Mazzucato’s Mission economy: a moonshot guide to changing capitalism

Book Review by Mark Howard, published in Review of Radical Political Economics (22 April 2024).

[Mariana Mazzucato served as chair of WHO’s Council on the Economics of Health for All. See Final Report (May 2023). Howard’s assessment of her approach to ‘changing capitalism’ is relevant to an appreciation of the report to WHO. – DGL]

There is something rather enigmatic about Mariana Mazzucato. As founder and director of the Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose at University College London, Professor Mazzucato has found great success and acclaim as a public intellectual. Her first two books, The Entrepreneurial State (2015) and The Value of Everything (2018), were both bestsellers; she has delivered TED talks, spoken to the World Economic Forum, appeared on the BBC and CNN; she has written for the Financial Times and Forbes; and her work has garnered the attention of many policymakers around the world, including Cyril Ramaphosa, Nicola Sturgeon, Giuseppe Conte, Elizabeth Warren, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Marco Rubio. Nevertheless, her trademark formula, “more state + more capitalism = prosperity,” while attempting to please everyone, is an approach that will in practice likely satisfy few outside the halls of government. Described by the New York Times as leftish (Lederer 2019), it might be fitting to label Mazzucato as a centrist, yet even that doesn’t feel quite right.

Curiously, in her third book, Mission Economy: A Moonshot Guide to Changing Capitalism, an unabashed “how-to” guide for “policymakers who want to unleash the full potential of the state to solve some of the great challenges of the 21st century” (Kibasi 2021), Mazzucato deploys the term neoliberal on only one occasion (26) despite regularly invoking the phenomenon and its effects. In fact, the term appears only twice across Mazzucato’s entire oeuvre, leading one to conclude that this omission may be intentional. No one likes to be labeled a neoliberal, of course, the term being something of a pejorative, and it would be a stretch to tar Mazzucato with that brush; however, let us not forget that many of her targeted audience likely are adherents to the neoliberal way of thinking, and it is rarely wise to insult one’s audience unless one is a comedian.

In Mission Economy, however, Mazzucato is quite serious—she wants to change capitalism. Yet note, changing is not quite the same thing as fixing. Arguably, as per the discussion above, the aim here is to change capitalism (a socioeconomic system of private ownership over the means of production) by fixing neoliberalism (a political economic rationality and set of policies and practices oriented toward the institutional protection of global capitalist interests).

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