From her office at University College London, Mazzucato sketches out how an active state can follow Kennedy’s example and lift “the gaze of humans to glimpse what outcomes they can achieve”. It all sounds marvellous, yet the closest her model of moonshot government gets to meaningful democracy is to leave a seat at the table so “citizen or civil-society organisations can be represented in evaluating proposals… and generally making sure that the mission’s outcomes are aligned with the needs, values and expectations of society”.
Those familiar with the work of Mazzucato may find the creativity of her thinking diluted by a familiar analogy of aiming for the moon and the restatement of familiar themes. Readers eager for an introduction to this important economist should begin with this book – but skip the diagrams.
It is styled as a “how to” guide for policymakers who want to unleash the full potential of the state to solve some of the great challenges of the 21st century. Mazzucato invites us to imagine government that “bears the greatest level of uncertainty and reforms … itself to take risks”. From confronting the climate crisis to improving health and wellbeing, Mission Economy offers a method to tackle the great challenges facing societies globally... Mission Economy injects the kind of vision, ambition and imagination so desperately missing from government today, especially after a decade of “can’t do” austerity’. It is a shot in the arm for policymakers who have grown weary after a decade of “can’t do” austerity. It is an invitation to think big.
There isn’t a silver bullet that will solve climate change, or most of the huge problems that Mazzucato wants to take on. Her ambition is laudable, but her radicalism is simple-minded. Humanity faces great problems not because capitalism is bad and civil servants timorous, but because people are selfish. Compared with getting them to live and work together in harmony — the normal business of government — going to the moon was a doddle.
No one has, or could have, the knowledge of present or future required to create or implement successfully the strategies that Mazzucato recommends. Take her modern signature example — Germany’s Energiewende, or energy transition to renewables. You will not learn from Mission Economy that this highly political, much publicised and wildly expensive project has brought about significantly smaller reductions in carbon emissions than Britain’s quiet, economically and socially beneficial substitution of gas for coal.