industrial policy

In discussions of trade and economic policy, China increasingly plays the role that Japan once did — simultaneously vilified and lionized as both threat and model.

In the 1980s, “trade hawks” warned that Japan would “hollow out” our economy unless we adopted Japanese-style industrial policy to counter Japan’s “unfair” trade practices. Today, “progressives” warn that China will “eat our lunch” in the “clean tech race” unless we aggressively subsidize domestic manufacturers of wind turbines, solar panels, and the like, to counter China’s clean-tech subsidies, which, we are told, constitute “unfair” trade practices.

If there is any consistency in these discussions, it is that subsidies are always either good or bad, fair or unfair, depending on whether they rig the market for “our” companies or “their” companies.

Oh yes, there is one other point of consistency — everybody agrees “clean tech” can’t compete without subsidies. This came out during a conference earlier in the week at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Sun Guoshun, first secretary of the Chinese embassy in Washington, D.C., defended his government’s use of subsidies as necessary to having a clean-tech sector. 

As reported today in Climatewire (subscription required), Mr. Sun said: “It is the consensus of the international community that renewable energy is not in a position to compete with fossil fuel energy. So if you’re not going to subsidize renewable energy, there will be no renewable energy.”