According to conventional wisdom, capital flows are fickle. They are fickle more or less independent of time and place. But different flows exhibit different degrees of volatility: FDI is least volatile, while bank-intermediated flows are most volatile. Other portfolio capital flows rank in between, and within this intermediate category debt flows are more volatile than equity-based flows.
In the famous movie Forrest Gump (1994), which is the story of an innocent man who represents how the world should be, the main character Tom Hanks remembers: “My Mama always said, ‘Life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re gonna get.’” Development economists working on industrial policy should always keep in mind that motherly wisdom and maintain humility in their random quest for the recipe for economic growth.
In a recent paper on ‘Growth Identification and facilitation: The role of the state in the dynamics of structural change,’ Justin Yifu Lin and I have tried to suggest a rational way of looking at the trial-and-error process that successful economic development always involves. In a new post on his excellent blog ‘Africa Can,’ my colleague Shanta Devarajan welcomes our work but asserts that we gloss over the politics that underlie efforts by governments to guide certain industries toward success.