My first attempt at getting an OpEd in the Times. Failed!
Does the great intervention lack imagination? In spite of its scale and its cost does it lack vision or a higher purpose? Does it not seem that the focus is on ‘simply’ stopping the rot and saving the ‘too big to fail’ with the consequence of reducing those enterprises in size and scope so that their eventual failure might have narrower impact when it comes? What are hard to detect amidst the toxicity of troubled assets and troubled industries are substantial moves that seek to put the United States of America on a new path of sustainability and growth that extends beyond alleviating the dismay induced by falling real estate values and a tremulous stock market.
It is clear that some view intervention as a function of the managed economy ideology of socialism and, by consequence, a bad thing. Better perhaps to think of it in the context of governments of national unity or coalitions of the willing that come together and pursue a common, for the greater good, agenda at times of threat to peace, the security of peoples and of nation states. In those times governments take extraordary actions like conscription, rationing of resources, the appropriation of property and the wholesale repurposing of industry. They do this when the threat is great enough and when people and businesses are unlikely to organize themselves to that end through attendance to personal agendas and / or the lack of a profit motive. In this country industry was modernized as a result of intervention in World War Two. In Britain the National Health Service was born as a result of the same conflict and the Government’s realization that the inevitable volume of casualties could not be managed under the pre-existing private and piecemeal structure.
In the United States today it is clear that failing industries and infrastructure pose a threat to prosperity and potentially security and that interevention with imagination is required.
Take an expample at the heart of the matter and at the heart of the country.
Detroit is a troubled city. Quite apart from their abysmal NFL team (0-16 last year) the city is characterized by high unemployment, a devastated real estate market, the urban desolation of abandoned infrastructure, a mayor in jail and, of course, a rapid shrinkage in the industry that made Motown Motown. Despite the efforts of Ford and Fiat the auto industry is unlikely ever to employ the number of people it once did and Detroit’s problems seem beyond resolution.
On the other hand…….
Detroit is a city of opportunity. The NFL team got first pick in the draft and things can only improve. It has an available and skilled labor force that does not turn up its nose at blue collar work, it has a large cohort of industrial designers and engineers, it has an abundance of affordable housing and sites for building new industry. As of this week it will even have a new mayor.
This confluence of circumstance is unusual and should not go to waste. Detroit’s future could be as the renewable energy capital of the USA. A city to manufacture the components of wind turbines, of solar panels, of batteries for electric cars (much of the nickel helpfully comes from Canada), of recharging stations, of next generation railroad cars as well as automobiles and any number of other items that, in use, reduce the country’s dependence on fossil fuels.
Apart from the obvious desirability of urban regeneration and a real focus on the greening of America there is a certain elegance in the transformation of the city from “polluter in chief” to the center of economic and environmental transformation.