The “innovative” corporations so admired by neoliberal capitalism and its cheerleaders in the Forth Estate are innovators, but not so much of technology but of ways to package it, then in using some of the profits they’ve made off taxpayer-funded research into changing laws to make ever more profits while those who paid for all that research are driven deeper into economic despair.
If you consider all that a bit harsh, then pay close attention to the dissection of an iPhone during the first part of this latest documentary from the Dutch public television documentary series VPRO Backlight:
VPRO Backlight: The Smart State
We think new technology is developed by hip companies like Google and Apple. But is this true? VPRO Backlight explores the innovation climate in Europe, to find out what role governments and the private sector play in this. Who finances the development, and who profits from it?
What would the iPhone be worth without the internet, GPS and touchscreen technology? All these components didn’t originate from Apple, but from research institutes, universities and government-funded companies. VPRO Backlight explores where new technologies, from medicines to gizmos, come from, who finances their development and who profits from them.
We have gotten used to seeing new technology as something devised by smart, trendy techies at companies like Apple or Google. Italian American economist Mariana Mazzucato delved into the origin of new technology, and found out that governments have more influence than we think.
In her highly acclaimed book The Entrepreneurial State, Mazzucato argues that we should take another look at the source of innovation, and at the role governments actually play in innovation. She claims that technological progress will be seriously delayed if innovation is left only to the private sector. One question is what future governments can still contribute to technological development if they only have the costs, not the benefits. A company like Apple makes a profit with technology co-developed by governments, but like so many other big companies, they barely pay taxes.
VPRO Backlight pays a visit to aircraft manufacturer Airbus, which is teaming up with the European Space Agency for the development of 3D printing. But we also go to the Academic Medical Center in Amsterdam, where so-called orphan drugs are developed: medicines for rare diseases that would be too costly for companies to develop without additional incentive measures. And finally, in Denmark the government does have an important role in innovation as a direct venture investor in new technology. Not only the costs are for the government, but also the profits, as with Universal Robots, a manufacturer of smart robot arms, which was sold for hundreds of millions. Does Denmark have the ideal system to accelerate technological development?
While we agree with the analysis of the problem, we think the Danish government investment program is only a half-measure.
What’s wrong with cooperative businesses, where ownership is diffused and related directly to those who do the actual work? And what of other forms of economic organization?
Also, that space race deserves a little more consideration, especially in the light of plans contained in long-secret documents eleased last year.
From the 17 September 2014 edition of Newsweek:
[J]ust-released documents from the 1950s and ’60s, many of which were obtained by the National Security Archive at George Washington University, portrays the much messier—and sometimes quite frightening—story playing out behind the scenes in what is arguably the most important international competition in human history.
Many of the plans were prepared by the American military, which focused on how the moon could be used for fighting. Blueprints were prepared for a military base largely buried under the lunar surface. Designs were drawn up for building nuclear reactors there, although no one seemed to have given much thought about where the radioactive waste would be disposed in the vacuum of space. And detailed studies recommended that the United States detonate a nuclear weapon near or on the moon, partly in hopes of setting off a “moonquake” and partly to scare the crap out of the Russians.
The reasons for frantic scheming on both sides of the Cold War were not just the altruistic advancement of science and a chance to feed national pride. Both countries wanted to get to the moon first because they thought it would give them military superiority in their long, bitter and costly Cold War. “The results of failure to first place man on extraterrestrial, naturally occurring real estate will raise grave political questions and at the same time lower United States prestige and influence,” reads one 1959 Army document about a secret program called Project Horizon. “[Moreover], the extent to which future operations might be conducted in space…is of such a magnitude as to almost defy the imagination.… The interactions of space and terrestrial war are so great as to generate radically new concepts.”