What joy, we're to have an industrial strategy again are we?

Much singing and dancing in the streets no doubt:

Business leaders welcomed the creation of the new Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, expressing hope that the Whitehall department will formulate an industrial policy.

Some things in such a strategy are welcome of course. Low taxes, the rule of law, a reasonable regulatory environment, these are vital parts of any strategy for the economy, industrial or not.

Then there's the things which are not reasonable:

 Gareth Stace, director of UK Steel, who has spent the past year jousting with Mr Javid over his handling of the steel crisis, said that the department must help industry to “invest, thrive and play a significant part in building a stronger UK economy”. He called for ministers “to remove unilateral costs, including energy, business rates and increasing the proportion of British steel used in British construction projects”.

"Buy more of what my people make" is not a welcome addition to an industrial strategy Gareth.

Angus Brendan MacNeil, who could find himself out of a job as chairman of the Commons energy and climate change select committee, said: “DECC’s disappearance raises urgent questions: which department will take responsibility for the energy and climate aspects of negotiations to leave the EU? Who will champion decarbonisation in Cabinet? Who will drive innovation in the energy sector?”

Innovation is driven by people innovating, not government telling them to innovate. Thus the answer to innovation in energy is to get the prices right (yes, we've an externality here that needs to be priced in) and once we've done that let the markets rip. We've even got a whole great big report, the Stern Review, which says exactly that.

That is, the correct industrial strategy is for government to set the basic ground rules, make sure of the existence of the necessary institutions, then get out of the way.

We are aware though of one more possible use of an industrial strategy: 

David Palmer-Jones, chief executive of the UK division of Suez, the French energy and waste recycling group, said: “Any rationalisation of government departments to ensure the creation of more joined-up, long-term strategic policy planning at a national level to help us to build the power stations, produce the resources and create opportunities for a skilled labour force [is welcome]. Businesses like ours need clear long-term policy guidance from Whitehall.” 


If we can get all of the people who think and speak like that off discussing industrial strategy somewhere then the rest of us will be safe from anything the might do in the real economy. To the great benefit of is all. That is, the benefit of discussing industrial strategy is that we don't have one and all who would are still discussing it.