Lots of free-market types were aghast at Mitt Romney’s appeal to Michigan voters that as president he would use government to help the auto industry, as if he was advocating some European Union/Japan-style industrial policy:
I am convinced that Michigan can once again lead the world's automotive industry. But it means we're going to have to change things in Washington. We're going to have to go from politicians who say they are “aware” of Michigan's problems to have a president instead who will actually take action to do something about them.
But if you look at his plan, most of it merely recycled policy ideas from his ongoing campaign. Reduce the legacy healthcare costs that automakers have? Romney already wanted to get companies out of the business of providing healthcare insurance. And that $20 billion a year “investment” plan in “energy research, fuel technology, materials science, and automotive technology”? He’s been talking up a huge government R&D plan all along, including to me in a chat over a month ago.
So it is not as though he created a whole new slate of proposals, whatever their worth, just for Michigan. He just tweaked his rhetoric to appeal to voters in that state. And let me restate that most innovation experts I talk to think the best thing government can do for the economy is make sure our infrastructure is in good shape, our schools are encouraged to turn out more science geeks, and our markets are kept as open and deregulated as possible for “maximum competitive intensity.”