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«      Boffo, Marco (2013) Interrogating the knowledge‐based economy: from  ...»

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For Callon (1994), the public character of science must be defended from (the homogenising tendencies inherent in) commercialisation on the grounds of science being ‘a source of variety and flexibility’ (p.410). For Callon, this should ‘open the way for a renewal of the economic definition of a public good’ (p.411). This attitude can be seen as part of a broader research programme focused on the study of the economic through deployment of insights from the sociology of scientific knowledge and Actor-Network Theory, not least the idea of “performativity” (see Barry, Slater, 2002a, 2002b and the collection of chapters in MacKenzie et al., 2007 for an introduction, but also Hands, 2001, Fine, 2003a, and Mirowski, Nik-Khah, 2007, 2008 for critical assessments).

Stiglitz, 1999a is part of a collection on global public goods (Kaul et al., 1999) published for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

the characterisation of knowledge as a public good).40 Thus, as opposed to other proposed scenarios of structural transformation of the economy which have come forth as a result of the complex dynamic interaction of changes within and across rhetoric, scholarship and policy in practice,41 the rhetoric and policy in practice of the KBE are clearly divergent even if assessed on their own grounds, and display feeble, if non-existent, underpinnings in scholarship.

However, rather than casual, this results from the chaotic, confused and simplistic way in which concepts from economics are appropriated within the rhetoric of the KBE without careful consideration of their substantive content, analytical origins, and changing status and role within economic theory itself.

1.4.2) The challenges of historicity On top of the rift between rhetoric and policy in practice, the novelty attached to both the KBE and the EK is contradictory with respect to the issue of historicity, at both the material and intellectual levels. Indeed, knowledge ‘has been important to production across all historical epochs’ since, ‘in the most basic sense’, labour ‘is human creativity, mediated by knowledge, and applied to the material world’ (Curry, 1997). Such a point is so obvious that one can find similar statements across both mainstream and heterodox economics. For the former, Mokyr, 2002 offers an account of the role of the co-evolution of useful knowledge and technological change in initiating and sustaining the Industrial Revolution, and an assertion that ‘the relationship between economic performance and knowledge seems at first glance obvious if not trite’ (p.2). For heterodox economics, see Perez, 2003 and 2010 for a Schumpeterian schematisation of technological revolutions and the evolution of techno-economic paradigms,42 and Freeman, Louçã, 2001 for a Kondratiev-inspired account of the role of technology in the history of capitalism and the assertion that every ‘human economy has been That very little advance has been made with respect to the theory and analysis of intellectual property can be easily understood by comparing contemporary debates on patents with the patent controversy raging in the nineteenth century (Machlup, Penrose, 1950). If anything, various mainstream economists have expressed concern openly over the extension of IPRs protection, not least through the TRIPS agreement. See, for example: Bhagwati, 2004 (for whom TRIPS should not be part of WTO negotiations, length of protection accorded is excessive, and access to cheap generic drugs should be allowed for developing countries); Henry, Stiglitz, 2010 (who deplore how poorly designed IPRs regimes hinder dissemination of information and stifle innovation); and Boldrin, Levine, 2008 (for whom IPRs stifle competition unnecessarily in a market economy, thus constituting a form of legally sanctioned intellectual monopoly). Most of these concerns evoke those of many nineteenth century economists, who often closely associated patents with protectionism and, moved by anti-monopolist sentiments, understood them as an impediment to free-trade (Machlup, Penrose, 1950). Yet, Stiglitz deserves special mention (and, potentially, praise where it’s due) for his active engagement in opposition to the TRIPs agreement as member of President Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers and, later, as Chief Economist of the World Bank (Stiglitz, 2008), as well as for his defence of prizes against patents as reward mechanisms for invention (Stiglitz, 2007, 2008).

The Washington and post-Washington Consensuses are key examples of this, see Saad-Filho, 2005.

These draw on the notion of “technical paradigm”, developed by Dosi (1982) by way of a parallel with the Kuhnian notion of paradigm within epistemology (Kuhn, 1962).

a “knowledge economy” and not only the contemporary one, which we, in our arrogance, proclaim today’ (p.132).43 Thus, with respect to the processes identified as constitutive of the KBE, it must be said that all types of economies across time and space have a knowledge, science and technology base, however (under)developed. Therefore, with knowledge, science and technology being transhistorical determinants of socio-economic development, what matters is their specific historical character, i.e. the way in which different concrete and historically-determined institutional arrangements (and their determinants) favour or impair the use, production, accumulation and diffusion of knowledge, science and technology themselves. However, while the main proponents of the EK and of the KBE as structural scenario of transformation recognise that ‘knowledge has always been at the heart of economic development’ (Foray, 2006, p.21; similarly, David, Foray, 2003, p.20; OECD, 1996, p.9), mainstream economics, given its ahistorical and disembodied analysis rooted in the conceptualisation of knowledge as public (semi-public, or entirely private) good, provides little guidance in accounting for historical and contextual specificity.

