Sun hats and development

I recently bought a new sun hat (stay with me). A label inside reads ‘made in China’. Replacing my previous hat was well overdue, as it was more than 20 years old. Out of curiosity and before getting rid of it, I checked inside and saw a label, which also read ‘made in China’. I must be something of a geek, as this got me thinking about the manufacture of clothing and development processes.

It is notable that China is manufacturing and exporting clothing such as this, just as it was twenty years ago. The hats are not dissimilar. Of course, the Chinese economy is the largest manufacturing nation in the world and exports a huge amount of goods of all kinds. But according to this experience, companies there are still involved in the manufacture of quite basic clothing. Continue reading


The good governance illusion

Democracy, accountable and transparent government, low levels of corruption, the rule of law, stable property rights, pluralism: we tend to think that these are all highly desirable in any society.

In poor countries, they are often absent, but at least some of them are present in many rich ones. It seems to follow that they should be encouraged in the former as a way to encourage development. After all, if richer countries have these characteristics, they may be part of the development process.

This wishful thinking provides a foundation for the ‘good governance’ agenda propagated by the World Bank and other international institutions during the 1990s and into the 2000s. It was argued that domestic political reforms in the direction of good governance in poor countries would provide the institutional environment conducive to the efficient working of markets and thereby promote development. Continue reading

Is it okay to copy? Intellectual property, learning and development

In Tuesday’s post on China’s industrial policy I mentioned the country’s lack of enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) as a feature of its development. The US in particular, but also other rich countries, have complained about this for many years.

IPR policy, such as the creation of patents, is intended to encourage innovation by allowing firms to reap profits from the creation of new knowledge and therefore provide them with incentives to innovate. This sounds like a good thing. But managing an IPR regime requires careful judgement. If new ideas are protected for only a short period, firms may not have sufficient monetary incentives to innovate; if they are protected for too long, competition will be stifled and the diffusion of the innovation across the relevant sector or economy, as rival firms compete for a share of the market by copying or adapting it, will be slowed.

Badly designed IPR regimes can therefore slow growth in economy-wide productivity. Innovating firms often have an incentive to lobby policymakers to introduce lengthy and comprehensive patent protection, to their benefit, but to the detriment of the economy and society as a whole. Continue reading

Mariana Mazzucato on innovation and the creation of value

A very brief interview on YouTube with Professor Mariana Mazzucato, who specialises in the economics of innovation. Admittedly she is plugging her new book The Value of Everything: Making and Taking in the Global Economy, but she makes a good case that we should have more of an appreciation for the role of the state, in partnership with the private sector, in driving innovation under capitalism. She argues that we must use that partnership to promote greater and more widely-shared prosperity.

Historically the state has often been a major player in funding, researching and developing new technologies, not least those behind the smartphone, as she describes in The Entrepreneurial State. I hope to read her new book during the next few weeks. In the meantime, a critical review by Marxist Michael Roberts can be found here.


How “Shareholder Value” is Killing Innovation — Radical Political Economy

By William Lazonick, The prevailing stock market ideology enriches value extractors, not value creators. Conventional wisdom holds that the primary function of the stock market is to raise cash that companies use to invest in productive capabilities. The conventional wisdom is wrong. Academic research on corporate finance shows that, compared with other sources of funds, […]

via How “Shareholder Value” is Killing Innovation — Radical Political Economy

On human flourishing

Some inspiring words from Nobel prize-winning economist Edmund Phelps, as quoted in Will Hutton‘s How Good Can We Be (p.172):

“[Flourishing is] the heart of prospering – engagement, meeting challenges, self-expression and personal growth…a person’s flourishing comes from the experience of the new: new situations, new problems, new insights and new ideas to develop and share. Similarly, prosperity on a national scale – mass flourishing – comes from broad involvement of people in the processes of innovation; the conception, development and spread of new methods and products – indigenous innovation down to the grass roots.”

Hutton follows with his own take on the mass flourishing which he sees as an essential outcome of the good economy and society:

“…the smart economy, resting on innovation, is coterminous with a society that ceaselessly and restlessly sponsors mass flourishing: they are indispensable and interdependent concepts. This was the heart of the Enlightenment – makers, inventors and philosophers all interconnected, daring to think, to understand and to challenge old boundaries, infecting each other with the enthusiasm for the new while being part of a greater social awakening that affected everyone. This spirit imbued every branch of British economic and social life in the late eighteenth century; it was this as much as cheap labour, water mills and Europe’s first single national market that triggered the Industrial Revolution. Every age is different, but what is not different are the interdependencies between the economic and social that animate and lift the human spirit.”

How austerity may reduce innovation

An interesting post from Simon Wren-Lewis on how sustained austerity can lower innovation and productivity growth. With the latter growing painfully slowly in the UK and other rich countries for a number of years, this is potentially important. As he notes, it may only explain part of the productivity slowdown, but it still highlights one of the negative impacts of austerity.

Put briefly, austerity weakens aggregate demand when it cannot be offset by monetary policy (as has been the case since the recession). This may create an ‘innovations gap’. Firms facing reduced demand for their products will slow down the rate at which they create or utilize new products, processes and technology via new investment, leading to weaker growth in productivity. This sort of investment would have ’embodied’ the new technology, but in its absence, the improvements will not take place.