State of innovation: Busting the private-sector myth | New Scientist

MAGES of tech entrepreneurs such as Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs are continually thrown at us by politicians, economists and the media. The message is that innovation is best left in the hands of these individuals and the wider private sector, and that the state – bureaucratic and sluggish – should keep out. A telling 2012 article in The Economist claimed that, to be innovative, governments must “stick to the basics” such as spending on infrastructure, education and skills, leaving the rest to the revolutionary garage tinkerers.

Yet it is ideology, not evidence, that fuels this image. A quick look at the pioneering technologies of the past century points to the state, not the private sector, as the most decisive player in the game.

Whether an innovation will be a success is uncertain and it can take longer than traditional banks or venture capitalists are willing to wait. In countries such as the US, China, Singapore and Denmark the state has provided the kind of patient and long-term finance new technologies need to get off the ground. Investments of this kind have often been driven by big missions, from putting a human on the moon, to solving climate change. This has required not only funding basic research – the typical “public good” that most economists admit needs state help – but applied research and seed funding too.

via State of innovation: Busting the private-sector myth | New Scientist

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