domingo, septiembre 12, 2010

La economía de la Ciencia y la Tecnología

Hace unos días hablé de por qué los sabios nunca llegarán al poder. Quizá la razón venga dada en el capíto 5 del libro "Economics: a very short introduction" del que también hablé hace unos días. ¿Coincidencia?
Aquí os copio el texto. Creo que merece mucha reflexión, comentarios y más detalles. ¡Soy todo oidos!

Chapter 5 - Science and Technology as institutions
Institutions are public goods. The problem facing a society is to
unearth what combination is likely to work best for it. In the rest of
this book we explore how institutions interact with one another. To
see what issues are involved, it will pay to begin by studying the
institutions that have been created to produce a commodity that
any reader of books would find interesting: knowledge.
Knowledge is a public good par excellence. It is non-rivalrous in
use (when someone applies the calculus to a problem, no one else
is prevented from applying the calculus to his or her problems).
Unless the producer of a piece of knowledge is secretive, it is also
non-excludable. Knowledge is a durable commodity, in that the
same piece of knowledge can be used over and over again. If
someone was to invent the wheel today, we would observe that he
had merely ‘reinvented the wheel’; he wouldn’t contribute
anything of value. Moreover, as no additional cost is involved
when someone dips into a piece of knowledge, he shouldn’t be
charged for it.
These observations are truisms today, but they raise a problem. If
knowledge is freely available to all, the only way discoverers and
inventors could obtain a return on their efforts would be by being
secretive or by earning profits from the head start they have with
their ideas. Which means that the private incentives to produce
90knowledge would be low. The trick is to find more reliable ways to
reward people who discover and invent.
In using the terms ‘discoverers’ and ‘inventors’, I don’t mean to
restrict the use of the word ‘knowledge’ to the products of science
and technology; I want to include innovations in the arts, crafts,
music, and literature. Nevertheless, in offering an account of the
two overlapping institutions that have emerged in the modern era
for producing knowledge, I shall rely on examples drawn from
science and technology, conventionally defined. Along the way, we
will discover that our analysis applies also to other forms of creative
By scientific and technological knowledge I mean, roughly
speaking, what the classical Greeks meant by them, namely,
episteme (speculative, theoretical, or abstract knowledge) and
techne (art or practical knowledge), respectively. As far as I can tell,
Aristotle regarded it impolite to discuss techne, even to enumerate
achievements in that sphere. His discourses focused on episteme. In
contrast, modern economists have attended to techne, which is
evident from our frequent use of the term ‘technological progress’
when we offer reasons for continued economic growth in Becky’s
world (Chapter 1).
Research and development (R&D) are inputs in the production of
knowledge. Publicly funded R&D is the Wicksell-Samuelson
solution (Chapter 2) to the problem of incentives in knowledge
production. For reasons that will become clear presently, I shall call
the institution of publicly funded R&D, Science (with upper case S).
For concreteness, the agency that funds R&D will be taken to be the
state, even though private foundations and large corporations in
Becky’s world augment the resources that flow into Science from
the state.
So that the knowledge that is produced with public funds is freely
available to all, employment contracts include the condition that
discoveries and inventions are to be disclosed publicly. But
knowledge often involves technical material. How is the state to
prevent quacks and charlatans from muddying the enterprise?
Modern societies have solved this adverse selection problem by
insisting that public disclosure involves publication in peer-
reviewed journals. Vetting by peers greatly reduces a problem
society faces, namely, its inability to distinguish good products from
bad products.
But there are further problems in Science. As a good deal of
creative work is conducted in the head and success in R&D is
chancy, it isn’t possible to verify whether someone has complied
with the agreement to work hard. How is the paymaster to know
that scientists are thinking, not day-dreaming? After all, even lazy
scientists could claim that they were unlucky, not lazy. Society
therefore faces a moral hazard, implying that payment should not
be based on time or effort. An alternative is a fixed payment for
practising science, but that too has a problem. If scientists could
collect the fee irrespective of whether they produced anything of
interest, the incentive to work hard would be blunted; which is
yet another moral hazard. If each of these hazards is to be
reduced, payment has to be based in some way on performance.
Such forms of payment are called piece rate. In the present
context, ‘piece rate’ means payment on the basis of the quality of
the product of R&D.
For reasons similar to the ones I have just enumerated, piece rates
used to be a commonplace for casual labour in agricultural harvest.
Today, machines set the pace, which means that human effort is
verifiable. That is why piece rates have become less common even in
agriculture. But performance bonuses, often in the form of stock
options, are today a commonplace in large corporations, for reasons
of the moral hazards facing shareholders (Chapter 6). In the
knowledge sector, a special version of piece rate payment is alive
and well and has played an enormously significant role in the
economic transformations that have led to Becky’s world.
In order to understand the version of piece rates prevalent in
Science, let us recall that a piece of knowledge need not be produced
more than once. If we were to interpret this literally, it would mean
that those who produce a piece of knowledge after it has already
been made public by someone else contribute nothing of value. That
in turn implies that only the first with a discovery or invention
should be rewarded. So as to encourage scientists to make fruitful
discoveries, the payment schedule also needs to have the feature
that, the better the discovery, the bigger is the reward. The idea
