Steel in the United States is a “mature” industry, and our political-economic discourse, like other aspects of American culture, is particularly ill-equipped to deal with maturity and aging.
Steel’s best years are behind it. It has not been “profitable” by American standards for more than 20 years and can no longer earn or attract the capital it needs to maintain itself. It has no prospects for growth. Yet it remains a basic industry, basic to the economic health of an advanced industrial society. It employs hundreds of thousands of people and is at the heart of many regional economies. It cannot be left to die, but it is not clear how it can survive.
During the Carter administration, the federal government made a first attempt to address this problem. Some 70,000 steel jobs were permanently eliminated from 1977 to 1980, putting severe strains on local economies in Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, and elsewhere. When 200 members of Congress organized themselves into the Congressional Steel Caucus, an extensive study of the industry was undertaken by government agencies. The Steel Tripartite Committee was formed, which included representatives from the steel companies, the United Steelworkers of America (USWA), and from branches of government....
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