Andy Grove, who lead Intel to dominance of an extremely competitive, risky industry, has a very important opinion piece at Bloomberg (several readers pointed to it, including John M, dr, Crocodile Chuck). He makes a series of points that are the polar opposite of the de facto US industrial policy, of the naive view that the US can have a viable society based on “knowledge workers”, rentiers, and service industries that depend on their earnings. Sadly, my Washington contacts tell me that the belief that the US cannot compete in anything other than financial services is deeply entrenched there, no doubt fed by media stories that draw misleading inferences from appealing-seeming case studies (see this New York Times story and Richard Kline’s able shredding in comments yesterday here and here for an example)
One thing American businessmen have utterly lost sight of is the importance of providing employment. The focus on “maximizing shareholder value” when shareholders are on the very bottom of the liability side of the balance sheet, not merely legitimates but extols screwing other stakeholders to the extent management can pull it off (and management, suborned via stock-related compensation, has gotten very good at doing just that). By contrast, in Japan, entrepreneurs like Konosuke Matsushita are revered not because they got rich, but because they created good jobs for many people.
Only some of Grove’s stature could poke such a stick in the eye of visibly floundering conventional wisdom that nevertheless remains firmly entrenched because it serves those at the top of the food chain very well (it doesn’t hurt that his piece is exceptionally well argued). My only quibble is that he unintentionally supports the fiction that we don’t have industrial policy in America. Following the money demonstrates the reverse; tax breaks, subsidies, tariffs, and what issues are front and center tell you who the favored children are, including financial services, Big Pharma, the sugar industry, and real estate. And this isn’t as radical an idea as he intimates. Australia, which ranks above the US in the Heritage Foundation’s dubious Economic Freedom Index (the Heritage Foundation clearly never had an encounter with the ATO, which makes the IRS look like pussycats), has very clear priority industries. For instance, its Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) is one of the world’s biggest science organization and is focused around priority industries for Australia, with its main divisions being information sciences, energy sciences, agribusiness, manufacturing and minerals, and environment (the latter is involved both in new tech and minimizing adverse consequences of current industrial activities).