1. Is Industrial Policy Good? If So, When Is It Practical?
The growing interest in industrial policy among development practitioners partly
relates to Western governments’ interventionist responses to the Financial
Crisis. Meanwhile, the success of many East Asian economies, most recently China,
is often associated with industrial policy. Some advocates of industrial policy
such as Ha-Joon Chang also argue that despite their promotion of free markets abroad,
rich countries have often used industrial policy as part of their own development
On the other hand, critics stress that poorly-designed industrial policies risk
having worse outcomes than the market failures they seek to address. Some argue
frequent shortages of transparency and technical capacity among policymakers in
low-income countries make poorly-designed industrial policies likely. A separate
concern relates to the practicality of industrial policy; international trade agreements
outlaw many active industrial policy tools, although Least-Developed Countries are
sometimes allowed greater flexibility.
While debates continue to rage over the merits of industrial policy, more and more
attention is focused on how to design and implement it. Four “how
to” issues currently hotly debated among experts and practitioners are outlined
2. What kinds of industrial policies are effective?
One aspect of this debate is whether governments should use industrial policies
to make the most of their country’s current comparative advantage, or instead
invest in higher-productivity industries that are not competitive in the short-term.
According to Justin Yifu Lin, World Bank Chief Economist, where industrial policies
fail this is “due mostly to governments’ inability to align their efforts
with their country’s resource base and level of development” (Lin,
2010). For Lin, developing countries should first seek to profit from the
(mostly labour- and resource-intensive) products and services that they are currently
most competitive in. They will accumulate human and physical capital in the process.
This capital, Lin argues, can be reinvested over time in more productive industries.
in the The Economist draws similar conclusions.
Ha-Joon Chang, in contrast, argues that developing countries should defy
their comparative advantage. For Chang, the cost of moving capital between industries
(e.g. from sewing machines to car plants) means that countries should actively promote
high-productivity industries at an early stage in their development. A debate
between Justin Yifu Lin and Ha-Joon Chang provides more information on this
Based on empirical analysis of 20 developed countries, a report by the McKinsey Global Institute
supports Lin’s view that industrial policymakers should care more if an industry
is competitive ,than if it is high-tech. The McKinsey report also finds that the
growth and job creation potential
sectors such as retail and telecoms is often underestimated.
Some argue that while manufacturing should be given special policy treatment, governments
should not favour particular manufacturing industries (cf.
UNIDO, 2011). One way to do this is by improving the infrastructure that
manufacturers require, e.g. by promoting industrial clusters (UNIDO
2009). The creation of export-oriented Special Economic Zones is a well-known
example of this. Critics argue that such an approach may only attract short-term
investment, achieving little if any positive spillover into the wider economy (Good
and Hughes, 2002).
3. How does Political Economy affect industrial policy?
One dilemma for policymakers in developing countries is that while the “the
need to correct market failure is much greater than it is in rich and institutionally
advanced societies, the ability of the public sector to tackle such failure
is also much more limited ” (Altenburg
2011). Governance systems in developing countries are often structured in
clientelistic and patrimonial ways. This increases the risk of policies being captured
by special interest groups. Furthermore, the skills and resources needed to design,
implement and monitor industrial policies are often lacking.
Some therefore argue that the lower the government’s capabilities, accountability
and commitment, the lower the sophistication of industrial policies that the government
can be trusted with (e.g.
Sanjaya Lall). Where certain pre-conditions are not present, and the risk
of political capture is too high, it may be necessary to focus on accountability-enhancing
measures and the promotion of a business-enabling environment (e.g.
Kaufmann and Krause 2009). On a similar but more optimistic note,
Altenburg observes that some governments have succeeded in promoting
industrialisation and developed more efficient and transparent bureaucracies, despite
their poor performance in other aspects of governance.
In East Asia, where many judge industrial policies to have succeeded, governments
had good relations and continuous dialogue with the private sector. In some developing
countries the reverse is true: the majority of business owners are allied to the
political opposition. As well as dialogue, fairness was important in East Asia’s
industrial policies; the granting of privilege was made conditional on export performance
Dani Rodrik points to another success factor: governments’ ability
to recognise mistakes and withdraw their support before it becomes too costly.
4. Does industrial policy serve the poor?
Industrial policy is often guided by multiple objectives. These may include stimulating
innovation, productivity and growth, reducing regional and income inequalities,
food and energy security, job creation and poverty reduction (Lütkenhorst
in Issue 3 of Making it). Of major interest to the development
community is the question whether or not industrial policy is pro-poor.
Assuming that poverty reduction is a major priority, and accepting that
there is often a short-term trade-off between equity and growth, disagreements over
the main aim of industrial policy reflect the range of views on how likely the poor
are to benefit from economic growth in general.
Altenburg (2011), citing evidence that growth is not inevitably good for
the poor, argues for ‘inclusive industrial policies’. He defines these
as policies that aim to promote “structural change in a way as to enhance
competitiveness and productivity growth while increasing the incomes of the poor
more than proportionally”. Such policies may involve safeguards for vulnerable
groups, a focus on labour-intensive industries, or the strengthening of linkages
between SMEs and larger firms.
5. What Can Donors Do?
Donors can pay experts to build partner governments’ capacity to design, implement
and monitor their industrial policies. For example, experts can advise partner governments
on how to update the regulations governing their target industries. Donor-funded
technical experts can also help to design and implement reforms that improve the
performance of public agencies which support the overall functioning of the target
industry. GIZ and
UNIDO, for example, have provided technical assistance to investment
Donor-funded experts can also help to improve the policy formation process, both
from a technical point of view, and by using their influence to push for transparency
in public-private dialogue. The latter helps to reduce the risk that industrial
policy is unduly biased towards special interest groups.
As a complement to industrial policy, donors can support partner governments’
efforts to grow priority industries by ensuring that the service markets which support
these industries function well. Strengthening markets for business development services,
for example, can assist firms to upgrade their management practices, make well-informed
decisions about which new technologies to adopt, and lower their costs through greater
resource and energy efficiency. The Ethiopian-German Engineering Capacity Building Program and UNIDO’s Resource
Efficient and Cleaner Production Programme are two examples of
programmes in this area. Donors can also assist technology transfer by helping
firms in target industries to partner with technologically-advanced firms in their
home countries, through their network of contacts or through trade fairs. Similarly,
donors can promote investment in the physical infrastructure that target industrial
clusters depend on. Better railways, roads and ports in the areas where governments’
priority industries are concentrated help these industries to grow.