TL(PM) DIGEST: Come on up for the manufacturing rising
Plus the Good Friday Agreement at 25, dueling abortion rulings, and regulating advanced nuclear power to death
1. American manufacturing on the rise again
What happened? The Wall Street Journal reports that construction spending related to new manufacturing facilities reached a record high $108 billion in 2022—“more than was spent to build schools, health care centers or office buildings.”
Why does it matter? After the years of domestic manufacturing stagnation with the entry of China into the World Trade Organization, American companies across the country are investing in all kinds of manufacturing from batteries and semiconductors to socks and eyeglasses. Manufacturers are now “hurting” for new workers to help build the new factories and fill all their orders.
TLP’s take: America’s supply chains will still be both domestic and international, but the more we build and make here—with our own workers and technology, and especially in critical industries like semiconductors and aerospace—the better. Policymakers in both parties should continue cooperative efforts to encourage and sustain this manufacturing boom in all parts of the country.
2. Peace in Northern Ireland at 25
What happened? Today marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement that brought decades of violence in Northern Ireland to an end, with President Biden and former President Clinton traveling to Belfast to commemorate the occasion. Despite its many flaws—such as setting the province’s sectarian divides into political stone—the deal has largely kept the peace for a quarter-century now.
Why does it matter? As impressive a diplomatic achievement as the Good Friday Agreement has been, it’s come under significant strain in recent years as complications from Brexit and a Brexit-related parliamentary boycott by Northern Ireland’s main unionist party have threatened to unravel the deal. A robust show of support from top-level American political leaders should be welcome.
TLP’s take: The Good Friday Agreement shows the promise and perils of diplomacy—the deal ended a long, bloody conflict but effectively created a political system based on sectarian identity and power-sharing. But Northern Ireland will not remain frozen in the amber of 1998 forever, and the arrangements put in place by the Good Friday Agreement will need to evolve moving forward.
3. Dueling legal actions on abortion medication further politicize America’s courts
What happened? A conservative, anti-abortion federal judge in Texas last Friday blocked Food and Drug Administration approval of mifepristone, one of two abortion medications. In response, a pro-choice attorney general in Washington state sued the FDA to increase access to this same drug.
Why does it matter? As we’ve seen on many controversial issues from abortion to free speech, a deeply polarized federal system of government is again producing conflicting actions that must be reconciled nationally, most likely through a ruling by the Supreme Court given the divided Congress.
TLP’s take: In its Dobbs decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution says nothing about abortion rights and that policy is up to the legislatures and citizens of each state. Given this ruling, Texas should be free to do what it wants on abortion—but a single judge from that state shouldn’t be able to undermine abortion rights across the country. Nor does the state of Texas want a Washington state attorney general telling it what to do on the matter.
The Supreme Court has created a complete mess with Dobbs: red and blue states alike have now taken to the courts to force the rest of the country to adopt their own abortion policies—a recipe for total chaos that undermines public support for the rule of law.
4. Regulating advanced nuclear power to death
What happened? New rules for advanced nuclear reactors issued by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission threaten to kill a critical weapon in the fight against climate change before it even gets off the ground, the Breakthrough Institute’s Ted Nordhaus and Adam Stein argue in Foreign Policy. Despite a mandate from the NRC to streamline regulations for a new generation of nuclear reactor technology, the regulatory body appears to have simply replicated existing rules for old-style reactors.
Why does it matter? Nuclear power remains a critical tool to counter climate change, but the NRC’s regulations make it the process of licensing and building new nuclear reactors too slow and too expensive to be a commercially viable enterprise—much less come on line rapidly enough and at sufficient scale to help reduce global carbon emissions. Since the NRC sets global standards for nuclear power regulations, that means that excessive regulations will keep nuclear power from playing its part in the world’s transition from fossil fuels.
TLP’s take: If the NRC can’t follow clear and explicit Congressional directives to ease the regulatory burdens on advanced nuclear power projects, then Congress may well have to play hardball with the NRC itself. Nuclear power—whether existing reactors or promising new designs—will be necessary if America wants to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels while retaining its current standard of living.
The NRC can either lead or get out of the way—and it’s almost run out of time to lead.
Just one more thing…
Meet STEVE, purple streaks in the nighttime sky that look like and are related to aurora but actually aren’t.