It’s beginning to look like industrial policy, the political program that dares not speak its name, will be on the next administration’s healthcare agenda no matter who wins the November election.
Both President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden are calling for beefed-up domestic manufacturing of personal protective equipment, generic drugs and vaccines. Both candidates lament the U.S.’ near total reliance on China for these critical medical goods.
In recent weeks, leading voices in healthcare have endorsed the re-creation of a domestic manufacturing base capable of providing goods in short supply. “It is dangerous to continue an over-reliance on China or any other country for the manufacture of essential supplies and equipment,” Northwell Health CEO Michael Dowling wrote in his just-released book Leading Through a Pandemic.
“For critical medical products—such as face masks, respirators, isolation gowns, commonly used medications, gloves and face shields—demand necessitates at least three global suppliers in the market from multiple regions, with at least one of based in the U.S. to protect against border closures,” declared Susan DeVore, CEO of Premier, one of the nation’s leading group purchasing organizations, in Health Affairs.
For most of the past four decades, advocating for industrial policy has been anathema to most politicians and mainstream economists. The Washington establishment firmly rejects the idea, which it dubbed “picking winners and losers.”
The concept has always been far more nuanced than that simplistic formulation. Originally floated in the 1980s as a response to erosion of manufacturing, proposed industrial policies have included restricting imports