Guest essay by Eric Worrall
College of London Economist Mariana Mazzucato thinks the entrepreneurial spirit of government employees should be harnessed, to solve big problems like plastics pollution and climate change.
Fixing climate change, poverty and ocean plastic requires a ‘Moonshot’ approach, economist Mariana Mazzucato says
ABC Radio National
By Belinda Sommer and Richard Aedy for The Money
Nearly six decades ago, President John F Kennedy’s famous “Moonshot speech” rallied the US public behind the Apollo mission to send astronauts to the Moon.
Leading economist Mariana Mazzucato isn’t the first to ask why, if humans can land on the Moon, they can’t also solve some of the huge challenges here on Earth such as climate change, poverty or a plastic-free ocean.
Her answer? Governments should adopt the “mission-oriented approach” of the Apollo project.
“The reason I think it worked is because NASA was very confident,” she says.
Professor Mazzucato contrasts this with modern governments, where consultants are thick on the ground.
She points to the UK, where Cabinet Office minister Lord Agnew accused the British civil service of becoming “infantilised” by an “unacceptable” reliance on expensive consultants.
He said public servants were being deprived “of opportunities to work on some of the most challenging, fulfilling and crunchy issues” such as Brexit and COVID-19.
…Read more: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-04-02/mariana-mazzucato-government-changing-capitalism-climate-mission/100036000
I tried working as a government employee. Generous pension scheme, job security, on paper it looked really appealing. But I can’t take the tedium. I like to fix problems. But nobody fixes problems in government service, and nobody wants to fix problems, because fixing problems is a threat to job security. Fixing problems reduces the number of work hours required to fulfil the department’s responsibilities.
There are exceptions, islands of excellence. In my experience well managed police departments are usually run by former operational police officers, who genuinely care about the quality of support people on the front line receive. Electricity utilities used to be staffed by people who cared – until Western governments made their job impossible. Wartime governments hire people who fix problems, because the threat of imminent invasion tends to focus people’s minds. And of course, occasionally great projects like the Apollo Moon Landing can fire people’s imagination to such an extent, people set aside personal convenience for the greater good.
Is solving the alleged climate crisis a project which fires people’s imagination like the moon landing? I doubt it. Climate action consistently appears at the bottom of people’s lists of priorities. Most serious engineers I’ve met think the climate crisis is a joke. Those engineers and scientists who do believe, who care enough to try, quickly learn the task is impossible with anything resembling current technology. Even for those who believe, solving a future problem simply does not carry the immediacy and emotional punch of working to plant a flag on the moon, or stopping a military invasion.
Calling for a renewable energy Apollo project to make renewable energy viable, with current technology, is like calling for the world to be powered by magic – and about as unlikely to produce a worthwhile outcome.