We have been told that America’s “smokestack industries” are threatened, and that this nation is losing its competitive abilities in the field of heavy manufacturing. I am sure this analysis is correct. Now, why am I supposed to worry about this?
Let me ask you a question. Are you worried about America’s loss of competitive ability in basic manufacturing? Let us lay aside the military strategy questions for the moment. (I will return to this topic later.) Are you worried about the strictly economic effects of the loss of manufacturing capacity in the smokestack industries? Are you worried about the loss of jobs in these industries? Are you worried about “our” competitive edge being dulled?
I would hazard a guess that you are not really very worried about these possibilities. In fact, if you heard that a factory was going to be built across the street from your home, you might start worrying about that threat even more than you are worrying about the loss of America’s smokestack industries. There are some of you who might even be tempted, however momentarily, to file a complaint with your local zoning board to keep that factory out of your neighborhood. (Yes, I know: “In principle we all agree that zoning is an immoral intervention of the civil government into the free market, and is bad economics, but in this particular instance . . .”)
Let us say, just for argument’s sake, that you live on Peaceful Street in the town of Upward Mobility, U.S.A. What I am trying to point out is that your fears concerning smokestack industries as a resident of the hypothetical “Nowhere in Particular, U.S.A.” are very different from your fears as a resident on Peaceful Street. In fact, they are almost opposite fears. As a “Peaceful Streeter,” you worry about keeping smokestack industries out. Yet you also worry about keeping smokestack industries in, if we are talking about Nowhere in Particular, U.S.A. This seems a bit peculiar. Of course, you may just enjoy worrying.
All right, let me broaden the geographical perspective. You live in the “Suburban Acres” tract. (All right, we won’t call it a tract. We’ll call it a development.) Now, what about smokestacks somewhere within the development, but on a different street? Still a bit nervous? Not what you had in mind? Fair enough. I am just trying to find out what you have in mind.
Let us continue. What about building new smokestacks in your town? Still not impressed? But you say that you’re not opposed to, business. You appreciate business. It creates opportunities. So if a computer manufacturing firm wants to come to town, you would not have any objections. Also, if a college wants to open up just across the city line, that would be all right, just so long as it is a small, private college for engineering majors. (After all, who ever heard of a campus riot by engineering majors?)
Smokestacks? No smokestacks!
Nevertheless, you are worried about America’s future. America is losing its smokestack edge. We may be beyond the point of no return. (But in the town of “Upward Mobility,” that’s good!)
(For the rest of my article, click the link.)