INDUSTRIAL POLICY - Northeastern University

When and How the Government Should
Intervene in Markets
Stockholm, 1974
Implications and Applications
 Privatization and deregulation
 Less aggressive antitrust policy
 Weaker public support for infrastructure, R&D
 Reliance on markets and competition
 Uncritical embrace of free trade
 Opposition to industrial policy
Long History of Antitrust and Regulation
 Antitrust and regulation are responses to the difference
between “free markets” and “competitive markets”
Competitive markets are very good at responding to consumers,
harnessing entrepreneurial activity
Markets that are not competitive—even if apparently “free”--cannot
make same claim
 Most markets work reasonably well, even if not perfectly
competitive, and do not require government intervention
 Under some circumstances, more is necessary
Antitrust sets rules of game: prohibits cartels, big mergers, various
anticompetitive practices
Regulation supervises utilities and other industries that cannot be
competitive due to scale economies
 Both policies date back to 1800s in US
Antitrust as Preventive Industrial Policy
 Many troubled industries are complacent oligopolies
Weak competition breeds inattention to products, costs, technology
Leaves them vulnerable to outside forces such as imports
Autos, steel, others
 Stronger competition can improve performance, help
sector protect itself
Antitrust actions sometimes can help
Breakup of AT&T, Standard Oil
 Prohibit efforts by dominant firms to prevent entry, like Microsoft
Antitrust policy has fairly broad political support, in principle
More controversial in practice
 Less support for its use in reforming industries
Long History of Direct Industry Involvement
 US has long provided support to private sector, especially
Support for roads, canals, railroads in 19th century
Local public utilities (water, power) at turn of century
Massive public works of 1930s
“National Defense Highway Program” of 1950s
R&D at national labs and universities
 US has also intervened to defend and rescue companies
and sectors
Lockheed in 1970s
S&Ls in 1980s
Airlines after 9-11
Auto industry in 1979, 1982, 2008-9
Detroit, 1979
 Chrysler reports $1.1B loss, in danger of collapse
Problems mostly of own making: products, costs, technology,
Similar problems for GM, Ford: “Big 3”
 Policymakers concerned with spillovers from collapse
CBO estimated job losses of 360,000
Effects on suppliers, communities, etc.
 Others argued Chrysler should be allowed to fail
Should bear brunt of own mistakes
Avoid “insuring” bad management against bad outcomes
Market will shift resources to those better able to manage
To Bail or Not To Bail
 No-bailout is a sound economic prescription, under
certain specific conditions
Labor markets can absorb released workers into jobs utilizing
skills and preserving human capital
Physical capital can be put to other good uses reasonably
Input or output connections limited: modest spillovers
Possible to reorganize with alternative management, financing
 If conditions do not hold, may be case for assistance
 Important issues of nature, timing, duration
Competition Policy
 Auto industry had already attracted scrutiny
 Justice Dept. and FTC both conducted antitrust inquiries into
competition problems in 1970-80s
 Focused on GM’s dominance, various pricing practices in
industry, cost issues, lack of innovation, exclusive dealers, etc.
 Intent was to see if antitrust could help revitalize industry, for
benefit of both consumers and companies themselves
 Efforts did not succeed
 Antitrust weak policy tool in some circumstances
 Issues superseded by Chrysler anyway
Chrysler Bailout
 Congress passed Loan Guaranty Act in Dec. 1979
 Chrysler got $1.5B in loan guarantees
 Had to get some concessions from stakeholders
 But no requirement to revamp operations, products
 No replacement of management
Chrysler emerged intact, but bailout essentially
gave company money without remedial actions
Problem of moral hazard: failure to penalize certain bad
behavior encourages more of it
Made it more likely Detroit would return to Washington
Detroit, 1982
 Japanese car imports doubled from 1976 to 1980
Big 3 production fell from 8.4M to 5.1M
Employment declined from 930,000 to 780,000
 Big 3 asked for help from Washington, claiming need for
“breathing room” to respond to import challenge
Reagan administration imposed quotas on imports in 1981
 Not a direct subsidy, but allowed Big 3 to raise prices
Prices rose, and US companies pocketed money
Hope they would use time and money to improve products,
operations, management proved vain
 These experiences give intervention bad reputation
They are poor public policy
Detroit, 2008-9
 “Big 3” sales and production already in long decline
 Sales truly collapsed during financial crisis
Huge financial losses to all three US companies
Likelihood that companies would collapse, with spillovers to
suppliers, dealers, communities
 Some argued market should be allowed to work
Same arguments as in 1979 against bailout
“If General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler get the bailout that their
chief executives asked for yesterday, you can kiss the American
automotive industry goodbye…The automakers will stay the
course—the suicidal course of declining market shares,
insurmountable labor and retiree burdens, technological atrophy,
product inferiority and never-ending job losses.”
