Ground control to major tomorrows: should we be like an Apollo ...

Lifestyle

Ground control to major tomorrows: should we be like an Apollo mission?

‘Mission Economy’ by Mariana Mazzucato asks if moonshot thinking really does help fix the planet

John Kay

Since 1969, people have asked themselves why, if humans can land on the moon, can’t they solve pressing problems here on Earth, such as poverty, dementia and climate change. Mariana Mazzucato offers an answer: if only governments would apply the mission-driven methods of the Apollo project, they could.

Mission Economy, the new book from the high-profile economist noted for her advocacy of a more active state, contains many screenshots of the whiteboards beloved of brainstorming meetings, each with an ambitious goal at the top: secure the future of mobility, clean oceans, defeat cancer; below is a jumble of boxes and circles linked by multidirectional arrows. We need a “solutions-based economy”, driven and co-ordinated by more powerful governments engaged in every stage of the process of innovation.

But Apollo was a success because the objective was specific and limited; the basic science was well understood, even if many subsidiary technological developments were needed to make the mission feasible; and the political commitment to the project was sufficiently strong to make budget overruns almost irrelevant. Centrally directed missions have sometimes succeeded when these conditions are in place; Apollo was a response to the Soviet Union’s pioneering launch of a human into space, and the greatest achievement of the USSR was the mobilisation of resources to defeat Nazi Germany...

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