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Sexy Plan

The political appeal of The Plan is equivalent to the sex appeal of Salma Hayek.  The political appeal of the market is equivalent to the sex appeal of Kermit the Frog.

Exhibit One: this column in today’s Washington Post by David Ignatius.

Ignatius is alarmed by General Motors’ current problems. He’s alarmed also by Americans’ "dependence" on foreign oil, Americans’ high living, and the decline of manufacturing in America.

And he wants us to solve these problems by embarking on a "fundamental national mission, equivalent to President John F. Kennedy’s call to put a man on the moon."  Ignatius knows a book, too, to light the way: Amory Lovins’s Winning the Oil Endgame: Innovation for Profits, Jobs and Security.

Lovins has Ignatius convinced:

Lovins’s plan is precisely the sort of thing a great nation should explore as its biggest manufacturer is skidding off the road. The details are complicated, but the essence is pretty simple: Lovins argues that by radically transforming the materials used in cars, trucks, airplanes, office buildings and factories — substituting carbon-fiber composites and other lightweight products — the United States could cut its oil use by 29 percent in 2025 and an additional 23 percent soon thereafter.

This "national mission," of course, involves taxes as well as government loan guarantees and other subsidies aimed at fundamentally changing the materials out of which automobiles and buildings are built – a change that, because it requires new technologies, will also energize U.S. innovativeness.

I’m tempted to do a long riff here on all the details that Ignatius misses – such as, for example, the fact that it’s simply not true that as goes GM so goes America; such as the fact that there is nothing at all special or inherently better about manufacturing and manufacturing jobs over service-sector production; such as the fact that infecting decisions about investment and production with politics will reward political appeal at the expense of genuinely economically sound uses of resources.

But it’s late, so I’ll just point you to Ignatius’s closing paragraph:

I’m no technologist, so I can’t evaluate the technical details of Lovins’s proposal. What I like is that it’s big, bold and visionary. It would shake an America that is sitting on its duff as foreign competitors clobber our industrial giants, and it would send a new message: Get moving, start innovating, turn this ship around before it really hits the rocks.

This paragraph reflects an attitude that is rich soil for totalitarianism to take root. It ignores individual freedom; it ignores the possibility that the admired Big Plan might be flawed, either technologically or economically or both. Ignatius is all orgasmic simply because The Plan is centralized and Big and (allegedly) will compel or inspire the masses once again to behave in ways that promote national greatness.

Heaven help us.