Close this search box.

Book Review: Mission Economy – A Moonshot Guide to Changing Capitalism by Mariana Mazzucato

Reviewed by Canon Mike D Williams

In September 1962 a speechwriter changed American history. To create a headline grabbing moment for President Kennedy he inserted into the speech the mission to land a man on the moon and bring him back safely by the end of the decade. NASA, the American Space Agency, was surprised by that announcement. The government invested $28 billion ($283 Bn in 2020 dollars), and the mission was achieved.

Professor Mazzucato, an economist at University College London, advises governments around the world on how to create missions for the common good that tackle major problems and grow the economy.

The basic argument is that we must move away from a belief that governments are clunky bureaucratic machines that cannot innovate and only regulate or fix markets. Rather we need a narrative about public purpose to guide policy and business. It requires ambition on the part of government to create the conditions for building an economy that improves society for the benefit of all rather than short-term financial returns for the few.

Mazzucato tackles five myths about government. This builds on her earlier book about ‘The Entrepreneurial State’ – where government is the first to invest to fund risky initial research. Inventions from the internet, GPS, SIRI, and touch screen displays all resulted from government investment and partnerships with industry.

A detailed chapter about the lessons drawn from the moon landing delves into the joint working of government and private industry who also invested in creating the technology required for success. The engineering problems were significant and the envelop of what was possible had to be stretched time and again.

Yet the problems that governments face today are more complex. They are social, economic and political – often described as “wicked problems”. Mazzucato uses the ambition of the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals to provide a route towards mission-oriented policies on earth. Several ‘mission map’ examples are given from the European Union innovation programme. Included are missions about climate, aging society, clean oceans, health, digital futures and mobility. Rethinking the role of government in the economy is required – “putting purpose first and solving problems that are important to citizens.”

The missions are high level – they set the context in which public and private can work to shared goals. The power of the capitalist economy can be grown for the benefit of the common good. The final chapter details the seven pillars of a better political economy that can guide a mission approach from value creation, markets, partnerships and more. Professor Mazzucato argues for government borrowing to invest. Investing in health, education, and infrastructure will grow the economy in the long run. Not investing will cost more – looking after someone in prison is more expensive than educating them well.

With election manifestos being written don’t be surprised to hear more about mission-oriented approaches to tackle some of the big issues that we face. Less about NHS waiting lists and more about improving health.