The more the wraps come off President Carter's plan for industrial renewal, the less it looks like what it was cracked up to be. Certainly it is not an industrial policy still less a program for reindustrializing America.
Instead, there emerges a bundle of measures to deal with the recession. Since the recession is largely regional, the package adds up to a depressed-areas program.
Industrial policy -- to use the term exactlt, as one should, given the prevailing confusion and obfuscation -- refers to a selective promotion of some industries over others by government. That approach, though practiced in Japan and Western Europe, was never a serious possibility for this country. Administration officials, led by chairman Charles Schultze of the Council of Economic Advisers, believe that the private sector does a much better job than government in picking winners and losers. Papers prepared for Assitant Secretary of Commerce Jerry Jasinowski show that industrial policy was not even worked particularly well abroad. The French have not been able to promote a computer industry. The Japanese have been successful in shipbuilding and steel, but only in limited way for a limited time. Their greatest successes have come in industries the government did not particularly push.
Reindustrialization refers to measures affecting the whole economy that are designed to rebuild this country's strong competitive position in the world of developed nations. As argued in this column and elsewhere, it envisions tax policies, loan guarnatees and incentives to promote modernization of such basic industries as autos and steel and more rapid advancement of such new industries as data processing and genetic engineering.
In the process, the arthritic nodes that now may make the economy unresponsive to challenge would be reduced or eliminated. To qualify for incentives, management and labor would have to cease inflationary price and wage increases and eliminate wasteful practices. Government would be obliged to make hard trades between environmental quality and econmic growth, instead of constantly going for progressively more stringent environmental standards.
Inside the administration, only a handful of officials -- Jasinowski at Commerce and Assistant Secretary of Labor Arnold Packer -- ever pushed for reindustrialization. Schultze and most of the other leading economists in government felt that the play of politics would inevitably cause this country to sustain losers rather than promote winners. To clinch their arrangement, the tight budgetary policy adopted in March ruled out any program that would cost more money. So a full-blown reindustrialization policy went by the boards.
What remains is a determination to enlist existing government programs in the cause of fighting the recession. The big new program deals with the energy problem. The windfall profits tax is going to skim billions off oil company revenues. Congress has authorized the use of that money to develop alternate sources of energy and to foster conservation. The administration's economic renewal program would direct that money to the areas most afflicted by the recession.
As it happens, the recession has been highly regional in its impact. Autos, steel, rubber and glass have been the industries most under pressure. They are concentrated in the industrial states of the Middle West -- Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana and Pennsylvania. The basket cases are the older industrial towns.
Inevitably, under the new program, the president is going to be shoving money into Detroit, and Gary, and Youngstown, and Cleveland, and Buffalo.
For my own part, I am deposed to quarrel with the program. It is important to ease the recession. Help should be gotten to needy people in the urban ghettos. And more so, if the money curbs racial tension.
But nobody should be under any illusions as to what is now shaping up. It is a regional aid program, limited in scope and duration. It will not create millions of new jobs. It will not significantly improve this country's ability to compete with other industrial nations. It will not speed up growth or slow down inflation or -- most important of all -- open the way for faster growth with less inflation. It is is an idustrial Band-Aid, not the road to a glorious furture.