Perspective: Should we subsidize manufacturing?

By Joshua Rothman for The New Yorker

Aug 14, 2017

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In the auto-industry bailout of 2009, the United States loaned around eighty billion dollars to G.M. and Chrysler, saving an estimated one and a half million jobs. Since then, $70.5 billion has been repaid—meaning that, in a back-of-the-envelope sense, the federal government managed to save the auto industry at a cost of just six thousand two hundred dollars per worker. One of the architects of this unusually efficient intervention was an investment banker and union negotiator named Ron Bloom. In 2011, Bloom joined Barack Obama’s newly created Office of Manufacturing Policy. He drafted position papers and helped launch a program linking universities with manufacturers. But he was otherwise marooned in his basement office, powerless to influence more consequential policies on infrastructure, education, trade, and China.

“Maybe because of the auto bailout and the mood it created,” Bloom tells Louis Uchitelle, in “Making It: Why Manufacturing Still Matters” (New Press), “there was a little bit of a boomlet in public concern about the importance of manufacturing.” The boomlet didn’t last. It collided, Bloom explains, with a hidden consensus in the White House: “The argument was that manufacturing is dying anyway; let it go.”

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