Old ideas are like old clothes — wait long enough and they will come back into fashion. Thirty years ago, “industrial policy” was about as fashionable as a bowler hat. But now governments all over the world, from Washington to Beijing and New Delhi to London, are rediscovering the joy of subsidies and singing the praises of economic self-reliance and “strategic” investment.
The significance of this development goes well beyond economics. The international embrace of free markets and globalisation in the 1990s went hand in hand with declining geopolitical tension. The cold war was over and governments were competing to attract investment rather than to dominate territory.
Now the resurgence of geopolitical rivalry is driving the new fashion for state intervention in the economy. As trust declines between the US and China, so each has begun to see reliance on the other for any vital commodity — whether semiconductors or