The role of the state in modern capitalism has gone beyond fixing ‘market failures’. Those regions and countries that have succeeded in achieving ‘smart’ innovation-led growth have benefited from long-term visionary ‘mission-oriented’ policies — from putting a man on the moon to tackling societal challenges such as climate change and the well-being of an ageing population. In addressing these missions, public sector agencies have led the way, investing along the entire innovation chain and courageously defining new high-risk directions. Traditional cost-benefit analysis and market failure justifications would have halted these investments from the start. No internet, no biotech, no nanotech. And today no clean-tech.
To fulfill this mission-oriented function, state agencies — from DARPA in the US to the China Development Bank — have been willing to welcome failure and tackle extreme uncertainty. How do they do it? What are the challenges ahead? Should government step back, or step up? And how can we socialize both risks and rewards so that economic growth is not only ‘smart’ but also ‘inclusive’?
Such investments would not lead to commercialization without a private sector able and willing to engage along the innovation chain. Is financialization putting such engagement under threat? If so, how can innovation policy also promote de-financialization?