Mission Economy: The New Book by Mariana Mazzucato

In the City Journal, I have a review of Mariana Mazzucato’s new book – alas, not as brilliant as John Kay’s one. I am afraid my opinion of this new work is not necessarily better than the one I had of her previous ones. In this new book, Mazzucato uses the moonshot as an example of what “mission oriented directionality” can produce, when applied to the whole of the economy.

There is not much new in Mazzucato’s new book compared to her previous ones. What always astonishes me about her (and similarly, other industrial policy advocate types’) views is how highly complex processes are sketched into very simple drawings. The processes by which things are produced and marketed are seen as the reflection of easily identifiable and relatively simple decisions by those on top.

There is a little bit of that in the contemporary discussion over Covid-19 vaccines (at least in Europe). People talk about the making and producing of such vaccines as something which should be “expected”, somehow from Big Pharma, like Santa delivers presents on Christmas. That policy decisions other than pouring money at it can affect the production process is uncontemplated. It is easy to talk of “missions” and “directionality” but it is often quite controversial which mission should be undertaken – and with what kind of resources. Plus, an economy is not about one single need, picked by foresighted decision makers, in periods other than war time. The needs of people are many; not all of them can be met in the same way, let alone at the behest of some legislator who knows which ones should be privileged at the expense of others.

I think a commentator had it right: “The moonshot approach, a concentrated effort to accomplish one large, specific, scientific/engineering project, with no real concern for cost, cannot be applied to an entire national economy.”