Alberto Mingardi  

Isn't industrial policy an ideology too?

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Brexit2.jpgThose British libertarians who went for Brexit were somehow disappointed by Theresa May easily winning the contest for Tory leadership. It's quite easy to understand why: in her inaugural speech, she longed for an "industrial strategy" for post-Brexit Britain. See Mark Littlewood here.

Of course Mariana Mazzucato, though an advisor to Jeremy Corbyn, has commented in favour of this "idea" (in actual fact, nothing more than a rough sketch) of Mrs May. Mazzucato wrote a piece in the Financial Times which is no different than what she wrote before - but a prolific author never publishes just once, and being a prolific author myself, who am I to criticize her? You can read the thing yourself and make up your mind.

I'd just like to make a perhaps tangential point. Mazzucato is as ideological a thinker as anybody else. In her "The Entrepreneurial State", she says, very clearly, that she sees herself as engaged in a "discursive battle" against those who want to reduce government spending by claiming its inefficiency. There is nothing necessarily wrong with that: strong disagreements, and passion, are what make the world of ideas engaging.

But in this last FT piece, she claims with some nonchalance that "the argument ought not to be about whether the state should not be involved in driving growth but how it can do this in the best way" and subsequently, "we do not need false or ideological choices between market and state".

Ok, so, if you want to let the price system work to try to solve problems whose solutions is still unknown to us, you're an ideologue. If you want a club of enlightened bureaucrats to step in, you're not.

I find this way of arguing most disappointing - and I find disheartening that some people are apparently persuaded by it.

I think it's safe to say that we're all biased, but reality doesn't necessarily confirm our biases. The public debate should be some kind of test of our prejudices, which need empirical grounding to be more than, well, prejudices.

But I do not quite get why it should be "ideological" to wait and see how markets develop, whereas going for government intervention when we don't really know what to wish for is not.

I think the best reply to Professor Mazzucato was penned long ago by Bertrand Russell, in his "Skeptical Essays":

I wish to propose for the reader's favourable consideration a doctrine which may, I fear, appear wildly paradoxical and subversive. The doctrine in question is this: that it is undesirable to believe a proposition when there is no ground whatever for supposing it true.


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CATEGORIES: Economic Philosophy




COMMENTS (3 to date)
Phil writes:

In his book Economics Rules, Dani Rodrik writes: "The hedgehog's take on a problem can always be predicted: the solution lies in freer markets ... . Foxes ... sometimes ... recommend more markets, sometimes more government." It's better to be a fox than a hedgehog, according to him. What annoys me is that he apparently doesn't consider economists eager for government intervention to be hedgehogs.

Don Boudreaux writes:

Phil's comment inspired me to write this post at my blog, Cafe Hayek.

Pete writes:

@Phil: There are very few pure anarchists out there who advocate _no_ role for government. Free market types are just convinced it's proper role is limited to things like ensuring our civil liberties, enforcing private property righs, and generally maintaining our physical security. These are things for which are necessary for a free market to function.

Beyond that, I believe that individual liberty is a good in and of itself. For me, you need to make a compelling case that restricting everyone's freedom will produce an overwelmingly better solution than letting people sort things out by themselves.

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