Paul Lachine

Is State Capitalism Winning?

Avatars of liberal capitalism like the US and the UK continued to perform anemically in 2012, while many countries that rely on state capitalism have not only grown rapidly and steadily over the last several decades, but have also weathered recent economic storms with surprising ease. So, is it time to update the economics textbooks?

CAMBRIDGE – In the age-old contest of economic-growth models, state capitalism has seemed to be gaining the upper hand in recent years. Avatars of liberal capitalism like the United States and the United Kingdom continued to perform anemically in 2012, while many Asian countries, relying on various versions of dirigisme, have not only grown rapidly and steadily over the last several decades, but have also weathered recent economic storms with surprising grace. So, is it time to update the economics textbooks?

In fact, economics does not say that unfettered markets are better than state intervention or even state capitalism. The problems with state capitalism are primarily political, not economic. Any real-world economy is riddled with market failures, so a benevolent and omnipotent government could sensibly intervene quite often. But who has ever met a benevolent or omnipotent government?

To understand the logic of state capitalism, it is useful to recall some early examples – not the socialist command economies or modern societies seeking to combat market failures, but ancient civilizations. Indeed, it seems that, like farming or democracy, state capitalism has been independently invented many times in world history.

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