« Boffo, Marco (2013) Interrogating the knowledge‐based economy: from ...»
Thirdly, innovation and technology are at the heart of the dynamic and interrelated processes of commodification and accumulation, whereby creation of new products and techniques of production is shaped by, and in turn shapes, capitalist dynamics of value extraction, constantly renegotiating the boundaries between socialised and unsocialised labour (Huws, 2003). Last but not least, science and technology play a key role in the labour process itself, allowing for the shift from absolute to relative surplus value extraction, as well as more or less direct forms of capitalist control (Marx, 1976; Braverman, 1998 ; Noble, 1986). However, perhaps the most striking illustration of the shortcomings of this depiction and conception of the relation of knowledge to the economy is provided by Foray (2006, p.144) himself, who admits that the ‘economics profession’, caught between the two ends of this trade-off (underprovision of knowledge and monopolistic distortion), has found ‘the subject of intellectual property policies’ particularly ‘vexatious’.
1.4) A contradictory scenario The two sections above have presented the conventional narrative, as told within economics, about the relation between knowledge and the economy. Nonetheless, any serious attempt to delve beneath, and move beyond, the idyllic linear scenario described in section 1.2 and the tension between combinatorial explosion and underprovision highlighted in section 1.3 will be presented immediately with the perplexing, even paradoxical, nature of both the KBE and EK.
This is evident in the conflictual rhetoric of the KBE and its obvious divergence from policy in practice, the contradictory historicity of the KBE (both as a description of the material organisation of contemporary capitalism and as a concept within mainstream economics) and EK, the internal contradictions of the definition of the EK (as provided by its main proponent, Foray, 2006), and the aporetic character of knowledge for mainstream/neoclassical economics, especially as exemplified by endogenous growth theory. All these elements testify to the idiosyncratic way in which issues relating to the relationship between knowledge and the economy have been incorporated within mainstream economics: conforming with economics imperialism, at the expense of substantive content and appropriate conceptualisation, and irrespective of the logical consequences for the discipline of taking to its fullest implications the study of the relationship itself even on its own let alone broader terms.
1.4.1) The divergence of rhetoric and policy in practice With its simultaneous emphasis on the socially inclusive dimension of the posited transition to the KBE – rooted in the intrinsically social nature and character of knowledge, and the ensuing positive externalities – and the importance of knowledge as field of valorisation and even source of value, the rhetoric of the KBE immediately appears as internally conflictual. Indeed, as discussed above, much of this rhetoric is built around the notion that knowledge is a public good (see, for example, European Commission, 2002, UNESCO, 2005) and, therefore, nonexcludable and non-rival in use. Such conceptualisation of knowledge, although originating in economics (Arrow, 1962a; Nelson, 1959), has enticed fascination well beyond the confines of the discipline, coming to be widely accepted even amongst radical critics, be they (heterodox) economists (see, for example: Perelman, 1998, 2003, 2005; Teixeira, Rotta, 2012; Pagano, Rossi, 2009; Pagano, 2012) or not (Söderberg, 2008). Furthermore, in this rhetoric, not only is knowledge (together with science) posited as a public good, it is also depicted as a ‘global’ (Stiglitz, 1999a) or ‘meta-public good’, of which, ‘the more you use’, ‘the more there’ is ‘for everybody’ (Perelman, 2005), thus becoming ‘more valuable with use’ (Perelman, 2003, p.305). This aspect is best captured in the numerous references in this literature to ‘Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States’, who ‘described knowledge in the following way: “he who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine;
as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me”’ (Stiglitz, 1999a, p.308). Indeed, while Stiglitz, 1999a is taken here as exemplary of this tendency to portray Jefferson as having ‘anticipated the modern concept of a public good’ (p.308), see also David, 1993, who quotes Jefferson to illustrate the non-rivalrous and cumulative character of knowledge. More generally, similar quotes from, and references to, Thomas Jefferson have become a trope in this literature. Usually (though not necessarily exclusively), when the quote is used by non-economists, it is meant to highlight the inequity of private appropriation through patents; on the other hand, when the quote is used by economists, often the aim is to show that the conceptualisation of knowledge as a public good goes back a long way before the speculation of a handful of economists and, potentially, to legitimise the latter by attributing to them a noble lineage (see, for example, Stephan, 1996). However, it must be emphasised how ‘Jefferson was making an argument against Lockean natural rights accounts of property, in service of the thesis that one should not treat knowledge as a thing’ (Mirowski, 2011, p.358, footnote 21; similarly, Boyle, 2003).25 Interestingly, the figure of Jefferson has exerted considerable appeal also on radical critics such as Hardt and Negri (2000, 2004, 2009) and their reflection on, and conceptualisation of, the “common” as radical democratic alternative to both the state and the market (see below). However, and irrespective of the content and reliability of their interpretation and enlistment of Jefferson to their cause, Hardt and Negri deserve credit for an engagement with Jefferson much deeper than that, deplored here, typical of the (economic) literature on knowledge (see, for example: Hardt, Negri, 2000, 2004, 2009; and Hardt, 2007a, 2007b).
