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Why Industrial Policy Fails

With Democrats and Republicans alike supporting a shift from free markets toward government planning, the United States has clearly entered a new era of economic policymaking. Yet all the reasons why such strategies generally fail to make good on politicians' promises are as valid as ever.

WASHINGTON, DC – Industrial policy is all the rage nowadays. In the United States, President Joe Biden has signed laws offering hundreds of billions of dollars in incentives and funding for clean energy and domestic semiconductor manufacturing. Similarly, Donald Trump launched a trade war with China in the name of reviving US industry. Rank-and-file Democrats and Republicans alike are on board with this shift from free markets toward government planning.

But industrial policy always works better in theory than in practice. Real-world factors are likely to thwart efforts by the state to revitalize the manufacturing sector and significantly boost the number of manufacturing jobs.

Current US policies raise all the same old questions that have been asked before about industrial policy. Why should we expect the government to do a good job of picking winners and losers, or to allocate scarce resources better than the market? If the government intervenes in markets, how will it avoid mission creep, cronyism, and corruption?

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