Mariana Mazzucato was freezing. Outside, it was a humid late-September day in Manhattan, but inside — in a Columbia University conference space full of scientists, academics and businesspeople advising the United Nations on sustainability — the air conditioning was on full blast.
For a room full of experts discussing the world’s most urgent social and environmental problems, this was not just uncomfortable but off-message. Whatever their dress — suit, sari, head scarf — people looked huddled and hunkered down. At a break, Dr. Mazzucato dispatched an assistant to get the A.C. turned off. How will we change anything, she wondered aloud, “if we don’t rebel in the everyday?”
Dr. Mazzucato, an economist based at University College London, is trying to change something fundamental: the way society thinks about economic value. While many of her colleagues have been scolding capitalism lately, she has been reimagining its basic premises. Where does growth come from? What is the source of innovation? How can the state and private sector work together to create the dynamic economies we want? She asks questions about capitalism we long ago stopped asking. Her answers might rise to the most difficult challenges of our time.