therefore is to transform research into contests.
It can be argued that, in order to encourage entry into scientific
contests, losers ought to be rewarded too. The problem is that losers
could make inflated claims about their own progress once the
winner discloses his or her finding. This possibility would create
another moral hazard for the paymaster. The scheme that avoids
each of these problems and has been adopted by Science is the rule
of priority. Under that rule, the winner takes all that the paymaster
has on offer. Science doesn’t pay runners-up.
What I have just written isn’t literally true of course. First,
scientists are inevitably a garrulous lot, which means that
colleagues usually know roughly how far behind the winner the
losers were at the time the discovery was made public. Second, no
two scientists follow exactly the same trail, which means that losers
also produce material of interest. So, losers are rewarded too. The
‘winner takes all’ version of the rule of priority is simply a stylized
way of saying that in Science, winners are rewarded
The rule of priority is ingenious, in that it elicits public disclosure of
new findings by creating a private asset from the very moment a
scientist relinquishes exclusive possession of the discovery. In
Science, priority is the prize. In the words of the biologist Peter
Medawar, it awards moral possession of discoveries to winners,
even though no one obtains legal possession of them.
But there are problems with the rule of priority. It places all the
risks that are inevitable in R&D firmly on the shoulders of
scientists. This can’t be an efficient system if scientists, like lesser
mortals, are risk-averse. It would seem, after all, that in order to
encourage entry into Science, scientists should be paid something
whether or not they are successful in the contests they choose to
enter. It is in this light that Kenneth Arrow’s remark, that ‘the
complementarity between teaching and research is, from the point
of view of the economy, something of a lucky accident’, assumes its
full significance. That ‘complementarity’ explains why so many
scientists are employed in universities, and it explains why in recent
centuries universities have been the place where some of the
greatest advances in science have been made. Tenure in university
appointments, a much debated feature of employment contracts, is
a way society ties its hands not to interfere when a scientist has
reasons to follow one research lead rather than another and other
people have reasons to disagree with the scientist.
Although the reasoning I have deployed in arriving at the rule of
priority draws on the language of modern economics, the rule itself
became established much earlier than my discipline. (Societies are
usually a lot cleverer than social thinkers.) The Royal Society of
London (chartered in 1662) and similar Academies in Paris, Rome,
and Berlin were established in order to facilitate the exchange of
scientific knowledge and to confirm new discoveries and inventions.
Those Academies also legitimized the rule of priority, administered
it, and became the arena for struggles over conflicting claims to
priority. The dispute between Newton and Leibnitz over moral
possession of the calculus is only the most famous example.
But neither the rule of priority nor the Academies appeared in a
vacuum. The economic historian Paul A. David has traced their
origins to a problem rulers in the late Renaissance Italy faced
increasingly: how to choose men of science who would adorn their
courts. No doubt the evolution of institutions doesn’t follow the
dictates of analytical reasoning, but it is analytical reasoning that
explains what evolutions amount to. Even the notion of moral
ownership of creative works predates the Academies. For example,
it was common practice among bards in medieval India to refer to
themselves in their poems by name in the third person. By doing
that, the poet left a signature on his creation (mostly they were
men) – the better the poet, the greater his fame, the larger his
audiences, and so, the greater his pecuniary benefits. Scribes,
philosophers, and scholars in Eurasia had practised the open
transfer of knowledge even earlier. The anthropologist, Jack
Goody, has uncovered the ingenious ways in which creators even
in pre-literate societies left markers on their works so as to be
remembered. But those earlier practices were haphazard. What
the rule of priority did was to put the stamp of an institutional
imprimatur on creative works.
There are limitations to Science. An exclusive dependence on the
public purse to finance R&D is problematic, because knowledge has
two further properties: no one truly knows what the commodity to
be produced is until it has been produced; nor does anyone really
know in advance how to produce it. Of course, experts are likely to
have a better idea than others of which problems are solvable, by
what means. If society wants to ensure that a wide portfolio of
scientific and technological problems is on the table, it ought to
encourage R&D activity not only in Science, but also in a parallel
institution, where discoveries and inventions are privatized. Let us
call that institution, Technology (with an upper case T).
One way to keep knowledge from being used by others is to keep it
secret. In earlier times practitioners of alchemy, witchcraft, magic,
and the material crafts (glass-making, metallurgy, the manufacture
of precision instruments), and experts at solving complex
accounting problems for merchants and businessmen (for example,
the cossists of 16th-century Germany) kept their knowledge and
skills secret. In the age of maritime discoveries, maps of trade routes
were carefully guarded. Holders of secrets were able to earn profits
from their knowledge, which is why secrecy was practised mostly
over techne. But secrecy isn’t reliable. Reverse engineering, to use a
modern term, is a danger in the crafts, as is the possibility that rivals
will make the same inventions. Monopoly rights to knowledge, or
patents, is a remedy for that problem. The patent system – and
relatedly, copyright for images and expressions – allows people to
disclose their findings without obliging them to share the profits
from those findings. It is a legal means of making a piece of
knowledge an excludable commodity. The system offers a private
