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Rethinking industrial policy for low income countries

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The governments of low income countries should be giving more attention to ‘industrial policy’ than they and the aid donors have given in the past quarter century. (‘Industrial policy’ means any sectorally or activity-targeted interventions, including in agriculture and services.) The first step is to discard the common assumption that industrial policy is about ‘picking winners’. The second step is to realize that industrial policy can be done ‘big’ or ‘small’, and by ‘leading the market’ or by ‘following the market’. It can be tailored to the available resources and state capacity. The third step is to see that the key issues of industrial policy are less to do with ‘what activities should be encouraged?’, or ‘what sorts of policy instruments are best?’, and more to do with, ‘how do we organize a process of discovery of sensible objectives and policies?’, and ‘how do we organize a constant nudging of producers to upgrade, diversify, link up with foreign firms?’ (where the nudging effort has to be targeted at some activities and sectors more than others). The paper illustrates with East Asian examples. One of the good effects of the current global crisis is that it has shaken confidence in the virtues of lightly regulated markets and free capital movements, and opened the way to a less ideologically charged debate about the role of the state in development—in which thinking is not precluded by easy jeers like ‘governments can't pick winners’ or ‘maybe the East Asians can do it but you can’t, so you have nothing to learn about industrial policy from them’.

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