Monday, May 9, 2016

What Innovation?

With Donald Trump poised to campaign as the anti-establishment upstart for the rest of this year, let's take a look at the philosophy underpinning his whole image: that business produces something good.

The connection between capitalism and innovation is more than a cable news talking point, though it contains all the veracity. This assumption has, if not driven decades of legislation and popular opinion, at least served as the purported reasons for aligning more and more of the world towards corporate interests. Letting "entrepreneurs" do as they wilt supposedly fires the imagination of all the John and Sally Galts, sitting in their usually inherited executive suites. This is presented as a good thing for everyone as whatever these rugged individualists can dream up will trickle down to the rest of us who are too busy working to come up with the Next Big Thing.

What is never addressed is how much good said Next Big Thing might actually be. This is an important point to consider, as so much of the "innovative" tech industry is at best a solution looking for a problem. The fact that so many of them don't work is another issue never addressed in polite conversation or TED Talks. This is inevitable though, as the much-vaunted free market begins and ends with products.

When it comes to artistic expression and scientific inquiry - the only meaningful human endeavors - capitalism fails even more thoroughly. You can go see various Hollywood stars wailing on each other in spandex and CGI right now to see what happens when film is a slave to the market, or just go back through half of this blog. As far as the sciences the record is much much worse.

In fact, business interests are actively stymieing scientific research. From outrageous operating costs to rent-seeking patents on knowledge, "free enterprise" is demonstratively neither in the ever more important field of genetics. Worse still, the demand for pseudoscience and quackery rewards charlatans from climate change denialists to that Blood Type Diet moron. Theories that are wrong and outright harmful, but maintained by the vagaries of a market predicated on irrational consumer desires.

And then there's the not so small matter of NASA. Space flight remains the most titanic - and titanically expensive - human achievement but the ultrawealthy United States hasn't been beyond Earth's orbit since 1972. Unless you count unmanned drones and you don't. No one does. As has been pointed out before, there is no profit-motive in travelling to the stars so there has been no "innovation" in forty-four years.

The coddling of the business class does not promote any real innovation or progress. It just sanctifies monomania.

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