reward for disclosure and makes the award on the basis of priority
of disclosure. Like the rule of priority in Science, the patent system
encourages contests in Technology.
The systematic use of patents began in Venice in 1474, when the
Republic promised privileges of ten years to inventors of new arts
and machines. But the forerunner of present day patent laws was
the English Statute of Monopolies in 1623. This enunciated the
general principle that only the ‘first and true’ inventor of a new
11. An 18th-century patent for tuning harpsichords
manufacture should be granted a monopoly patent – in the case of
the 1623 statute, for a period of 14 years. Even the forerunners of
modern patent laws made it impossible to patent a ‘fact of nature’,
which is why it is customary to regard patents as belonging to the
realm of techne. But recent litigations over patents in biotechnology
have shown that it isn’t always easy to agree on what is a fact
of nature.
Let me sum up in the language that was developed in earlier
chapters: behaviour in Technology is market-driven and thus
enforced by the law; whereas in Science, behaviour is community-
ridden and thus enforced by norms. Both institutions produce
knowledge; but in the former, it is regarded as a private good,
whereas in the latter, it is viewed as a public good. The incentives in
Science and Technology differ in ways that encourage scientists and
technologists to regard their products in accordance with the mores
of the institution to which they belong. It should then be no surprise
that the character of what is produced also differs. The traditional
distinction between Science and Technology, which sees the former
as being concerned with basic research (whose output is an input in
the production of further knowledge) and the latter with applied
research (whose output is an input in the production of goods and
services), interprets the two in terms of differences in their
products. The viewpoint being advanced here, of regarding Science
and Technology as institutions, seems to be me to be deeper. It helps
to explain why their outputs would be expected to differ.
Today, we take it for granted that Science has in place incentives for
scientists to disclose their findings. But the emergence of the social
contrivances that embody those incentives was not inevitable. Nor
did they emerge easily, for it required the collective efforts of
scientists and their patrons. The role of Academies in subjecting
claims to independent scrutiny, in adjudicating between rival
claims for priority and in overseeing the quality of those who enter
Science, has been substantial. Peer-group esteem, medals, and
scrolls, being the currency in which scientists are rewarded, are
remarkable innovations because they don’t involve too many
resources. In order that those social contrivances are effective, a
good part of a scientist’s education involves developing a taste for
non-pecuniary rewards. That taste has enabled Science to produce
knowledge on the cheap. Increasingly though, the taste for those
social contrivances has to compete against the pecuniary rewards
available in Technology. If the pecuniary rewards increase – and
they have increased greatly in recent years – the taste for the mores
in Science becomes more and more of a luxury to the research
worker. Science embodies a set of cultural values in need of constant
protection from the threat posed by its rival, Technology. That
threat has proved to be so real, that in recent decades the two
institutions have begun to blur into each other. Scientists
increasingly behave like technologists, while technologists enjoy
both the pecuniary rewards of Technology and the medals and
scrolls that Science has to offer.
Despite the tensions, Science and Technology continue to progress
in Becky’s world. Today, expenditure on R&D amounts to 2.5% of
the GDP of rich nations, while the corresponding figure in poor
nations is a good deal less than 1%. Given that the GDP of rich
nations is six times that of poor nations, we shouldn’t be surprised
that the bulk of scientific and technological advances are taking
place in Becky’s world, nor that Desta’s world manages at best to be
a limited user of those advances. And I haven’t even mentioned the
relative expenditures on education in the two worlds.
The institutional innovations in Science and Technology that I have
just sketched, all too briefly, took place in Europe and emerged
during the period historians refer to as the Age of Enlightenment.
The latter term can grate if it is interpreted in an epistemological
sense. And it does grate among intellectuals, because that’s how the
term is usually interpreted. They bristle at the suggestion that the
analytic-empirical basis of knowledge – which is what both Science
and Technology are built on – is a European invention. And they
ask: ‘what about those civilizations at earlier times, in other places,
that nurtured scholars who made enduring contributions to
Let it be acknowledged, once and for all, that the analytic-empirical
basis isn’t an invention of Becky’s world, and that the mystical-
revelatory route to the acquisition of knowledge isn’t restricted to
Desta’s world. Every society that I am even dimly familiar with has
fielded both, often at the same time. Which may explain why people
today from all parts of the globe are able to practise Science and
Technology with ease when given half a chance; their ‘cultural’
background doesn’t seem to be an intellectual bottleneck.
Brandishing texts to show that scientific and technological progress
was made in Desta’s world at a time when Becky’s was covered in
darkness doesn’t advance knowledge, it merely reiterates the
commonplace. What Europe achieved during the Age of
Enlightenment was far more remarkable than a revolution in
epistemology, in that no place had managed to do it before. It
created institutions that enabled the production, dissemination,
and use of knowledge – in effect, the entire knowledge industry – to
be transferred from small elites to the public at large, a transfer that
so sharpened the analytic-empirical mode of reasoning that it
became routine. That achievement explains a good deal of the
macroeconomic statistics I reported in Chapter 1

1 comentario:

  1. No lo tienes en peli? juego de la play? Cojones con las reflexiones.