The Commons

America Cottons on to Industrial Policy Again Share This

| Jun 27, 2020 | Economic Development

Recently, I suggested that the United States would do well to emulate some aspects of China’s economic development model, largely on the grounds that this still constituted the optimal route to reindustrialization. If done correctly, reindustrialization can provide a key means of generating high quality jobs in the U.S. and a corresponding break from today’s prevailing market fundamentalist model characterized by precarious employment prospects, wage stagnation and the loss of many of the attributes long associated with a prosperous and stable middle class.

Happily, the U.S. government is beginning to take concrete steps in this direction, with the introduction of Senator Tom Cotton’s new bill focusing on domestic production of semiconductors, titled the “American Foundries Act of 2020.” Read More

Should Congress Extend the $600 Federal Unemployment Benefit? Share This

| Jun 26, 2020 | Coronavirus

In March as Ohio began to shut down, Emily—a thirtysomething mom who asked that I not use her real name—worried about her family, her neighbors, and especially the elderly. She posted on her town’s Facebook page offering to grocery shop for those unable to go to the store, or to share a meal with anyone who might be hungry, saying that she’d feed them whatever she could out of her own kitchen.

As an essential worker making $13.36 an hour at a Cincinnati warehouse, she also stewed inwardly about what she perceived as unfairness and lack of support for frontline workers, even as those unemployed received an extra $600 a week due to the federal unemployment benefit. Read More

Contain China if Necessary, but Emulate Features of its Industrial Policy to Ensure Long Term Economic Prosperity Share This

| Jun 24, 2020 | Industrial Policy

Robert Atkinson of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation has just written a very compelling analysis of China’s national industrial policy, especially in relation to the exponential growth of its telecommunications industry. Some of the key findings of the paper, “How China’s Mercantilist Policies Have Undermined Global Innovation in the Telecom Equipment Industry” are as follows:

  • “Without unfair, mercantilist Chinese government policies and programs for its telecom giants, China would lack a globally competitive telecom equipment industry. Neither Huawei, nor ZTE, would have more than minor market shares, even in China.
  • Chinese market-share gains have come at the expense of innovative telecom equipment providers in other countries. By artificially taking market share from more innovative companies, the latter have had less revenue to invest in cutting-edge R&D.
  • As a share of sales, leading non-Chinese equipment companies invest more in R&D, and patent and contribute more to international standards when compared to Huawei and ZTE.
  • Beijing’s policies dramatically limit foreign access to China’s huge telecom markets, providing them with a guaranteed source of revenue to attack foreign competitors.
  • If Ericsson and Nokia took all of Huawei and ZTE sales, there would be 20 percent more global telecom equipment R&D and 75 percent more essential 5G patents.”

The analysis is characterized by a certain implicit bias against Chinese mercantilism, a bias that many champions of free trade naturally share. While reflecting those preferences to a degree, Atkinson’s report does offer a recognition that China’s state-driven capitalist model has played a significant role in driving industrial development and innovation (while also contending that such protectionism and heavy state subsidies have had the negative byproduct of inhibiting innovation in western economies that have eschewed such practices). Read More

Riding the Protest Wave: How Elites Will Co-opt BLM Share This

| Jun 21, 2020

It is easy for the right to look at excesses from the current protest, or the incoherence of some protestors, and dismiss them in total. They don’t know their history! They are yelling about capitalism from an iPhone! Defund the police! Crazy!

That is a mistake. The Black Lives Matter movement isn’t simply about the content of the rage, but the amount. Which is deep, wide, and justified, and if not understood and addressed, will get worse.

Understanding it means understanding the poor black communities it emerged from, which have suffered so much for so long, under Democratic and Republican rule, in both times of boom and bust. 



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Does Aggressive Policing Create Its Own Cycle of Dependence? Share This

| Jun 19, 2020 | Policing

Re: Cops and Teachers

I was jolted by the familiar echo, reading Chris Arnade’s “Cops and Teachers,” of an argument I’ve made a thousand times. It was an obviously conservative point, turned suddenly into a refutation of a popular conservative stance.

Speaking in the context of safety-net policy, I often try to distinguish between policies that maintain households in poverty and ones that might help to move them out of it. We can ensure that most people’s basic needs are met through $1 trillion in annual mean-tested transfers and benefits each year, but if another $1 trillion is required the next year, and every year thereafter, we are treading water at best. While some argue that we have succeeded marvelously at lifting nearly everyone above the “consumption poverty line,” and point to rising household incomes “after taxes and transfers,” I believe we should focus on whether our trajectory moves us away from such dependence; on that count we are failing.

