To inform, confuse, and enlighten; in economic matters as well as philosophical ones. Jørund Aarsnes and Stephan Jensen write on economics and the human condition.
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Category — Efficiency/Inefficiency

The Return of Industrial Policy and the Incorporation of Time into Economics

The port of Shanghai from WikiCommons

Dani Rodrik recently had a commentary where he argued that industrial policy is returning to the main stage.  Within the Tallinn School (i.e. the economic research associated with the Technology Governance program in Tallinn) active government policies are seen as essential in order to create the ‘virtuous circles’ of high value-added economic activities. Rodrik (not associated with Tallinn), argues that industrial policy is  (i) “a state of mind rather than a list of specific policies” (ii) “relies on both carrots and sticks” and (iii) “industrial policy’s practitioners need to bear in mind that it aims to serve society at large” As Erik Reinert has shown, history abounds with  examples of how almost every successful economy has at some point employed some kind of industrial policy. Skeptics usually reply, yes, but what about all the failures?   By no means is industrial policy always effective and how well it works in a specific case depends on an inordinate amount of variables. Importantly, it is “a state of mind” and one must experiment to see what works. I would rather ask: what is the alternative, if industrial policy is the only way we know to have worked? Recently, the World Bank has come off as a bit more positive towards industrial policy, but their understanding is quite narrow:

“If industrial policy is nothing more than government agencies organizing conferences with private sector players, I’m all for it. If we include in the definition of industrial policy the supply of classic public goods like infrastructure and education in coordination with the needs of the private sector, I am still fully in support. However, I tend to part ways when the state gets involved to the point of picking winners, which must inevitably be the case when more heavy-handed interventions are put on the table. ” from the World Bank Private Sector Development Blog.

Industrial policy is more than supplying basic infrastructure, but still it is not about picking winners. One aims to develop specific sectors of the economy, calculating that the spillover effects will benefit the economy as a whole. The Asian economies, of India and China,  but also Brazil are recent examples of how industrial policy has been implemented successfully. But Chris Blattman points to an interesting example of how it has been carried out for shoe manufacturing in Ethiopia.

From my experience, how one looks at industrial policy depends a lot on one’s view of economics: In the first post here at Evolution-Revolution, we argued that “understanding the dynamics that propel the economy into the unknown should be at the core of economics, rather than optimizing a static economy that only exists in the abstract.” As such if one believes the most efficient allocation of today’s resources is essential one quite naturally comes to the conclusion that any form of intervention is inefficient. By incorporating the dimension of time however, one can more easily conclude that its worth sacrificing a little efficiency today for what might be a much more prosperous tomorrow.

May 27, 2010   1 Comment

“Betting Against Home Owners” is Betting For Affordable Housing – A case for Goldman Sachs doing “God’s work”

In the still ongoing political smear campaign against Goldman Sachs conducted by the Senate Subcommittee on Investigations, the latter has been particularly enraged by Goldman Sachs’ supposed “bet against home owners”. That is, because Goldman Sachs was net short exposure to mortgage-related securities, policy-makers have been arguing that the bank was contributing to pushing prices down, and in an evil way benefiting from the ruin of hard-working regular Americans.

Now, first of all, I am unsure about whether Goldman’s supposed “big short” really had a significant impact on housing prices. Arguably, the collapse of the U.S. housing market in 2007-2008 was a necessary consequence of unsustainably rapid price increases brought about by horribly easy credit in the years before, and would have been just as painful for regular hard-working Americans regardless of whether Goldman had a net short position or not. One could perhaps even argue that the crash would have been worse if Goldman had not been as hedged as they were.

Above: Charles Ponzi, the model banker, according to the Senate Subcommittee on Investigations

Nevertheless, it is interesting for the sake of argument to assume that Goldman’s supposed “big short” did in fact push down the price of property, which seems [Read more →]

May 9, 2010   7 Comments

Ego Optimality

Above: “I am *this* much more awesome than all of you guys!”
Picture from

Attending a small rock concert this weekend (a good one, with the Estonian band Mild), I was struck by tremendous amount of unabashed ego displayed by the lead singer of the band. Now, in the case of an aspiring rock star, this is of course not a bad thing. In fact, I would argue that a big, proud, and unapologetic ego is mostly a very good thing for a most live performers, especially [Read more →]

March 15, 2010   1 Comment