrop to unveil his multitrillion-dollar “infrastructure bill.”

Expect to hear the hackneyed cliches that Pittsburgh is the perfect stage to announce America’s comeback because it is the proverbial “model city” that overcame all odds and now is the be-all and end-all economic engine of eds, meds and high tech that should be an example to all.

Surely, Biden also will tell us that “progressive governance” brought us such wonderful things. But of the things truly wonderful, they typically happen not because of government but despite government.

Never mind that, as Allegheny Institute research has consistently shown, Allegheny County’s economic performance has been in the doldrums for the last two decades despite repeated – and predictably failed – attempts to command the marketplace that, in the name of “progress,” only have retarded it.

And never mind, too, Pittsburgh’s failed public school system, a sad testament, in part, to the kind of roughshod unionism that Biden says “made America” and will, supposedly, remake it anew.

One does not have to turn over more than few stones to find the moral and criminal corruption, specific and general, of organized labor in this country. Congressional attempts to undo state right-to-work laws will only embolden more chicanery.

Help us all.

Indeed, America’s infrastructure needs work. The simple fact of the matter is that if it’s built, it will need maintenance. And in too many regards, our infrastructure has become long in the tooth. But the danger of what Biden likely is to propose far exceeds our basic infrastructure repair needs.

We do not profess to know all of what the president will propose in his Pittsburgh visit. But given his professed love for all things “green” and commanding energy markets, look for something akin to a national industrial policy writ large.

“Implicit in the argument for a U.S. industrial policy is the belief that market forces alone cannot or will not produce economic growth and rising living standards,” reminded Michelle Clark Neely, writing for the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis in “The Pitfalls of Industrial Policy.”

And as Samuel Gregg, writing in The Journal of the Witherspoon Institute, reminds:

“The problems that characterize industrial policy are not the stuff of abstract speculation. They are real, and they should give any policymaker who cares about the common good significant pause before going down this path.

“Industrial policy provides many short-term satisfactions: most notably, the sense that one is ‘doing something’ to fix real problems. In the long term, however, the economic and political dysfunction that industrial policy creates is, as countries from Japan to France and Argentina have discovered, difficult to eradicate.”

And what of the natural post-coronavirus pandemic uptick that the $1.9 trillion “stimulus” surely will tamp down? Fitfully rest assured, the multitrillion-dollar “infrastructure” plan that smacks of such misguided industrial policy will finish it off.

Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).