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Wishing upon a Czar

Steve Dasbach reminds us that ‘conservative’ George Bush loves big government and grandiose new bureaucracies just like his predecessor did

In the two and a half years since George W. Bush took office, 2.7 million Americans have lost their jobs. The vast majority (2.5 million) have occurred in manufacturing, prompting the President to announce a bold, innovative new program to boost manufacturing employment.

He’s going to – drum roll, please – appoint a manufacturing czar [the proposed formal title: Assistant Commerce Secretary for Manufacturing and Services].

It’s a classic political move. If a president wants to make it look like he’s doing something, but has no idea what to do, he appoints a ‘czar’. However, a ‘Manufacturing Czar’ will do nothing to help the millions of Americans who have lost their jobs.

President Nixon started the trend in 1973 by appointing John Love as Energy Czar. Of course, his appointment did nothing to help solve the energy “crisis”, leading President Carter to up the ante and create the Department of Energy. That didn’t accomplish anything either, other than create a gigantic new bureaucracy.

Since then, we’ve been blessed with Drug Czars, Heath Care Czars, Aids Czars, and Privacy Czars, to name just a few.

President Clinton even appointed a ‘Counter-Intelligence Czar’ just before he left office, charged with developing:

a national counterintelligence strategy identifying and prioritizing the keys to American prosperity and security. Informed by such a strategic analysis, the czar will then coordinate the efforts of the intelligence, defense and law enforcement communities.

We saw how well that worked on September 11, 2001. The President’s new “Manufacturing Czar” isn’t going to be any more successful than his fellow Czars, given that the decline in manufacturing jobs is largely irreversible. It’s also beneficial to the economy, though extremely painful for those individuals whose jobs no longer exist.

This trend in manufacturing jobs parallels our earlier experience with agriculture. Employment in farm occupations went from 71.8% of the population in 1820 to 37.5% in 1900 to 2.7% in 1980. Does anyone think we would be better off as a society if President Cleveland had appointed an “Agriculture Czar” to stem the loss of farming jobs?

Whoops… I forgot. He created a cabinet-level Department of Agriculture instead, which has become pretty adept at dispensing corporate welfare and paying farmers to NOT produce food, but has utterly failed to prevent job losses in farming. Our new Manufacturing Czar isn’t going to fare any better.

There are many reasons for the decline in manufacturing jobs. Better technology and production methods have led to substantial productivity gains. Fewer people are able to produce more goods and services for less cost, just as was the case in agriculture. The economy as a whole benefits from better and cheaper products, leading to expansion and new jobs in other industries.

Of course, some manufacturing jobs are being lost to foreign competition. But many of these losses are self-inflicted, caused by short-sighted trade and labor policies enacted by the same politicians who claim to be “protecting” American jobs.

One example is the steel tariff imposed by the Bush administration early last year. The tariff saved approximately 1,700 jobs in the steel industry. However, the tariff cost more than 200,000 jobs in American industries that use steel, representing more than $4 billion in lost wages. To put this in perspective, the entire American steel industry employs fewer than 200,000 people.

If the new Manufacturing Czar tries to save American jobs through protectionist trade policies like the steel tariffs, the result will be even more suffering, out-of-work Americans.

Instead of appointing yet another Czar to make it look like he’s doing something about unemployment, President Bush should consider a completely new approach – repealing counterproductive laws and regulations that stand in the way of job creation.

He can start by repealing the steel tariffs, along with similar trade restrictions in other industries. Then, he can try asking America’s small business owners for help in identifying the most onerous rules and regulation that need to be scrapped.

And instead of creating yet another useless Czar, President Bush should consider getting rid of the rest of them instead, with some useless agencies and cabinet departments thrown in for good measure.

However, don’t hold your breath waiting for that to happen. It’s just so much easier for presidents to wish upon a Czar.

About the author: Steve Dasbach was National Chairman of the Libertarian party, 1993-1998 and National Director of the Libertarian Party, 2000-2002.

14 comments to Wishing upon a Czar

  • Symbolism might not be all that important here, but I’m disturbed by it nonetheless. This “czar” business, for instance. The reason this moniker was hung on the Secretaries for Energy Policy and Drug Control Policy was that the czars of Russia had unlimited power unbounded by any law or concept of rights. That is not a concept I want to entertain over my Wheaties.

  • Dale Amon

    Keep in mind that Czar is just the title of Caesar. The Russia royalty considered itself the last remnant of the Eastern Empire and carried on the title…

  • The point still stands, Dale. A czar is an autocrat, whose reach and powers are unlimited. Not the sort of functionary Americans are predisposed to approve. The Russian cast to the term only makes it more sinister, in my exalted opinion.

  • Joe

    Generally the “Czar” idea is useless because it is asking one person to solve the problems of many all with the wave of their magic wand.