 “Detroit will need to drastically restructure itself:
 New labor agreements to align pay and benefits with
 Management as is must go. New faces should be recruited
from unrelated industries…
 Sanity in salaries and perks…Get rid of the planes, the
executive dining rooms…
 Investments must be made for future...truly competitive
products and innovative technologies--especially fuel-saving
 Do not give shareholders and bondholders a free pass. They
bet on management and they lost.”
 Others argued for government intervention
 Loss of jobs in weak economy
CEA estimated 1.1M jobs would be lost
Loss of competition at supplier level
Loss of human capital (skilled workers)
Loss of physical capital (factories, infrastructure)
Financial losses: local taxes, pensions, unemployment
 Some had more nuanced view
 “Sometimes circumstances get in the way of philosophy. […]
do it again”
Bush and Obama
 Bush provided interim financing to GM, Chrysler
 Obama (2009) provided longer-term financing, but
with conditions
Some conditions familiar:
Had to obtain concessions from workers, suppliers, etc.
Other conditions were fundamentally different:
Chrysler forced to find partner
 GM required to restructure operations, drop brands
 Both had to close plants, alter products, reduce dealer network
 Both CEOs were fired, Board members replaced
 And both Chrysler and GM forced into “managed bankruptcy”
“Hard Bailout”
 No blank checks
Do not simply give out money and hope for best
Rather, transform structure and personnel
Be sure to change operations and incentives
 Deal with moral hazard (future reckless behavior)
Separate rescue of company from rescue of people responsible for
Remove CEO, managers, directors; ensure no golden parachutes;
institute legal proceedings if actions criminal
Next set of executives will know they personally will not benefit from
or survive any future crisis of company, and hence deterred
 This is good industrial policy
Detroit, 2012
 GM sales up by 4 percent year-over year
 Ford by 6 percent, Chrysler by 20+ percent
 Companies reopening plants, investing in facilities,
resuming hiring
GM building new $500M assembly plant in Hamtramck
Auto manufacturing employment up 63,000 since last August
 All three companies profitable
 Chrysler has paid off loan, GM about half paid off
 Should not exaggerate this, but industry has
stabilized and is recovering
Principles of Government Involvement
 Limit involvement to companies with three properties
Systemic effects, i.e., interconnectedness
Widespread and substantial spillovers to other sectors
 Real effects on upstream suppliers, downstream producers
Lack of reasonable alternatives for labor and capital resources
Implies risk of long-term diminished prospects, loss of value
Lack of plausible private alternatives
 Take full control, transform companies
Never simply grant dollars
Must change operations and incentives
 Hold individuals personally responsible
Penalize, change expectations, and deter
 Get out ASAP
Avoid involvement that confuses govt. vs. firm responsibility
Wall Street, 2009
 Financial crisis left many banks, insurers, mortgage
companies in precarious financial condition
 Problems had multiple causes, many of own making
Took imprudent risks
Invented assets of uncertain value
Ignored internal and external warning signs
Lobbied for and secured deregulation
 Did firms nonetheless meet criteria for government
Most analysts would likely say “yes”
Ran the experiment of not doing so, with Lehman Bros.
 Bailout of banks, financial institutions cost $300B
It worked in sense that banks survived
 Government had ownership stakes in institutions
Opportunity for same kind of fundamental reforms as in autos
 But little effort to change institutions or people
No breakup of banks…now larger than before
No systematic removal of bad actors
No replacement of CEOs or boards
Little holding of companies responsible
Scant efforts to prosecute companies or individuals
 Compounded by inadequate regulatory reform
Glass-Steagall separation not restored
Countless provisions of Dodd-Frank being compromised
“Soft Bailout” for Banks
 One corrosive result is sense of unfairness
 Banks got relief without responsibility
“Banks got bailed out, we got sold out”
Bailout supposed to be accompanied by aid to homeowners
That part of plan got sidetracked, never to return
 Second damaging effect is moral hazard
 Financial institutions now have reason to believe government
will bail them out
 Knowing that, they behave differently toward risk, reward
 Creates exposure for taxpayers to future problems, failures
 This is bad industrial policy
 Why such a soft approach and so little pushback?
 Relentless counterattack by institutions that benefit
Much greater power of financial sector than ever before
 No longer “What’s good for GM is good for the country”
Crucial policy role for advocates of banks, financial institutions
Wall Street, Goldman Sachs proteges dominate government
 Absence of same tough analytical approach that was used for auto
 Industrial policies of antitrust and regulation are
useful tools
 Government actions to promote, defend, rescue
certain companies can be useful tools
 Entirely possible to conduct these policies with
limiting principles, minimizing adverse effects
 Failure to adhere to these principles can also do
great damage
Shifts risk from private actors to public
Creates enormous private power with implicit but very real
claim on future public resources
Some Readings
 Clyde Prestowitz, The Betrayal of American
Prosperity (2010)
 Neil Barofsky, Bailout (2012)
 Josh Lerner, Boulevard of Broken Dreams (2009)
 John Kwoka, “The U.S. Auto Industry Under Duress”
Competition Policy International (2009)

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