It is – in its own right – an interesting question why and how some ‘books make a career’ – in this case referring to Mazzucato’s ‘The Entrepreneurial State’. I am always skeptical when hearing about such ‘bestsellers’ and actually really hesitant to read, let alone to buy them. Having been invited to take part in a debate on the book I read the text – and now I am somewhat surmised to see that my ‘prejudice’ is in actual fact very much a ‘judice’, i.e. a reflection confirmed by this reading experience. There is not much new in it – it surely summarises important points, and even more sure is that it’s radical character has to be seen in ensuring that there will be no radical change.
Some points from the debate my be of some wider interest – and what follows is not a systematic critique of Mazzucato’s work or even one of the ‘one book’.
The foundation from which her argument is developed remains by and large unclear: there is a bit of economics, some political economy, some political theory and some philosophy and … a lot of confusion caused by not developing from all the wealth of borrowings a systemic approach. Thus, the possible wealth of a merger is lost to eclecticism. And the loss – or wasted opportunity – is even larger when considering the shallow reception of some of the references … – yes, of course, the Smithian ‘invisible hand’, which is taken out of its original context and supposedly suggests that Smith rejected any state intervention – generally and fundamentally and for everybody and at any time. It is not quite true, and leaving aside that there is a
Book V: Of the Revenue of the Sovereign or Commonwealth
there is in my reading of Smith another relevant point. He left with us another major piece of work, namely the
THEORY OF MORAL SENTIMENTS. An Essay towards an Analysis of the Principles by which Men naturally judge concerning the Conduct and Character, first of their Neighbours, and afterwards of themselves. TO WHICH IS ADDED, A Differentiation on the Origin of Language
In some way this was one of the genius acts: splitting the task in order to maintain through the backdoor its unity … – and much later this allowed him, namely Smith, to turn up in Beijing, with this remark I am obviously alluding to the highly interesting book
ADAM SMITH IN BEIJING. Lineages of the Twenty-First Century by Giovanni Arrighi.
Discussing in this context secular stagnation: if one really wants to address this in a radical way, one has to take note of much more radical views, as expressed already a long time ago, for instance by Keynes – here reference is usually made to his writing on the
Economic Possibilities of our Grandchildren
– and even earlier by Mill [for instance in chapter xi ‘Of the Law of the Increase of Capital’ in his
Principles of Political Economy with Some of Their Applications to Social Philosophy].
Such radical ideas, however, are just what Mazzucato strictly rejects – instead she searches for ways that ensure that there is no ‘quasi-blasphemic’ attitude and politics towards the gods of eternal growth. And her proposal is that, if laymen’s activities are not sufficient, the entrepreneurial state could emerge as high priest, collecting the lost sheep, developing new grazing lands for their new thriving.
Indeed, there are interesting facts on the cowardliness of the stray sheep …, risk averse behaviour which are expressed in the statement
I think there is a world market for maybe five computers,
allegedly said 1943 by Thomas Watson, chairman and CEO of International Business Machines (IBM). The entirety of the story, beyond the exiting individual chapters, is not much more than overcoming the stagnation of the history of great men by pulling now women on the same stage, while actually the real problems are about the need of changing the stage. Green growth remains commodity growth, regulated and controlled data extraction remains data extraction, prone to abuse and in need of a real public, common ownership, going much beyond the provision of a seedbed for renewed private profitability, retrieving new sources of value production needs a new understanding of what value is about, going beyond the concept of exchange values only.
The one fundamental problem with the work I see is as follows: As one of the colleagues mentioned during the discussion here in Vienna, he reads the text as reference to the rejection of private entrepreneurs to accept sitting down at the roulette table. And I would agree with such interpretation to some extent – to the extent to which we are talking about the simple game, played by simple minds. The limitation of such metaphor is soon showing up: While accepting ‘The Entrepreneurial State’, thus following Mazzucato’s suggestion, we would be accepting the specific hegemony, i.e. the need and justification of downgrading ourselves to the Dostoyevsky’ian Gamblers, in other words: the acceptance of a new round of what became known as casino capitalism.
It is the acceptance of the reality that I saw expressed in the slogan which was spray-painted on one o the walls:
…. Human capital of all countries, accumulate …