Book of the week: Devils, Lusts and Strange Desires

Richard Bradford’s biography of Patricia Highsmith portrays a woman who ‘courted emotional violence’

Devils, Lusts and Strange Desires

“Ever since 1969, people have asked themselves why if humans can land on the Moon, can’t they solve pressing problems here on Earth,” said John Kay in the FT. In her new book, Mariana Mazzucato suggests that they can. Many of our greatest challenges, the University College London economics professor contends – including poverty, dementia and climate change – would disappear “if only governments could apply the mission-driven methods of the Apollo project”.

Styled as a “how to” guide for policymakers, Mission Economy is a radical call not to do away with capitalism, but to “mend” it, said Tom Kibasi in The Guardian. Unbridled free market policies, Mazzucato suggests, have produced a range of ills – and an inability to tackle big problems collectively. Her remedy is to bolster the state, enabling it to rediscover its “entrepreneurial role”. As part of her “mission economy”, governments would define “grand challenges” then set “missions to solve them in partnership with business”. Her book is a welcome “shot in the arm”.

Mazzucato’s goals may be laudable, but her thinking is too often simplistic, said Emma Duncan in The Times. Despite what she claims, the state today is far from “minimalist”: in normal times, it accounts for nearly half of all economic activity, and even without radical remodelling is capable of leading “moonshot projects” – as it has successfully done with the Covid-19 vaccine. In general, what prevents the state from formulating “missions” isn’t its inability to do so, but the opposition such projects would encounter. For instance, the reason the UK Government hasn’t yet decarbonised the economy is because voters don’t want to pay more for power and transport. But, after all, “the people’s reluctance to do the right thing is a common problem for left-wing thinkers”.

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Allen Lane 272pp £20; The Week Bookshop £15.99

Mission Economy by Mariana Mazzucato

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