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An Industrial Policy for Good Jobs

Summary:
So-called productive dualism is driving many contemporary ills in developed and developing countries alike: rising inequality and exclusion, loss of trust in governing elites, and growing electoral support for authoritarian populists. But much of the policy discussion today focuses on solutions that miss the true source of the problem. CAMBRIDGE – In developed and developing countries alike, a combination of technological and economic forces has created a segment of advanced production, concentrated in metropolitan areas, that now co-exists with a mass of relatively less productive activities and communities. This productive dualism lies behind many contemporary ills: rising inequality and exclusion, loss of trust in

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So-called productive dualism is driving many contemporary ills in developed and developing countries alike: rising inequality and exclusion, loss of trust in governing elites, and growing electoral support for authoritarian populists. But much of the policy discussion today focuses on solutions that miss the true source of the problem.

CAMBRIDGE – In developed and developing countries alike, a combination of technological and economic forces has created a segment of advanced production, concentrated in metropolitan areas, that now co-exists with a mass of relatively less productive activities and communities. This productive dualism lies behind many contemporary ills: rising inequality and exclusion, loss of trust in governing elites, and growing electoral support for authoritarian populists. But much of the policy discussion today focuses on solutions that miss the true source of the problem.

For example, redistribution through taxes and fiscal transfers accepts the productive structure as given, and merely ameliorates the results through handouts. Likewise, investments in education, universal basic income, and social wealth funds seek to strengthen the workforce’s endowments, without ensuring that better endowments will be put to productive use. Meanwhile, job guarantees and Keynesian demand management offer little in the way of improving the mix of jobs.

To be sure, we need many of these policies. But they will work best – and in the long run perhaps only – with a new set of “productivist” measures that intervene directly in the real economy, targeting the expansion of productive employment.

The strategy we have in mind would comprise three mutually reinforcing components: an increase in the skill level and productivity of existing jobs, by providing extension services to improve management or cooperative programs to advance technology; an increase in the number of good jobs by supporting the expansion of existing, local firms or attracting investment by outsiders; and active labor-market policies or workforce-development programs to help workers, especially from at-risk groups, master the skills required to obtain good jobs.

Dani Rodrik
I am an economist, and a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School. My most recent book is Economics Rules: The Rights and Wrongs of the Dismal Science (Norton, 2015). I was born and grew up in Istanbul, Turkey. I still follow Turkish politics very closely, as you will find out if you spend any time with this blog.

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