I like Mariana Mazzucato and her broad project as laid out in the book The Entrepreneurial State and her admittedly rather underfunded Rethinking the State videos. It’s a shame in fact that she hasn’t had the kind of money thrown at her that was available to Milton Friedman and cohort around Free to Choose.
Mazzucato’s work is in essence a riposte to the tiresome right wing shibboleth that only Capitalism could give us the I-phone for all the reasons laid out succinctly below.
In this way Mazzucato is providing one of the “new weapons” the Left seems to be in need of, a heavily researched and comprehensive exposure of what Mirowski calls “the double truth” of neoliberalism, that its utilisation of and dependency on the state must be publicly disavowed, that “market discipline” has nothing to do with business as practiced and everything to do with forging new forms of acquiescent subjectivity. Mazzucato equally points to theories of secular decline and “the declining rate of innovation” by suggesting the problem is that the public research purse is being increasingly squeezed by a set of private sector players who are not repaying, through taxes, sufficient funds for the R and D work that only Government can undertake. In essence our mighty Corporations and Heroic, Visionary CEOs are just freeriding and bullshitting us all.
Not only that but Mazzucato is pugnacious and understands the necessity of building (to again use Mirowski’s term) a “thought collective”, a heterodox and multidisciplinary grouping of those broadly interested in shifting discourse left-ward. What’s also great about Mazzucatto (as the below demonstrates amply) is that she is fighting on enemy territory; calling out neoliberals on what she believes is their misreading or only partial and highly selective reading of Schumpeter. It’s fighting talk, it’s collective in orientation, it’s also accessible, and not even refuted on the right. The Economist grudgingly acknowledged the essential correctness of her thesis.
There is, then, in Mazzucato’s work a kind of immediately comprehensible non or anti neoliberal common sense. These guys have never been interested in “rolling back the state”. They in fact depend on it, they just resent paying taxes and seeing a high proportion of profits go to wages, hence the attacks on Unions and the Welfare state. You may want to argue that the state itself is the problem, the executive arm of the bourgeoisie, the coldest of all cold monsters, but Mazzucato in re-reading Polanyi with Schumpeter opens up space for a certain form of Utopian speculation, exposing both neoliberalism’s Double Truth and the possibility of arresting or tempering Polanyis “double movement”, the state (re)conceived as a collective, radical endeavour, the ground of technological progress itself and business as a useful but essentially secondary and circumscribed enterprise. Stability without stagnation, a world shaped and directed by and toward rational goals.
The specific Utopianism at play here is of a revived social democratic project, or at least its continuation, taking the neoliberal restoration as itself an interregnum, and it asks us to consider, with the advances in technology, especially information technology over the last thirty years, whether it is persuasive to argue any more that no form of planning can ever know more, or produce better outcomes than the “cosmos” of the market. Of course to those for whom the defeat of the organized Left, the removal of stabilizers like wage rises and welfare states is simply the irrationality of Capitalism accelerating the production of its own gravediggers and the necessary preamble to Full Communism, this kind of Fabian, accommodationist approach will be anathema. So the question remains, are we in the depths of defeat and need to claw back all the lost ground, or on the cusp of victory, if only it will all get a little worse?