Rethinking Capitalism: Economics and Policy for Sustainable and Inclusive Growth

By Blyth, Richard | The Town Planning Review, March 1, 2018 | Go to article overview

Rethinking Capitalism: Economics and Policy for Sustainable and Inclusive Growth


Blyth, Richard, The Town Planning Review


Rethinking Capitalism: Economics and Policy for Sustainable and Inclusive Growth, Michael Jacobs and Mariana Mazzucato (eds), London, Wiley, 2016, 224pp, ?I4?99, ISBN978l119120957

We have supposedly had enough of experts. Capitalism 'came close to collapsing in 2007-2008, and has still not recovered' (1) and HM the Queen famously asked why no economists saw this coming. Spatial planners have an interesting relationship with experts. On the one hand we maintain that we are ourselves an expert profession. But on the other hand planners often claim to be the quintessential generalists.

When it comes to economics, planners can be especially ambivalent. I have felt the hackles rise when economists presume to have answers to the housing crisis based solely on their own perspective. By contrast, the Royal Town Planning Institute has endorsed a revision to competencies to include a greater understanding of the national and local economies.

So why should planners read a book by economists which addresses the global financial crisis? This collection of essays explores why that is, and what can be done about it. The analysis, and the solutions, shed important light on very topical struggles around the value of planning. The opening essay examines the shocking legacy of the crisis: weak growth, rising inequality, poor resilience to political and environmental shocks. And then it makes a proposal that economics and public policy need to move 'beyond market failure'. This means:

1 'A richer characterisation of markets and the businesses within them' (17).

2 Understanding that 'it is investments in technological and organisational innovation, both public and private, which are the driving force behind economic growth and development' (19, italics added).

3'Recognition of the role of the public sector in the innovation process ... the creation of economic value is a collective process. Businesses do not create wealth on their own. No business today can operate without the fundamental services provided by the state' (21, italics added). This is relevant to planners because these services include schools, health, housing, transport and utilities.

The need to move beyond market failure is important because planning has increasingly been pigeonholed into a regulatory box. According to the kind of economic thinking now dominant, the only purpose of planning is to regulate land use to prevent externalities. But this precludes a higher purpose of making enterprising and joined-up investments in cities to generate better lives.

Nine essays follow the introduction. Space precludes a detailed review of each; some are of greater relevance to urban planning than others. Kelton maintains that it is because public expenditure is critical to the co-production of the conditions for growth that the austerity policies now so popular with governments have proved so futile. …

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