The Shortage Economy: Will We Go Marching?

SUPPLY CHAIN INTERRUPTUS - Washington pundits generally see the supply-chain hiccups and partially related price inflation as political risks for the Biden White House. Probably that’s so but there’s also opportunity for a left-ward administration.

Check out the essay by reliable old Robert Kuttner in the latest New York Review of Books. After fondly recalling the marching orders given to the U.S. economy during World War II, he points to a report done by the president’s national-security team earlier this year on how to redirect U.S. market practices to better serve politically-determined aims. Supply disruptions, whether from pandemics, foreign machinations or environmental factors, are a key focus. Thus, the current discomfort could be transformed into a Democrat trifecta for planning, trade and investment powers. Some elements of the report already made their way into the Build Back Better legislation being dressed up for passage in Congress.

Kuttner’s article prefigures his next book, due in April, Going Big: FDR’s Legacy and Biden’s New Deal. For scholarly partisans of a certain bent–Kuttner has been a progressive warhorse since the Reagan days–the martial orders on the Home Front of the last World War (or even the first one) carry nostalgic appeal. The nation was drawn together in sacrifice and energetic production to meet national imperatives. It is easy at this point to forget the predations, many unnecessary or even silly, that this imposed on citizens (Britain saw much the same or worse) and the often-scandalous misappropriations that accompanied such commands.

Of course, a relatively open economy will also result in miscues, and certainly inequities and waste, so a time of tumult and worry like the present will offer an opportunity to statists as well as others who distrust international trade. To many, American Greatness seems to call for concerted measures to put the nation on sounder footing. The pleas of classical liberals for instead fostering agility in response can be dismissed by the Kuttners as corporate shilling, the “waning influence of free-market ideology.”

So, to use another wartime standby, this good crisis will not go to waste if only Biden’s party will muscle through the means to reorder what ails our land.  So are progressive Democrats really on the run? We do appear to be at a political pivot point. I’m not counting Bob Kuttner and friends out.

This piece first appeared at: timwferguson.com

(Tim W. Ferguson, the former editor of Forbes’s Asia edition, writes about business, economics and society for New Geography.)


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