Following the above illustration of the “inexhaustible” character of knowledge, and inspired by the prospect of describing this property by way of a positive term, David (1993) and Keely and The original letter in which Thomas Jefferson addressed this issue can be consulted in its entirety at http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/a1_8_8s12.html (the relevant section of the th online version of Kurland, Lerner, 1987, last accessed on the 9 of August 2013).
Quah (2000) proposed using the expression “infinite expansibility” instead of “non-rivalry”.
Similarly, Pagano and Rossi (2009, p.679) see knowledge not only as a non-rival good, but even as ‘anti-rival’. However, with the recent extension of patentability to “basic knowledge” (as opposed to its exclusive applicability to commercial exploitations of the latter) (Coriat, Orsi, 2002; see also footnote 1) and the enshrining of these newly redefined IPRs into an international regime under the aegis of the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (henceforth TRIPS) agreement (Chang, 2001; Drahos, Braithwaite, 2002; Orsi, Coriat, 2006), in practice, the ‘intensification of the economic function of knowledge has come’ clearly ‘at the expense of’ its ‘social function’ (Kenway et al., 2006, p.25). Therefore, as noted by radical critics (Perelman, 1998, 2003, 2005; Teixeira, Rotta, 2012; Azam, 2007), once intrinsic (as opposed to exclusively economic) value is attached to knowledge, the narrow economic and the broader social aspects of the KBE evidently diverge and even come into strident conflict. Thus, the quantitative and qualitatative extension and expansion of IPRs has been read by many as a second movement of “enclosure of the commons” (Shiva, 2001; Boyle, 2003; Azam, 2007; Stiglitz, 2008), where knowledge becomes a (Polanyian) “fictitious commodity” (Azam, 2007; Jessop, 2007), part and parcel of current processes of “accumulation by dispossession” and ongoing (global) primitive accumulation (Harvey, 2003; Tyfield, 2008).26 This has even been interpreted as leading to the emergence of an “intellectual monopoly capitalism” (Pagano, 2012) and, together with the identification of intellectual monopolies as one of the causes of the onset of the current crisis (Pagano, Rossi, 2009; Pagano, 2012), it has been posited ‘that the crisis of intellectual monopoly capitalism requires a radical move from a world mainly organized around closed science and closed markets to a world centered on open markets and open science’, with the move towards the latter depicted as ‘certainly consistent with some sort of communism of human knowledge’ (Pagano, 2012, p.18). Yet, while this assessment of the crisis and its causes, together with the proposed solutions and their consequences, remains dubious, these can be taken as exemplary and indicative of the excessive faith placed in the centrality of knowledge in contemporary capitalism even for those who see themselves as critics of the KBE, and the consequent neglect, in the rhetoric and scholarship of the KBE, of the latter’s true engine firmly located in (a hypertrophic) finance.
