A few things popped Daniel Bell’s The Coming of Post-Industrial Society (1973) on my radar, and so I got an old copy for myself online. The edition I have is from 1976, with a new introduction from the author where he attempts to lessen the strain of the excessively heavy lifting some of his ideas were being forced to do by subsequent interpreters. What struck me is that for a 40 year old book, much the same conversations are being had, although it appears that in some respects we have leap-frogged the substantive elements in favour of nitty-gritty technical fixes. Bell’s book rewinds us to these bigger picture problems.
In the following passage, Bell sketches the basic outline of knowledge as commodity in the post-industrial society, and sees something of a contradiction in trying to apply industrial paradigms of private ownership and to information which tends more towards collective ownership. One solution, he suggests, is to put the matter into a kind of abeyance, so that economics doesn’t have to account for it at all. The muscle work is done instead in the use (manipulation?) of those mechanisms of social or collective goods, and structured so that the benefits accrue to those who previously might have been the private owner/controllers of goods. It’s a special kind of information-age peonage.
If there is less and less incentive for individual persons or private enterprises to produce knowledge without particular gain, then the need and effort falls increasingly on some social unit, be it university or government, to underwrite the costs. And since there is no ready market test (how does one estimate the value of “basic research?”) there is a challenge to economic theory to design a socially optimal policy of investment in knowledge (e.g., how much money should be spent for basic research; what allocations should be made for education, and for what fields; in what areas do we obtain the “better returns” in health; and so on), and how to “price” information and knowledge to users. [pp. xiv-xv]
This illuminates some other matters, if we turn our eyes to something like Ireland’s research and development expenditure. Historically, do we see Government Expenditure on R&D (GOVERD) and Higher Education Expenditure on R&D (HERD) taking up the slack of the private sector’s R&D (BERD)? In Forfás’s Statistics at a Glance we might get some clues, but we are missing data from 2009 onwards in some cases, and this being a not insignificant period, it’s difficult to assert connections between Bell’s thesis and the data. The best I can see is only suggestive. A longitudinal look at things has probably been done, and this would tell us more…