Furthermore, and with specific respect to the rise of the concept of KBE and putative emergence of an EK, the peculiarities of economic scholarship need stressing. Indeed, the central role of knowledge within contemporary capitalism has been a prominent topic of debate across the social sciences since at least the 1960s, and the KBE is the last in line of an array of similar concepts attempting to describe and redefine advanced capitalist societies since then, drawing momentum and impetus from the structural transformations of the 1970s.44 While these concepts have had their own fortunes across the social sciences, not least Significantly, both Perez and Freeman are representatives of the National Systems of Innovation (henceforth NSI) approach. The latter was central to the reflections on science and technology elaborated at the OECD in the late 1990s, only to be displaced by the “new economy” and KBE concepts within the OECD itself. See Fine, 1992 for a critical, yet sympathetic, assessment of the NSI approach, and Godin, 2004, 2006a and 2009 for the fortunes of the NSI within the OECD and its fall from grace in deference to the “new economy” and KBE concepts within the OECD itself. See also David, Foray, 1995 for a critique of the NSI approach arguing for a shift in analytical emphasis away from national institutions and economic growth and in favour of the distribution of knowledge itself, because ‘an efficient system of distribution and access to knowledge is a sine qua non condition for increasing the amount of innovative opportunities. Knowledge distribution is the crucial issue’ (David, Foray, 1995, p.40). However, see Foray, 2006, pp.13-14 for an endorsement of NSI against endogenous growth theory.

The following easily spring to mind: post-industrial economy/society, information economy/society, new economy, learning economy/society; but see Carlaw et al., 2006, especially appendices 1 and 2, for more and a review, and Kenway et al., 2006, for an attempt at a conceptual genealogy. These concepts have all suffered from imprecise definition and use (potentially and partly explaining the emergence of competing expressions), and significant overlap, with each representing a different ‘inflection of a fundamental idea’ (Kenway et al., 2006, p.20), albeit with differing emphases on the social or the economic across them. The KBE functions as an overarching concept and narrative, drawing on and incorporating many of these previous conceptual reincarnations (thus, for instance, Kenway et al., 2006, p.21, on how OECD, 1996 incorporates within the KBE ‘variant and related notions of the information under the impulse of postmodernism,45 that it is only now that mainstream economics turns to proclaiming the centrality of knowledge as a productive force in the economy requires explanation in itself (similarly, see: Mirowski, 2011, p.25; Mirowski, 2009b, p.102; Tyfield, 2012, p.13). Foray’s candid “materialism”, positing that ‘the economics of knowledge developed as knowledge-based economies gradually came into being’ (Foray, 2006, p.ix) (and, therefore, implying a simplistic and historically flawed isomorphism of developments in thought and in the material organisation of the economy), will not suffice, not least because the need for historical contextualisation of this putative intellectual development is exacerbated by three mutually related contradictions. Firstly, if, on the one hand, the acceptance of the concept of KBE within mainstream economics is puzzling, given the latter’s proverbial squeamishness about the identification of socio-economic structures and recognition of their importance, on the other hand, proclamations of the existence of an EK within mainstream economics might strike those outside of the discipline as paradoxical, given the proverbial imperviousness of mainstream economics to epistemology.46 Secondly, and consistently with their transhistorical nature, the fundamental role of knowledge and information for growth and socio-economic development has been amply emphasised by preSmithian and classical economics (see, respectively, Prendergast, 2010 and 2007), and knowledge and information have received attention over time and in different ways from economists of varied theoretical allegiances (see Part I of Arena, et al., 2012a).47 Yet, in addressing ‘the question of what economic theory has to do with knowledge, in general, and more specifically with the interpretation of the contemporary so-called “knowledge-based” society, network society and learning economy’. Similarly, Godin, 2006a sees the KBE as an “umbrella concept” – or buzzword – gathering previously existing ideas and concepts into a single framework).

See Lyotard, 1979b for a classic reference. This landmark contribution famously came out of a report to the Conseil des Universités du Québec (Lyotard, 1979a), meant to ‘examine the status of knowledge (of its formal and informal institutions, of research and teaching) in the most developed industrial societies’ (Lyotard, 1979a, p.1), since knowledge was already thought of as having ‘become the principal force of production over the last decades’ (p.7). That the task was assigned in the first place to a philosopher rather than an economist is telling, and potentially indicative of the paradox pointed out in footnote 46. For an assessment of the role of postmodernism in sustaining the rhetoric of the KBE, see Huws, 2003, ch.9.

In other words, why should (mainstream) economists (who are often portrayed as the idiots savants of social science) be trusted to provide guidance on the ‘production and reproduction’ of knowledge, ‘as well as the historical and institutional conditions... determining its treatment and processing in a decentralized economy’ (Foray, 2006, p.1) when, to begin with, they are so acutely insensitive to, and unaware of, how knowledge is produced, reproduced and constructed within their own discipline, the historical and institutional conditions of such processes, and their relation to the market itself? A primer on the historical and institutional conditions and constraints governing the use, production and reproduction of disciplinary knowledge within economics can be found in Lee, 2009.

For example, Marshall was already writing, in 1890, that capital ‘consists in great part of knowledge and organization: and of this some part is private property and other part is not. Knowledge is our most powerful engine of production’, and ‘[o]rganization aids knowledge’ (Marshall, 1920 [1890], p.138).

Similarly, it is well known that Marx devoted significant attention to knowledge, science and technology in the Grundrisse (1993) and Capital (1976, 1978, 1981).

economy’, one may ‘reasonably come up with two different’ – and opposite! – ‘answers’: ‘in an essential sense, asking how a decentralized economy works is equivalent to asking how socially distributed knowledge is collectively put to work in ways that are not socially detrimental and, possibly, increase the welfare of everyone’, and yet, ‘most strands of current theory have very little to say by way of an analysis of the nature of the particular form of economy that one observes nowadays and its relations with the transformation in its knowledge bases’ (Dosi, 2012, p.167; similarly, Boulding, 1966).

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