The Squandering of American Soft Power. FAA Down. Is the FDA Next?

We seem to live in a squandering age.  Particularly when it comes to namby pamby intangibles like “trust,” “truth,” and “influence.”  The debacle of the FAA and the 737 MAX aircraft is a particularly depressing example.   Over the course of 48 hours, decades of accumulated soft power just went down the drain.

The world used to gladly outsource aviation safety regulation to the FAA.  If we said it could fly here, it could fly anywhere.  A clean example of US soft power.  The benefits of setting the regulatory agenda also accrued here.  It is one reason Boeing has done so well for so long.

The long-term-greedy, cynical, smart response to the Ethiopian Air crash should have been an immediate grounding of the 737 MAX.

  • The long-term greedy solution is always to get ahead of the problem and look like a leader.
  • The cynical solution is always to ostentatiously “make” a decision for a course of action you will be forced to take regardless.
  • The smart solution is to ground the damn plane before it kills more people.

Instead, the FAA diddled around.  The Chinese and Canadian aviation regulators announced groundings.  When the FAA finally did act, they came out looking like craven, corrupt, captured regulators.

The first rule in the Craven Corrupt Captured Regulator Handbook is “don’t obviously appear to be a craven corrupt captured regulator.” This was just dumb. Even a corrupt cop knows you gotta make a token arrest if your mob bosses shoot someone in broad daylight downtown.

Boeing didn’t help.  They also should have read the situation correctly and “voluntarily requested” a temporary grounding.  That also had to be page 1 of the crisis communications plan they must have updated when Lion Air’s 737 MAX went down.

The end result?  The world has learned they can no longer trust the FAA.  Note the Ethiopian Air flight’s Black Box flight recorders are going to France (home of Airbus) for analysis. The Ethiopians didn’t trust the US to do the work.  That bit of news hasn’t been reported as widely or loudly as it should be.

The world learned a similar lesson about US financial regulators in 2007-2009.  They FDA’s gatekeeper role in medical devices could be up next.

The benefits of regulatory capture are concentrated with a few.  The damages are recorded against the faith and credit of the United states as a nation.  Isn’t late stage capitalism fun?

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