Joe Biden's industrial policy is big, bold and fraught with difficulty

From semiconductors to electric vehicles, the American government is going into business

US President Joe Biden greet workers at the ground-breaking on Sept 9 of the new Intel semiconductor manufacturing facility in Ohio. PHOTO: AFP
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The president had a skip in his step as he walked to the podium in Licking County, Ohio, on Sept 9. It was a ground-breaking ceremony for a new Intel factory, a centrepiece in America's efforts to re-establish itself as a manufacturer of semiconductors. In fact work at the site had already begun, and a couple of yellow construction vehicles, undeterred by the occasion, continued rolling behind Mr Joe Biden as he spoke. Wearing his trademark aviator sunglasses, he outlined the government's plans to invest in everything from quantum computing to biotechnology: "We're going to make sure we lead the world in industries of the future."

It is nothing new for a president to boast America's clout in technology. It is more unusual to put a spotlight on the state rather than the private sector as the source of that clout. Industrial policy - an attempt by the government to cultivate strategically important sectors - has typically been seen as anathema by political and economic leaders in America in recent decades. With the notable exception of defence production, they have frowned on state involvement in business as counterproductive. The state's share of research and development funding has steadily shrunk.

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