InterviewThe economist, director of the Institute for Innovation and Public Utility at University College London, recalls in an interview with “The World” that, without the funding of fundamental research by the States, the greatest inventions current, including the Internet, would never have seen the light of day.
Interview. In 2013, Mariana Mazzucato published in English the original version of The entrepreneurial state (translated this year by Fayard, 384 pages, 24 euros), a landmark book. In full cure of austerity imposed across Europe, the American-Italian economist, based in the United Kingdom, launched a cry from the heart: to oppose the private “productive” sector to a public sector so-called spending and unproductive was, in her view, a serious mistake.
His thesis: the greatest current inventions – smartphones, new drugs, renewable energies… – would never have been possible without the investments made by the state. It does not deny the capacity of the private sector to innovate – “Steve Jobs was undoubtedly a true genius worthy of admiration,” she says – but simply emphasizes that these inventions are based on decades of basic research and real risk-taking funded by governments.
Thus, the smartphone uses technologies developed by the public sector: the Internet (whose ancestor, Arpanet, was funded by the Pentagon), GPS (developed in the 1970s to determine the location of military equipment) or even the touch screen (invented thanks to a project funded by the National Science Foundation and the CIA). As the planet goes through one of the biggest recessions in its history, this economic star considers that the current major stimulus plans are an opportunity, provided they are properly supervised and be careful of waste, unlike the plans 2008 aid.
In 2013, in what context did you publish your book “L’Etat entrepreneur”?
A few years after the 2008 financial crisis, countries entered into a vast austerity cure, notably the United Kingdom, where I live, as well as many European countries. The argument of the then British government, led by David Cameron, was that the country had to be made more competitive and that it was necessary to reduce the deficit. The British administration spoke highly of entrepreneurs, believing that if the state pulled out, it would give them a chance to act.
I reacted strongly. The government said it wanted to create the Google of the future in this way, even though Google’s algorithm was funded by the American state or the Internet was developed by the state. Rather than adopting the language of Silicon Valley, I meant, take inspiration from what Silicon Valley really does, and find that the United States has spent a lot on research and innovation. My book was written to cry out in the face of the human misery I saw inflicted in the name of improving competitiveness. It was a cry for help, to say stop!
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