Chris makes a similar argument, but directs it at the aggressive model of policing that conservatives proudly note has led to dramatic reductions in urban crime. Read More

Cops and Teachers Share This

| Jun 18, 2020

In the early 90s, as the Soviet Union crumbled, a trickle of Eastern European students came to the US. One of my roles at Johns Hopkins was to greet them at the airport and try to help their transition.

One young man, without asking me, spent his first Sunday in Baltimore walking the length of Broadway. He chose it because he thought it would be “filled with theaters and neon lights.” Instead he found Baltimore’s Broadway, which runs through the center of a poor Black section of town, was filled with poverty, boarded-up buildings, spent bullets, and lots and lots of crime.

When I asked him what he made of it all, his response was something like, “I thought Blacks forced to live in neighborhoods filled with poverty and crime was Soviet propaganda, and like other propaganda, wrong. But they were right.”

While it is easy to ignore how bad crime is in poor neighborhoods relative to wealthier ones, it used to be much much worse. Close to ten times worse.

Starting in the late 60s crime exploded in the US, primarily in poor, minority, and urban neighborhoods.

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Liberalism is Bringing About the State of Nature it Sought to Escape Share This

| Jun 18, 2020 | Liberalism

Liberal theory starts by imagining a state of nature: a world that never existed, could never have existed, and leads liberals to a wholly unreal view of human nature. And yet as we reach its logical conclusion, ideological liberalism is causing the fragmentation of society, the emasculation of government, and a life, for many, that is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and increasingly short. Liberals are bringing about the state of nature their theorists invented and sought to escape.

Across the West, mass protests, demonstrations and acts of public disorder have ended the lockdowns and social distancing rules established to protect us from the pandemic. In America, the Black Lives Matter movement is campaigning not to reform the police, but abolish it. In Seattle, the Capitol Hill Organised Protest has created an alternative and autonomous community covering several blocks of the city. In Britain, left-wing thugs have attacked the police, desecrated war memorials and pulled down statues, while right-wing mobs have hit back. In Dijon, France, heavily armed gang members took control of the city before specialist, armed police units drove them away. Read More

Social Media Requires Utility Style Regulation Share This

| Jun 17, 2020 | Big Tech

I’ve raised the issue of social media regulation before. This is an issue that won’t be going away anytime soon in the wake of Google’s decision to ban two websites from its ad platform over protest articles, namely The Federalist and Zero Hedge.  As Mike Masnick has argued, this appears to be less a case of anti-conservative bias per se, more an example of Google reacting to alleged hate speech by blocking those publications from access to Google’s ad platform in order to prevent the publications from monetizing their respective content.

Whatever the reason, the resultant furor again illustrates the dangers of social media platforms (and their distributors, such as Google) becoming both judge and jury.  The Justice Department is set to propose a roll-back for the current legal protections that online platforms have by virtue of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.  The reforms are “designed to spur online platforms to be more aggressive in addressing illicit and harmful conduct on their sites, and to be fairer and more consistent in their decisions to take down content they find objectionable,” according to the Wall Street Journal. Read More

Dignity Inequality Share This

| Jun 16, 2020

A great deal of ink has been spilt over the issue of income inequality. This is not an undue concern. As Alexis de Tocqueville observed nearly two hundred years ago, the democratic spirit aspires to an equality of condition. But income should not be our only concern. A healthy society should also encourage an equality of dignity that transcends the merely financial. Read More

Taking Back America From the Libertarians Share This

| Jun 15, 2020 | American Tradition

Washington Post columnist George Will has added his voice to that of Brad Thompson in decrying the rise of an un-American conservative authoritarianism, represented, among others, by such thinkers as Adrian Vermeule, Sohrab Ahmari, and yours truly.  Will and Thompson invoke the American Constitutional tradition as the cure for this “anti-American” threat from the Right.  The tradition they seek to defend, according to Thompson, is the “classical liberalism of the founding era [that] assumed individual rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness” and that “government must be impartial in adjudicating rival conceptions of the good life.”  Similarly, Will argues that the Constitution reflects a belief in “limited government respectful of society’s cumulative intelligence and preferences collaboratively revealed through market transactions.” The Constitution, according to Will (echoing Thompson) establishes “a regime respectful of individuals’ diverse notions of the life worth living.”  In other words, America was founded as a libertarian nation. Read More