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Inconceivable Complexity

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Enthusiasm for industrial policy has been on the rise for the past few years. Such enthusiasm is rising on the political right and left. Unfortunately but predictably, Covid-19 and the deranged response in the form of lockdowns have only intensified this enthusiasm.

We’ve long heard talk about consciously arranging to ensure that we keep on our shores “strategic industries” and the “industries of tomorrow,” the production of outputs “critical to our national defense,” firms whose operations have positive spill-over effects, and manufacturing jobs for this and that group of workers. Added to this litany in 2020 is the alleged need to “secure our medical supply chains.”

All of these calls are issued by people who mistake their ease of composing or speaking fine aspirational phrases for ease of altering political and economic realities. Each and every industrial-policy advocate has an understanding of political reality that is laughably childish and an understanding of economic reality that is appallingly simplistic.

So in light of the rising fever for industrial policy, I share again this remarkable video produced in 2012 by the Competitive Enterprise Institute. It reveals that the modern economy’s complexity is so great, so unfathomable, as to make industrial-policy schemes a mix of foolishness and dangerousness.

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