OK, Alberto – I’m in. It is not inconvenient for me late at night Central US time, up to 2 AM.
I have ordered the book and it will take about ten days to get here. I’ll start on talking points (probably expanding, confirming and finding sources for the ideas below), but I do not see how ten minutes could even enable laying the basis for an opinion on this question.
It’s a very interesting and important topic. I agree with you, up to a point. The Economist’s article is referring to current governments – large countries in the so-called “West” (which somehow includes Japan but not China or Russia) do not have a sufficiently unified government and electorate, to say nothing of policy continuity, to embark on such a project. I can’t think of many. Maybe some northern European countries – the usual Scandinavian suspects – of course they are precisely the ones who need it least. Your country, Italy? Of course not. Mine – the US – consumed with political infighting, and likely to be for the foreseeable future – the only good thing about that is that the future is hard to see, according to a Danish saying quoted by Niels Bohr. France? Mr. Macron would like it to be so, but he is very unpopular. In South America, Brazil is the country with greatest potential, which it has never somehow fulfilled, and it seems to be backsliding for now – who knows if that could change? Currently it seems the merest fantasy to imagine such a thing as a “Mission Economy”, and as we know, the best is the enemy of the good.
Nevertheless, what I would do is not state the obvious about current problems, which I just did, but to consider what would be necessary for a country to have the fundamental resources to pursue such a project. And I hope to consider this not from the perspective of a fantasist, but of a realist.
So for example, the US was initiated by Dwight Eisenhower, a Republican. It was formally launched by John Kennedy, a Democrat. It was able to continue from 1961 to 1972 and conclude under the Presidency of Richard Nixon, a Republican, primarily because it was organized in large part as a Cold War project, in competition with the then-USSR. This immediately suggests that the best way to rally the populace and Presidents of both parties is if there is a clearly identifiable and realistically nation-threatening enemy to push against. China is the obvious candidate at present. Maybe that would work.
But if you look at institutional capacity, the US government bureaucracy has suffered greatly under President Trump, who very very actively tried to subvert every department of the US government to serve him personally and his interests. Joe Biden has an enormous project rebuilding just about every department, with the odd semi-major exception of NASA (with the minor exception of all climate-related activity, which is being rebuilt). I don’t know how European countries are in terms of institutional capacity – Britain’s was supposed to have been great, but has produced a good deal of failure during the COVID-19 crisis. The same in a number of European countries (except, again, a few northern European ones).
And the entire concept of a government bureaucracy which is dedicated to the goals of the American people is subject to question. Yes, the CDC has done a good job during the pandemic, even as it was continuously undermined by Mr. Trump, but this raises the issue of how to ensure that bureaucratic goals do in fact follow the benefits of the populace, and who determines that? I mean, look at the American Environmental Protection Agency, which was basically gutted, and became an agency promoting coal and oil interests. How can that be prevented in today’s febrile political atmosphere?
The current clear candidate for a Mission Economy, in the US or practically anywhere else, is climate change. Unfortunately inequality doesn’t arouse enough passion and population-wide deep commitment. Most people don’t “get” the connection between social justice and national power, and the huge differences between the left and right over military power, the management of the economy (just mention the word “capitalism” in a quiet room of people with varied political opinions, and you will understand…), etc – would make it very hard to build unity. Even China might be brought in to work on climate change reduction/mitigation, although this would reduce the Cold War-style motivation. But how can Greta Thunberg be a poster child for climate change to motivate rural Americans? And I assure you, rural Americans would have the power to subvert such a program, such that it would be unlikely to be able to proceed without a plan to bring them along willingly.
Or probably anywhere else. Many countries are becoming divided along urban and rural lines – think India or France – and rural people are fighting back against the long-standing arrogance and disdain of urban elites. There are also dividing lines on immigration – the wrong immigration policy could subvert and destroy any “Mission” by creating divisions between supporters and opponents.
So the whole political conversation would have to be filtered through the lens of how it would affect “the Mission” – could a nation’s politicians stay on message like that? How can they be induced to want to? What’s in it for them? Apollo spread around a TON of money in projects to the home areas of powerful politicians to enable the project to succeed.
So I look forward to talking about this.