The Return of Industrial Policy

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.

China is a case in point. Its phenomenal manufacturing prowess rests in large part on public assistance to new industries. State-owned enterprises have acted as incubators for technical skills and managerial talent. Local-content requirements have spawned productive supplier industries in automotive and electronics products. Generous export incentives have helped firms break into competitive global markets.