    It could be made to be useful though! …
    … If you use the “Czar” as a rallying point for many peoples ideas….

    e.g. manufacturing industry is in decline… in order to change this slippery slope you need to find reasons for manufacturing…. You need to manufacture things that will sell… you need to have reasons for people to design things that need to be manufactured….

    In other words to increase manufacturing- You need IDEALS AND GOALS to manufacture for…

    If people have goals to design for and if those designs are saleable then you will have turned around the manufacturing downturn.

    The best thing this manufacturing Czar could do would be to nurture and help promote new frontier industries from which further manufacturing can spring.

  • The best thing this manufacturing Czar could do would be to nurture and help promote new frontier industries from which further manufacturing can spring.

    And the best way to do that is make him a ‘de-regulation czar’ who helps nurture and promote new frontier industries by tearing up the regulations and promising that the state will stay the phuk out of their business.

  • and what is the czar supposed to do about manufacturing? it always amazes me that politicians think that they can legislate the business cycle. we had two fat decades and now we are in for some retrenchment. it has always been thus and it will always be thus. the notion that this is something politicians can do something about is right up there with trying to close loopholes in the law of gravity or trying to adjust the water cycle so that rain falls in large amounts in arizona. the proper relationship of the government in the economy remains what calvin coolidge said it was; to support the rights of property and contracts and to suppress privilege.

  • Dale Amon

    Francis: I think you completely missed my point. After all, the Caesars are those guys who did the thumbs up/down thing in the Coliseum if you remember. Some of them made Hitler look sane.

    A Caesar is an absolute ruler, a god on earth who rules by divine right because whatever he does is, by definition, of the gods.

    Not a nice role model for a free society.

  • Dale, Francis;

    You don’t seem to be disagreeing or missing each other’s points from my perspective. But what do I know?

  • In other words to increase manufacturing- You need IDEALS AND GOALS to manufacture for…

    Joe, you have a point. The Support Economy argues that mass production is in its twilight. The future is what you might call mass customisation, with unique products for each individual consumer.

    I suppose that for stubborn companies protectionism is preferable to painful transition. Shame. Individualist economics can prompt individualist politics. Just as the immense efficiency of corprate industrialism stoked appetites for state central planning a hundred-odd years ago.

  • Zathras

    Yadda, yadda, yadda. All thanks for Mr. Dasbach for the boilerplate. Who says libertarians don’t believe in recycling?

    The reason the occupants of some newly created posts in the American government have been called “czars” is that they were charged with coordinating policies on subjects that did not fall clearly in any one existing agency’s purview. This meant cutting red tape and settling bureaucratic squabbling, at least this is the way their duties were described to the public. The reality was often very different — the Nixon administration’s “energy czar,” for example, evolved into the Carter administration’s Secretary of the Energy Department, the major responsibility of which then and for many years afterward was building nuclear weapons. Regardless of how things sometimes worked out, the term “czar” made a certain amount of sense so long as one understood that it was shorthand for something rather different than the arbitrary and absolute power of the old Russian monarchy.

    Interestingly, though, the new “manufacturing czar” is not to be anything of this kind either. He’ll be just another Assistant Secretary joining several others at the Department of Commerce. Understand that the largest agency within Commerce is the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, which runs the National Weather Service and does other useful things wholly unrelated to manufacturing. So what this new Assistant Secretary will be, at most, is a staff assistant to Commerce Secretary Evans with a larger than normal office and salary. He may have authority to make speeches and attend conferences, but that will be pretty much it. Even in the context of the specific inside the Beltway meaning of the term “czar,” he won’t be one. The creation of this post is just another shallow PR gesture by an administration that has no ideas about helping the economy unrelated to the tax cuts President Bush’s financial backers and personal friends have been clamoring for.

  • Ironchef

    Zathras I’m neither a friend or “financial backer” of President Bush yet I’m clamoring for as many tax-cuts as I can get.

    I would presume many here do the same.

  • Garth

    I am tired of all these Czars! Let’s mix the titles up a bit. I would like to see:

    A Drug “Wizard” Would get much more respect from drug consumers, no doubt. He could effectively deal with Puff the Magic Dragon.

    Manufacturing “Baron”. Something about having a Baron in charge of building crap just sounds good to me… I don’t know why.

    Homeland Security “Khan”. Dont know about you, but I wouldn’t want to take on a Khan!

    Energy “Fuhrer”. Now we can talk about gas chambers in a whole new light!

    Oh, but it goes on. Just silly.

  • Joe

    The goodness or badness of a thing is in the use of it… I reckon a Manufacturing Czar could be useful if his powers were used to manage the cutting through of the bureaucracy that inhibits new and innovative manufacturing.

  • I was surprised to find the title czar used in just this way in Hazlitt’s Time Will Run Back. Could that be where Nixon got it??