'Smokestack America' - don't sell it short
America's ''smokestack industries'' are coming back into popular favor. Martin Anderson, executive director of the ''Future of the Automobile Program'' at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, sees a swing away from the ''trendy thinking'' which held that the smokestack industries could be allowed to move abroad to such nations as South Korea or Taiwan and their workers could be retrained for jobs in high technology and the service industries.
That view is what Professor Anderson calls ''coastal thinking'' - an idea that has been strong in the East and West Coasts, particularly in academic communities such as Cambridge, Mass. It was never popular in the Midwest, where much of smokestack industry remains. Nor, he adds, have the Japanese or West Europeans accepted the theory that they could give up these traditional manufacturing industries entirely. They maintain that cleaned-up smokestack industries are part of modern society and go along with service activities.
''Some form of manufacturing is explicitly part of European and Japanese industrial policies,'' Mr. Anderson noted in a telephone interview. He believes the United States also must keep some form of manufacturing besides high-tech as its economy progresses.
For one thing, he points out, there will not be enough jobs available in the growth technology industries during the 1980s to absorb the projected losses in traditional industry. Nor do all the workers in those old industries have the skills or education necessary to make the transfer to high-tech.
Second, those predicting doom for the traditional industries ignore the ''vast potential'' for newly arising jobs in a refurbished industrial belt. Mr. Anderson believes that well-placed strategies can generate ''sunrise'' products and industrial segments within the larger steel and automobile industries.
Third, the nation's industrial belt contains more than 4 million employees who hold decades of experience upon which retraining can build an ''explosion'' in new efficiency.
Contrary to many analysts, Mr. Anderson is optimistic about the future possibilities of the traditional industries. ''We need to stop assuming that manufacturing losses are part of some grand 'natural' evolution and that attempts to rekindle manufacturing all represent 'lemon socialism,' '' he says.
Fourth, those advocating high-tech solutions ignore the fact that high-tech industries are also vulnerable to foreign competition. The Japanese and other producers have already taken much of the high-tech consumer product business, leaving the US to concentrate on smaller high-tech defense or advanced engineering areas.
''Even as it retrenches, America's auto sector holds the promise of three times the number of jobs offered by the Apollo program, the most massive national high-tech project to date,'' Mr. Anderson says.
The service industries will not provide sufficient jobs, either, he argues. The banking and financial industries are being streamlined by high-tech computers, and so cannot absorb several hundred thousand former basic manufacturing jobs. Except for some financial consulting activities, services cannot be readily traded abroad.
''America cannot survive by taking in laundry from overseas, or by selling fast foods to foreign markets using workers at home,'' he writes in a paper prepared for a forthcoming New England conference of regional leaders. ''The 'service society' is a myth until the day world societies stop using physical goods, and it cannot hope to support our more than 100 million-person work force. . . . America must produce goods which can be competitively shipped around the world.''
Having reached that conclusion, Mr. Anderson maintains that ''it is not absurd to think of regaining even portions of manufacturing which were once thought permanently lost. The restructured manufacturing of motorcycles, TVs, electronic equipment, and a host of other products is testimony to the recovery potential of a flexible American manufacturing base, given the right opportunities and relearning among members of the industrial community.''
Mr. Anderson, after some three years of studying car manufacturing under the ''Future of the Automobile Program,'' has several ideas for reviving the traditional manufacturing industries.
One is to follow the Japanese idea of manufacturers sharing certain ''social'' costs. For instance, in Japan the steel industry shares in the research and equipment costs involved in cleaning up pollution at the various plants.
The Japan Automotive Research Organization did joint research into antipollution devices, products not really important to the competition among companies in selling cars. The government helps with special subsidies or tax credits.
The US took the opposite tack, requiring each company to go its own expensive way in antipollution research and manufacturing. Intercompany cooperation was banned under the antitrust rules against collusion.
European auto companies are also cooperating in tackling more seriously the problem of auto exhaust gases. This is being done in West Germany under the support of the cartel office. Moreover, the Germans are giving the auto companies periods of five years to reach certain antipollution targets, providing more flexibility for choosing the optimum technology than is available in the one-year periods under US law, Mr. Anderson says.
Professor Anderson advocates such cartelization of ''socially important portions'' of industry as a way of lowering costs for the companies in that industry. He does not regard such cooperation as anti-competitive.