LAS VEGAS In his annual state-of-the-industry address -- opening the first keynote session of the Consumer Electronics Show here Thursday, Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) chief Gary Shapiro delivered his familiar anti-regulation message, but in slightly stronger tones than usual, condemning assistance given to companies that received government assistance during the current recession.
| The CEA boss delivers his CES keynote|
Channeling his inner Darwin, Shapiro said, "Every failed company propped up means that its competitors have to compete with a subsidized company."
Shapiro was careful not to identify the most prominent propped-up company bailed-out by federal assistance in 2009, General Motors. But his implication was already clear, since he had arrived onstage in a new Ford and proceeded to introduce keynote guest Alan Mullaly, CEO of the Ford Motor Co., the only U.S. automaker not bailed out by the federal government.
Indeed, Shapiro admitted that consumer electronics suffered its share of "failed companies." He noted that for the first time in the history of CES, the past year marked an overall decline in revenues for the industry.
However, despite his aversion to government meddling in commerce, Shapiro's "free trade" message was ambiguous. On the subject of recycling -- a strong initiative of CEA -- he called for a "national solution" to resolve a hodgepodge of state-by-state regulations. Without elaborating on details, he advocated a "national system" somehow based "on the free market, not a government mandate."
He also said that, although CEA deplores any government involvement in the market, it has bowed to reality by boosting its lobbying presence in Washington, D.C. Shapiro boasted that CEA is now the 12th largest association seeking influence among members of Congress.
Shapiro's emphasis was on innovation. He described the silver lining, or "bright light" in this "harsh recession" as the nation's spirit of innovation, and consumer electronics as "the most innovative industry" in the world.
In a period of retrenchment and a fierce struggle for survival that has "created winners and losers," companies capable of innovation must "break out and do something different," said the CEA chief.
"Innovate," said Shapiro, "or die!"
And do it, he added, without the crippling assistance of America's nanny state. "If you believe in innovation, don't just sit by and watch," he urged. "Join our movement."
Shapiro said, "Innovation is our destiny, but it must follow free-market principles," lest the consumer electronics industry fall into the trap of "spending our seed corn on an entitlement society."