RIETI Report August 10, 2023

Industrial Policy Fit for the 21st Century

Dear Readers,
Welcome to RIETI Report.
This bi-weekly newsletter will keep you updated with the recent columns, event information and research results by RIETI fellows and other leading economists in Japan and around the world.

In this edition, we are featuring topics related to industrial policy that is suitable for the 21st century. Over the past few decades there has been a general reduction in the use of industrial policy, but over the last few years, we have seen its return to the world for a variety of reasons. Alessio Terzi, an economist at DG ECFIN of the European Commission, claims several basic design characteristics should be maintained in crafting a successful industrial policy in order to maximize its impact and minimize its risks.

We hope you will enjoy it. If you have any feedback, we would love to hear from you (news-info@rieti.go.jp).
Editors of RIETI Report (Facebook: @en.RIETI / Twitter: @RIETIenglish / URL: https://www.rieti.go.jp/en/)

This month's featured article

Industrial Policy Fit for the 21st Century

Alessio TERZIEconomist / Author / Lecturer


Industrial policy is a term that is often interpreted differently depending on the audience. The fact that it cuts through a variety of economic policy tools, ranging from innovation programmes and tax policy to trade and Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), makes the matter even more complex. As such, it lends itself to easy misinterpretation. At its core, it refers to “any type of selective intervention or government policy that attempts to alter the structure of production toward sectors that are expected to offer better prospects for economic growth than would occur in the absence of such intervention” (Pack and Saggi, 2006, p. 268). This might or might not include sectors/technologies where leadership might have geopolitical, security, and military implications. The concept is built on two fundamental principles: (i) production in some sectors is more desirable than in others (Hausmann et al., 2007), and because of this, (ii) governments should make an active effort in nudging the production structure in that direction.

It is important to note that, irrespective of simplistic characterisations (e.g. capitalism vs socialism) or standard economic modelling of markets under perfect conditions, practically all countries engage in various forms of industrial policy, and always have, including the US, UK, France, Singapore, China, Taiwan, and South Korea, just to name a few (Rodrik, 2009; Terzi et al., 2023, 2022). Notoriously, Japan has a long history of using industrial policy to foster rapid industrialisation and growth, at least since the end of WWII (Okazaki, 2017).
Historical cycles in industrial policy

Over the past few decades there has been a general reduction in the use of industrial policy, which moved to the margins of mainstream economics. As this principle got engrained in policymakers’ minds, it was framed under the narrative that governments cannot pick winners in a market economy, and in fact they are at a relatively high risk of being captured by interest groups (Rodrik, 2014). And of course, narratives eventually shape policies (Shiller, 2019).
Industrial policy was also seen as harmful to the pursuit of a more globalised world economy, which to some extent became a leading objective in and of itself (Rodrik, 2011). In the service of a rule-based global trade order, richer nations of the West sided against a preponderant government role in altering production in a certain direction, preferring comparative advantages to manifest themselves freely.

The idea that industrial policy was unhelpful was to some extent codified in the so-called ‘Washington Consensus’, or else the idea that a small government (together with open current and capital accounts) was instrumental in achieving rapid development. As such, the resistance to industrial policy was exported to the Global South, in particular during macroeconomic adjustment programmes (Irwin, 2022). In Japan’s case, it was the Industrial Policy Dialogue with the US in 1983/84, that led to a scaling down of standard industrial policy practices, which were substituted with a more broad-based push for structural reforms (Okazaki, 2017).

To read the full text:

Related articles

“Twenty-First Century Industrial Policy Emphasizing Framework Design and Encouraging Competition”
OKAZAKI Tetsuji (Faculty Fellow, RIETI)

“Japan's Industrial Policy: Objective evaluation and feedback are crucial”
OKAZAKI Tetsuji (Faculty Fellow, RIETI)

“Exogenous shocks, industrial policy, and the US semiconductor industry”
Willem THORBECKE (Senior Fellow, RIETI)

“Japan’s New Capitalism and New Industrial Policy”
Richard BALDWIN (Professor of International Economics, Graduate Institute, Geneva) / YANO Makoto (Chairman, RIETI) / WATANABE Tetsuya (Vice President, RIETI)

Related event

“New Thinking on Industrial Policy”

Our latest discussion papers

“Backfired Deregulation of Foreign Ownership Restrictions under Fiscal Competition for Foreign Direct Investment”
OKOSHI Hirofumi (Okayama University) / Kyikyi Thar (Okayama University)

“Effect of a European Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism on the APAC Region: A structural gravity analysis”
Aline MORTHA (Waseda University) / ARIMURA Toshi H. (Faculty Fellow, RIETI) / TAKEDA Shiro (Kyoto Sangyo University) / Tatyana CHESNOKOVA (Waseda University)

“Immigrant–native Differentials in Commuting and Residential Preferences in Japan”
LIU Yang (Fellow, RIETI) / KONDO Keisuke (Senior Fellow, RIETI)

[List of discussion papers]
[List of upcoming and past symposiums]
[List of upcoming and past BBL seminars]

* To subscribe, please go to SHANON's website.
SubscribeOpen a new window

Event Information

For a complete list of past and upcoming event information.



BBL Seminars

Fellow titles and links in the text are as of the date of publication.

For questions or comments regarding RIETI Report, please contact the editor.

*If the "Send by mailer" button does not work, please copy the address into your email "send to" field and connect the prefix and the suffix of the address with an "@", sending it normally.

RIETI Report is published bi-weekly.