‘Free Markets’ Will Be the End of the Middle Class

In the absence of some sort of national industrial strategy, how do Western societies retain a viable middle class?

By Marshall Auerback and cross-posted from Truth Dig

National industrial policy was once something you might read about in today’s equivalent of a friend’s Facebook post, as hard as that might sound to believe. It was in newspapers; it was on the radio. Taxi drivers had opinions about it. That all changed in the last 35 years, when the rise and fall of the stock market and a shallow conversation about unemployment rates took over. Industrial policy became an inside-baseball conversation, and to the extent that it was discussed, it was through the prism of whether it imperiled the golden gospel and great economic distraction of our time, “the free market.”

The decades of free-market propaganda we’ve been exposed to are basically an exercise in distracting the public from the meaningful choices that are now made behind closed doors. The two big political parties that outwardly represent symbolic issues like gun rights and school prayer spend the bulk of their time and political energy on complex industrial and regulatory questions.

But much like Nero fiddling while Rome burned, they’d better start considering the question of a national industrial policy before there’s no industry left to manage. Manufacturing is now at its smallest share of the U.S. economy in 72 years, reports Bloomberg. Multinational supply chains undermine the negotiating power of workers, thereby exacerbating inequality.

Are there ways to bring back manufacturing, or should we just capitulate to a mindset that argues that these jobs are gone for good, that software retention is good enough, even as we shift what’s left of our manufacturing sector overseas to sweatshop economies? That seems short-sighted. After all, it’s pretty easy to steal IP; it’s not so easy to steal an auto manufacturing facility. The real question is: In the absence of some sort of national industrial strategy, how do Western societies retain a viable middle class?

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