World Bank's Lin on Post-Crisis Industrial Policy

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 12/07/2010 12:01:00 AM
A few months back I featured Robert Wade's article in Global Policy concerning the prospects of industrial policy post-crisis. Yes, it was a bit of triumphalism about the follies of blind obeisance to American neoliberal diktat circa 1997. However, time moves on. World Bank Chief Economist Justin Yifu Lin has a new response in the same journal to Wade that takes (surprise!) issue with some of the latter's assertions, especially scepticism about the worth of neoclassical economics as well as the role of the market vis-a-vis that of the state. Let's just say Lin is more sanguine on neoclassical economics and the market as an engine of economic growth. Although Lin takes a somewhat softer line towards heterodox economics championed by Wade et al., let's just say this detente has limitations:
I do not share Wade’s severe assessment of neoclassical economics on two points. First, despite the absence of convergence among world economies, the progress made by developing countries in recent decades cannot be underestimated. The fact that the majority of states have remained in the same income category over two decades may be the reflection of general progress (a tide-lifting-all-boats phenomenon) rather than a sign of general stagnation. Although relative incomes among various groups of countries may not have changed much, the absolute levels of incomes have increased steadily in recent decades. This has contributed substantially to the reduction of world poverty (Ravallion and Chen, 2008). Clearly, an open world economy has offered opportunities for many developing countries throughout the world to achieve sustained growth and improve their living standards (Growth Commission, 2008). This is true even in many countries that have not moved up the convergence ladder.

Second, the market is an important resource allocation mechanism at any given level of development. Economic growth occurs when firms are given the incentive system to take advantage of existing opportunities determined by the country’s endowment structure. They can also create potential new business niches by identifying and exploiting the economy’s latent comparative advantage. They spontaneously enter industries and choose technologies consistent with the economy’s comparative advantage only when the price system reflects the relative scarcity of factors in the country’s endowment. Therefore, a competitive market system should be the economy’s fundamental mechanism for resource allocation at each stage of its development. However, economic development is a dynamic process that requires industrial upgrading and corresponding improvements in ‘hard’ (tangible) and ‘soft’ (intangible) infrastructure at each stage. Such upgrading requires coordination and entails large externalities to firms’ transaction costs and returns to capital investment. Thus, in addition to an effective market mechanism, the government should play an active role in facilitating industrial upgrading and infrastructure improvements.
And here is Lin's assessment of what industrial policy can do for development. To no one's real surprise, he does not afford it the commanding heights and instead gives it a more limited role:
A framework for conceptualizing the facilitating role of the government in industrial upgrading and economic diversification could involve a six-step process as follows. (1) Developing country governments can identify the list of tradable goods and services that have been produced for about 20 years in dynamically growing countries with similar endowment structures and a per capita income that is about 100 per cent higher than their own. (2) Among the industries in that list, the government may give priority to those in which some domestic private firms have already entered spontaneously, and try to identify and help remove the obstacles to their development. (3) Some of those industries in the list may be completely new to domestic firms; in such cases, the government could adopt specific measures to attract firms in the higher-income countries identified in the first step to invest in these industries. (4) Developing country governments should pay close attention to private enterprises’ successful self-discoveries of industries that are not included in the list identified in step (1) and provide support to scale up those industries. (5) In developing countries with poor infrastructure and an unfriendly business environment, the government can invest in industrial parks or export processing zones and make the necessary improvements to attract domestic private firms and/or foreign firms that may be willing to invest in the targeted industries. Finally (6) limited incentives may also be provided to domestic pioneer firms or foreign investors that work within the list of industries identified in step (1) in order to compensate for the non-rival, public knowledge created by their investments.
Also, don't miss my previous post on Lin debating with Ha-Joon Chang in the pages of the Development Policy Review. For those really into the topic, there's also a longer World Bank working paper co-authored by Lin on "Growth identification and facilitation : the role of the state in the dynamics of structural change." Happy reading! States and markets...the debate continues.