Industrial Policy’s Corruption Problem Is Hiding in Plane Sight

An Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 9 plane sits at a gate at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on January 6, 2024, in Seattle, Washington. Alaska Airlines grounded its 737 MAX 9 planes after part of a fuselage blew off during a flight from Portland Oregon to Ontario, California. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)

After an Alaska Airlines flight experienced a harrowing—but thankfully not fatal—midair door blowout earlier this month, the U.S. aircraft manufacturing behemoth Boeing has faced renewed scrutiny over the safety of its 737 MAX plane. As the Wall Street Journal reported, the episode was “the latest in a string of quality problems at Boeing,” which include two fatal crashes of Boeing’s smaller 737 MAX jets back in 2018 (in Indonesia) and 2019 (Ethiopia). Other reports have swirled about how this latest incident raises big questions about not only the 737 MAX, but also Boeing’s entire business model and the main U.S. regulatory body (the Federal Aviation Administration) responsible for the planes’ safety.

It’s far too early to say if this is a full-blown scandal at Boeing or the FAA (though the latest news doesn’t seem great!). And I won’t for a second claim to know what exactly led to Boeing’s 737 MAX problems, or whether any malfeasance or crimes (by either executives or federal regulators) took place. But if a scandal does materialize in the coming days, it wouldn’t exactly be a huge surprise—and not just because of Boeing’s recent history of technical problems.

Indeed, if you know anything about Boeing—and the deep history of corruption involving government-backed companies (especially “national champions”) around the world—the only real surprise here is that the whole shebang didn’t come crashing down even sooner.

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