More generally, the TRIPS agreement and the extension of IPRs in general have been one of the factors leading to the revival of debates around the commons within and across scholarship (Hess, Ostrom, 2007a, Foray, 2006) and radicalism (Hardt, Negri, 2009; Harvey, 2011; Mattei, 2011). However, for the former – following the pioneering work of Elinor Ostrom (see Ostrom, 1990, and Fine, 2010a and Harribey, 2011 for critical assessment) – this means that knowledge, ‘a nonrivalrous, nonexclusionary public good’, is converted by different technological arrangements ‘into a common-pool resource’ needing management, monitoring and protection ‘to ensure’ its ‘sustainability and preservation’ (Hess, Ostrom, 2007b, p.10). On the other hand, radicals have interpreted the commons as a model for overcoming the public/private and state/market dichotomies in the socio-political organisation of society (Hardt, Negri, 2009; Mattei, 2011).
However, while outsiders to the economics profession and even heterodox (or otherwise progressive) economists remain attached to the characterisation of knowledge as a public good (be that for a commitment to Pigovian welfarism, romanticism, rhetorical wit, or political strategy), their faith in this line of argument as a defence of the social nature of knowledge may be misplaced. Indeed, the history of the characterisation of knowledge as a public good and its role within economic theory highlights how this characterisation is ‘much more an artefact of the twists and turns of postwar neoclassical economic theory’ than a philosophical enquiry about truth where the ‘slippery notions of nonexclusivity and nonrivalry’ constitute ‘some deep insight into the eternal nature of knowledge’ (Mirowski, 2011, p.56).27 First formalised by Samuelson (1954), the notion of public good was conceived to provide justification and ‘economic legitimacy’ to ‘government intervention in the economy while still pledging allegiance to’ the ‘neoclassical model of the free market’ (Mirowski, 2011, p.57), in an intellectual climate within the economics discipline marked by a conventional wisdom centred on a mix of Keynesianism and Pigovian welfarism (Fine, Milonakis, 2009; Milonakis, Fine, 2009). Progressively, the notion came to incorporate many (if not most) functions of government (Samuelson, 1955), becoming ‘confused and conflated with the existence of “externalities”’ in the process. These, in turn, were redefined within welfare economics ‘as a problem of nonexclusion, such that all the relevant aspects of the commodity were not correctly priced by the market’ (Mirowski, 2011, p.57) and, ultimately, shifted within the realm of general equilibrium by Arrow (1969), as a special case of market failure (Mirowski, 2011, p.57). While Nelson, 1959 and Arrow, 1962a have been internalised within and without economics as seminal papers setting the bases for the characterisation of knowledge, research and innovation as public goods, it is important to highlight the inception of, and role played by, these papers and their argument in a specific controversy taking place at the RAND Corporation during the 1950s (recounted in: Mirowski, 2011; Hounshell, 1997, 2000; Van Horn, Klaes, 2011a).28 Indeed, in light of their victory in the Second World War, U.S. military elites were firmly convinced of the strategic role played by ‘closely integrated military-style planning across the military, industrial, and academic sectors’ (Van Horn, Klaes, 2011a, p.305) in securing scientific and engineering advances. In this intellectual and political context, a This and the following paragraph draw on Mirowski’s (2011, pp.56-66) account of the rise and fall of the characterisation of science as a public good, and Van Horn and Klaes’s (2011a) account and comparison of the views of Arrow and Coase (as representatives of, respectively, the Cowles Planning Commission and Chicago Neoliberalism) on public goods and patents.
The RAND Corporation is a policy think tank, originally instituted to offer research and analysis to the United States armed forces, with RAND standing for Research and Development (see th http://www.rand.org, last accessed on the 9 of August 2013). For accounts of its role in shaping and advancing the post-war neoclassical economics research programme in the context of the Cold War (both in general and with specific reference to innovation, research and development), see: Amadae, 2003; Mirowski, 2002; Hounshell, 1997, 2000; Van Horn, Klaes, 2011a.