We have heard by now advocacy of going back to coal to “make America great again.” Because, they reason, America became great at the time when coal and oil powered it.
Indeed, in the 19 century, coal and oil were cutting-edge technologies, leading to a revolution in transport that did not involve draft animals. Coal-powered the trains replaced mule trains and wagons as the best way to move people and goods across the wide distances between the two coasts.
It was revolutionary. It was cutting edge. Whole industries that were based on animal transport or provided support for it went by the wayside. Farriers were much less in demand. Construction of wagons plummeted. Mule breeding took a hit. All obsolete now.
But in the 21st century, coal and oil are no longer cutting edge. Solar and wind are. Research is being done there and the bright minds apply themselves. There are subsidies now, as there were subsidies to build the trains (the U.S. government letting them have the land to build the tracks for ridiculous prices). And it paid off. There were abuses, and waste and fraud, in a scale that would shock us today — but the U.S. got into the Industrial Revolution thanks to it.
We cannot make America great again by building our industrial policy on nostalgia. We cannot power another Industrial Revolution with 19th century technology. We need again to commit to cutting-edge technologies, and subsidize it when needed, same as we subsidized the railroads.
Adriana I. Pena,