Innovation Taskforce Report Released

The Taoiseach has launched the report of the report of the Taskforce on Innovation (here‘s a link to a page featuring the report, a summary and a video featuring lots of people telling us how cool innovation is).

I was critical of the composition of the taskforce when it was appointed but, rather than fire off knee-jerk criticisms, I’d like to take some time to read it before commenting further. However, as always, cogent opinions from our commenters are very welcome.

Some More Contributions to Innovation Debate

Over the past couple of months, I’ve been surprised at how little real debate there has been about the government’s Smart Economy strategy.  Monday’s Irish Times Innovation supplement had a useful article discussing the economist-free Innovation Task Force that I mentioned last week.

As one might expect, the article contains some enthusiastic comments from some members of the Task Force—industrial policy experts will recognise the idea of the strategy succeeding by “picking winners.” In addition, however, the article also quotes some less enthusiastic economists—me and UCC’s Declan Jordan.  The Times also carried another article from Declan, which together with his earlier article from April, represent important contributions to the debate on these crucial issues.

Innovation Taskforce Appointed

The Irish Times reports that

TAOISEACH BRIAN Cowen has announced the appointment of an innovation taskforce to advise the Government on its strategy for positioning Ireland as an international innovation hub and to assist in making the “smart economy” a reality.

The taskforce to assist in making the Smart Economy a reality doesn’t contain an economist of any sort, smart or otherwise.  This seems to me to be a pity.  Economists tend to think about the effect of policies on the economy in a somewhat different ways to scientists, civil servants and CEOs and could have had a useful influence on such a taskforce.  (Hey, if we’re not for ourselves, who else is going to be?)

In particular, economists tend to think about government interventions in a more systematic way (What’s the market failure that these policies are addressing? Externalities? Natural monopoly?) and to better see the linkages between new initiatives and past industrial policies.  Since there won’t be any economists advising the government on this taskforce, I would encourage participants in this blog to come forward a bit more to discuss these issues here.

One aspect of the current Smart Economy strategy for which, in my opinion, the likely economic impact is being exaggerated is the link from university innovation to start-up firms and jobs.  Policies to encourage university R&D and its commercialisation may change the type of jobs in Ireland but they are unlikely to have much effect on the number of jobs.  Similarly, the statistics on start-ups show that failure rates are very high, so as much it’s nice to talk about starting up a Nokia here in Ireland, the truth is that this process is highly random.

More generally, given the heavy emphasis in recent policy statements on university innovation and spinoffs, it is important be realistic about the role of such activity in other advanced economies.   Engineer Richard K. Lester from MIT is an international expert in the interactions between science and the economy.  Here is an interesting presentation titled “A Framework for Understanding How Higher Education Affects Regional Growth” in which he discusses some common “myths” with regard to university innovation.

Finally, here’s a link to an edition of the journal Capitalism and Society, which has a paper on the Oxford model of commercialisation as well as interesting comments from Lester. 

The papers are behind a pay firewall which many of you won’t have access to, so here’s a brief excerpt from Lester’s comments:

St Patrick’s Day Profile of Irish Economy on Bloomberg Radio

Click here to listen to the Bloomberg interview with Patrick Honohan.