U.S. Steel and the Ubiquitous ‘Market Failure’

Dear Capitolisters,

Last week, U.S. Steel announced that it was canceling a $1.3 billion upgrade to its Mon Valley Works plant in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania—a project that was widely praised at the time of announcement in May 2019 as proof that President Trump’s steel tariffs were “working.” (Trump himself tweeted as much back when he, ya know, could do that.) Given the pandemic and other recent events, as well as hints from U.S. Steel itself last year that the Pittsburgh project’s fate in question, the announcement wasn’t exactly surprising, so I was content to fire off a couple snarky tweets (as one does) and move on. But then this tweet from American Compass’ “free market fails” project came across my screen:

As anyone who follows the issue knows, it’s pretty preposterous to assert that U.S. Steel’s decision to bail on the Mon Valley Works project is a clear failure of “American capitalism” and a sign of the free market’s bigger investment problems. But this tweet does provide us with a great opportunity to discuss both the history of the U.S. steel industry and the industrial policies that have long supported it, and the broader genre of analysis on the left and (increasingly) the right that blames any and all adverse events on “market failures” necessitating new government action. 

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