Must-Read: Noah Smith: Finding Better Ideas to Rebuild America

Must-Read: Noah Smith: Finding Better Ideas to Rebuild America: “‘Concrete Economics,’ by University of California-Berkeley professors Brad DeLong and Stephen S. Cohen, needs an expanded sequel…

…900 pages long, with charts, data, theory and an exhaustive list of historical case studies. That book would become the Bible of the New Industrialist movement that is just beginning to grope its way out of the ashes of the neoliberal free-market consensus. Perhaps that tome will get written. But DeLong and Cohen couldn’t wait to write it, because we need new ideas now, and they decided they had to put a sketch of those new ideas into people’s heads very quickly. And I agree with their decision. If you’re at all concerned about economic policy, this is a book you need to read. It will take you only a couple of hours, and the time will be well-spent….

The peril of this sort of historical analysis is that it’s always easy to make the past fit some pattern after the fact. Sometimes policy causes big economic shifts, and sometimes it’s just along for the ride. A cautionary tale is provided by Japan’s experience, which DeLong and Cohen extol. Although Japan’s government certainly did try to pick winners — and still does — this probably stopped working around the late 1970s. For a good primer on how Japan’s industrial policy petered out, see ‘Can Japan Compete?,’ by Michael Porter, Hirotaka Takeuchi and Mariko Sakakibara. Nor have South Korea and China, for all their fast growth, yet managed to reach the income levels of the finance-ridden U.S….

DeLong and Cohen are absolutely right — the American mind has been far too captured by the beguilingly simple and powerful theory of free-market dogma. That theory was oversold, and we need a corrective…. DeLong and Cohen don’t focus on elevating… theories…. DeLong and Cohen propose to frame economic policy programs in terms of simple, tangible, objectives. Build railroads across the West. Break up monopolies. Fund Big Science…. This short, almost casually sketched book is really the opening shot in a long campaign… to build a New Industrialism–an approach to economic policy that respects the power of the private sector but isn’t afraid of an activist government. No one quite knows what New Industrialism is going to be yet. ‘Concrete Economics’ is meant to get people thinking about what it ought to be.

May 27, 2016


Brad DeLong
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