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The Return of Industrial Policy

Industrial policy is back, openly embraced by governments in countries like Britain and France, and by prestigious organizations like the Word Bank and McKinsey. The standard rap against industrial policy – that governments cannot pick winners – is largely irrelevant: what determines success in industrial policy is the much less demanding capacity to let losers go.

CAMBRIDGE – British Prime Minister Gordon Brown promotes it as a vehicle for creating high-skill jobs. French President Nicolas Sarkozy talks about using it to keep industrial jobs in France. The World Bank’s chief economist, Justin Lin, openly supports it to speed up structural change in developing nations. McKinsey is advising governments on how to do it right.

Industrial policy is back.

In fact, industrial policy never went out of fashion. Economists enamored of the neo-liberal Washington Consensus may have written it off, but successful economies have always relied on government policies that promote growth by accelerating structural transformation.

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