Lost technological capability

A coda on the early posting on industrial policy from this morning’s Wall Street Journal:

The Toledo Museum of Art’s $30 million Glass Pavilion is a symbol of America’s “Glass City,” and reflects the legacy of its local glassmakers.
A smudge on the image: The pavilion glass was imported from China, the new global powerhouse of the glass industry.
No one in the U.S. had the capability to satisfy cutting-edge architectural specifications for the curving pavilion, even though the 2006 job involved techniques advanced decades ago by Toledo inventors: bending and laminating glass. The pavilion features 360 thick glass panels, each up to 13.5 feet tall, eight feet wide and weighing over 1,300 pounds.
For years, the West focused on the threat from China’s low-tech exporters like clothing and furniture makers. Glass represents how an even more potent challenge has arrived: sophisticated, capital-intensive businesses that boast high-tech expertise.

But, the issue is not one of competitiveness. As the story outlines, the Chinese company are not winning the business on lower cost. There is no competition as there are no American companies that have the technological capability to compete.
Once lost, that intangible asset of technological capability is hard to regain. In fact it can’t be “regained” — it must be started up anew. And that takes a coherent and sustained policy – something that the US seems to have a problem doing.

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