le 18 août 2013
This well researched book proves that most important innovations are based on financing from government. Apple's iPods, iPhones and iPads are presented as one of the examples. The author describes in detail how the government has financed all essential technological innovations used. The author recognizes the genius of Steve Jobs by visualizing an attractive product that people would buy, selecting technologies, and putting them together in a compact beautiful package.
At first sight this appears the way it should be. The government finances technological breakthroughs that are picked up by business. The problem she sees is financing by the government. Governments are pressured to reduce costs and furthermore are accused to be highly inefficient in everything they do. She describes how for example the governments the US, Germany and Denmark invest heavily and effectively in research and development. They act as entrepreneurs taking the highest risks.
She shows that businesses, in the medical electronic and other fields have radically reduced their funding of the more longer term research and development on which breakthroughs depend. Business and venture capitalists are short term orientated. When "innovative" companies are hugely profitable they buy back shares and/or raise dividends but do not invest it in the longer-term future. She presents a lot of statistics to prove this point.
She considers that it is very important for the people at large to recognize the essential role government plays as the fundamental force in innovation. This role goes beyond developing new knowledge. The state in many cases also has to finance the development of a new technology to the point where it is applied and achieve critical mass. The governments is involved in the supply side but in important cases also on the demand side. The government chooses, has to choose, the winners.
The United States is by far the most effective and largest investor in innovation. Many people believe that the free market and entrepreneurs are the driving force in innovation. She refers to this as a "myth" presenting many examples.
Companies in general but especially highly profitable global companies go out of their way to reduce their taxes. Statistics show that these global companies are highly successful on this point. The tax income in addition to being reduced is also not going to the countries that have financed the new technologies that played an important role in generating the profits. She believes it is naive to believe that national governments can enforce tax regulations on global companies and therefore proposes other solutions.
One suggestion is to attach a royalty obligation to a technological innovation. The first buyer, as the public at large financed the innovation, should after a few years of exclusive rights, license other companies to use the innovation. She also refers to government financed development banks that provide financing for the early sages of development. A good example is such a bank in Germany the KfW ([...])).
She considers the present system as "dysfunctional", where governments take the highest risks and businesses take all the profits being an example where risks are socialized and the profits privatized.
I have worked extensively in this field, both in business and for government. I found this book stimulating to read and recommend it to others. I am however not sure, to what extent, the suggestions can be implemented. I do not doubt the importance and essential role the government plays in financing R&D. That kind of financing and managing, early stage innovation even including the creation of demand can also be seen as a logical task of government. I do agree that it is important that people at large should become more aware of the entrepreneurial role of government in innovation, and the necessity to organize and finance it.