The Venturesome Economy

It's a couple of years since Amar Bhide's The Venturesome Economy was first published – the paperback edition is just out. By happenstance it was low down in my pile of books, and again by chance I've almost run out of books other than the novels I'm taking on holiday next month. So finally today I started reading it, and am impressed just by the Introduction.

First of all, I like Bhide's introduction of the process of reasoning and judgment used in common law trials as a valid process for gathering economic evidence. As he says, it's a “pragmatic, well-tested model for integrating a wide range of facts and theories.” Testimony is provided by different witnesses, both quantitative and qualitative. Experts testify. Different theories and precedents are aired. A mix of induction and deduction leads to a reasoned judgment. This resonated with me as a former competition regulator – this is precisely the process used in merger inquiries. Economists are dangerously prone to over-privileging the purely statistical and econometric approach; but other types of evidence are just as important.

I also thoroughly agree with his main argument which is that globalisation is not a zero-sum game, and especially when it comes to technology. Ideas are non-rival – and innovation depends on so much more than ideas anyway. Even the most successful developing country, even China, can not match the wider advantages of the developed countries in any reasonable length of time. I like the look of the way this book combines questions of technology and trade. Indeed, trade can itself be thought of as a 'technology': China is a fantastic technical innovation which allows us to get the same shirts as before but more efficiently produced at a lower price.

Thirdly, I really liked this:

“Effective intervention … requires humility – an appreciation of how difficult it is to fathom the complexity of the modern economy – and alertness to the unintended consequences of policies base on a limited understanding.”

It should be emblazoned on the wall of every meeting room in every ministry around the world.

So off to a great start. A review will follow later.