What’s another year?

The MPP blog has been quiet the past months, as frankly we have been having too much fun with our 4th MPP cohort, who have just completed the course and are now winging their way back to the four corners of the globe. It has been a very eventful year and it is great to see all of the class successfully negotiate the end of the course and to move on to their next adventures.

Some highlights from the past two terms include the policy simulation and the work placements for this year. The simulation was run in partnership with the UN, specifically with Mr Michael Lennard, the Chief of International Tax Cooperation and Trade in the Financing for Development Office (FfDO) of the United Nations. He was a great client for the simulation, providing the students with one of the trickiest questions we’ve covered in the past four years – how should we be thinking about taxing the digital economy and for a developing country of their choice would they recommend the UN approach, the OECD Inclusive Framework, regional approaches or for the country to remain outside of any international agreement? Our congratulations again to the winning team of Lauren Logan, Amandeep Singh, Byron Hewson and Ivanna Didur.

Winners of the 2017 PAE

Our workplacements have again stretched around the world, with students in Sydney, Melbourne and Tasmania, as well as Paris, Geneva and London. The placement scheme allows students to get into the real world of policymaking and to put into practice the learning from the MPP with their previous experience. It is humbling to see how far students can take a problem in the 14 – 16 weeks they have with it, providing professional recommendations to governments, NGOs and companies.

The two terms had their usual mix of modules and professional development, including the ever popular radio interviews! Overall it was again great to see the students engage so strongly and to bring their best to their work and to class each and every day.

Now they have left we are in preparation for our fifth cohort and starting to plan a reunion for the first five years of the MPP programme here at Cambridge. It is surprising to be here with the fifth cohort coming over the hill, but it is wonderful to see the programme grow and go from strength to strength. But more on that anon.


Dr Finbarr Livesey
MPP Director 2016 – 2017

Mariana Mazzucato delivers the Annual Public Policy Lecture

Lauren Logan, MPP candidate 2016 – 2017

On the 6th of December 2016, the Department of Politics and International Studies (POLIS) hosted Professor Mariana Mazzucato at the University of Cambridge to deliver the Annual Public Policy Lecture. Mazzucato, the R.M. Phillips Chair in Economics of Innovation Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) at the University of Sussex and the author of The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Private vs. Public Sector Myths, spoke to an engrossed audience of students, academics, government stakeholders, and others (full video).

Prof Mariana Mazzucato

Professor Mariana Mazzucato presents her lecture “Smart & Inclusive Growth: Towards a New Theory of Wealth Creation” on December 6, 2016 at the Department of Politics and International Studies.

Mazzucato highlighted the challenges of defining the State’s role within the modern era of innovation-led growth. She dared the audience to acknowledge the State as a market shaper and creator, and reasoned that the widely accepted paradigm of the public sector serving as the lender of last resort is not relevant. Free markets are not natural. The barter system of the Phoenicians and free markets in the past 8,000 plus years have been the results of interventionism. An economist herself, Mazzucato furthered her conclusion by citing Cambridge economist John M. Keynes who called upon the government “to do those things which at present are not done at all”.

Via a four-pronged examination of routes and direction, organizations, assessment, and risks and rewards, Mazzucato explained that public policies need to situate the government as the lender of first resort.

She revealed that policy shapes the directionality of change, then steered the audience through examples of mission oriented finance and innovation within the public sphere. Mazzucato recognized the inevitable opacity in policy creation and encouraged public sector organizations to embrace risk and uncertainty. She then evaluated how public sector investments create markets and build launching pads for private sector growth. Lastly, Mazzucato offered eight ways to nurture a mutualistic bond between public and private sectors.

The lecture was followed by a lively QA session featuring discussion about attracting top talent within government organizations, inspiring public policy students to take an interdisciplinary approach to problem solving, investing in major public initiatives such as fracking in the US and High Speed 2 (HS2) in the UK, and learning from so-called policy failures.

Audience members, including the 2016-2017 MPP cohort, were left with an abundance of ideas and questions to consider. Is the State truly an interventionist entity? Should public policy create enabling conditions or intervene directly? How does public sector activity serve as an impetus for venture capital investment? What can be learned from China’s 5 year $1.7 trillion dedication to renewable energy technologies? How can public policies maximize well-being and wealth creation? What is the public good? How can or should the landscape of picking winners through public funding be managed? Is the State, the source of many general purpose technologies (GPTs), an entrepreneur? What tax policies are suitable in a world of smart and inclusive growth?

Professor Mazzucato helped the MPP program with a thought-provoking close to 2016 and left us eagerly awaiting a new year of policy, innovation, and impact.

The Annual Policy Lecture is available to view in full online here.

Our thanks to PA Consulting for their support which made the Annual Policy lecture possible.

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

by Dennis Grube

In the final days of an extraordinary campaign, a public official inserted himself into the very heart of the 2016 US presidential election.  I’m referring to FBI Director James Comey and his decision to reveal the re-opening of his investigation into the emails of Hillary Clinton.

My question is a simple one:  What would you have done?

If he had said nothing, and it later emerged that the emails showed evidence of wrongdoing, Comey would have been accused of supressing information that voters had a right to know before the election.  By saying something, he was accused of having released information likely to damage public perceptions of Hillary Clinton in the midst of an election campaign.

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

What’s the lesson for us as students and practitioners of public policy?  It’s a reminder that public policy is not a value-free space, where objective policy analysts create and cleave to a higher form of knowledge that is unstained by the darker world of politics.  Non-elected public officials face challenging ethical decisions in a real-world environment in which politics cannot simply be treated as an annoying variable to be modelled out of the way.

In their award winning 2006 article ‘In Search of Prudence’ John Kane and Haig Patapan suggest that public administrators should cultivate a sense of ‘prudent’ judgement.  Prudence is defined as ‘practical wisdom’ – an Aristotelian marriage between philosophical understanding and contemporary reality that guides decision-makers through the ethical minefields of public life.

There are many legitimate grounds for both attacking and defending Comey’s decision to go public with his renewed investigations into Clinton’s emails, and his equally abrupt decision on the eve of the election to clear her of wrongdoing.

In a situation where there is no clear right or wrong answer, what do you think was the ‘prudent’ thing to do?

Dr Dennis Grube is Lecturer in Public Policy at the University of Cambridge and a faculty member of the MPhil in Public Policy (MPP). His bio is available here.