Chris Blattman pays me a huge compliment by calling me a Karl Polanyi for the 21st century in his review of my Globalization Paradox – although I sure hope I am somewhat easier to follow than Polanyi. He is not too far off – at least in terms of what I thought I was doing in the book.
Chris also has a legitimate criticism that he is not sure whether the ideas in the book really apply to low-income countries in Africa.
His prescriptions seem to require a much more coherent state, and professional bureaucracy, and stable polity, than most nations can boast. In this third-best environment, could Asia-style industrial and growth policy cause more harm than good? I would have liked to see this explored. The arguments seem to hold more force for middle income countries — the Turkeys and Perus and South Africas of the world — than for the Ugandas and Liberias.
I do wish I had talked about this. But I am more sanguine about the relevance of the ideas to Africa. Political leaders with some coherent sense of what they want to do (e.g., Museveni of Uganda or Meles of Ethiopia) can indeed achieve a lot, even if they do not have the kind of polities or bureaucracies that richer countries do.
I see the challenges of industrial/growth policies for such countries as no different than the challenges of, say, education policy or infrastructure policy. We would never say that African countries should stop thinking about how to conduct education policy or improve their infrastructure. Instead, we worry about how to improve the quality of such policies. I don't see why industrial policies should be any different.